Dog training is a labor of love, and professional dog trainers are not in it for the money. However, in order to stay in the business, we need to have a decent dog trainer income. And there are lots of ways to do that.
Raise Your Rates
The most obvious way is to raise your rates. And raising rates is a very legitimate way to make more income. However, you can only raise them so much before you price yourself out of the market. As with many professions, dog trainers work by the hour, so we should be looking at our hourly rate compared to our competition’s hourly rate.
Let’s first discuss price shoppers. There are two types of price shoppers: those who are looking for a bargain, and those who are looking for the average price of the product or service.
Bargain hunters are usually problematic because they want as much bang for their buck as they can get. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you can spend a lot of time and energy dealing with them – explaining why you don’t do certain things, or caving and giving them something you wouldn’t normally give another client. As soon as someone starts haggling over price, red flags start going off in my head. It’s not that I won’t do business with them, but I’m not going to bargain. I’ve spent a lot of time and money getting education and experience, and I consider myself a professional. I wouldn’t haggle with my lawyer or CPA over rates, and I expect the same courtesy.
However, I do like people who are doing their homework and finding out what the going rate is. These people usually pay the median rate, or higher. They understand that you get what you pay for. That is why I always encourage my students coming out of my Professional Dog Trainer course to charge at least the median rate. They are insecure and reluctant to charge that much, but I know that if they’ve successfully completed the program, they are at least as good as the average trainer.
But, there is a point where you’ll price yourself out of business if you’re not careful. If you get all your referrals from veterinarians, you’ll probably be able to charge on the high end, but if you’re still working to drum up business, think carefully about the rate you’ll charge.
Do More Classes
You should be making more per hour when doing classes. You need to calculate the time spent between classes, cleaning and preparing; however, the volume should result in a higher hourly rate than what you’re charging for privates.
Selling product is a great way to make more money. If you have a facility, you probably already sell product. If not, get some kind of organization system set up in your car so you can have all the product you need ready to go.
A great way to sell management items such as harnesses (especially if you’re doing group classes) is to fit the dogs that are obvious pullers the first class and tell the owners to try it for a week. If they’re happy with the results, they can pay for the harness the next week. In my experience, asking an owner to go to a pet store or on the Internet to purchase items has a very low success rate. Therefore, I always carry certain items such as harnesses, head halters, bait bags, and my favorite interactive feeding toys. I didn’t have lot of items, but I had high quality, useful items. And, I charged a lot less than the local pet store!
You can hire trainers to run classes and do private consultations for you, and they receive a percentage of the income from these activities. This is also a great way to increase your dog training income; however, you are now becoming more of an administrator than a dog trainer. You need to be sure this is what you want and that it is something you’ll be good at. Also, you need to make sure your personnel train according to your philosophy and that they don’t try to steal clients.
Last but not least, you can increase your efficiency. There are three areas in which you can increase efficiency: administration, people training skills, and dog training skills.
In administration, you set up systems so that everything runs smoothly and you don’t spend a lot of time duplicating effort, looking for things, etc.
By increasing your people training skills, you are able to help your clients get quicker results. We tend to think our clients know more than they do and can absorb more information than they can. Therefore, we leave the consultation with certain expectations that don’t come to pass – but it’s not our clients’ fault, it’s our fault for not making sure they understood the concepts. Some of these issues can be resolved with a simple follow-up e-mail outlining the steps for the particular behavior you want them to work on. Also, understanding their expectations and ability to perform is important. This is a huge topic, but a little work on people training skills can go a long way.
Finally, increasing your dog training skills can also increase your dog trainer income – especially if you’re doing day training or board and trains. If you are an efficient trainer, you can get the dog trained in less time, thus giving you the opportunity to train more dogs in the same amount of time. All packages (and I include day training and B&T in this model) will benefit from efficient training, because a good package isn’t based on time, but on performance. So, if you perform better, you finish sooner.
I’m presenting a webinar on The Big 4: Four Fundamental Concepts for Training on April 1, 2020 which will discuss how to become a more efficient trainer. If you are not able to attend the live webinar, it will be recorded and available on-demand.
Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, which provides remote education for professional dog trainers and dog behavior consultants, as well as business and marketing educations and consulting to help their businesses. Raising Canine, LLC has an intensive course for those wanting to become professional dog trainers. Sue is also the co-author of the book “Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds.” Sue is certified through CCPDT and IAABC. She is an ex-Board member for the CCPDT, an active, professional member of CCPDT, APDT, and IAABC, and was named APDT Member of the Year. Sue also owns East Valley Dog Training in the San Tan Valley of Arizona.