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Do You Feel Like You’re Just Treading Water in Your Business?

Too often small business owners have a great idea, and are great at what they do, but don’t know how to take their business to the next level. This article can’t possibly tell you everything that you need to do to get to that next level, but we can tell you where to start!

You start with your vision. In ten years, how do you envision yourself spending your time? If you’re currently in your twenties, you may see yourself running a full-service dog facility with a staff, a spouse and 2 kids. If you’re currently in your late forties, you may see yourself phasing out of the dog training field – no classes, and privates for your specialty, only; and charging a great deal of money because you are recognized as an expert in this specialty. Or, you may want to stay small, doing one or two classes a week and a few privates, taking vacations when you want. As some anonymous wise man once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” It really doesn’t matter what you want, as long as you KNOW what you want.

This vision is your primary aim; it’s why you’re in business at all – so you can achieve the lifestyle you want. To determine your primary aim, you have to do some soul searching. You have to articulate and then put in writing the things you don’t want in life, and the things you do want. You have to identify the barriers that are preventing you from having those things you do want. These barriers may be external, physical barriers (like limited income); they may be internal, emotional barriers (such as low self-esteem); or, they may simply be counter-productive habits you’ve developed (like poor time management).

Take the time to actually write down the vision you have for your future and how you want to be perceived by others; what do you want people to say about you when you’re not around. Once you’ve articulated your vision, boil it down to its essence and write it out in two-to-three sentences. This vision should go in your business plan – it should be something you refer to often (monthly). Keep it in mind and always be working toward that vision. If you find yourself being sidetracked (which you will!), having that written vision will help bring you back on track; or, it may be that you need to revise your vision, and that’s ok – as long as you have a vision that is at the core of what you want.

Niche Marketing

Marketing StrategyThere is a saying in the marketing business: “Market narrowly, deliver broadly.”

This means to narrowly define your market niche. There are many niches in dog consulting:

  • Children
  • Aggression
  • Agility
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Etc.

Think about your market, think about what you seem to be doing a lot of, and think about what you enjoy. Considering these three things, you can develop a market niche.

Once you’ve developed a niche, you have a very defined market to target. You can think about the magazines they read, the media they watch and listen to, where they shop, and so on. This can really help with your advertising dollar, as well as basic marketing. You can put your energies and dollars into very specific venues which will give you a better return on investment.

But, going back to the saying, “market narrowly, deliver broadly,” the beauty of having a market niche is that you don’t have to delivery solely to that market! If you do a good job for someone within your target market, chances are they have a friend outside your market – and they’ll refer you!

Professional Dog Trainers Making an Impact on Their Community

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a book I read a couple of years ago. I’ve been thinking about how this book can help professionals advance their career in dog training. This book is called “Small Giants” and was written by Bo Burlingham who is an Editor at Large of Inc. Magazine.

Burlingham highlights eight businesses that have opted to stay small (even though they have the potential to go very big) and become exceptional employers and members of their community. These businesses are very diverse (from a rock musician to a storage company to a New York City restaurateur!); however, they have certain things in common:

  • They want to be the best at what they do;
  • They’ve been recognized by independent bodies for their work and/or community contributions;
  • They’ve had the opportunity to raise a lot of capital and become large companies, but chose another route;
  • They have company goals that include issues outside the main goal of making money – i.e., community, work environment, and lifestyle goals;
  • In order to achieve their non-monetary goals, they’ve opted to remained privately owned.

Now, I know that most dog trainers are not going to meet some of these criteria. Still, I think there are some wonderful lessons we can learn from these businesses about how to get involved in our community in important ways and how to treat our employees so they are loyal to the company. And, from the money point of view, in many ways, this book meshes very nicely with the Law of Attraction. Because these businesses have loftier goals than simply making money they attract good employees, goodwill from the community, good relationships with vendors and clients and money!

This was a fun book to read. It isn’t technical – it’s more like someone’s personal story – but it’s very inspiring and uplifting. I’ll leave the details for you to read about, and I highly recommend that you do.

Professional Dog Trainers Making an Impact in Their Community

How long should it take you to become a professional dog trainer?

That’s a question with no straight-forward answer! The answer will depend on your background and previous animal experience, the quality of the dog training program you pursue, the type and quality of hands-on dog training experience you are able to gain, and your own natural skills and abilities. The following should help give you an idea of what you are looking at in terms of time in your journey to a career in dog training.

Your own background and animal experience: If you want to be a dog trainer, you will need to gain experience in handling dogs and recognizing signals and signs canines give off with their body language.  If you have spent several years working with dogs in a shelter or working as a kennel technician or groomer, you may have a jump on your competition in terms of your comfort level with dogs, handling ability, recognition of canine body language and more. There are several companies or franchises that hire and train people that have a background in the corporate world with no background at all in dog training. Although these candidates may very well use their skills as an attorney, accountant, business manager, marketing expert, etc. in their careers as dog trainers, if they want to become the best professional dog trainers they can be, they will need to gain a great deal of experience working with dogs before they can really succeed as a professional dog trainer. Although some people coming from a corporate background will have volunteer or other experience with dogs, sadly, many of the companies or franchises that hire people with no background in working with dogs provide as little as THREE WEEKS of training before turning them out to work as professional dog trainers!

The quality of the dog training program you pursue: Not all dog trainer educational programs are created equally. When you choose a program to give you the education you need to be a dog trainer, look for a dog training program that is based on science and teaches you the underlying sciences of learning theory and ethology rather than just giving you a handful of recipes to deal with different scenarios. If you understand the science that underlies dog training, you won’t run into trouble if none of the typical recipes work for a particular dog. You’ll have the knowledge and depth to modify your training approach to specific dogs and specific dog owners.

The type and quality of hands-on experience: After you learn the science of dog training, it is important to master the physical skills necessary to excel in the field of dog training. Volunteering to work in a shelter or kennel will give you the variety you need – you’ll work with a wide range of breeds, mixes, and ages of dogs. In addition to that, you’ll want to work with a professional dog trainer who can give you feedback about your timing, criteria setting, delivery of reinforcements, and handling ability. You can do this by working as an apprentice to another trainer, choosing a dog training course that includes either hands-on or video feedback work with a professional, or taking dog training classes with a number of different dogs from different trainers in your area. You will also need to practice your group class and instruction skills. Teaching people and running both private and group lessons take skill and practice. The best way to gain this skill is to work as an apprentice with an experienced dog trainer. Having a mentor that you can call on to ask questions and talk to about cases is also important.

If a program promises you that you will be able to become a professional dog trainer in a very short period of time with no hands-on experience or mentoring, be wary! You need a program that takes a commitment of time and energy and that offers you mentoring and feedback on your physical skill as well as an education in the science of dog training. Don’t settle for less!
If you’d like to learn more about how to become a dog trainer, please visit

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The phone call column!

Twice a week, we meet by phone with our professional dog training students and discuss case studies or questions they’ve developed as they work their way through our dog training curriculum. We’re going to start highlighting some of these discussions here on the blog so that our readers can get a sense of what our professional dog training students experience on their road to a career in dog training!

For example, last week, we talked about resource guarding in dogs. This turned into a discussion about the differences between operant and respondent behavior. Often, dogs are engaging in both operant and respondent learning and operant and respondent behaviors. A top-notch professional dog trainer must be able to articulate and recognize the differences. If you want to become a professional dog trainer, you need to be able to put both operant and respondent learning into action!

Keep an eye out for future Phone Call Columns!

If you’d like to learn more about how to become a dog trainer, please visit

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