How To Start A Dog Training Business & What You Need To Know

dog training business Oct 01, 2020

Starting a career in dog training is exciting but the real question you need to answer is "how to start a dog training business?" If you are passionate about helping dogs and improving their well-being, a dog training business is the right choice. Having your own business is possible, profitable and within your reach. You can transform your life and the lives of hundreds of dogs and their families.

How big is the market for dog trainers? Will you be limited to obedience training or will you branch out to one of the many other facets of the dog industry as a professional dog trainer?

There is no shortage of work available within the pet dog industry for qualified dog trainer professionals. Dog training is a flexible career choice. Will you choose to continue to work a full-time job and train on evenings and weekends or will you train dogs full time? It’s really up to you!

If you are going to follow your dream of starting a dog training business, you are going to need some guidance about what you need to consider and how to get started. Any successful business needs education, planning and dedication. This is no different in the dog trainer industry.

Finding a comprehensive dog trainer program for your education is the best place to start. Your dog training school needs to have a broad scope of information as well as a practical component that will give you customized, direct feedback on your dog handling skill development.

Once you have a foundation to work from, you will find your path to your own version of success with dog training businesses. There are surprising branches of work to discover once you are in the dog training industry.

Where to Start - the Foundation of Your Business

Do you have what it takes to start a dog training business? What entrepreneurial characteristics do you have and what can you develop? If you would like to be using your energy to help dogs, you will be working in dynamic settings. Although there is some paperwork involved, this job is not an office job! 

You might be dog training in a field or a park, and it might be raining. You might be helping at a shelter or rescue organization - would you enjoy that? Maybe you’ll be going into your client’s home and for sure you will be meeting lots of people. Are you comfortable talking to people? And the puppies - would you like to work with them? You will be training dogs, but they always come with a human.

When you are thinking of starting a business in dog training, it is recommended that you sit down and write out both your personal and business goals. How will your business fit into your personal life and how with your personal life accommodate your business? What are your short term goals and where would you like to be in a year or even five years? Are you prepared to work hard? What will you be willing to give up in order to make sure your business succeeds? At certain times when you are building your business, you will need to put in more energy than you think you have. If you are moving towards your goals, both personal and business, it will all be worth it.

Another part of dog training businesses is researching the dog industry overall in your area. What kind of services are offered? Find out who your competition is and how many dog families there are within your reach. How can you be unique? What are the features and benefits of the services that you are going to offer? Are you creative and think outside the box? Can you combine a special interest you have with dog training? Perhaps fitness and dog training would be a possibility?

You also need to know a lot about your target market. By defining your perfect client, you will know more clearly how to find them and what they are looking for when hiring dog training services. 

What Education Do You Need?

When you start your dog training business, potential clients will want to see a confirmation of your education. Having a Professional Pet Dog Trainer certificate is becoming the norm. Most clients want to know that you know what you are talking about so that they will have success working with you. A certificate shows you are serious about your business.

After you get your Professional Pet Dog Trainer certificate and have logged about 300 hours of training, you will be qualified to write an exam from the Certification Council of Pet Dog Trainers - Knowledge Assessed (CCPDT-KA). Currently, this is the gold standard of certificates in North America. Finding a school that teaches the information that you need to be successful in writing this exam is important.

Foundation education is only the beginning. Once you have earned your certificate and have trained some group classes and private sessions, you will begin to see other possibilities in the industry. Your business will be unique to you and you get to choose what you want it to look like. 

There are always specialized courses to take - dog sports, off-leash, brewery training, adventure walking, advanced obedience, scent work and maybe even thoughts of Working Dogs. You have an entire career to exploring anything you want. Don’t try to do everything at once - start with the basics and increase your knowledge in the areas that appeal to you. As you find avenues that interest you, will need to take further education. There will always be something to learn.

Education on how to set up a dog training business is important. There are many questions that will need to be answered that are specific to setting up a dog training business. It will save you time, energy and money to learn from those that have gone before you and learned the hard way. Look for a program that can guide you to develop a successful business right from the start.

Business Details

Before you train your first dog professionally, you will need to consider how you are going to set up the business details of your company. There are a few business structures that most businesses use and each has advantages and disadvantages to think about. 

If you decide to stay small at first and you are the only one working and training in your company, then maybe a Sole Proprietorship would work for you. With a Sole Proprietorship, you are personally responsible for all debts and obligations related to your company and all profits are yours alone to keep.

With a Partnership, you would combine your financial resources with a partner to put into the business. Establish the terms of your business with your partner and protect yourself in case of a disagreement or dissolution by drawing up a specific business agreement. This must be reviewed by your lawyer - for sure!!  As a partner, you would share in the profits and losses of your business according to the terms of your agreement.

Incorporating is another type of business structure. When you incorporate your business, it is considered to be a legal entity that is separate from the owners and shareholders. Like shareholders of a corporation, you will not be personally liable for the debts, obligations or acts of the corporation. It is always wise to seek legal advice before incorporating it.

Taxes are another consideration when setting up your business. There are two parts to taxes. One is what you collect from your clients and the other is what you pay to the government. You can connect with an experienced bookkeeper or learn the rules to follow yourself. In either case, tax rules are different in different jurisdictions. Find out what to do in your area.

You will need to keep detailed records of your revenue and expenses. This doesn’t have to be complex when you are starting your dog training business. Make sure to keep receipts of expenses and have a way of providing a receipt to your clients. You can use a simple spreadsheet to keep track. You might want to hire someone, like a bookkeeper, to look after these details so you can focus on building your business.

When you first set up your business, you can, and maybe even should ask for help! Set up is important and once you have this done, you can open the doors and work on what you do best - training dogs! Seeking professional help is worth it!

Marketing

In today’s world, every successful business needs a website. Content can be simple and provide basic information to your potential clients or you can create an elaborate site that includes a message that can draw people into your vision. Some of the information your clients want to see on your website includes your contact information, your education, certificates and experience and a picture of you. They will also want to know your service area, a schedule of the classes you offer and pricing. If you are offering packages or special pricing, this is where your clients will look for it. You can also record any testimonials you have collected. When you start your dog training business you may use testimonials from any family or friends that you have helped.

You will want to create a good company name and the domain that goes with it. Domain host companies are companies like GoDaddy. Once you secure your domain, you need a web host like WordPress or Squarespace. Some companies can be both your domain host and your web host. You will be able to shop around and find the hosts that can serve you best. Whatever company you choose, you will see that there are different levels of service and you can usually get a free trial period to make sure you have the right company for your needs.

Effective marketing depends on you knowing who your potential clients are and what they are looking for. Who is your perfect client? Can you describe them - age, income? Where do they look for information - newspapers, Instagram, magazines, Facebook? When you know where they are looking, then make sure you are there too.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - what do you know about it? Using SEO will help make your business easier to get seen on Google. If you want to get noticed there, at some point you will want to dive into SEO - either learning yourself what to do or, more likely, hiring someone who has expert knowledge. When you are first starting your dog training business, you may want to rely on other forms of marketing. Be sure to optimize your My Google Business account, too.

Social media channels are also a great place to get noticed. Do your potential clients use Instagram and Facebook? Join some groups and see what everyone is talking about. Try to help solve some issues that come up. Give value. Don’t always make conversations about a sale. Sales will come when you have demonstrated your knowledge and desire to help others.

There is a difference between casual social media connections and learning how to get noticed at the next level. Do you understand how to attract organic interest or do you have a budget for paid advertising? This might be a time to get assistance from a professional. Decide what approach you will start with and what you want to do in the near future and what your long term strategies will be.

When starting your dog training business, don’t forget about some traditional methods of marketing. Visiting vet offices, groomers and pet stores with some business cards and brochures is effective. Talking to real people face to face can be powerful. You can also look at posting your info on community boards and free community, entertainment and business magazines. Municipalities sometimes produce a free magazine about what is happening in their city. Have you thought about volunteering at the local shelter? Introduce yourself to others in the dog industry.

Services

There are many ways to look at the dog industry. Many paths to pursue. When you are first starting your dog training business, you will most likely offer Dog Training!

Clients seek out dog trainers for many reasons. They might want to join your group obedience classes or ask for a private session. They are coming to you to solve an issue they are having with their dog, or in a few instances, they are coming to you to be proactive so they don’t have as many issues as their dog grows older.

Because dogs come into families from all sorts of backgrounds, they usually bring some baggage with them. If they didn’t stay with the litter long enough, they won’t be sure how to behave. Or if they weren’t properly socialized as puppies they won’t know how to behave with other dogs or sometimes even their human family. An educated professional pet dog trainer can help by offering scientific-based training and customized behaviour plans.

There are certain behaviour problems that most dog trainers will encounter. Some dog behaviours are natural and some are not. Jumping up, barking and digging are all normal behaviours that dogs exhibit naturally but these behaviours can conflict with living within a human family environment. Providing solutions to these problem behaviours is quite common. Dog trainers will also be asked about abnormal behaviours such as excessive tail chasing and excessive fear or anxiety responses. Helping dogs and their families with these kinds of issues is gratifying. 

Dog trainers often decide to open a doggy daycare and/or dog boarding facility (a kennel is the old fashioned description). If permitted by your municipality, and it is VERY important to check your city’s bylaws about this, daycare and boarding can be done from your home. If you do not have the correct permit, your business has a good chance of being shut down. Or you can lease a dedicated space that may be able to house your daycare/boarding as well as a spot to offer training classes. A permit is also required for dedicated spaces.

Once you have successfully started your dog training business you may want to explore and expand to other paths in the industry. It is important to have a foundation education before you start adding other services to your business. Some dog trainers offer dog walking and a lot of trainers become enthusiastic about a certain dog sport like Agility, Scent Work, Trick Training or Fly Ball. You might want to work in a municipal or private animal shelter. Check out Canine Good Citizen and Be a Tree - both excellent programs. There are many opportunities to look forward to. Depending on your goals, your path will find you.

Pricing

To price your services, you will need to do some research. Pricing differs across the country and varies with your level of experience.

Decide on the services you want to price and then find the people and companies in your area who offer the same service. You will need to compete for business at least partly on your price. If you are too much higher or lower than established companies, clients will have questions about ‘why’. To start your dog training business, you will need to estimate what you will charge based on the market and your abilities.

If you are offering a unique service (and are qualified), like client fitness and dog walking for example, you can determine your price by determining what a fitness trainer offers and charges and what a dog walker charges and make your best estimate of what you should charge for your unique service.

Policies and Procedures

When you start your dog training business it is recommended that you research, think through and stand behind your company policy decisions.  Don’t set a policy just because a competitor has it. You will want to be sure you know the reason why your policy is in place so you can be prepared with a professional answer if ever questioned.

You can post your policies on your website in the form of FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions. For example, you could state your first policy by asking “What is your refund policy?” and then answer it with the details of your policy. Or you could have a section of your website titled: Policies. Regardless of how you post it, you will have less conflict if you have your policies clearly stated where the public can review them.

Policies about refunds, late for class, reactive dogs, no-shows and payment options are all examples of policies. Once you have determined what your policies are, we recommend that you think through the procedure for each one. You will need a procedure to follow when they come up. Exactly what will you do if there is a no-show? How do you define a reactive dog and how will you communicate that a reactive dog is not suitable for your group class?

Policies and procedures, if taken seriously, will go a long way to lessening stressful customer encounters. You will be dealing with the general public and there will always be someone who questions you or disagrees with you. Be sure to have your answer ready.

Screening

Before you invite a client and their dog to train with you, you will need to know a few basic things about them. It is recommended that you ask some questions before you accept them as a training client. Some basic questions about the dog’s history - has he/she ever bitten anyone? Are they spayed or neutered? Have they been to training before? 

After you get some history, then you can decide if they are a match for you and your training style. If they do not match, are you prepared to tell them that you will not be able to train with them? If they do match with you, then you have a client!

Waivers and Insurance

When starting your dog training business you will need to consider waivers and insurance. 

The content of your training waiver will be unique to your company. It is a necessary document to develop. What do you need your clients to sign off on before you start your training? This is the place to set out some rules of engagement. What are you responsible for and what are your client and their dog responsible for? Do you have permission to capture recordings and images to use for your marketing program?

Your waiver is a document that you will want to run by a professional like a lawyer. Although a waiver will not always prevent legal action, it is a step that may solve minor issues before they get out of hand.

Insurance is highly recommended. You will be working with animals and sometimes things might go sideways. What will you be liable for if a dog gets injured? Or bites their classmate? What if your client slips on something while in your facility? What exact questions do you need to ask your agent in order to be insured properly? Is it possible to get a discounted rate by joining an association?

Your waiver and insurance are documents that you need to think about and develop when you start a dog training business.

Customer Service

What can you do to provide great customer experiences? Being confident in your policies makes you a professional when running a dog training business. Listening to your client’s concerns also indicates your dedication. Always listen to client concerns - listen more than you talk when receiving feedback. Hear their point of view and thank them for giving you the opportunity to understand their experience. Even if you feel the complaint is not valid, hear the client out and offer a solution. Acknowledge and investigate each and every complaint - it might give you ideas about how to grow personally and in your training business!

Wrap Up

Do not be satisfied with where you are today - look for ways you can nurture and grow your dog training business - never stop taking courses, webinars and other forms of education. Explore other aspects of the pet dog world. Try something new. 

Always look for the positive in your peers. Not all dog trainers are the same. When you look for things you have in common, you may find that you can support each other through collaboration. You have a common goal of helping dogs have better lives through training.

And never forget that helping dogs and their families live richer, fuller lives is a great career.

For more information, visit Good Dog Academy. We have two programs that will qualify you to start a dog training business. 

Our Professional Pet Dog Trainer program is a foundation program that will give you 17 theory courses and 65 hours of practical training which is guided and graded by our Director of Training, Jaime Knowles. Included in the PPDT program is your Canine First Aid Certificate - a must for anyone working professionally with dogs.

Our Business for Professional Pet Dog Trainers will lead you through questions you will need to answer before opening your doors. Take this program, do the exercises and you will be ready to get started.

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