Teaching Your Service Dog to Relax While You are on the Phone or a Video Chat.

Have you ever noticed that when you get on the phone or a web chat tat your dog suddenly needs all your attention? He might come over to you to ask for attention, crawl n your lap, or maybe whine or bark? It’s not only annoying when you are focused on something else, it is also rude to the person you are talking to. Training your dog to be able to relax during your conversations is a skill that needs to be deliberately taught. 
Prepare for the session: have a frozen stuffed Kong that will last 30 min or more, a chew toy that your dog will actually chew, and a food puzzle. Yes, multiple items to last more than the full duration of your conversation.
 
Tire your dog out just before the session-go for a walk, do a training or play session. Be clear and consistent that when you are done, you are done training. Give her a signal like “all done.” and mean it. 
 
For weeks ahead of time, condition your dog to settle or relax on her own for at least 30 min before doinging a longer conversation. This might be on a mat, in a x-pen or crate, depending go the age of your dog. Remember that duration needs to be added incrementally just like for any other behaviour, Avoid asking for too much or you will frustrate your dog. 
 
During your talking session, avoid feeding treats to interrupt barking. Unfortunately, when you are not paying 100% attention to training, you may inadvertently be reinforcing the attention seeking behaviours. The dog barks he gets a treat. Timing is everything. If you can’t focus only on your dog, avoid using treats (even if it’s partly your dog's breakfast or supper) and pets.
 
Do set up practice sessions: pretend to talk to someone on the phone or web cam. Start with short duration, then add time as the dog is able to. Vary the time as well so it’s not always getting harder (snakes and ladders approach). Reward the dog only when she’s relaxed and not paying attention to you. (See our Settle / Relax class for a conditioned settle if your dog stares at you, whines or gets frustrated with you for not looking at her.)
 
When actually talking, prepare ahead of time and start with short sessions. Schedule several sessions with a relative, friend or neighbour. Talk to someone who knows that you are actively training and may need to interrupt your chat infrequently. Avoid talking about anything important.
 
Cuing your dog to interact with the person on the video may help some dogs. If your dog can see high definition images on a larger screen, then cuing her to interact with the person may be helpful to acclimate her. Ask “Can you see?” and point to the screen. Have the person use her name while talking to her, make high-pithed noise etc. A smaller dog can be held on your lap or sit on a chair for a short period f you are using a table top computer that you cannot move to the dog’s level. 
With practice, most dogs lose interest in why you are talking to a screen.Again, when you are done, let her know so she can go lay down.
 
Repeat the fake and real training sessions on a regular basis. With multiple repeats, your dog will learn that you talking to someone else, is a time that he can use to have a snooze. Over time you can generalize this behaviour by training it in different rooms, and taking it on the road away from home. Patience when you are busy is a skill your service dog needs to have that you can prepare her for.