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Bravo                   Photo & Photo Editing by Kellie Snider 

In my first marketing article for dog trainers I wrote about how many trainers make the mistake of spending all their public relations oomph on impressing fellow trainers, especially trainers that are already more successful than they are.  Lest you think that I was suggesting that you never communicate with other trainers, let me assure you that is not what I was getting at.

Keep the client front and center in your business plans. 

Many trainers expend a lot of energy rubbing shoulders with… or at least listening to… name-brand trainers at many seminars each year, but they do it to the neglect of reaching and convincing paying clients that they should hire them.  As a result they never get to quit the day job.  One trainer-wanna-be told me she had spent… hold onto your mouse… over $10,ooo during the previous year on seminars!  She works full time in a job she doesn’t love, trains in the evenings and weekends and goes to several seminars around the country annually “working towards doing this full time”.  How much money did she make doing dog training last year?  She wasn’t quite sure.  I have to assume that she didn’t come close to breaking even.  When I asked her how much she spends on promoting her business she had to think about it.  After several minutes of calculations in her head she came up with, “Probably about $500.”  How was that $500 spent?  Business cards and brochures to hand out at seminars, and she has a one-page website.  (Wait a minute… who should she be giving those marketing materials to?  Other trainers or potential clients?)  Considering that her web host cost about $240 a year and she spent a couple hundred bucks on a basic home page design for her website, and she got her brochures and business cards on Vista Print (a great way to go, by the way), all she had left to do was promote her business.  But she didn’t have time.  She was always either at work or at seminars! 

This is a misappropriation of funds and time sufficient to make the US Government blush.  That trainer would be better off reversing those numbers, but it’s not necessary to spend that much money and time on seminars, and it’s counterproductive to do so.  She could make a commitment to attend a max of two seminars a year.  Only attend a seminar if there is a pretty good possibility of something you don’t already know being taught.  

A complaint I hear with increasing frequency is how many trainers go to seminars to earn their APDT CEUs but the seminar didn’t teach them anything new.  How many different ways do you need to hear seminar leaders say, “Follow a behavior with a reinforcer and you’ll get more of it”? If you’re ready to start a business, you better know what a reinforcer is.  If you don’t, you’re not ready to be hanging out your shingle just yet. 

Ask questions about the content before putting cash on the line.  If the speaker has a new book or new research out you’re more likely to learn something new.  If there’s no new material out, contact the speaker or the organizer to find out what’s on the agenda.  If it’s nothing new to you, look for a different speaker.  Even if you love this speaker and think her seminars are really fun, spread your education dollar around so that you have the broadest education possible. 

On a side note, how many of the top trainers do you see sitting in the audience at seminars soaking up new info? It is common at ClickerEXPO and APDT, but that’s about it.  One reason is professional courtesy.  What speaker wants to walk up to the front of the room and see Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson or Patricia McConnell in the audience?  Talk about stage fright!  But a big part of it is that they are good business people.  They don’t spend money on stuff they already know.  Their weekends are booked with their own work.  Why?  Because they spend their energy reaching clients.  Follow their examples!  [Since I lead seminars that probably sounds like pretty self-destructive advice, but I stand by it.  If you attended the aggression workshop with me (and/or) Jesus Rosales-Ruiz in 2006 you don’t really need to attend it again in 2007 http://www.animalbehavioranswers.com/id138.html.  We would love to have you, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of your business dollar to repeat it.  Wait until we revise the work, improve upon it or offer something new.]

Some of you worry that you’re not able to afford to attend a lot of seminars every year.  Don’t.  It is valuable to attend them when you can, but as long as your education is solid and you read voraciously, you will be better positioned to spend you money in other ways.

More on that in an upcoming installment!

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I’d like to let you know about a blog being written by a Click-L_ABAT list member, Melissa Pierson, who is writing a book about “the long & winding path [she] took to get to the positive reinforcement worldview.”  Check it out here:  http://bfskinnersbaby.blogspot.com/

Supportively,  Kellie

Red Skimmer Dragonfly (Male)

Photo by Kellie Snider, Copyright 2007

My regular readers know that I am in the dreadful red tape throes of completing the Master of Science in Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas. 

And that I turned 50 this year.

Schooling with 23-year-old whiz kids who can smoke pot all weekend, sleep two hours and still comprehend research articles well enough to twist my head in knots during class discussions has been a cruel reminder that I am not a kid any more.  It doesn’t help that their toned abdomens are always exposed.  At least I can rest assured that in a few years they will regret the tattoo.

Nevertheless it’s been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life to return to school, to figure out how to get everything done, to stop watching TV for a few years… that is, until my spouse got me hooked on Lost.  My age-peers sometimes resist the idea, but I urge you to make the chance to go back to school. 

It’s never too late.  Nola Ochs has earned her bachelor’s degree at the age of 95 and is able to tell first hand stories to her class mates about the lessons being taught in class.  She’s even being entered into the Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest college graduate on record.  Way to go, Nola!!  

Here’s the piece that appeared in Encarta:  http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/Departments/AdultLearning/?article=StillCracking95>1=10092

The photo has nothing to do with the article- I got some awesome pictures of dragonflies mating and laying eggs two days ago.  See the rest of them here: http://www.animalbehavioranswers.com/id159.html

Our Late Great China Girl 

In the last blog I touched on the idea that you’ve got to decide who you’ve got to impress if you want to be a success in the dog training business.  Many dog trainers spend a lot of time trying to impress each other or worrying that other trainers don’t respect them enough when in fact for most trainers other trainers aren’t the ones who will pay you for your expertise.

To begin to position yourself as the Animal Behavior Expert in your community you have to associate your name with some distinct ideas.  Niche marketing focuses on the idea of helping you stand out in the crowd by narrowing your focus.  This gives you the ability to direct your marketing energy to specific people, but it doesn’t prevent word-of-mouth marketing from helping you out.

Depending on where you are you may already have a niche just by identifying yourself with a particular kind of training.  If your community consists mainly of people who train with prong and shock collars, you might position yourself as Terryville’s Clicker Trainer or The Clicker Trainer of Howard County.   But if people are already clicking in your town that could get you off to a bad start with your fellow clickers.  Positioning yourself is not necessarily about elbowing other trainers out.  In fact, in a later blog I’m going to talk about how to turn some of your competition into marketing partners.

In developing a niche you need to know your market, but it does you no good to know your market if it’s a market you can’t stand.  It is essential that you find a niche that makes your heart sing, Wild Thing.  In my life there have been many things that made my heart sing, but that didn’t translate to a business that would keep me singing. 

PERSONAL EXAMPLE:  I love water gardening and briefly considered starting a pond installation business.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that what I love about ponding is watching the fish and the wildlife the pond attracts, to sit with my husband and a glass of wine while dinner cooks on the grill and watch the butterflies flit from stem to bud.  I love puttering in my own pond, but the idea of being forced to dig multiple ponds for other people sounded like a big fat drag. 

So what did I do?  I love writing, so when I heard that a columnist for Water Gardening magazine had left I quickly shot off a letter and was offered the job of columnist.  I happily wrote the humor and slice-of-life column, Knee Deep, in Water Gardening Magazine for 11 years.  My niche in the water gardening market was subscribers of Water Gardening magazine.  I wrote about what I loved best about ponding- the relaxation, flora and fauna.  I was the Knee Deep Columnist. 

What is your unique catch?  Are you the Dog Trainer of Ritzy Heights?  Are you the community activist that trains dogs humanely so that they won’t lose their their homes and who also speaks out against cruelty and abuse? Are you the Singles Dog Trainer who invites single men and women to classes that combine training with flirting?  Are you the Trainer for the Gay Community?  How about focusing on your extended religious community for clients?  By figuring out who you are and who you want to reach you are miles ahead of the game in knowing how to market yourself. 

BEYOND DOGGIE DAYCARE: Pooch Patio in Dallas http://www.thepoochpatio.com/index.php took the fabulous but now nearly ubiquitous doggie daycare concept to the next level by providing a beer, wine, coffee and sandwich bar and comfortable seating for humans in addition to grooming, daycare boarding and a boutique that includes gourmet dog foods.  They also offer party packages for pooches.  Pooch Patio is in a hip urban area making it a desirable way to socialize and include Fido in the outing.

So what’s YOUR handle?  What makes you different from every other trainer, and most importantly who cares about that difference? Do you offer a particular service like TTouch, or do you treat aggression?  Defining who you will be to the pet owning public will put you in a great position to fill your calendar with paying clients. 

My Kids when they were little- with good old China

Candice is a professional dog trainer.  Well, sort of.  She goes to at least 2 training seminar a year.  She reads the latest training books as soon as they come out.  She reads occassional research articles related to animal behavior.  She is certified by the CCPDT.  She participates in several discussion lists online. She maintains a presence on a couple of popular dog training lists. She knows a handful of well-known instructors from having attended their seminars, and knows a couple of them fairly well.  She has trained a couple of dogs to the highest levels in agility.  She has business cards and a website.  And hardly any students. So few, in fact, that dog training is relegated to hobby status and she has a full time day job that pays the bills.  Sound like anyone you know?

Candice is a composite of a lot of aspiring dog trainers who would love to quit the day job and work with dogs full time.  You would think that with 44.8 million households keeping some 73 million pet dogs in the US and roughly 35.8 billion bucks shelled out on them according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association you would think that there would be enough business to go around.  So it’s interesting that while you can can easily find out from MarketResearch.com (http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=assignment_7&id=3907558) that we pet lovers spend 8.5 billion a year on non-veterinary stuff for our dogs, that doesn’t include how much is spent on training.  

Well, it’s not completely unexpected.  Most dog trainers work independently and it would be a neat trick to track all of them down to count them.  When I contacted PetSmart to ask how many trainers they employ I was told they were not free to release that information.  (What is up with that?  They report on their web page how many people they employ (34,000) and how many dogs they trained in 2006 (378,000) but can’t reveal how many employees are trainers?  http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=196265&p=irol-mediaKit). Petco wouldn’t talk to me about it. Personal, I guess.  The American Veterinary Medical Association seems to have some concerns about people dealing with animal behavior without veterinary degrees, too.  I don’t know a lot about that, but we all try to protect our turf.  The problem comes if they are trying to edge into someone else’s turf.

So, do you need to be a vet to train dogs for a living?  Or do you need to go to work for PetSmart or Petco? 

I suggest that neither is necessary.  There are folks who do just fine as dog trainers.  One reason is that they focus their professional energy in the right direction.  They further their personal training.  They have friends in the dog training field. But they don’t spend their time and energy trying to impress fellow trainers and behaviorists. 

I started thinking about this a few months back when someone told me that in order to get anywhere in animal behavior you would have to convince certain big name popular dog trainers that you know your stuff.  That didn’t add up. Why would you need to convince other trainers you know your chops?  THEY aren’t going to pay you to work with their dogs.  They are the competition!  Sure you need to know what other trainers are up to, and it’s useful to build alliances–and by all means learn from each other.  But the people who need to be convinced you can train a dog are the people who will be writing the check or handing over the check card to engage your services.  Not the folks that are trying to get the same check! 

Since that time I’ve been paying attention to aspiring dog trainers.  It looks to me like dog trainers are spending a lot of time, energy and money on impressing other trainers, and precious little to reach potential clients.  It’s essential to attend seminars and conferences.  It is valuable to network with other trainers.  But if you want to make a living as a professional dog trainer you have to spend your time and energy reaching and impressing potential clients, and a lot less of those resources worrying about what two dog trainers are agreeing about the third!

It’s not as hard as it sounds.  It’s stuff you can do- you just have to know what to do.  You have to learn how to market yourself and your services to the people with the unruly dogs and the open check books.   

I am very interested in marketing and read a lot of marketing books.  In the next blog entry I’m going to talk about some ideas I have about marketing for dog behavior professionals.  I want to see you turn into the Animal Behavior Expert in your community.

Have comments on this blog?  Please feel free to click the comments button and leave a note!  For personal notes on the blog or other related matters, email Kellie@behaviorlogic.com . 

Nature in the City

June 7, 2007

Last week I noticed that the fish in my water garden were not eating.  This was not normal.  Each spring as they get their eyes open after a long winter’s semi-dormancy it takes them a while to begin to come out and beg like the little piggies goldfish can be, but they always eat.  I had finally gotten my pond switched from comet goldfish to fantails.

Each day I would go out and feed them, and a little while later I’d go out and look and the food would be gone, so I knew they were eating- they were just doing it clandestinely.  But over the course of a few days more and more food was left.  Finally it appeared that all of the food was still there even several hours later.  I got the net and moved the plants around, but I couldn’t find any fish.  Not one.  Not even the small ones that had yet to get their colors.  The adults were brightly colored fantail goldfish- red or calico.  They are easy to see, but there was no one in the pond.  A few had died during a series of hail storms a couple of weeks earlier, but while he’d had an unusual amount of rain for this part of Texas, we’d had no more hail.  There were no signs of the destruction made when raccoons raid a pond.  My dogs would never bother fish- what?  And get their faces wet?  I don’t think so. 

Fish can be surprisingly good hiders even in a backyard pond, but a couple more days went by and I was certain all of the fish were gone.  I put mosquito dunks in the pond.

Our master bathroom overlooks the roof of the back part of our house.  One morning I pulled back the curtain to get into the shower and there outside the window stood a massive egret.  He was easily three feet tall, perhaps taller, and brilliantly white with a sharp yellow beak pointed down to the pond below.  The flesh in the soft throat fluttered though the rest of him was stone still, looking.  (Sorry, Charlie… you already cleaned out that fridge!)  In a moment he took three strides to the crest of the roof, positioned himself to get a better look.  One would think that an animal with legs that long would be awkward, but he moved smooth and graceful.  He moved as he had to move if he were not to alert the fish. 

I quietly called my husband and he came and we both got a good look at him.  He went and looked him up online while I showered.  The egret stood within 15 feet of me in my shower for about five minutes and I got a very good look at a very magnificent creature.  This was a Great Egret, also known as a white heron. 

That was last week.  Last night I was given some mosquito fish for my pond from a ponder in the area.  This morning when I went to the back door to let the dogs out, there stood the egret, on the ground in the thick plants near the pond.  I ran for my camera making the dogs wait.  To give you an idea of the size of this bird, the terra cotta fish pot on the right side of the picture measures 16″ tall and is sitting on a flat rock that is 4″ tall.  The area where the egret is standing is flat ground in the garden.  His legs are as long as his neck. 

Great Egret 

An instant after this photograph was taken the egret flew away.  His wing span, which, if he was 3 feet tall would have measured 5 feet, seemed to fill my small back yard. 

I had not purchased any more goldfish because I knew he would eat them.  Now I am considering stocking the pond just for our urban egret.

For more information on the Great Egret, including a recording of their vocalizations, visit the Cornell University website:  http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Great_Egret_dtl.html#sound

Hello Animal Lovers!

June 3, 2007

bravo1a.jpgWelcome to my new blog site!