Over the past week, Kanika Sood has been trying to teach Yuki, her three-month-old Golden Retriever, the “out” command. Before the pandemic, she would have hired a trainer. Now she is reluctant to invite a stranger to her Gurugram, Haryana, home. So she searched for dog training videos, came across a US-based canine influencer on YouTube and signed up for the starter kit, comprising reading material and videos.
With most commands, though, it has been an uphill task. “My husband and I have told Yuki multiple times not to enter the kitchen. Last week, he peed in the kitchen and got a yelling from me,” says the communications professional.
Sood is among the many who brought home a pet during the pandemic. With fear of covid-19 still strong, many have enrolled for the online dog training courses that have sprung up since last year. From group sessions to one-on-one training, these virtual courses are “the next best thing” to hiring a trainer to teach a pet physically. Costs can range from ₹1,000 per session for one-on-one basic training to ₹2,500-5,000 for group sessions lasting four-six weeks. For both sides, the results have been a mixed bag.
Nitika Ahlawat, founder of Hoo-Dog, a Bengaluru-based canine training venture, offers a hybrid model, with a certain amount of offline time, for dogs who exhibit behavioural issues like nervousness or anxiety. You need to meet the dog in such cases, she says.
“Being a first-time parent can be overwhelming. I would constantly be freaking out about the smallest behavioural change in my dog, whether I am doing it right, if I am being harsh,” says marketing professional Kshitiz Ahuja, who brought a Golden Retriever, Ollie, into his Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, home in March. In April, Ahuja signed up for a four-week basic puppy training course conducted online by Doggiversity, a dog training and boarding outfit.
Each week, he would sit for the nearly two-hour session with four other dog parents, learning about basic commands and canine behaviour. This would be followed by practical exercises with the pet. Ahuja found the group sessions useful as he learnt about behaviour-related issues.
He does believe it would have been quicker offline, since the trainer would be able to correct you immediately. “Online, you have to wait till the next session to see whether what you are doing has worked or why it’s not working.”
Vikram Kapadia, a first-time dog parent, agrees. The Mumbai resident enrolled for an online course last August for his Beagle, Mogambo, now a year-old. Basic things got covered, he says, but online didn’t cut it when it came to training a breed that was “stubborn and having a mind of its own”. Kapadia says his dog is a handful, with an attitude and a temper. Last month, he finally decided to hire a trainer to come and train the dog. “Online is a nice trailer; it works for basic training. But after that you need a face-to-face trainer,” says Kapadia.
Kapadia says the group training sessions have too many people; there were 15 others when he did his course. “You end up waiting for a long time before your turn comes. There shouldn’t be more than seven pets (people) in a session, I think,” he says.
For trainers too, online sessions have been a mixed bag. Having taken a few sessions last year, Mallika Kamodia, a Mumbai-based canine trainer and behaviourist, now limits online classes to clients who are hands-on with their dogs and have had pets earlier. She assesses the owner-pet bond through video calls or assignments. “These clients are extremely dedicated to their pet, so they do their assignments and you can see the results,” she says.
Ultimately, the responsibility of the training falls on the pet parent. “It’s basically training the pet parent so that they can train the dog,” says Ahlawat, who has trained 50 pet parents in one-on-one sessions since she started her online courses in March this year. Till the pandemic subsides, the “next best thing” may well remain the best option.