Who Should You Impress For Success?

June 11, 2007

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 . 

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One Response to “Who Should You Impress For Success?”

  1. Casandra Says:

    Thank you for writing on this subject. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you have to say. I want to keep giving back in the dog training field, so any help in the right direction helps.


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