Ask the Experts: A Little Bit of Magic

Jan 2, 2022

PPG corporate partner dogbiz talks dog trainer cancellation policies and how to make them stick.

Q: Dear dogbiz,

I need to learn how to stand up for myself when clients try to break my policies. I find it really hard to enforce them in the moment. I’m tired of being a pushover, but I hate conflict and just never know what to say. Any magical tips?

S.F. in Anaheim

 A: Well, S.F., I don’t know about magical, but I do have some tips.

Before I share them, I want to say how glad I am that you’re ready to actively enforce your policies. Good policies aren’t just good for business—constructed well they serve your clients and students and their dogs, too.

Cancellation policies, for example, protect your schedule and income but also clients’ training progress, which in turn improves the dogs’ lives.

Cancellation Policies

The biggest (and perhaps semi-magical) tip I can share is to always include the WHY behind your policies. If you look again at the previous paragraph, you can see I’ve hinted at this. We don’t have cancellation policies just to have them. We don’t write them to be mean or hardnosed. They exist for a reason (or several reasons, even). It’s important to share those reasons with your clients and students.

We find that when people understand why a policy is what it is, they’re far more likely to respect the policy, reducing your need to enforce it. And when you do occasionally have to put your foot down, it’s easier to do so when armed with the WHY behind your action.

The Why

Write your WHY into your policy, share it out loud as you go over your training contract, and/or include it in your confirmation email, etc. In each instance, be sure to actively communicate the policy and the reason(s) behind it. For example, consider the difference between these two iterations of the same policy:

A: We do not allow cancellations. Cancelled appointments will not be refunded or rescheduled.

B: Because my goal is to provide you with the best chance of reaching your training goals and achieving relief, because training consistency is paramount to training success, and because I take a limited number of training cases to provide clients my focused attention, I am unable to accommodate cancellations. Cancelled appointments will not be refunded or rescheduled. To protect your training investment and our training progress, I ask that you please schedule carefully and prioritize our appointments. I want to see you succeed!

Version B is a bit harder to argue with! If you’re careful to get the B versions of your policies in front of students and clients at the outset of the relationship, they are less likely to ask for exceptions. But if they do, you have built-in language to fall back on when you need to do some enforcement. Continuing the above example, should a client call to cancel a training appointment, you might say:

“I’m sorry the week is feeling so busy and stressful for you. I can take our Friday appointment off the books, but before I do, just a reminder that, as we talked about at our initial consult, it would mean losing that appointment. I want to see you make as much progress toward your goal of calm, incident-free walks as possible. I’d hate to see us have less time together and to see you lose progress to the extended time between sessions. Are you sure we can’t make Friday work?”

The Magic of Why

Just to be clear: You don’t have to use this exact policy; yours might be different. And obviously if there was a true emergency or illness your response might be different as well. The point of the example is to illustrate how a WHY can be built into a policy and used to help enforce it.

I hope this small bit of “magic”—the magic of WHY—helps as you work to take a stronger stance toward your own policies.

All our best,

Veronica & the dogbiz team

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Veronica Boutelle MA Ed CTC is founder and co-president of dog*biz, and author of How to Run Your Dog Business and co-author of Minding Your Dog Business. dog*biz offers professionally designed positive reinforcement dog training class curricula, including Open-Enrollment Puppy, Open-Enrollment Basic Manners, and short Topics classes built for retention.