What Are Virtual Behavior Consultations Like?

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Thinking of booking a session with me and are curious about what a virtual behavior consultation for cats is like?

If you’ve never worked with a cat behavior consultant before, you may be wondering how I can possibly assess your cat without seeing them live and in person or want to know what to expect during our session. While it may seem like me not interacting with your cat would be a disadvantage, I’m able to get all the information I need virtually and I actually get a more accurate assessment by not being there. Here’s why virtual sessions are superior and what to expect.

How Do Virtual Behavior Consultations Work?

To start, you should understand what happens during an in home assessment and a remote assessment. Each assessment is unique based on the needs of your cat or cats so there is some variability, but I have a general outline that I follow.

Both in home and virtual behavior consultation session begin before we even meet. I have you fill out an intake form to go over the basics of what’s going on and get information about you, your cat(s), and your goals. I get a lot of information from this so when we meet, I use the information I already have to target my questions to your individual situation.

In Home Sessions

For an in home session, the process for a live initial session is as follows:

  • I show up at your home. I ask questions about the behavior and have you describe it. I may have you show me videos.
  • I have you show me around your home and anywhere that there are hot spots for the behavior we are addressing. In some cases, I may have you record a video after I leave with an overview of your layout if we have a lot to go over.
  • I observe your cat’s behavior (if they are out and about and if it’s a behavior that happens when I show up). Your cat may be acting differently because I’m there so I may ask if the behavior I’m observing is what you see when I’m not there.
  • We discuss a plan for what to do. I may show you something directly with your cat, but for issues like litter boxes or cat conflict there usually isn’t much to demonstrate. I do not directly observe your cats fighting for cat conflict as that would be dangerous to induce a cat fight. I may describe a tool or show you pictures and talk about how to do something with it, but as I may not have it there, I may not be able to demonstrate much.
  • I leave and e-mail you handouts/additional resources after we’re done.

Virtual Sessions

Virtual sessions are slightly different. The general process is:

  • We both log on to a Google Meet or Zoom meeting. You get to sit comfortably at home while I ask questions about the behavior and have you describe it. I may have you share videos with me.
  • I have you show me around your home with your phone or a camera on your device including any hot spots for the behavior we are addressing. In some cases, I may have you record a short video instead of doing this during our live session depending on what there is to go over.
  • As I’m not there, your cat will likely be acting normally so I may have you focus the camera on them and I observe their behavior if it would be helpful in my assessment or if they are doing the behavior we are working on during our session.
  • We discuss a plan for what to do. I may demonstrate something with my own cats (whose responses I know and can predict better so you get a more accurate demonstration of the intervention), grab a cat product that we are discussing to show you what it is and how to use it, and/or show you how I have things set up at my place.
  • We end the meeting and you get e-mailed handout sand additional resources.
A cat watching other cats on a Zoom meeting on a desktop computer.
“Virtual behavior consultations are awesome!” – Your cat, probably. Photo by Chris Barbalis.

How Is This Different Than An In Home Session?

You’ll notice that the differences between those two aren’t huge.

For both in home and virtual sessions, I help you figure out how to address your cat’s behavior rather than directly doing much with your cat. I don’t have a magic wand I can waive and you will ultimately be responsible for implementing the plan. Me showing up once is rarely going to solve the issue as cats take time to learn and even if I do something a single time, it is unlikely to result in lasting change. In other words, me not being there in person isn’t actually a disadvantage as you’re the one doing the real work to modify their behavior!

The biggest disadvantage of a virtual session? I don’t get to pet your cats. Honestly, that’s a pretty big bummer.

If you’re not considering doing a virtual session because you want me to come in and fix your cat(s) that day, I strongly encourage you to reconsider booking a session because that doesn’t happen even with an in home session. It may seem strange that I’d discourage you from scheduling with me, but I don’t want you to be disappointed when your behavior concern isn’t fixed immediately because behavior modification is a process. You will be doing most of the work and I will be guiding you on what to do.

The reason I include a follow up period by e-mail afterward is so we can make alterations to the plan if needed. This is especially true if you have a case of fighting cats which often takes time and effort to resolve and may require tweaks over time.

What Do I Need For A Virtual Session?

If you’re worried you’ll need some sort of fancy equipment to do a virtual behavior consultation, you probably already have most of the things you need on hand.

You will need a high speed internet connection so that we can connect via video. If necessary, I could do a phone call for the actual session and have you send me videos, but you’d still need internet access to upload the video. I can do my best without video depending on the situation, but it’s best if you have a way of me visually seeing your space and your cats.

The other big thing you need is a portable device with a camera and microphone on it. This may sound like you need to go out and purchase something new, but if you have a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, chances are you already meet this requirement. Past that, you just need an e-mail address so you can receive e-mails with links to the video call and so we can communicate after the session.

Those are the only things you absolutely need. There may be some situations where I need something specific from you (such as a very basic drawing of your home) that would require you to have some way of creating it and sending it to me, but even then I can usually find a work around.

How Do I Assess Your Cats Virtually?

One of the biggest hesitations people have with virtual consultations is that they feel that I am missing something by not seeing or interacting with their cats in person. I’m here to reassure you that I still can do my full assessment virtually. In fact, I use a lot of the same methods I use for in home sessions to evaluate your cat including:

  • An intake form that captures basic information about your home, situation, and the behavior
  • Video of the behavior and/or of your cat’s baseline behavior
  • Directly observing your living space and assessing the cat’s environment
  • Discussion of your observations and your cat’s history

For many of these, no direct interaction with your cat is required or you may have to wait to observe your cat’s behavior regardless of whether I’m there in home or virtually. If there is something I need to test, I can come up with a way to have you get me the information I need. Often times, your cats don’t actually do the behavior we’re discussing while I’m there so I rely on you getting video anyway. In other cases, it would be unethical of me to have you try to elicit the behavior as it could be dangerous.

Advantages To Virtual Consultations

Virtual consultations have some big advantages over in home consultations that are often forgotten. They’re not a cheap, inferior alternative. In most cases, they are the better option. Let’s look at the up sides to virtual sessions.

I See Your Cat Act Naturally

In many cases, your cats’ behavior may be different if I show up and am there in person. Fearful cats may hide or your cat may act more cautiously than usual. In cases of mild fighting cats, I’ve even had cats get along slightly better while I’m there. As much as I’d like to take credit for doing something wonderful and having the cats’ behavior improve, it’s often a result of the cats being unsure how to respond to a stranger in their space and goes back to the usual level of conflict.

In other words, I get to see a more accurate representation of your cats’ behavior if I’m not physically there. Any change in their behavior due to you acting slightly differently with a camera is going to be less than an unknown human showing up. You end up getting a more realistic and accurate assessment from me by not having me physically there!

Reduced Anxiety And Stress For Your Cat

Not all cats are inherently social and a stranger showing up can cause stress for your cat. Ultimately, me showing up may cause your cat to be stressed out. It will be easier on your cat and you to do a virtual session. Your cat can remain peacefully curled up while we talk about what to do and you can remain comfortable in your home with your cats.

Reduced Cost

Traveling all over takes time and gas so I have to add a small charge to my in-home consultations. If finances are a concern, a virtual session lets you put the extra fee toward another session. You’ll get continued time with me and you won’t be missing out on anything.

I Can Demonstrate Interventions With My Cats

I have two very cute cats, Poutine and Prozac, and they like to pop in from time to time. They’re also great helpers when it comes to demonstrating cat training techniques as I know how they will respond. Your cats may not feel like participating in training if a stranger shows up, but I know my dudes will usually be ready to train. You get to see what the intervention or technique looks like when it works so you know what you’re looking for. I can then watch you do the the training and see your cats’ responses more closely to how they’ll act with you.

Additionally, I talk a LOT about cat products. I can’t possibly bring all my cat stuff with me as it would require a U Haul so with virtual sessions, I can demonstrate all the cool cat toys your cats will actually want to play with, show you my litter box or scratching post set up, and demonstrate how to properly play with one of my dudes. That’s something you don’t get with an in home session.

Greater Availability

As I have to factor in travel time for in home sessions, I limit the days and times I offer them as the driving takes time. I can’t start a session when I’d need to drive to your home during rush hour and I am definitely not a morning person so there’s no way I’ll get to your home early in the morning. You have more choices as far as when you can schedule with a virtual session as I can schedule people in the early evening and slightly earlier in the morning.

Plus, if you live outside my service area I don’t have the flexibility to do in home sessions so this still allows you get expert advice on your cat’s behavior.

Another added bonus: for those familiar with Minnesota winters, you know how unpredictable the weather can be. I won’t have to reschedule your session last minute due to a blizzard!

Should I Do A Virtual Or In Home Session?

Hopefully by now you see that virtual sessions are better than an in home session. You’re still getting the same quality, expert cat behavior help you would be if you were had me come out. Actually, your assessment will be better! That’s why I only do in home sessions for follow ups if needed as because it’s almost always not necessary. You can head to my behavior consultations page to set up a virtual session and we’ll get your cat behaving their best!

You may be wondering if you should do a virtual follow up and then an in home session. For the extreme majority of people, virtual is what I recommend. If I see a way I may be able to do something to directly help, I may recommend an in home session for follow up. The advantages of virtual behavior consultations for cats are significant and in home sessions have a lot of disadvantages so you’ll be very happy with the results of your session.

Regardless of what you choose, you’re making a great choice by working with me. I hope those of you with hesitations about virtual sessions feel better about going with one and if not, I’m happy to further assuage your concerns. You’re not getting anything less than those who have me come out in person. Actually, you may end up with better results and a happier, more harmonious life with your cats.

Ready to set up a virtual consultation?

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!