By Veronica Boutelle of PPG corporate partner, dogbiz
Frustration over unfinished cases and low client compliance—endemic issues in our industry—often lead us to view clients as lazy, uncommitted, unskilled, uncaring, cheap. As positive reinforcement trainers, we teach “Don’t blame, train.” But while we’re quick to apply this mantra to dogs, we’ve largely failed to do so with our human clients.
The human client equivalent would be, “Don’t blame the client, train their dog.”
Our primary service modality, of coaching clients to train their dogs, does not serve our human or canine clients. +R trainers need to move away from being personal trainers, shouting words of encouragement while clients struggle under the weight of training their own dogs. We need to reject the oft-repeated notion that “dog trainers are really people trainers,” and do the work that dog lovers call on and hire us to do—train their dogs.
To do so is kind to owners, good for dogs, and a huge relief and opportunity for dog trainers.
Why Coaching Doesn’t Serve
Coaching—most often a one-hour session once per week in which the trainer instructs and coaches the client on the training they are to do on their own in the intervening week—places too great a burden on the dog guardian.
Yes, clients should take responsibility for the animals they have brought into their homes. Yes, it would be ideal if they were to become enthusiastic hobby trainers. But in reality most owners lack the skills needed to do much of what we ask of them in an effective and expedient way.
Nor are most dog lovers interested in acquiring training skills. Clients don’t want to be dog trainers, that’s not why they call you; they just want a trained dog. There’s no point judging that. Most parents don’t homeschool their children. Most homeowners don’t fix their own plumbing or electrical issues. We don’t represent ourselves in court or do our medical procedures or even cut our own hair. We hire professionals to do so.
If you’ve ever bemoaned dog lovers in your community choosing traditional trainers over your business, understand that coaching is likely one contributor to those choices. Traditional trainers tell frustrated, busy dog guardians that they’ll train their dog for them. That’s a far more compelling proposition than our offer to teach them a complex skill set they don’t have desire or time to learn.
Making such an offer also undermines our profession. What does it say about our professional knowledge and skill set when we claim we can teach clients to do the work themselves in a handful of 60-minute sessions spread out once a week? If dog training is indeed so easy, why all the money and time spent on dog trainer schools, books, DVDs, mentoring, and certification exams?
What other profession surrenders authority in such a way? Imagine a lawyer handing over case notes and encouraging you to argue your own case because, after all, you’re the one going to prison if it doesn’t work. It’s no surprise that we encounter clients who believe they know more than we do or who argue with us over methodology—we do not behave as though we hold the professional knowledge and skill set that we each work so hard to attain.
Day Training: A Triple Win
While we can’t offer clients a magic training wand or “easy button,” we can train their dog for them via day training.
Day training is essentially board & train without the boarding. The trainer trains the dog in the owner’s home (or out on location), then teaches the client the necessary skills to maintain results for the long haul. A typical day-training program consists of an initial consult followed by a number of weeks (determined by the trainer based on the needs and goals of the case) in which the trainer sees the dog several times, wrapping up each week with a transfer session to show the client what Fido has learned and to proof or transfer the training to the owners. Most packages will also include 2 or 3 additional client sessions to make sure transfer is completed successfully.
Day training sets up owners, dogs, and trainers to win. Cases are seen through to full conclusion, which means owners reach their goals, trainers experience the satisfaction of a completed case, and dogs get the help they need, plus a deepened relationship with their people as a result. The fastest way to change a dog guardian’s attitude toward their dog is to change their dog’s behavior. Who can do that faster than you? And once you have, the client’s behavior is far easier to change.
The results owners witness even in the transfer session at the end of the first week translate into high levels of compliance. Why? First, learning maintenance skills is far easier than mastering the mechanical skills and knowledge needed to carry out a training plan, whether basic manners or behavior modification. Second, clients are far more motivated to protect the progress they’re so delighted to see than they are to create it themselves. That progress also makes buy-in for +R methodology easier to get. Finally, many clients also love the convenience of having the training done during the day while they’re at work.
For you, day training is easier to market and sell. You’re now able to offer convenience, expediency, and customized solutions for busy lives, all hot selling points in today’s frantic world. As one dogbiz client put it, “It’s a lot easier to ask for money—and clients are much happier to give it—when I can offer to do the training for them!” Another advantage is that you need far fewer clients when you day train. Because each owner means an average of four sessions per week, day training earns you the same amount of money with roughly one quarter of the clients.
The Rewards Are Huge
The personal rewards for dog trainers are significant, too, including more successful case outcomes, the ability to schedule a majority of training slots during daytime hours, and the opportunity to actually train dogs. While human teaching skills are still essential for successful results transfer, day trainers get to train dogs—now there’s a concept!
About the Author
Veronica Boutelle MA CTC is author of ‘How To Run a Dog Business: Putting Your Career Where Your Heart Is,’ and co-founder of dogbiz, whose business is to help yours succeed. If you’d like help designing and growing a successful day-training program for your business, check out dogbiz University’s Mastering Day Training course. Or visit www.dogbizsuccess.com to learn all the ways dogbiz can help your business succeed. She also writes a regular business column for PPG’s official trade publication BARKS from the Guild.