Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC
I like to stay in close contact with my clients. This is especially true for cases which involve bites, or even lunging and barking. With my newest clients, Tiffany and her dog Tad, I’m using an online training journal. Tiffany and I share the journal on Google Docs. Daily, or at least every other day, she adds an update on her progress with Tad. I respond with feedback, and sometimes notes on how we can make his behavior-change plan more efficient and more effective.
The journal really helps all of us involved. It keeps Tiffany thinking about our training plan every day. She observes Tad more keenly and works with him more regularly, because she knows I’m expecting journal updates. The journal also helps Tiffany reflect on her own progress with Tad, because she has to take moment to stop and record her thoughts. Writing in the journal is a planned “pause and take a deep breath” moment.
As a behavior consultant, I benefit a great deal from the online training journal. There are several ways a behavior change plan can get slowed down or derailed altogether. One is poor execution. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about beating up the client. Tiffany, as an example, is an extremely committed and intelligent person. However, two weeks will have passed before our next appointment (even a week would have been a long time). Much of the material she learned to help Tad is detailed and technical. Mistakes happen. It’s better to catch those along the way than two weeks down the line. The online journal is very helpful with that. As her coach, I can help her catch execution errors within a matter of hours rather than weeks. Of course, there are occasionally problems with the training plan itself. If an issue comes up on the training journal highlighting an error I’ve made educating the client, I want to be able to fix that immediately.
Tad benefits the most. Two species are learning new information at once throughout this process. One of the tricky parts of behavior cases like this is that both the human and the dog are putting brand new skills into action as they are learning them. That can set both the dog and the person up for some added stress and possible mistakes. For Tad’s benefit, it’s a good idea to have at least two human brains collaborating on his behavior-change plan daily. Again, that’s where the online journal plays a key role.
Of course the journal is not a replacement for regular phone and email check-ins. I do those with my clients as well, and that includes Tiffany. The journal is definitely a more-is-better addition to the client-coach relationship. We have two learners from two species taking in brand new information. Add to that, in some of these cases the stakes are pretty high. I’d rather not leave anything to chance. And if everything is going well, then excellent; checking in is still worthwhile. If nothing else, the online journal is a great way to remind Tiffany and I that we are both involved in helping Tad and that neither of us is walking this path alone.