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.Posted by Susan Smith on
A lot of dog trainers get very frustrated when their clients don’t complete training. Within the training community, we hear a lot of venting about a lack of commitment, owners wanting a quick fix, or a wave of a magic wand. I do understand that this seeming lack of commitment can be very frustrating to trainers, (as well as affect our dog trainer salary), but I have some thoughts on the topic I’d like to share. I’d love to hear back from trainers about what they think.
So, let’s start with the basics – what is a dog trainer, exactly? A dog trainer is a consultant – we consult on behavior and behavior problems. The definition of a consultant is “a person who provides expert advice, professionally.” But I think a better definition is “a person who provides expert advice professionally, but has no control over the outcome.” I think this is a better definition, because all we can do is determine the problem, give our best advice on how to resolve it, and hope our client agrees with us.
I actually think the biggest reason owners don’t go as far with training as we think they should is because our expectations are too high and they consider the problem fixed before we do.
Let’s start with dog trainer expectations. We like to train, we think training is fun and worthwhile. That’s why we’re trainers. Owners, on the other hand, don’t particularly like to train. Owners simply want a well-behaved family member, and sometimes need help accomplishing that. These are adult learners, and adult learners generally have a very specific goal in mind. Once that goal has been accomplished, they see no reason to continue – they have better things to do with their time and money.
To illustrate this point, I’d like to talk about a client I had a few weeks ago. These are nice people with two small dogs that they adore. They’ve recently moved from a suburban situation with a fenced back yard to a rural area where they are building a house. They have a business and are living in a large room within that business while their new house is being built. When they first moved, they let the dogs out off-leash, and one of them was attacked by a coyote.
The veterinarian referred them to me, and we decided to work on the following issues:
Prior to the move, the dogs didn’t go out, so they weren’t used to wearing a harness and leash, although they had worn them years earlier. One of the dogs was not house-trained, so we decided to work on that, since they were moving into a new house. And, of course, the recall was important because of the living situation.
My main goal for our first session was to get some management in place so the dogs would be safe during the training process. Once I arrived, I realized that they did have a small, fenced area which their exit door opened onto, so that really solved the problem of the dogs having to go outside the safe area to potty. We spent an hour discussing basics – free-feeding, house-training, how to get the dogs used to their harnesses, and how to potty the dogs until they were reliable.
After a couple of days, I texted them to see how things were going and if they had any questions. The text I received in return. The wife then called me and said things were going great. The dogs had adjusted to their harnesses almost immediately, so they were today able to walk them on-leash; they were working on house-training the smaller dog (I left them with a handout, so they pretty much had what they needed); and they were either walking the dogs on-leash or letting them out into the fenced area. And, they didn’t really have time to train, as their schedules were already over-loaded running their business and building a house, but they’d call me once the house was done.
I don’t really expect to hear from them, but that’s okay because the truth is, their problem is solved. Would I have like to work on other issues, such as the recall? Sure. But again, once that house is built, they’ll have a big, fenced yard that is coyote-proofed, and they probably won’t leave it except for occasional vet visits.
So ultimately, I consider this a successful consultation. They don’t want to do everything I recommended, but their problem is solved to their satisfaction, and that’s my job!
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, including 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.Posted by Susan Smith on
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.
For more information on Raising Canine’s in-depth business course, go to Good to Great. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link: https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.Posted by Susan Smith on
As professional dog trainers, we’re usually very good at: dog training methods! But, of course, most dog trainers are also small business owners. Unfortunately, we’re usually not so good at the business end of things. And if we break it down even further, the thing we hate most is marketing. Eek!
Marketing can be a deep and unfathomable mystery. What works and what doesn’t? Why does Joe Smith down the road do so well when you know you’re a much better trainer than he is? How come every vet’s office you go into is referring to Joe and isn’t interested in taking the time to listen to another trainer’s pitch?
Well, Joe probably understands marketing. A few years ago a friend of mine had that exact issue. There was another trainer in town, considered an expert in aggression, who used some really deplorable methods and had some really crazy philosophies on dog behavior. This trainer was referred by almost every vet in town – a few were beginning to realize that his dog training methods were questionable and some were getting upset because he was recommending pharmaceutical interventions without discussing it with the vet – but for the most part, he controlled the vet market.
My friend, who absolutely was an expert in aggression, mentioned this to me, so I did a very cursory and informal study on dog trainers and their websites. What I found was that most men (traditional or R+) and most women (traditional) used scary graphics on their websites; whereas, positive reinforcement women rarely used scary graphics. They are much more into explaining aggression and positive reinforcement – in text. These are marketing techniques – the scary picture attracts people and takes them further into the website for more information; the long, drawn out explanations are too dense and complex to read. The scary graphic promises results; the explanation gives caveats. Never forget that ALL purchases are emotional, and particularly a purchase that involves a beloved pet that may be on the verge of euthanasia.
So, the moral of this story is that marketing is important and can greatly influence your business. Once you’ve accessed the market, you have to be able to walk your talk and actually know how to use those dog training methods you market, but accessing it is key. Marketing doesn’t have to be a big mystery – as with any other field of endeavor, there are guidelines and a ton of free information available. And, in today’s world, the Internet has greatly leveled the playing field. You can be as good at marketing as the big boys – you may not be able to produce slick online dog training videos as ads or reach a huge market, but you can certainly reach your local market and do fun and engaging podcasts, videos, etc.
One of the things I do every year is create a simple marketing plan. I think one big thing to think about with a marketing plan is linking your marketing – i.e., one form of marketing links to another form of marketing. A blog links to a coupon, which links to a testimonial, etc. By linking everything, you are able to exponentially increase the impact of your marketing.
Too often, small business people don’t know what to do for marketing and are seduced by cheap ads that reach a lot of people, but more often than not, those people are not their target market. It sounds good, but good is measured in results. Having a plan helps prevent these impulse marketing purchases. $25 for an ad doesn’t sound like much, but if the ad doesn’t work, it’s $25 you could have spent on something that does work.
And, speaking of measured – all marketing endeavors should be measured. How else will you know it’s working. If you do a blog, learn how to use Google Analytics to see your click-throughs. If you put a coupon out, have some way to know that the business is coming from that coupon – a special product, reduced price, free handout, etc. And be patient – marketing takes time and consistency. One blog isn’t going to increase your web traffic; 2-3 blogs per week for six months will.
Here’s a picture of a page of my blogging plan for my 2019 webinars (this is just a small piece of my overall marketing plan). Creating this blogging plan took me less than one day, and it’s pretty dense and comprehensive (309 tasks). This seems crazy intensive, but in reality each webinar has the exact same schedule, so all I have to do is plug in the date, course, and speaker name (look at the section on the right – sorry it’s a bit blurry).
I print out one page of the list and keep it on my desk. Each morning I look and see what tasks need to be done, and I do them. It takes maybe 5-10 minutes unless I have to actually write a blog. It’s pretty efficient.
The above schedule is only for blogging to market upcoming webinars. I do another spreadsheet for other types of marketing that I want to do throughout the year. For instance, I tend to focus on upcoming live webinars; but I have over 300 on-demand webinars that I never market. I really need to get on that! It’s a huge profit center that I’m basically ignoring. I worry that I’ll inundate people with e-mail notices, but for my serious dog training market (and that is my market – I don’t target owners or hobbyists) they’re okay with it because they want to know the entire gamut of dog training methods available.
One last thing before I end (it seems like I keep mentioning something which leads to another marketing concept and I want to stick them all in here – but I must focus). However, this is an important marketing concept so I’ll just mention it briefly.
“Market Narrowly, Deliver Broadly”
Market narrowly: What this means is narrow your target market down as much as possible – a lot of people have an avatar of their ideal client. That helps you with targeting your market – you can eliminate marketing venues that don’t reach your target client.
Deliver broadly: This means you still deliver services to people outside your target market. They’ll come through word of mouth, etc. You’re just not marketing to them.
For more information on this course, go to Create a Quick & Easy Marketing Plan. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link: https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.
Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, (www.raisingcanine.com), 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, including an intensive course for those wanting to learn how to become a professional dog trainer. 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 in 2004.Posted by Susan Smith on
Well, that’s a complicated topic. There are many online courses that promise “dog training certification”. Understanding which ones are meaningful and which are simply for marketing purposes, can be very difficult for owners looking for a qualified dog trainer, or people who would like a career in dog training.
There are essentially three types of certification:
The first type of dog training certification is essentially a certificate of completion – you take a course of study and complete the course. There is nothing wrong with this; however, you must always remember that the curriculum of the organization may stress a specific methodology or point of view, and the testing process is geared to the curriculum, which may be quite rudimentary. Some examples of this type of certification would be some type of training course for dogs, a seminar, a vocational school, or even a university (they call it a diploma). Once you receive a certificate of completion, the process is complete.
As with a school, the second type of certification may or may not indicate any real proficiency. The organization is ruled by the membership, so their certification requirements are based on their membership. The certification requirements are often philosophically driven, as with a school. Most organizations that certify do require some sort of continuing education to remain certified.
The third type of certification sets a standard level of competency that must be met regardless of how you received your education. This type of certification is setting an industry standard. Examples of this type of certification are the CPA exam (Certified Public Accountant), or Certified Nutrition Support Practitioners. Some professions are regulated by the government (attorneys and hairdressers, for instance) and must pass a similar exam, but are then licensed, rather than certified. When you receive this type of certification, you will almost certainly be required to continue your education and periodically renew your certification. This continuing education process helps to ensure that practitioners are qualified and up-to-date on current knowledge and best practices.
Again, this does not mean that a certificate of completion does not meet the industry standard – some may even exceed the standard; however, an independent certifying body holds everyone to the same standard and gives the consumer a means of choosing a qualified professional.
In the dog training world, certificates are a dime a dozen! If a dog training school claims that you will be a certified dog trainer when you complete their program, they are simply saying that you have taken their course, learned their material, and passed! There is no guarantee that their course has taught the broad spectrum of training issues.
In the dog training certification world, there is only one truly independent certifying body – the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). The dog training industry is trying very hard to professionalize and standardize the profession. CCPDT’s duty is to the public, not to the people who sit for their exam; they are not a teaching organization – it is up to each individual to receive adequate education to pass the exam. It is strongly recommended that, once qualified, trainers take the CPDT exam; it is an indication of commitment and professionalism.
The CCPDT has recently added two additional dog training certification levels: one requires a deeper level of knowledge of dog behavior and accepted applied behavior analysis practices, and the other is a skills exam.
For more information on this topic, go to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link: https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.Posted by Susan Smith on
For those of you who aren’t aware, I launched my new dog trainer online course website, Raising Canine in 2013. A project three years in the making! Because it’s been such a long and arduous process, I thought I’d share my thought process with you.
When I started this incarnation of Raising Canine, I planned on addressing education for all companion animals (i.e., dogs, cats, parrots and horses). While keeping my dog trainer online course, I also recruited speakers for various species and do have a nice selection of cat and parrot courses. During this process, I realized that my business name, Raising Canine, was not helping me when it came to the other species offerings, so I decided to change my name. After some thought, I came up with the name “Animal Ed.”
Changing my name from Raising Canine to Animal Ed was an emotionally difficult transition, as I love the name Raising Canine, and it is a well-known name in our industry. However, I decided this is a business decision – not an emotional decision – so I decided to gird my loins and do it. I used Animal Ed for about a year, and even put out one major product using that name – Cara Shannon’s DVD, “Bad to the Bone.”
After about a year, I took a look at my financials and decided that I would be better served targeting dog trainers, rather than consultants for other species. I wasn’t as well known with other species as I was with my dog trainer online course, and I didn’t have the contacts to create a rich and varied selection of educational offerings, as I did with dogs. So, I decided to go back to Raising Canine. What a mess! However, I’m very glad I made that decision, even if it was bit of a sticky wicket.
So, the moral of this story is, market narrowly and deliver broadly. Does this seem to be a recurring theme with me? I have a lot of really great education for dog trainers; however, probably half (or more!) of that education applies equally to consultants of other species. So, I’ll target dog trainers and if cat consultants want to learn from my offerings, great! I’m happy to oblige.Posted by SBConsulting on