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Virtual dog training helps Long Islanders connect with experts from a social distance  

Many people have adopted, fostered or bought pups

Many people have adopted, fostered or bought pups during quarantine — but some are struggling to train their new furry friend. More Long Islanders are turning to virtual experts for help. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

With several Long Islanders spending their time at home with a new rescue pup, dog trainers are going to new lengths to help owners and pets bond in those crucial first months. 

Certified dog trainer Judy Tarasek, a Medford resident and founder of Positively Pet Partners LLC, never had a brick-and-mortar facility for her training sessions. “I like to keep it personal, so I drive around the East End, eastern Suffolk County, and do one-on-one training," she says. But when social distancing measures came into play, that all changed. 

Tarasek is one of many local dog trainers who have adopted the use of virtual connection to keep their businesses alive. Offering a six-hour course, following a free Zoom consultation, she’ll now do five hourlong virtual classes with a client and their canine — then hold the sixth in person, albeit with social distancing. She’s also planning on keeping the virtual option available down the road, even when the health crisis clears.

“I show people how to apply training to their home, so I’d come and look at the doors, area traffic, I assess all these things, how socialized is the dog, what is dog eating… and now I’m doing it on Zoom," she says.

Valerie DeVito of Medford turned to Tarasek for virtual instruction in May after realizing her dog Sophie had become very anxious and shy, especially around men, “which includes my husband. She was uncomfortable and he was uncomfortable. I was really at my wits’ end.” DeVito, 52, says she was unsure how virtual training would work, but that “it was like she was right there in the room with me, and Sophie knew she was too.” 

Virtual sessions allowed for Sophie, a 3-year-old terrier mix, to remain in the comfort of her own home, while focusing solely on DeVito without the distraction of other dogs or people in group settings. The sessions included printed lessons each week, "to practice as homework," DeVito says. 

“I demonstrate on my end with my own dogs,” describes Tarasek. “Then I teach her how do it on her end."

Oceanside native Michael Schaier, 68, owner of Michael’s Pack Dog Training Center, says his "business slowed up dramatically when the pandemic first hit." Noting a surge in local adoptions while Long Islanders work from home, he too turned to online training. 

Schaier feels “virtual training can be effective,” but admits success “depends on how well the owner takes to the coaching.” 

Jessica Freedman, 43, the founder of Sublime K9 Long Island Dog Training, says she feels virtual training is productive for teaching basic commands, such as sit, stay, come. "It is effective in that we are able to communicate with the owner on how to address issues or concerns they are having with their dog," says Freedman, of Wantagh.

She too extends virtual lessons beyond the screentime: “We discuss issues and progress and they demonstrate what the dog had learned from the week before. Each week, we assign homework for them and they work on that for the week." 

“The strength of virtual training is fairly obvious from a business perspective,” notes Schaier. “Your market goes from regional to literally worldwide. It also cuts down on trainers having to travel and increases the number of clients that can be seen.” 

Freedman has a similar opinion, noting, “the only downside is that we cannot physically work with the dog.” Nonetheless, she too plans on keeping virtual lessons an option for clients who are unable to get to her because of where they’re located.

“I absolutely plan to keep the virtual classes going into the future,” states Tarasek, “The people that I’m talking to, they still don’t want to throw caution to the wind when things go back to normal.”

TRY VIRTUAL TRAINING:

Several Long Island-based dog trainers are offering personal Zoom training. Check for certifications. Here are a few:

Happy Dog Training (770 E. Jericho Tpke., Huntington Station; 631-424-3647, happydogbehavior.com): offering online classes and consultations; live classes available via Zoom until the health crisis allows for in-person training. Check ahead to see which classes are still open.

Sublime K9 (516-246-1516, sublimek9dogtraining.com) Check their website for free dog training videos; $60 for a 30-minute virtual session.

Positively Pet Partners (631-910-3906; positivelypetpartners.com): call ahead for consultation; Zoom sessions are available.

Positive Canine Training (917-865-2609; positivecaninetraining.com): offering online dog training classes; rates vary. Private sessions available; call or check site for more details.

Michael’s Pack Dog Training Center (220 E Jericho Turnpike, Mineola; 516-364-7225, michaels-pack.com): 30 or 60-minute sessions available via a variety of devices and apps; call or email to schedule a consultation for online dog training; 30-minute virtual sessions are $50 each.

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