One of the things I’ve noticed in my business, which provides continuing education to professional dog trainers, is that of all the dog training programs I provide, most trainers go for the sexy topics: aggression, separation anxiety, extreme fear and under-socialization. And, of course it is important for trainers to understand and be able to work with these problems, but it’s equally important to know how to run a successful business. But that’s just not a sexy topic!
Sexy or not, the reality is that the vast majority of professional dog trainers will be self-employed. There are some opportunities for employment, but the chances of ever making serious money and being able to train what and how you want will be severely limited when working for someone else.
If you work full time for one of the big chain pet stores, you’ll probably work for low wages and be expected to also work the floor, selling product – often product you don’t want to sell, such as electronic training collars. But let’s face it – those stores are in business to make money, and they make a lot more money selling an e-collar than a clicker!
You can work for another independent trainer, but most of these trainers can’t afford to hire a trainer full time, give them good wages, and provide benefits such as health insurance and retirement. It’s not that they don’t want to, but it’s hard (possibly because they don’t know how to run a successful business, either!). If you do find someone who can afford all that, more than likely they’re running a boarding and daycare business, as well as doing dog training programs, and you’ll be expected to help out with those aspects of the business. And, as with the chain stores, you may or may not be able to train the curriculum you want. You may not even be able to train the methodology that you want.
So, it behooves professional dog trainers to learn how to successfully run a small business. And, of course, that’s a field of study all its own. You need to understand your financials, good marketing strategies, how to create and implement systems, and much more – usually including personnel. None of this stuff is particularly hard, but you do need to know what you’re doing, so instead of signing up for all those sexy dog training programs, it might be a good idea to replace one or two of them with a business course!
Now, having said that, the one business course that people will sign up for (although not as many as will sign up for an aggression course!), is marketing. We all want to understand the mysteries of marketing. How can we best allocate our limited resources to bring in the most benefit? How do we define our target market? Exactly what is a target market? Isn’t anyone who owns a dog part of our target market? How does our marketing compliment our overall business goals? And so on, and so on.