Archive for Running a Dog Consulting Business

Leash chewing, paw licking, and poop eating are just a few examples of behaviors that may develop due to a very specific set of circumstance and then linger long after the underlying reason for the behavior is gone. What advice do you provide your dog training clients?

  • Resolve the underlying reason for the behavior. Puppies chewing on leashes can be teething. Paw licking can be related to allergies, and poop eating a nest-cleaning instinct gone awry. Whatever the underlying cause of the behavior, if you don’t remove it then it will return.
  • Train an alternate, incompatible behavior. A few examples include teaching a dog to hold their toy or tug in the mouth while walking for the leash chewer, and chewing a bully stick or bone for the paw licker.
  • In moments where training fails, be ready to disrupt, distract, and redirect. Whether through management or training, it is very important that the dog not be in a position to practice the undesirable behavior. So be ready with management when you’re not actively training an alternative behavior. Providing great chews and interactive toys is one option, increasing exercise and mental stimulation will generally also help.
  • Repeat for 2 to 4 weeks. Compare this to the amount of time you might expect a human to take to alter a specific undesirable habit like nail-biting.

The most difficult component of this is selling owners on a very high level of diligence for the 2-4 week period. Explain that by front-loading the owner’s efforts, they will resolve the problem behavior much more quickly. Allowing the dog to practice a particular undesirable behavior only lets the dog get cleverer about the behavior and makes it more difficult to extinguish later. Professional dog trainers frequently have to sell their clients on certain aspects of training. This is a very important skill to develop, because the long-term success and maintenance of the training is in the hands of the person who is spending time with the dog – and that is your client.

Professional dog trainers should think long and hard before accepting behavior modification cases if it is not the focus of their business and they haven’t received specialized training. One of the most important concepts that you can learn as a pro is to set both yourself and your clients up for success from the outset. Pre-screening clients then matching them with your appropriate service or referring them out to another trainer is one of the first steps in setting you and your client up for success. 

Unsure whether behavioral work is for you? Check out Become a Professional Dog Trainer courses, and keep your knowledge base fresh with topic specific continuing education. By educating yourself you’re providing the best possible chance for your client’s success whether through your own services or a well thought out referral to another resource.

Read Linda Michael’s blog entry on “Separation Anxiety” for a few helpful tips. But also be aware that separation anxiety can be one of the more difficult behaviors to modify. So consider your skills and education, then decide if you’re the best fit for your clients’ success. By educating yourself, you can decide whether to make behavior modification one of the focuses of your professional dog training business or to knowledgeably direct your clients to the best available resource for this specialized training.

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One of the questions all professional dog trainers must answer is where will I provide my services? The answer may be defined by the products you’re offering your clients. Or you may find yourself limiting your services based upon available training locations. Here are a few items to consider:

1.  If you plan to teach group puppy classes, then you must be able to sterilize your environment. Outdoor classes are out. As are any other areas that cannot be sanitized. Two other examples are facilities where you cannot control access once fully sanitized or facilities with flooring that cannot be properly sanitized.

2. Private coaching can be offered in a client’s home, a training facility, or a public location.

3. Day training can be offered in the client’s home, the dog trainer’s home, a training facility, or public space. If your day training option includes day care or pick-up/delivery, then the last 3 options work nicely. Otherwise, the most practical solution will be training in or around the client’s home.

4. Specialty classes often have special location requirements. Nose Work class requires crating space or weather that cooperates with car crating. Reactive dog class means visual blocks will be needed, segregated safe areas and larger spaces. Agility requires a larger space and specialized flooring or footing.

Consider your product offerings. Consider your targeted dog training niche and what the classes filling this niche will require. Consider the location options available to you. Each of these factors will weigh against each other, so be ready to prioritize and be familiar with all of your options.

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A dog training facility just isn’t for you. Too much overhead, not enough flexibility, or one of a number of other considerations has convinced you that you’d rather pursue other options. What are those options?

1. Work as a dog training employee. Whether for a big box store, a local training facility, or a standalone trainer, consider working as an employee. This is a great way to get started in professional dog training. Frequently, as an employee you’ll work under your employer’s curriculum and direction.  You may even have an opportunity to apprentice.

2. Independent contractors are much more commonly found in dog training, which means that you’re likely responsible for your own insurance and paying your own taxes. You also have more flexibility, limited only by the employment contract you negotiate.

3. Be your own boss, but focus your efforts on in-home training and/or the use of public space. Sole proprietorship, a limited liability company, or another business entity type – you choose.

Be aware that laws governing your status as an employee or independent contractor, as well as laws regulating different business entity types vary by jurisdiction. That means that you should be familiar enough with local laws to know when you need to seek professional help to guide you.

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So you’ve decided on training in a dog training facility – now what? There are a number of options available to professional dog trainers. The greatest limiting factors will be cost and canine access to the space.

Cost
Issue –
Renting a space large enough to fulfill your training needs can be cost-prohibitive. Dog training is limited to the hours in which your clients are available. That means that group classes are typically held evenings and weekends, day training is typically daytime weekdays, and daycare high demand is Monday-Friday during the day. Be aware that you may have to provide services beyond training if you rent a facility – i.e., daycare and boarding.
Solutions –
1. Diversify your professional dog training services to fully encompass both your clients’ needs and your facility’s available hours of operation. A good example is day care during the day and classes in the evening. But get creative and find a solution that works for your clients and your product offerings.
2. Pair up with complementary businesses and share your space. The business or businesses you pair with may be dog-oriented or just dog-friendly.
3. Rather than renting or purchasing a space, investigate creative options for sharing or leasing from an existing business.

Canine Access
Issue –
In pursuing creative options, you may encounter some difficulty finding a match with other businesses or locations that will be receptive to the presence of dogs and all they entail: hair, slobber, dirt,, elimination, etc.
Solutions –
1. Yoga may not be your best bet for shared space since the participants spend much of their time on the floor and might prefer a more pristine environment – not to mention the fact that their clients have the same time needs as yours! However, there is a rising trend in doga, yoga for dogs, so perhaps just the right yoga instructor would be interested!
2. Give special consideration to businesses that have complimentary business hours. Retail locations are one example.
3. Consider pairing up with another dog-friendly business. Many doggie daycares, boarding facilities, and groomers don’t offer in-house dog training, and they most certainly are prepared for canine clients on the premises.
4. Investigate local community centers. Some have rules regarding dogs, but some do not.
Issue –
Some lease spaces have restrictions specific to dogs.
Solution –
1. You don’t know if you don’t ask. If you’re seeking your own lease space, have your agent make inquiries on properties that are otherwise a good fit.
2. Sometimes properties can be flexible and you can negotiate canine access. Perhaps boarding is not an option, but daycare is. Or perhaps certain hours can be negotiated; business parks may have interest in providing evening access for higher volume dog traffic. You don’t want to limit yourself unnecessarily, but it’s wise to know all of your options.

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There are a number of questions that come up in an initial dog training client consult. One of these is what specific service type best fits the client’s needs. For example, are group dog training classes the best fit or is one-on-one client coaching a better option? Consider the following factors when you make a recommendation for private versus group dog training instruction:

1. How important is individualized attention? Can your client and client dog learn well in a group, or do they have specialized needs addressed by one-on-one coaching?

2. Can you target the necessary behaviors best in the client’s home or in your training facility?

3. Is convenience important to your client?

4. Would the client dog benefit from the increased distraction of a group class? Or would this create sufficient stress that the dog would find it difficult to learn?

5. Has the client’s vet prohibited or discouraged visiting high risk areas? Even if you provide the details of your sanitation regimen, vets may not want extremely young puppies or immune compromised dogs to visit a training center. Of course, you should defer to the vet in these instances, most especially if you have already provided the details of your sanitation regimen. In these instances, in-home training is the only option, although you can discuss with your client whether coaching or day training is the best fit for their needs.

6. Are private lessons cost prohibitive for your client? This is an influencing factor, but placing a dog who needs private training in a group class for cost purposes does neither the client nor the other students any favors.

These are a few of the factors to consider when making a canine coaching product recommendation to clients on your initial phone consult.

 

Choosing what services you offer is one of the first decisions you’ll make when you start a dog training business. Preventative puppy training is extremely important for a number of reasons:

1.       Puppy class is the earliest training opportunity you have with prospective clients. If they’re not pursuing puppy training with you, you may miss out altogether on the opportunity to provide services to them, as they will find another trainer.

2.       For a well-rounded product selection, puppy class is a must. If you want to be one-stop shopping for your clients, then including puppy class is necessary. You may determine that you’d like to specialize for a number of reasons, but that’s another blog post!

3.       If you’re marketing through veterinary clinics, the 2 highest volume referrals are for puppy training and for problem behaviors (pet manners and behavior work.) If you fail to offer puppy classes, you’re missing a good number of vet referrals.

4.       Providing timely puppy training that focuses on topics like proper socialization, preventative measures for resource guarding, and appropriate dog-dog interactions can help your clients avoid any number of problem behaviors later in their dogs’ lives.

5.       And, last but not least, puppy class is fun!

The first three points listed above are about good business, but the fourth is about good dog training. By reaching clients earlier, before serious behavioral problems develop, you have an opportunity to help those puppies grow into well-adjusted, sociable adult dogs. This improves the quality of the both the dog’s and the owner’s lives. 

Some dogs, even with the very best of starts, can develop aggression or anxiety. If you have provided a positive dog training experience for your clients, then they are much more likely to turn to you for help and advice in resolving those developing behavior problems. And even better, they may seek your help more quickly if they already have an established relationship with you.

You love dogs, have a talent for teaching, and have decided you’d like to start a dog training business. Now what? Here are a few brainstorming items to consider.

1.       Training Skills

This includes developing training plans, the creation of which relies upon an understanding of learning theory and dog behavior. Consider a professional dog training course to improve your understanding of theory. Have you developed and maintained good mechanical skills that facilitate implementation of training plans?  Do you have methods and a philosophy that are consistent and ethical?

2.       Coaching Skills

Remember the people component and brush up on your coaching skills. Are you comfortable presenting information? Modeling skills to clients? Fielding a variety of questions? Become a Professional Dog Trainer offers a training module for client coaching and training humans.

3.       Business Model

In-home training, day-training, and/or group classes. Deciding on the products and services that you’re qualified and ready to offer, is an important step.

4.       What are your marketing skills?

Consider where your strengths are and what you’ll need to hire out. Can you create and update your own website? Are you comfortable with social media? Are your strengths in speaking in front of large crowds or smaller, more intimate groups.

5.       The Business

Look at the different business types, sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership, etc. Your Secretary of State web site is a good place to start. How will you keep your books? Will you rely upon other workers or just yourself? Investigate your insurance options.

6.       Facility Space

Will you need your own space or focus on in-home options? If you do need facility space, consider the local options of rental, purchase, office share, or other creative options.

In addition to a professional dog trainer course, consider Raising Canine’sHow to Run a Dog Business” series of webinars.

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This is a big topic. What personality fits your company? Are there special skills you’re looking for? A specific educational background? How much experience will you require? Part-time, full-time? These are all important questions – but not the ones we’ll be addressing in today’s blog. There is, however, one important consideration to address before you begin to even consider the dog trainer requirements for the trainer you will be hiring: independent contractor or employee.

You may not be aware that there are different legal relationships that you can have with dog trainers who work for your dog training company.  Be aware that you can hire either an independent contractor or an employee.  What specifically defines whether a person working for you is a contractor or an employee is determined by local law.  It is very important that you seek professional advice when making this decision, because you will be required to meet different state employment laws for employees and independent contractors.  

Why is it important to first consider the relationship you will have with your newly hired dog trainer? Because the relationship you have with this professional dog trainer dictates how much control you have over the methods and content of the courses and lessons they teach. It is likely that a person who holds skills that are unique for your business, who creates his own curriculum, and teaches independent of supervision could be considered an independent contractor. 

On the other hand, if you are supervising instruction, providing a curriculum, and offering training in your methods to your new trainer, it is unlikely that local law would allow you to designate your certified professional trainer as an independent contractor. NOTE: the law varies from state to state! It is important to seek counsel from a professional in your area to help you define what these terms mean in your state. 

If you prefer not to hire dog trainers for your company that are employees, then you’ll be looking for a plug-n-play trainer. In other words, a certified professional dog trainer who can hit the ground running and won’t need extensive supervision and training. If you prefer to train new hires in your particular methods and ask that they follow curriculum that you’ve developed, be aware that you may have to employ them and cannot designate them as independent contractors.

Again, we’re not here to provide you with legal definitions for independent contractor and employee. Rather, our goal is to make you aware of these special relationships so that you can seek advice and counsel from local experts who are familiar with the laws of your jurisdiction. Venture forth, educate yourself, and hire a dog trainer for your company!

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Dog Training Intake Form, Client History, Canine Behavior Evaluation Form, call it what you will, this is the form a professional dog trainer needs when looking for the vital stats on future clients, human and canine. 

“Why do I need one?  It seems like more administrative work.”

There are a number of reasons for using an intake form for both clients and dogs. Getting a full background can help you to:

1. formulate a targeted, more fully developed training plan,

2. help you evaluate the safety risks in accepting particular dogs; and

3. screen out clients whose needs you may not be able to fulfill or who may be unsuitable for your business in some way.

Why does your client need one?

Requiring an initial assessment of handler and dog is very advantageous to the client for all of the above reasons. If it helps you to do your job, it helps your client. But specifically, I find that completing and reviewing this document with your client helps them to understand better what the training issues/goals are and helps to manage their training expectations. 

Clients frequently are not focusing on the big picture, for example, how is the family’s behavior effecting the dog’s behavior; are the problem behaviors indicative of other underlying areas of concern; is the dog’s environment safe and fully providing for his needs. Most clients are focused on the fact that Spot jumps on their toddler or doesn’t come when they call him. The following are items to include that might have your client considering the bigger picture and will help you to create a training plan:

1. Who spends the most time with Spot? Who feeds Spot? Walks Spot?

2. How much exercise does Spot get on a daily basis? This includes both the type and length.

3. Has Spot had previous training? If so, what kind, and with whom?

4. Has Spot ever bitten a person or dog? ***For the best language to use here, you might consult a local attorney.  A local attorney will be familiar with applicable State and local law regarding what constitutes a dangerous dog.

5. Name 5 things that Spot enjoys doing with the family.  5 things that Spot enjoys doing alone.  Note: there are a number of variations you could create: favorite toys, activities, foods.

6.  Spot does these 5 things that I love…  Spot does these 5 things that I dislike….

“Do I have to create my own?” 

Certainly you can create your own dog training intake form. Doing so means that your form will be customized to your needs. This is especially important if you offer specialty classes or provide services to a niche clientele, either of which might require specialized background information. If you prefer not to create your own form, you can choose to either buy a form or utilize business software that collects the information for you as a part of the registration process. There are a number of choices available on the market – check them out!