Most people who get sick from COVID-19 will recover fully. However, some individuals may experience long-term complications. We are still early in the process of learning just what issues people who had severe disease from COVID-19 may face. Some individuals may be left with compromised lung function or heart damage. People who spend a long period in intensive care treatment may experience “intensive care syndrome”: weakness, cognitive changes, memory problems and post-traumatic stress. Beyond these issues, the stress from the pandemic may exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems, or possibly even cause some individuals to develop anxiety or depression even if they have not gotten sick.
How Trainers Can Help
Trainers need to be prepared to make accommodations to help individuals facing these challenges be successful in working with their dogs. If an individual is severely impacted, training services like board and train or day training may be the most beneficial options a trainer can provide. However, in other cases there are some simple strategies that can help owners participate more easily.
For our clients with lung function, cardiac, fatigue or weakness issues, trainers should:
- Provide chairs so the client can train while seated
- Allow for breaks in training sessions
- Incorporate techniques that reduce the client’s need to move, like shaping
- Train in a smoke-free, climate-controlled environment
- Use a tether or have a friend hold the dog’s leash while the client trains the dog
When working with clients with memory, cognitive or emotional difficulties, trainers should:
- Give information in writing in addition to oral instructions and demonstrations
- Adjust the amount of content covered in each lesson
- Repeat important points in lessons to help clients retain and process the information
- Send a written reminder of instructions by email after the lesson
- Set up a training calendar to help the client stay on track
Other Support Services
In some cases, individuals may need support beyond training accommodations. Clients may need education and assistance to provide for their dogs’ needs, whether through environmental enrichment, proper husbandry or sufficient physical exercise. In some cases, training services like board and train and day training, or other support via daycare and dog walking, may be employed to help clients meet their training goals and the dog’s needs. If you do not offer these services yourself, make sure you have a list of trusted professionals in your area you can refer your clients to.
For the Time Being
When there is still so much that is unknown about this virus, trainers need to continue to take safety measures to protect themselves. Continue to follow policies and guidance regarding physical distancing, face masks and other safety precautions. Virtual services may be needed on an ongoing basis as well as flexibility and creativity in this dynamic, unprecedented situation.
Remember that your clients’ needs may shift and grow during and after the COVID-19 pandemic in the ways described above or other unexpected ways. You can be an ally to them and their service dogs now and in the future by being adaptable, aware and present for them.