Archive for Running a Dog Consulting Business

Train Your Business like your Dog Training Program: 5 steps to put your business on auto-pilot

Guest Blog by: Britt Alwerud

Owning a dog training, or pet sitting business, is a dream career for most people – especially when you first start out. The thought of spending hours with dogs and devising a customized dog training program, sounds like heaven, but unfortunately there’s a high degree of burnout in this industry. And it’s definitely not because of the dogs. You might have set out to be a dog trainer, but then quickly realize that you’re a business owner too and with that comes a lot of responsibility and admin work. As a small business owner, you have to wear many hats and doing it all can weigh you down really quickly. Instead of working a typical 9 to 5 job, you may find yourself working on your dog training program for 8 hours, but then having to do another 3 hours of work having to deal with client scheduling requests, cancellations, invoicing, collecting payments, new client intake and keeping track of all of your client’s information. It can all add up and lead to major burnout. But imagine if you loved your business as much as you love working with dogs and you could save more than ten hours per week running your business? You can do this by applying your dog training techniques to your business.

You have to train yourself to be a successful business owner by doing these five necessary steps for putting your business on auto-pilot:

1. Shape your business model
It’s important to visualize and write down exactly what you want your business and your personal life to look like. Just like in your dog training program, you can use the concept of shaping when thinking about your business. Shaping refers to the reinforcement of behaviors that approximate or come close to the desired new behavior. The steps involved are often called successive approximations because they successively approximate or get closer and closer to the desired behavior.1

Do you love working one-on-one with clients, do you enjoy group classes, do you prefer having a dog training program online using videos and Skype calls with clients, or would you like to supplement your training income by selling E-books? How much time will each of these service types take and how much do you value your time? Once you zero in on what’s important to you, write down a goal for how much you want to make per year. Then work backwards. If you’ve decided to focus on private dog training clients, how many dog training sessions do you need to sell in order to reach that number? Can you offer packages that get you to that number faster or can you offer a premium service like a Board and Train program or a Puppy Potty Training program that you can charge top dollar for. How many of these programs do you have to sell per month to hit your yearly goal? Focus in on your service offerings and make sure they align with your core values and that you are valuing yourself and your time. You are worth it and owe this to yourself. Taking these steps will shape your business to be in alignment with your goals and lifestyle.

2. Capture your systems: Dog Training Programs
Now that you’ve zeroed in on your business model. It’s time to put the systems in place to deliver your high quality service. You may be the best dog trainer in the world, but are you providing the best customer service as a business owner? Just like in clicker training, you need to identify your successful systems and mark them so that the desired outcome happens more frequently – i.e your clients keep booking you and referring you. Identify what is working and what needs improvement. For your clients, you might put together instructions that help your clients form habits that change their dogs’ behavior. Consider putting together your own instructions for how your business should be run on a daily basis. That way you can create consistency for yourself and thereby create consistency for how you interact with your clients as well. An employee handbook is a great way to achieve this and it unlocks the information of how to run your business from your head, so that someone else can step in and help you run the business. This is the first step in automating your business.

3. Chain your processes using modern mobile business software
Dogs thrive off of consistency and so do humans. If you do everything the same way every time, it takes out the guesswork and creates happier customers, staff and business owners. Technology is a perfect way to automate systems so that everyone is on the same page. By using a scheduling, payments, and rating system like Handlr to run your business, your daily operations will be automated. You’ll have peace of mind that all of your appointments were handled and automatically charged to your client’s card, and that your client was satisfied with the service. You will never have to invoice again, shift through tons of physical paperwork, worry that you didn’t get a service agreement signed, or accidentally miss an appointment. It will all be handled in one easy to use business dashboard and your clients will be able to book you directly from their customer app. As you bring on more staff, they can easily be added to your business dashboard so that your clients can conveniently book with them. You can GPS track them, see what time they checked in and checked out of the service, and check your client’s ratings and feedback about your team member. Along with Handlr there are countless other business apps that can help you more easily run your business. Hurdlr is a mileage tracker that can help you keep track of miles for your expenses. Hireology is a great platform for hiring and managing your HR. Gusto is a great platform for payroll and employee onboarding and Google for Work is a must have for running a small business. All of these tools can help you automate your daily tasks so that you can focus on your clients and not on the tedious business admin work.

4. Positively reinforce yourself
Once you’ve set up your business to run on auto-pilot, you’ll feel more confident about bringing on more clients and more staff. This way, you will be able to take a vacation, take a break if you need to, not worry so much about getting injured, start another business, or just work less hours but make more revenue.

5. Reward your customers and staff
Showing your appreciation to your clients and staff not only strengthens the bond and relationship that you have with them, but will also improve your retention rates. Clients will also be encouraged to share your business with their friends and neighbors, and your staff will tell other good people to come work for you. Small gifts during the holidays, handwritten thank you cards, quarterly staff get-togethers, client appreciation picnics at the park or random acts of kindness make an impact in a big way.

One of the keys to  a successful dog training program is consistency and setting aside the time to break down the steps and follow through with repetition, reinforcement and rewards. Applying these techniques to your business will result in a balanced, successful business that you’re proud of.

Britt Alwerud has owned and operated one of San Diego’s largest dog walking companies, DogZenergy, since 2006 and is the Founder of Handlr. To learn more about Handlr and how it can help you automate your client intake, scheduling, payments, team dispatching and tracking – request a demo here or visit myhandlr.com.

1Source: allpsych.com/personalitysynopsis/behavior_modification/

Changing Bad Dog Habits in 4 Simple Steps

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.

Separation Anxiety, Too Big a Bite or Specialization Opportunity?

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.

Dog Training Facility…Or Not: Products Offered Affect Your Location Options

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.

Dog Training Facility…Or Not: Non-Facility Options

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.

Dog Training Facility…Or Not: Logistical Considerations

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.

Privates or Groups, Make the Right Recommendation

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.

 

Puppy Prevention Saves Dog Aggression

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.

Starting a Dog Training Business To Do List

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.

Hiring Dog Trainers for Your Company

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!