One huge problem new dog trainers run into is not having enough clientele to sustain their business.
The most common thing you'll hear in the industry is "Word of mouth is the best advertisement". That may be true, but in order to get the "word of mouth", you first have to get satisfied clients, which means you first have to get clients. That's where new dog trainers struggle and this is where I'll lay out some creative ways that I've found will help you get those clients.
Let's first lay out what doesn't work:
*BITCHING ABOUT THE ECONOMY: Dog training is a great skill to have because everyone has the same problem, whether you're wealthy or poor, you probably have a dog that needs training. Even poor people can benefit from an inexpensive group class. Add 5 more group class clients and that's an easy $300 to $500, depending on where you're located.
You'll be surprised at the lengths people will go to to get their dogs trained. I've had clients who literally had holes in their roofs and ceilings who would get a loan or spend their paycheck on dog training!
*HOPING THAT SOMEONE WILL NOTICE YOU: Hope is NOT a strategy! Quit hoping and move. Get up early, make a plan and act on it. Your mom will not tell her friends about you, she says she will but she wont! Ok, maybe she will but who's gonna hire their friend's baby to train their dog? not many people.
Sitting on your ass wont get you clients!
*QUITTING: Obviously, right? I get to hear from a lot of new dog trainers due to the nature of the work I currently do and the sad reality is many new aspiring dog trainers quit within a year or two. Many more as years go by. I attribute this to lack of focus in part. Too many new dog trainers are looking for a job while at the same time working on their business. True, it can be done, but set your focus on one or the other primarily.
NOW THE WAYS THAT DO WORK!!!
You wont need to buy ad space on the radio, bill boards or anything crazy like that. Here we go:
*LIBRARY ADULT LEARNING PROGRAMS: Visit your local libraries and ask them if you can give a class on basic dog ownership care tips, prevention of common behavior problems, ways to keep dogs mentally and physically stimulated, etc.(most libraries have an educational program)Libraries will usually be thrilled to have an educational program to get the community involved. They’ll set up everything for you, they’ll even promote the event for you sending a mass email to the town. On the day of the presentation bring a well behaved demo dog, with prior permission, and lots of video clips, don’t kill them with a long boring PowerPoint! Bring business cards of course and you’ll score yourself a bunch of clients for months to come.
I’ve done this myself and can truly attest to its efficiency! Literally free advertising.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
*DEFENSIVE HANDLING CLASSES AT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN'S OFFICE: In a very similar strategy to the one above, doing the same for veterinary clinics will pay dividends. Your locals vets can be a huge referral source! but in order to get that, you need to make yourself an asset and create some trust. Vet clinics deal with unwilling dogs on a regular basis and most veterinary professionals get minimal defensive handling classes. Veterinarians and their staff can certainly benefit from a reminder on a yearly basis.
By doing this, you don't have to worry about that awkward moment in which you just show up with business cards and say "Hey, can you send some clients my way? thanks!", or bring cookies, another common advice. Screw that! that's awkward as hell! You're better off not even asking for favors, just let them know you would like to offer them a defensive handling class FREE OF CHARGE to them. Why FREE? That's how you build trust, really you're only talking about an hour of your time, that's an hour better spent than sitting on your ass hoping your mom's friend will hire you.
At the end of your class, vet clinics will love to send clients your way.
Do the same with other vet clinics in your area. I've landed many clients and a solid referral relationship doing this! trust me, it works!
P.S. If you don't know much about defensive handling, PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!!! You'll get someone seriously hurt if you're not familiar with defensive handling yourself! If you got your dog training certificate "online" or you're just "good with dogs", I'm sorry but you should not be teaching defensive handling skills, you need to have training in this area yourself.
*FIND YOUR LOCAL NON PROFIT DOG ORGANIZATION AND ASK HOW YOU CAN HELP: This may be an animal rescue or a [legitimate] Service Dog Organization. Don't go to them saying "I'm a dog trainer and I'm here to show you how to train dogs". You wont hear back from them! Instead, approach in a more humble way and ask if there's ANYTHING you can do for them, laying out your background in dog training only as a way to ensure you have an idea of what a dog is. As you start helping and they realize how good you are with their dogs and your demo dog, trust me, they'll have you do the more fun things and trust you more, and in no time, sending clients your way.
I have done this and gotten a nice referral source this way also.
DROPPING BY YOUR LOCAL BOARDING FACILITIES: No, don't ask for referrals. Try this instead. Make a sign up sheet with your business name and contact info as letterhead, then go to your local boarding facilities, introduce yourself and tell them that you have a way for both of you to profit. Let them know that for every client of theirs that signs up for your services, they'll get a referral fee. All they have to do is give them your contact info OR have them sing up on your list for your upcoming group classes (if you offer this service).
You would determine what is an acceptable and fair referral fee. I know what you're thinking! "I don't want to give them my hard earned money!". If you give them an incentive to refer their clients to you, they'll work hard for you! Even if you just leave the sign up sheet for group classes and give them a small percentage of your fees, you're still winning bigger than they are!
I charged $100 per client for group classes and offered the boarding facility 10% of that per client. That's a good incentive for the boarding facility and you're still coming out on top.
If you haven't noticed by now, there's a big thing these strategies have in common. SERVICE.
Most people are so concerned with themselves and how to TAKE that they miss opportunities to GIVE. And it's by giving that you open the means to receiving. Creating a WIN/WIN is the best way to create long lasting referral sources. Chasing one client at a time will only give you so much work and money. You don't want to chase clients, you want to chase referral sources!
All these strategies will take a little bit of time before you start seeing results, but once you do, you'll be getting phone calls repeatedly, combine that with word of mouth and pretty soon you'll be busier than expected.
Share this with a dog trainer who needs to see this. Chances are they're trying the wrong strategies and need to be introduced to WIN/WIN techniques.
FOR-EVER-STUDENT-DOG-TRAINER: A dog trainer who is constantly looking for the next "thing", the latest "technique", the latest seminar, the latest book.
I have absolutely nothing against continued education. As a matter of fact, this industry would be much better off if all of us kept learning, attending seminars, reading, etc.
I do notice an issue with the for-ever-learning syndrome though. It fosters insecurity, it also has the potential to mess up your knowledge base, your foundation.
A for-ever-student has the potential to be misled by the flashiest, "newest" dog training formula, especially when combined with a likable, confident speaker. You mix that with a dog trainer who's hungry for all sorts of knowledge and the result could be the dog trainer is now second-guessing possibly quite effective techniques.
I am in a very unique, and satisfying position in my life at the moment in which I get to teach people how to become dog trainers. It took me years of trial and error, different dog training schools and many seminars to learn what my students get in a 3-month period. When you get flooded with so much information, it's easy to almost dismiss everything you've just learned as "just the basics". I agree with that to a degree, but many trainers our students are competing against, know about half or less of the info our graduates know. I know this from personal experience and from students who after attending seminars tell me things like: "Man, I thought I was gonna get so much info but a lot of the people there didn't even know all the terms and things I was familiar with."
As a matter of fact, I still get to see trainers with decades of experience who lack knowledge in certain aspects of dog training.
I also get to hear from students who are constantly on that quest for "new" knowledge who then tell me what they've learned and then need help troubleshooting issues with the "new" knowledge/technique they got from "Joe Shmoe's" latest seminar, only to be reminded that the "latest technique" they learned was a just a slightly modified and more complicated version of what they already knew all along. This is when I get the "Ohhh...That makes sense" replies.
There are a lot of over complicated techniques out there. There are a lot of "new" techniques out there that are just a spin on time tested, proven techniques. Basically, there's a lot of plain old bullshit in the industry.
Some examples of "new" techniques that aren't really new:
Bonking isn't really a new thing. If you're not familiar with bonking, youtube it. You basically roll up a towel and throw it at the dog. One of the best things you can do for your dog IF you want your dog to be hand shy, over cautious and possibly over submissive. Bonking is really just a "throw chain" technique outlined in the William Koehler books. Only, instead of a light chain, it's just a rolled up towel.
-BAT TRAINING (BEHAVIOR ADJUSTMENT TRAINING):
Well this is awkward because I actually enjoyed this book, so I may sound like a hypocrite. I truly enjoyed this book and as a matter of fact, it's a book I recommend.
When you break this down though, you see that you're really just reading on DRA (Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors). Of course if you're a newbie, you have no idea what any of this means. So look up DRA and read BAT training and you'll see that the book is just an outline of how to do DRA, which is an old, time tested, scientific procedure. Yet BAT training is considered a "new method".
CAT Training is very similar. I know! more "new" methods that are just acronyms. Smell the bullshit yet?
-PRESSURE & RELEASE
Read this article and you're welcome for the headache. It basically says A LOT without saying anything of value that you and I don't already know!
-LOW-LEVEL E-COLLAR TRAINING
This is only HALF of full e-collar training. How these bullshitters managed to take only part of traditional e-collar training and make it a "method" of its own? I have no idea, but it's fucking genius!!
The list goes on and on, and unfortunately will continue to go on and on.
If the trainers/speakers have a "new" method, it's probably bullshit! OR it's not really new, just put together slightly different. That's not to say the speaker doesn't have anything of value to YOU. You may be at a level where you will actually get plenty out of the book/seminar/video.
In closing, be open to learning new things, but be confident enough to ask questions, open enough to unlearn old things and don't get attached to the speaker. It's easy to fall victim to the BS when you like the speaker. Do your own research, test it and come up with your own conclusions based on your own experience, not necessarily the experience of the speakers.
There are so many dog trainers that start off with the right mindset only to eventually get burned out and QUIT.
"Not me! Dog Training is my Passion". No trust me, it can and it WILL happen to you, the trick is to be able to see it before it gets too out of hand.
Before I give you some tips, you have to remember that your brain is wired to create shortcuts. This is why a difficult task eventually becomes second nature if practiced enough. It's too exhausting so you naturally have the ability to go on autopilot. Your subconscious takes over and before you know it you don't have to put that much mental effort into a task that once seemed incredibly difficult.
Let's face it, despite the appeal of training dogs and working with animals, dog training can be very monotonous. Eventually it can seem like you're just stuck and all you're doing is teaching the same thing again and again. Sometimes it's work.
Remember why you started.
There are a number of reasons you decided to become a dog trainer, but there's one in particular that made you take that leap. Go back to that reason(s) and let that reason drive you when dog training starts to seem like a chore.
For many of us that reason was "I hate what I do, I want to work with animals". So remember what you used to do and realize that even though this industry has its downs, it still beats stocking boxes on a shelf or working in a cubicle.
Another thing you can do is realize what your life would be like if you didn't train dogs. What would you do? would it mean you'd have to go back to that job that doesn't fulfill you?
I've found that going back to this as a way to motivate me has helped me many times when dog training feels like a chore.
Take on a hobby!
Seriously if you don't take time off, you're gonna burn yourself out. I don't care how much you love to train dogs, you have to take time and focus on yourself. This will allow you to reset and come back fresh. But it's necessary!
Imagine your favorite dish! or dessert. Now imagine you have to eat that every single day, 3 times per day. You probably wouldn't last more than a few days before you got sick and tired of your favorite dish. So please take time off.
Here are some things you can do:
You can start a workout regimen and set fitness goals.
You can go shooting once per week or once a month.
You can pursue something new on the side (a new language, study a new subject, etc.)
You can plan vacations months or weeks in advance (doesn't have to be a long vacation, it can be a whole day where you just go on a hike, camping, etc.)
You could do a combination of these.
There have been times in my career where I felt every dog acted and looked the same because I was literally training dog after dog, all day long.
What helped me here was to set goals. I told myself things like: "I have to learn something new from this next dog", "Next training session I will be more creative on my approach", "Next month I will read this many books on dog training".
By setting goals you're getting your brain out of that routine pattern. You're actually telling your brain to go look for new things.
I realize this isn't really a tip, it's more of an option I'm giving you. It's OK to move on. You don't have to train dogs if you feel this no longer fulfills you. Maybe you gave it a try and you found out cleaning dog poop off the ground from time to time isn't your thing.
Maybe the risk of getting bit here and there isn't something you're willing to live with. This is all OK, you can move on. No one cares, you need to do what you feel is best for you.
A WORD OF CAUTION. What you don't want to do is quit. Everyone gets tired, everyone gets bored. The going gets tough in EVERY industry and EVERY professional field. If you ask anyone who has accomplished anything or anyone who is very happy with their career choice you'll see that they too had tough times and that there were many times they wanted to quit. I myself have felt this way a handful of times.
What you don't want to do is quit during these times because what will end up happening is you'll take that quitting attitude to the next phase in your life. You'll do something else, you'll get bored and you'll quit again. So be careful with this.
Only move on if you feel like this truly doesn't fulfill you. If you don't see yourself doing this long term and there are things you truly feel more compelled doing. In other words, if you already have something in sight that you know will make all the difference in your life and it has nothing to do with dog training, then yes, it's time to move on.
If you simply are tired, exhausted and bored and feel like you just want to stop, that's not moving on, that's quitting.
What would be the one thing that will make you a better dog trainer this year, this month, this week, or even this very day?
Everyone is familiar with "New Year's" resolutions, new year-new me. A lot of people like to rag on people who do this because most people fall off the wagon.
So what I did this year is rather than write a resolution, which by the way I haven't done in years as I also find it invaluable, I instead wrote a letter to 2018. This actually got me riled up.
Have you ever written a letter to someone? a charged up letter? Like an EFF-YOU letter? That's pretty much what I did. It helped me at least.
So without further ado, I'll list some things that can make you a better dog trainer this year!
OPEN YOUR MIND:
Yes, just open your mind. I know it sounds trivial but becoming a better dog trainer is as simple as seeing different views other than your own.
This means reading and looking into material that you're NOT familiar with. Even if the thought of it makes you slightly uncomfortable.
Simply put, if you are a die hard Purely Positive trainer, read material written by Balanced Trainers, maybe actually "talk" to some of these balanced trainers. You'd be surprised at how many dog trainers are actually willing to talk if you ask with an open mind.
Same on the flip side! If you're a Balanced trainer, read some material written by a Purely Positive author. As a Balanced trainer you may tell yourself "But I started as a Purely Positive Trainer". True, you may have already been exposed to that and decided there's more to just using two sides of the quadrant, but the perspective or refresher that some of these trainers offer can be valuable. I've found myself reading and watching material from Purely Positive trainers that made me go "hm, interesting", because you can learn or remember a bunch of things.
Even if you think "If I do read or watch material from X,Y,Z trainers, I know 90% of it will be BS". GREAT!! That means there's 10% of good info that can make you better.
CAUTION: This caution will be a bit of a contradiction to what I just said. But there are things I will just not look at. Material from trainers who have consistently proven to be incompetent. It takes experience to be able to discern this and you would know who is incompetent by actually watching or reading some of their material. So technically, you still want to be open minded and explore methods and trainers you're not familiar with, if anything, at least to be able to say "I don't like him/her".
DECIDE TO BE BETTER:
I know this sounds very Tony-Robbins like but it's imperative that you don't just expect to be better by accumulating years under your belt. I used to think that a while ago but I can't tell you how many times I've met dog trainers who have had years of experience who were absolutely clueless!! These people talk about their experience like it's a badge, and it's NOT! Some of the dumbest things I've seen and heard came from people with "Years of Experience".
Basically, going through the motions again and again will NOT make you a better dog trainer. You actually have to WANT to be better. You have to TRY to be better. You have to DECIDE to be better. You have to ACT on that decision and BE better. This means approaching EVERY training session as if it's your first and your last training session rather than just looking at it as "just another dog".
This is a common question out there among dog trainers and people interested in a career in dog training. Having gone to two different dog training schools and working as an instructor at one, I will give you my perspective on the subject and help you decide if it's even the right thing for you.
I wont advertise for the schools I went to. This will be unbiased, partially because one of the schools I went to and work for don't want to be directly associated on social media with a degenerate like me. And I don't blame them, I do post some pretty inappropriate and unfiltered content between my Instagram and Facebook page. ;) If you follow my page, you're going to hell too. Jesus is watching you, just saying.
So you want to be a dog trainer and don't know how to get started? Read this first! This article I wrote a while back will help you see if dog training is what you think it's going to be.
Let's assume you've already done your research and are ready to embark on this journey. I will break it down into categories to help you decide what school would be good.
WHAT TRAINING METHODOLOGY ARE YOU MOST COMFORTABLE WITH?
"Well I don't know, I hoped school was going to help me with that."
We have students that come to our school, which is a school that teaches all 4 of the quadrants of operant conditioning, meaning we teach the proper use of Reinforcement, Punishment and how to properly use all training tools. In our school, many times we get students who are not comfortable with prong collars or electronic collars because they have some bias. Most of them change their opinion of these tools and approaches because they learn how to properly use them. Many of them even become very pro-ecollar and prong collar, not because they love to hurt dogs but because they learn how these tools can be life savers.
We also have a student here and there that never really made that change in their opinion. And it doesn't matter what information is presented to them, they just don't buy into it. And hey, that's perfectly OK. These are the students that would probably be happier at a dog training school that matches their belief system.
I can tell you I would have learned a lot from going to a purely positive dog training school but I would also have been frustrated later as I worked with cases where I needed different approaches. So I'm happy I went to school where I did.
So to conclude this section, research the schools, read their curriculum and talk to an instructor if possible. Don't talk their ear off as they are very busy, but call with a list of questions they can answer.
CAN YOU AFFORD TO GO TO A DOG TRAINING SCHOOL?
Don't be surprised to find out some of these schools range from a few thousand to over $10,000.
These are very specialized schools that have to follow state regulations to be qualified as continuing education institutions. There is a lot work involved in teaching you, and this wont come for next to nothing.
If you're a veteran and can have the VA pay for your schooling, be on the lookout for schools that take the GI Bill and /or Voc. Rehab.
***Please be warned that you need to successfully complete the course if you have the GI Bill pay for it, because if you don't, the VA will be coming after you to get ALL their money back, from tuition to BAH!***
I have to stress this because I've had students that were not aware of this and thought they could just slack and get their $1000 + in BAH just for showing up. Nope! if you don't successfully complete, you'll get to see a different side of the VA, one that is speedy and responsive!!
Additionally, you'll be out of work for whatever amount of time this school lasts, it could be 4 weeks or over 4 months. That's difficult because there's no income while you're going to school, unless of course you have a source of passive income.
DO YOU DO WELL UNDER PRESSURE?
Don't come to school thinking that it'll be "fun". If you have fun in the process, great!
But these schools are very intense, there are deadlines! There are academic and attendance standards. You know why? because they have to abide by their state's post secondary educational regulations. This allows them to call themselves schools and makes the nice certificate you get at the end a valid document.
So these schools wont hold your hands, they'll help you if you want to help yourself. But it's not one on one coaching. You're signing up for a school. I have worked with trainers who've attended other schools and their experience was very similar to mine. Work, work, study, study, maybe an hour here and there to eat and poop, but that's about it.
Some schools don't actually have state regulated curriculum. So their attendance and academic requirements might be a bit more flexible, but you will still grind from sun up to sun down.
If you don't do well with pressure, maybe a dog training school is not for you. Maybe you'll need to look at workshops and seminars to get your education. In no way am I trying to sound like a snob here. Workshops and seminars are very helpful and you will learn a lot! But having gone to seminars and workshops myself, I can assure you the road is a bit lengthier than emerging yourself in a full-time school.
Another thing to consider, is that school is never over. Once you graduate, you've gotten a huge foundation! but it's still just a foundation. There's no replacement for experience and getting your hands dirty. You have to recognize you need to keep training, reading, studying and going to seminars. Dog training is a career long journey, not a ride.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH SCHOOL TO GO TO?
It's very likely that you've already done your homework and now you have a few choices. You will keep hearing about other dog training schools. Make sure you keep the same criteria to screen your choices.
So now you're torn. Is it a matter of finances? You may have to compromise a bit.
One thing you can do is contact the schools and talk to them to get a list of graduates you can get in touch with. You can also ask on dog training groups and forums. Odds are you'll hear from a graduate of one of your choices.
When you get to talk to the students of those schools, make sure you talk to actual graduates, not people who went to the school and got kicked out or were unable to graduate as this more than likely wont be a fair review.
When you talk to graduates of these schools, be careful with the cheerleaders too. They loved the school but their outlook in life is so positive and optimistic that they will literally have nothing negative to say about the school. Chances are you're not this optimistic, and your outlook in life is not that bright, where you see opportunity in every disadvantage. Their feed back is great! but you're also missing some negative things about the school.
Be careful with disgruntled graduates too. Unlike the cheerleaders, these people have an incredibly negative outlook on things or HAD an incredible outlook on things at the time. They'll tell you all the negative things about the school without any positive feedback. It's virtually impossible that a school doesn't have a handful of positives about it, unless every time you talk to a graduate of the school, they all have similar horrid complaints. This may be an indication of an issue with the school, not the perception of its former graduates.
Lastly, don't take feedback from a person who didn't actually go to the school. I can't tell you about a dog training school I haven't gone to, yet people feel very comfortable giving you feedback on a school they never once stepped in. So take their feedback with a grain of salt.
Do you even need to go to a dog training school? There's an alternative. Look, you don't HAVE to go to a dog training school. Many of the dog training giants in our industry never went to a formal school.
This doesn't mean they didn't study though!! Some of the best dog trainers out there are thinkers! they're creative! and make a conscious effort to be better with the next dog. They didn't just go through the motions.
You can do something for 15 years or more and still be bad at it! So it's not just about "Time" and "Experience". Learning is a process, it's a daily choice.
So you don't have to go to a dog training school. You can learn on your own by volunteering, reading, going to seminars every chance you can. It takes consistent studying! you can do internships (If you do, I recommend doing multiple internships under different trainers). There is a vast amount of information out there. A dog training school just puts it together in an organized and linear format.
Just because you don't have the budget to pursue your dreams doesn't mean you can't pursue your dreams.
One of my instructors in the first dog training school I went to, worked for free for the first year. He approached the company he now works at a while ago and begged the owner to give him a chance to prove himself, that all he wanted to do was clean kennels and do whatever needed to be done to learn what now he's very proficient at.
ONE LAST WORD ON DOG TRAINING SCHOOLS:
In closing, I want to remind you that no amount of schooling or signed certificates can replace hard work and dedication. Dog training schools are hard and very rewarding, why? Because being a dog trainer can be hard work. A dog training school is not going to guarantee success. Your journey is not over at graduation, all that means is that you do well on tests. No one is going to hold your hand while you're in school. No one cares about your feelings when you're in school.
My boy Jaxx serving as a distraction for a 2017 class