As many business owners did in late March, Tara Oster simply closed up shop, hoping the coronavirus pandemic would only force her to close for two weeks.
When she realized the changes to how life operates for everyone would last longer, and that her clients still needed her help, Oster decided to move her dog training business online.
“It’s, surprisingly, been, really successful,” said Oster, noting that several clients have finished an entire course and the dogs have learned like normal. “They’re doing so good, it’s really given me a lot of hope for this.”
Oster, who owns Zen Dog and works as a certified trainer, stared training dogs after she adopted a dog in 2010 who had behavioral issues.
She conducted research to help teach her new pet and had a realization.
“That’s when I realized I wanted to help other people because I was being told a lot of things that didn’t sit well with me,” Oster recalled, referring to negative training techniques.
In an industry that is fairly unregulated, Oster wanted to get official training.
She received her first certification in 2012 that was more of a general education. She attended more workshops and seminars, including completing a certification last year that took two years to earn.
Oster developed a science-based philosophy of using positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement or punishment in her training.
“I don’t believe any dog actually needs those things. So, I set out to do a positive route and teach dogs how to be good,” she said.
She started Zen Dog in Waterloo last summer, quitting her part-time job early this year to focus fully on her training because she had so many clients.
“I went into this as a business because people need this,” Oster said. “Without having guidance, it’s really easy to do this incorrectly, waste money and let it go without addressing the issues. It can be fixed, it just takes time, patience, a lot of reinforcement and planning.”
When she stopped in-person lessons and moved to online, Oster took more online courses about training remotely.
She said there was a learning curve to make sure all the kinks related to technology or thorough instructions, but she offered additional sessions at no charge to those who she worked with at that time.
She now has those figured out to the point she offers all the normal classes she has online.
Oster currently only has one-on-one sessions over Zoom, but she is working to determine how to set up group classes.
In the months since these online classes started, Oster said she has discovered that training remotely is actually easier because the dog is more comfortable in its home environment and not distracted by new people.
“Online classes are going to be a great option because they need to learn their foundations at home, the client and the dog, before going out into a distracting environment,” Oster explained. “I really have high hopes for this doing well.”
The efficiency has improved to the extent Oster is now conducting 30-minute lessons, which is half the time of in-person ones, and getting more done.
The move to remote training has gone so well that Oster said she plans to offer online classes even when in-person sessions can resume.
To find out more about Zen Dog, visit findyourzendog.com, follow the business on Facebook or call 573-768-9361.
“I am a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and have pledged to only use positive and kind methods that are based on science,” Oster said. “We keep it fun and help the dog feel safe and confident.”