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.
So you don't like E-collars? great! don't buy one. But don't shame people who use one. I don't care about the trainers, I'm talking about the pet owners, the ones who have actually saved their dog's lives through the proper use of the e-collar. Yes, there's a proper way to use them and if it's in no way affecting you, don't try to make people feel bad for using them.
I get it, there are people (owners and trainers included) who don't use them properly, but that doesn't mean the tool itself is flawed.
I'm not gonna give you the bullshit "It's just a tap" line. This article is not about e-collar training and myth busting. All I want to say is don't judge people because they raise their dog different than you do yours.
Some of you have been burned with the judgmental looks and comments. Don't get discouraged, be proud that you're a proactive owner/trainer. Personally I don't give two fucks what people think of me or the way I train. I'm proud of my dogs, my achievements, my dog's achievements and ALL of my equipment. I rarely get comments but when I do, my "careless" attitude stops people from bugging me. It's when you actually look guilty and make excuses that these fuckheads will keep poking at you.
"If a dog CAN be trained without e-collars, one should never use e-collars". OK, if you can get across the country, or to the next town without polluting the environment, you should just walk everywhere. Oh your vehicle makes it easier, faster and more convenient you say??? Interesting!
"E-collars inflict pain, it's inhumane!!"
Listen fuckface! unless you're a HARDCORE vegan, don't talk to me about pain or inhumane. You don't get to judge someone on what training tool they use to improve the relationship with their dog, and slap a slab of bacon and butter on your plate the next morning. If you truly care about inhumane treatment of animals, stop supporting an industry that actually thrives on the mistreatment and torture of animals. Otherwise, shut the fuck up, because you don't care about the animals, you're just a self righteous hypocrite who wants to be right.
By the way, I don't care if you're a meat eater, just don't be a hypocrite.
Rant Over! :)
Hey let's cut the bullshit. There are applications in which the E collar IS supposed to HURT. Look, I'm a balanced trainer, I think e-collars are one of the best training tools out there.
"Oh...So you like to hurt dogs??!!"
No asshole! I don't!
In the conditioning phase, they can be very low stress and will even increase confidence.
I'm not here to convince anyone to like or dislike a training tool, what I want is to inform people that we don't have to pretend the e-collar is something it's not.
There are different applications for the use of the e-collar:
TEACHING: Through the use of low and recognizable levels. This IS the Low to No-stress application. YES! you force-free fanatics, it can actually be quite a happy training session.
PROMPTING: Once the dog is conditioned to the e-collar through low-levels, meaning the dog understands this type of communication. The e-collar can be used as "tap on the shoulders" application. This is not typically your pet training use however, this is more of a technique used for sport training. These prompting levels are not low (barely recognizable) and they're not high ("ouch"), they're mid-range.
PROOFING: This is done once the dog fully understands the behavior expected out of it AND it has been properly conditioned to the e-collar language. This e-collar application takes the form of a correction you would give on a training collar, it's supposed to be uncomfortable, it's supposed to be used as Positive Punishment and Negative Reinforcement (at this point in the form of avoidance conditioning). This level is not mid-range, it's high, as in "Yeah that's uncomfortable"
UNCONDITIONED PUNISHMENT: Now we're talking about painful corrections. Yes I said it, in this application I want the dog to be incredibly uncomfortable. I want this dog to go "Oh my fucking God!".
"Dude, you're an asshole!"
No! well.... yeah I am, but not to dogs! Here's why I want the e-collar to be painful! I want an incredibly negative association to something that could put its life at risk or another animal's life at risk (Snake proofing, Poison proofing, Crittering).
And if you think it's still NOT WARRANTED, then who's the asshole now?
I know this "The-Ecollar-doesn't-hurt" is more of a marketing strategy, a way to "win people over". And frankly, I do see the point of doing so when talking to a client and explaining the conditioning process, which IS supposed to be low level. But I see youtube trainers preaching over and over that the e-collar is always "subtle", "just a tap", "Low-level training" over and over, yet I have seen these very same trainers and the dogs they've worked with, that look seriously stressed the hell out for the sake of a youtube view. So which is it? are you gonna do your 5 minute magic as you blast the dog into compliance? or are you gonna regurgitate your "low level-subtle-stress free-just a tap" BS? Because you can't really have them both.
Ultimately, I think Balanced trainers are just out on a mission to try to convince people that the e-collar feels just like a feather, and I kind of see their point. People are trying to get this tool banned so I get it. But don't take it to the extreme because it just makes the rest of us look like phonies. Be clear, be honest and transparent. If someone HATES the e-collar, let them hate it! I don't care! I gave up that fight a while ago. The best way I've found to get people on board with the e-collar is to tell them the advantages and disadvantages of its use; the low-level application AND the importance of the high level applications. This is the BEST way to get someone to think for themselves and choose for themselves.
And for you Purely Positive people, don't give me this quote anymore:
"To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need:A thorough understanding of canine behaviour.
A thorough understanding of learning theory.
And if you have those three things, you don't need a shock collar."
Dr. Ian Dunbar
God! this is like your gospel! You cannot show bias against a training tool UNLESS you're proficient in its use. It's just as ridiculous as when people say things like "Clicker training is just as stressful because you have to starve the dog" or "Treat training is bad because it doesn't address relationship and makes dog shallow"
FALSE! You wouldn't accept that from people who don't know how marker training works, that's why I wont accept bias against the e-collar from people who don't understand it or are not proficient in its use. I don't care who it is!
If you still think E-collars are abusive and shut dogs down, tell me why these dogs below look so happy.
If you have a dog and subscribe to the importance of interactive toys for the mental stimulation of your four-legged family member(s) or have to hide medication in cheese or peanut butter the following information may be of interest to you. For a long time, it’s been pretty commonplace for peanut butter or cheese to use in interactive toys and treats. However, there’s an ingredient that has slowly become more and more common in the production of consumption products that is toxic to dogs. I’m talking about Xylitol. If your dog consumes enough of it; it can kill your dog D.E.D dead.
So, what is Xylitol? In laymen’s terms it’s a sweetener used as a substitute for sugar. Technically speaking, it’s sugar-alcohol found in various vegetation. It’s been around for decades but wasn’t widely used until recently.
Why has it gotten to be so popular? It’s about as sweet as table sugar but at only 2/3 the calories. Which means this sugar substitute is lower on the glycemic index. In other words, it’s better for your blood sugar. This makes it more appealing to diabetics and anyone else on a low carbohydrate diet. The most common products Xylitol is used is in gum, candies, medications, sports supplements, toothpaste and peanut butter.
Is Xylitol safe? Well, it is for human consumption, however, it is extremely toxic for dogs. Even in small amounts xylitol is capable of causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure and death in dogs.
But why is it toxic to dogs? I’m going to give you a little bit of biology here… The level of blood sugar is regulated by the release of insulin from the pancreas. When dogs ingest something containing xylitol it’s quickly absorbed into the bloodstream which causes the pancreas to release excessive amounts of insulin. The sudden release of insulin causes the blood sugar levels to plummet resulting in hypoglycemia. Untreated you can expect death to occur within sixty minutes of initial ingestion of the Xylitol if a lethal quantity has been ingested. This begs the question; how much will it take to kill my dog? Hypoglycemia will be induced by a dose as small as about 50mg per pound of the dog or for all of you metric types, 100mg per kg. It goes without saying that the more ingested the greater the risk of organ damage and death. The most specific I can get regarding lethal doses are: 225 mg/lb or 500 mg/kg body weight.
If my dog eats something with xylitol, what should I do? Your best bet is to contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card however. Unless directed to do so by poison control or a veterinarian, do not induce vomiting or give anything orally. If your dog is already hypoglycemic from xylitol ingestion, vomiting can make it worse.
What does xylitol poisoning look like? You have to be observant because the signs and symptoms come on very quickly, usually within about fifteen minutes of ingestion.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning develop rapidly, usually within 15-30 minutes of consumption. Signs of hypoglycemia may include any or all of the following: Vomiting, Listlessness, Lack of coordination or difficulty walking or standing (kinda looks like alcohol inebriation), Lethargy, Tremors, and Coma. In acute cases, the dog may develop seizures or liver failure.
Is there an antidote for xylitol toxicity? No. There is no antidote for xylitol poisoning, although treatment with sugar supplementation, IV fluids, and liver protective drugs are beneficial.
If there is no antidote, how is xylitol poisoning treated? Fast and aggressive treatment by your veterinarian is essential to effectively reverse any toxic effects and prevent the development of severe problems. If your dog has just eaten xylitol but has not yet developed any clinical signs, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to prevent further absorption, depending on what your dog's blood glucose level is. If clinical signs have developed, treatment will be based on the symptoms that are being shown. Since xylitol toxicity can cause both low blood glucose and low potassium levels, your veterinarian will perform blood work to determine whether these problems need to be treated. In all cases, your dog will require hospitalization for blood sugar monitoring, dextrose administration, intravenous fluids, liver protectants, and any other supportive care that may be needed. Blood work should be monitored frequently to make sure that blood sugar and liver function remain normal.
What is the prognosis for recovery from xylitol poisoning? The prognosis is good for dogs that are treated before clinical signs develop, or for dogs that develop uncomplicated hypoglycemia that is quickly reversed. If liver failure or a bleeding disorder develops, the prognosis is generally poor. If the dog lapses into a coma, the prognosis is very poor.
How can I prevent this problem? The short of the long is avoid giving your dog anything with xylitol in it’s ingredients. According the AMVA the leading cause of xylitol poisoning is sugar free gum. Remember that dogs perceive the world with their nose. If there is chewed gum on the ground in the path of your morning walk with Fido, don’t let your dog investigate it. If you’re using peanut butter or cheese to reward your dog or to load their toys check the labels to make sure it doesn’t contain xylitol. It’s that simple.
Jason Sigler is a dog training instructor and a PSA (Protection Sports Association) enthusiast. He's a certified Pet Tech Canine first Aid and CPR instructor as well as a certified Canine Training and Behavior Specialist.
Please check out his Facebook page Isoshikai Karate