How To Start And Grow A Successful Dog Training Business
There’s a lot more to running a successful dog training business than just taking the leash. You love dogs and want to work with them so you decided to become a dog trainer! But can running it as a business be easy? That’s where I come in! In this guide, I’m going to run through how to start and grow a successful dog training business. If you’re just getting started or you have a business but you want to grow, this guide is for you.
Becoming A Dog Trainer
Becoming a dog trainer is an appealing concept to anyone who loves dogs. And running a dog training business for yourself is a bonus as you get to be your own boss and live the dream! But if you’ve started your training business you’ll already know, it’s not that simple or easy. You need to work hard to make sure you can pay the bills AND Profit!
How much do dog trainers make? You might be astounded how much a dog training income varies. Some trainers are making as low as $7 per hour while others make $150 per hour or more. Why such a variance? Dog training income varies depending on how much experience the trainer has, what area they live in and whether they work for someone else or run their own business. Many trainers are charging by the hour with clients without ensuring that they are being paid for their admin and marketing time, reducing the hourly rate even further.
If you’ve thought about working for someone else, you may have been told that the dog trainer job outlook is bleak, with jobs being hard to find and low in pay. But if you’d rather skip the hassle of running a business and work for a company, don’t despair.
There ARE jobs around that pay a good salary – it really depends on location, experience and often who you know. I am a believer that if you want something bad enough you can work for it. It may take you a couple of years of determination and a willingness to relocate for work but if you have that, you could eventually lock down a salaried job in areas such as service dog training, detector dog training or guide dog training. Then there’s also the military and police force, offering a dog trainer job description like no other!
However, my speciality and what I will focus on in this guide is running a dog training business. More importantly, a successful and profitable one!
Learning To Be A Dog Trainer – Dog Behaviour Courses
If you’re still in the early stages, or you know how to train dogs but want a formal qualification, you might be wondering where to find a suitable dog behaviour course.
Dog training is, unfortunately, an unregulated industry. This means that anyone can start a dog training business or work as a dog trainer without any formal qualifications.
I believe the best qualification is experience when it comes to training, but a formal qualification provides a solid foundation to build on as well as valuable experience and connections in the dog training world.
So where should you study? There’s a myriad of options when it comes to dog behaviour courses so it’s really impossible for me to tell you exactly which one is best.
Some of the dog behaviour courses provide a government recognised certification and others provide an unrecognised certificate, or one that is respected in the dog training niche but not formally recognised by government authorities.
The other thing you’ll be taking into account is how you want to train. You’ll already know that there’s many dog training philosophies and methods out there and most courses are biased one way or another, depending on the founder.
My approach to dog training and behaviour courses has been to learn with an open mind, take in everything each teacher has to say without bias, and then make a decision on what I feel is the best approach for my situation and the dog in front of me. Even if you see something you never want to use yourself, I think the most empowerment comes from knowledge so it’s good to fully know both sides of the subject. That’s what works for me and my peers and I highly recommend it.
You can take dog behaviour courses online or through distance learning. While hands on learning is crucial, many of these are a good starting point or even better, a great way to further your knowledge after you’re formally qualified. Learning never really ends when it comes to dog training! Check out the Dog Matters Academy if you’re looking for online learning relating to pet dog training.
Starting [And Running] A Dog Training Business From Home
Ok! Now that’s out of the way, from here on in I’m going to assume you know how to train a dog and you want more info on running the business!
While you may admire the flashy training facilities, kennels and often times impressive properties and centres of other dog trainers, don’t let overwhelm stop you from getting started. Starting and running a dog training business from home is how most trainers start out and takes little start up cost. You don’t need to have anything fancy or huge to just get started. Remember that even the most successful dog trainers started at the beginning too, and have been right where you are now.
Dog Training Business Name Ideas
When it comes to naming your dog training business, you might want to think up a clever dog training business name. Perhaps a pun or play on words? I love clever business names like that. But don’t get caught up on it. Often, simple and to the point works best.
I have a friend that was considering naming her business, Megan’s Perfect Pups. But she decided to go with a nice and simple, “Megan’s Pet Services.” That way, she said, it’s 100% clear from the start that she is offering pet services, not stripping….
The other consideration here is how people will find you. Google is the number one source of web traffic and it’s based on the terms people key in to search for what they need. If your business name contains the term, “dog training,” that will help people find you. Even better if it also contains your suburb name. Of course, you can still use something more imaginative as your business name and include these terms underneath on your site.
The main thing is that when people see your brand, they know what you do.
Dog Training Clients
Hopefully you know by now, being a pet dog trainer is mostly about helping the people. For many trainers, this comes with some frustration and let’s be honest, you got into this work to work with the dogs!
Nevertheless, it is a people service industry and as a business you’ll want to attract the right clients and provide the best service possible both with your actual dog training and your business procedures.
Let’s run through a few features you’ll need to have in place that I am commonly asked about.
Dog Training Intake Forms
When taking on a dog behaviour case, you’ll want as much information about the dog and the lifestyle as possible. Some of this you’ll want to know early on. I have my clients fill out a dog behaviour questionnaire online as well as signing a private dog training contract before the first lesson. I still chat with them a little more when I arrive before starting hands on with the dog, to build a rapport with the client and assess the dog’s behaviour before interfering. It also saves us time to have and dog training client forms and paperwork completed before the lesson commences.
You can download a template of my behaviour consult questionnaire here
Private Dog Training Contracts
You should always have a training agreement in place and in writing. Your insurance is your main protection but the contract sets in clear terms all the training expectations, risks and agreements to pay. It’s important to get any type of business agreement in writing so that clear expectations and terms are set and met between both parties. You can have these written by a legal professional to suit your individual circumstances or you can get started with a template using a service such as LawTrades.com
Dog Training Client Homework Handouts
One of the biggest complaints that dog trainers have with their clients is that they don’t do their homework. Help them achieve this with easy to understand handouts and homework sheets. I provide a simple workbook to help keep both myself and the client on track with our goals and where we are up to with the training.
Dog Training Business Apps
I often get asked if there are any apps specifically for dog trainers to help make running the business easier. There are, but I have never used any so I can’t vouch for them. While I think this is a great idea, you can use some standard business apps that do a great job of keeping you organised with your appointments and accounting.
I use iCal on my iphone for my appointments. It Syncs to my other Apple devices and is backed up. You can put in the address, then tap it to get directions on Google Maps immediately.
When it comes to accounting, there are many choices. I personally use Xero which has a mobile app as well. It’s a paid accounting software which makes things easier to keep track of and much easier come tax time. If you’d prefer a free or lower cost option, have a look around for reviews on some of the apps out there such as Manager.io or Wave
Dog Training Business Insurance
Do dog trainers need insurance? YES. Please do not run your business for any length of time without it. In most places, it’s the law that you must have insurance to run a dog training business.
Yes, it’s an expense but it’s one you can’t afford to go without. Types of business insurance for dog trainers should include public liability and professional indemnity insurance at a minimum. From there you might also want to look into income protection insurance so that you won’t lose your income if you need time off work due to illness or injury.
Call around and get quotes as prices can vary significantly. Most business insurance companies should be able to help you but there are also arrangements and recommended insurance companies specifically for dog trainers through the larger dog training organisations so you might want to contact them and ask who they recommend.
Types Of Dog Training Services You Might Offer In Your Dog Training Business
There’s more than one way to reach the end result. While these are all common dog training services, you should know that you don’t have to offer all of them. In fact, focusing on one or two things and doing them really well is better than spreading yourself too thin. When I first started my training business I felt like I had to offer it all, including other services like dog washing and walking. But these turned out to be distractions from what I really wanted to do. I ended up focusing on private in home lessons and group classes. Later, I cut out group classes too and focused on providing private lessons only. So what I’m saying is, focus on building the type of business YOU want to build!
Group Dog Training Classes
Popular among the public as it’s often what people first think of when they think of getting training for their dog. Run a course with a set number of weeks or a run an ongoing membership – there are many different ways to structure group classes and only you will know what works best for you. It’s fine to test a few ways before you decide. It’s your business!
Private In Home Lessons
Going to the owner’s home has benefits as you can really see what’s going on. It’s intensive working one on one with a client though and you need to keep in mind you are really teaching them more than the dog. Having more ideal clients always helps (learn how to find them in the free online workshop)
Board and train
You don’t need a huge facility to get started with board and train. Many trainers do this in their homes if they have the right space and set up. A lot of trainers will tell you that this is where the money really is. And it IS lucrative. Plus you spend less time with the humans and more time training dogs. The downside for me has been the feeling of always working having client dogs in my home.
Day Training / Walk and Train
A popular option for those who can’t board dogs in their home is to offer a hybrid service where they go to the client’s home regularly, take the dog to train it while out and about on a walk and then return it to the home. The client doesn’t have to be there and clients often like this option as the dog is getting some attention as well as training while they’re at work.
Marketing For Dog Trainers – How To Promote Your Dog Training Business
Now we’re getting into the best bits! Marketing for dog trainers is fun for me. It should be fun for you too, not a chore! Keep in mind that marketing includes just about anything you do to represent your business. Even your client interactions you have today are marketing yourself for future clients they may recommend to you.
Let’s have a look at some marketing and advertising ideas that work well for dog trainers.
The Target Market For Dog Training
Firstly, you’ll need to know your target market. Who do you actually want to attract as your clients/ You don’t actually want to just take on anyone and everyone that hears of you – this is a common mistake.
Your target market will vary if you’re in a niche such as assistance dog training or detection dog training for the government. But if you’re training pet dogs, you’ll want to target pet dog owners. But more than this, you’ll want to target the type of pet dog owner that you love to work with. Even more specifically, it’s better to niche down and attract even the type of dog training behaviour you prefer to work with.
If you’re glossing over this, many trainers do, but it can make a crucial difference to the quality, income and enjoyment of your entire dog training business. I talk about this in more detail in my free online workshop. Register here.
Dog Training Marketing Ideas
There’s some cool marketing ideas for dog trainers that other businesses can’t do so easily. For example you can take your dog to a public area and show off some training – both obedience and tricks are impressive to people passing by. They’ll think you’re the dog whisperer (I know, but they mean it as a compliment)! Target your audience by doing this at vet clinics, dog parks and pet stores – of course get permission where needed if you’re on someone else’s property.
You could team up with another pet business and offer a free info night on a topic you like to work with. Put up some flyers, send emails, post on social media and really give it your all to get the word out for a booked out free event. From there, a room full of people know who you are and will either hire you themselves, or recommend you to a friend.
Your Dog Training Website
Some people feel that they don’t need a website and yeah, you can get started without waiting for one. But you should get one. Remember, people are still searching on Google. It’s still bigger than Facebook. And no matter which social media platform is dominating at the time, you shouldn’t rely on someone else’s platform to hold your entire web presence.
Don’t build your house on someone else’s land. Have your own space on the net.
A website doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated. Clean, professional and inviting is key. Use keywords people would search for on Google and remember it does take time to build up your search engine optimisation and be found on page one.
I recommend using WordPress for websites.
Word Of Mouth
Google and word of mouth are my top two sources of clients and they’re both free. Word of mouth is powerful because someone will always trust a recommendation from someone that they know. So remember no matter who you’re dealing with, provide stellar service and build up your reputation. You don’t have to be the most highly skilled dog trainer in the world for good referrals either – build a good relationship with clients and referrers and get them good results and they will happily rave about you.
Facebook has had it’s ups and downs and always will. But for now, it’s still near the top as an advertising platform. You should have a presence on social media. There’s so many options that you should choose the social media platforms that feel best for you, and then give them your all. A Facebook page is a good asset to have but remember, don’t build your brand on someone else’s land, as in, don’t rely on it as your only source of traffic.
Sadly, Facebook’s organic (free) reach has lowered to 2-4% of the total page likes. Posting regularly and posting content that the audience will want to comment on and share will help with this.
Facebook ads do cost money. But as far as paid advertising works, if you run them correctly, you should see good returns on what you spend. But do some learning and make sure every dollar you spend has a clear purpose, don’t just throw money on boosting posts for the sake of it.
Speaking of purpose, the goal of a business is to make money, not get likes. The number of likes you have is not something to stress over. Focus on content and engagement that can lead to customers first, the likes will come with that as a bonus.
Never buy fake likes, this only harms your page reach.
Flyers and Cards
Ensure you have stand out flyers and/or business cards at pet related businesses in your area. Chat to the people there and visit regularly so that when someone is looking for a friendly dog trainer, you are at the top of their mind. Gift baskets or chocolates for the staff as a thank you for referrals now and then also doesn’t go astray!
Mail Box Drops
This is something I have found to be less effective than other marketing strategies already mentioned. If you try it, target suburbs you want more work in.
Print advertising works best when it’s regular but the problem with it is that it’s a method where you’re casting a very wide net, hoping to catch what you can. I recently ran a full page editorial and ad in the local newspaper and got one call from it – a guy that wanted to know what breed of dog was in the photo as it looked like his.
Better than paying for print advertising is providing a column to a local publication. For example, I write for a small free publication that goes out locally every three weeks. The advantage over a newspaper advertisement is that you’re in front of people regularly and you’re providing value so they know, like and trust you. Of course if you don’t want to spend a lot of time writing, this may not be for you.
Blogging and Video Content
Providing good content boosts any business. You don’t need to give away the farm but do be generous. People will still need to hire you. By providing free content, people can get to know you, like you and trust you before they ever contact you. By the time they reach out, they’re more ready to book.
How To Sell Dog Training Classes
Dog training classes are popular for clients as they are cheaper than one on one training and they want to socialise their dogs.
Most trainers sell blocks of classes with set start and end dates. So you need to promote well to book all spots.
The key here is a good promotion that creates excitement. This doesn’t need to cost a lot – as you have seen, a lot of marketing techniques are low to no financial cost. But you do need to put in some time and effort. Some paid advertising such as Facebook ads could give the extra push you need.
Another way to book out your classes is to offer a referral bonus so anyone who already booked can get an incentive if they refer someone else or bring a friend.
Growing a dog training business
Once you’re set up and running, it’s time to grow. As a business owner you should constantly be looking for ways to improve and grow bigger and more profitable, without burning out. When you get swamped with bookings, it’s time to look at whether you can raise your rates or hire help. As the business owner, remember to work to be able to work on your business, not just in it.
If you’re ready to grow your dog training business, get more ideal clients (who do their homework), and earn more as a dog trainer without burning out, I’d love to invite you to my free online workshop! Click here to register