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Top Dog Tips - The Business of Dog TrainingHopefully you had some time to read my column last week about pet health insurance. I’d really like to turn these articles into an open opportunity for you all to share your ideas and experiences with us. I certainly do not consider myself an expert on dogs or how to care for them, so I’m always learning new things. By sharing our opinions, tips and experiences, we can all continue to improve as better dog parents.

All too often I meet dogs who are not well-trained. This is frustrating for me because they will usually jump, chew, or go to the bathroom in inappropriate places.

It’s also frustrating for the owner who deals with these behavior problems on a regular basis. The saddest part for me is that I often hear owners talk about what a “stupid” dog they have and how he just doesn’t learn.

I always take this opportunity, and it’s happened MANY times in the past, to explain to the owner the importance of proper training and that dogs, like humans, don’t all learn in the same way. It is your responsibility as a dog owner to figure out the way that your dog learns best and train him using that method. Most dogs do well with behavioral training, but others respond well to clicker training or training with the help of a dog whistle.

No matter how you choose to train your pet, it is going to take a lot of time and patience. You must be diligent in your training if you want your dog to learn quickly, and remember that it is never too early or late to begin training your pet. Dogs of any any age can be trained. Young puppies typically pick up on training quicker than older dogs, and some dogs are just stubborn and take more time to train no matter how old they are.

This week I got the chance to interview Beth Jeffrey, a professional dog trainer and author of the book eBook The First 100 Days With Your Puppy, to find out about her path to training dogs for a living, what pet parents need to know about training their own dogs, and what it is like to be the owner of your own dog training business. If you’re interested in opening your own dog training business you may be interested in checking out the following articles as well:

Beth is a professional dog trainer and animal behaviorist who is based in San Diego, CA. After she completed several years of dog training programs, she traveled to Australia to head up the training program for Assistance Dogs Australia, training dogs for the disabled. Over the past 15 years, Beth has worked with all breeds, all ages, and dealt with all kinds of behavior problems.

Dog Training
Photo: Andrea Arden

After getting a bit of background information about her dog training career thus far, I was curious about how Beth got started in the dog training field to begin with. She explained to me that after college she went into corporate finance. Sadly, she says that she didn’t really like it but it seemed to be a good career path, so that’s what she settled for.
Oddly enough it was actually the task of firing someone that lead to Beth’s decision to work with canines.

One day I was firing an employee, and my boss was in the room with me as this was my first time firing someone. The young woman broke down in tears and I just didn’t know what to do. My boss said to her, “you need to find something that you enjoy doing in your personal life, and then somehow apply that to your job”. As a lifetime dog lover, a light went off in my head and I knew I wanted to work with dogs.

After some research, Beth decided that she wanted to train Guide Dogs, so she applied to work at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA, and began working there in 2001. After several years there she left to train Assistance Dogs for the disabled, and then from there began her own private training business. Beth told me that she has also owned and run several dog grooming salons and boutique pet supply stores.

What interested me the most about Beth’s dog training philosophy is that she believes in working on a ‘train the trainer’ mentality. She says that training is most effective when the owner is taught how to handle their dog properly. She tries to help all of her clients set rules, structure and boundaries for their dogs, so they can be good leaders and have calm and confident dogs.

I would describe my training style as ‘firm but fair’, with the dogs best interest always in mind.

Beth uses positive reinforcement training. She communicates to dogs both verbally and through a collar and leash, praising the good behavior and redirecting any negative behaviors to turn them into positive ones. She doesn’t believe in using shock collars or other ‘harsh’ methods of control or correction as she feels they really damage people’s relationship with their dog, as well as potentially the dogs psyche.

Running your business is challenging, but very rewarding. As a small business owner you need to be prepared to wear many hats. On any given day Beth is the dog trainer, sales and marketing manager, janitor, accountant, etc… She does not hire employees to train the dogs, so she needs to do everything herself.

Dog Training
Photo: maplegirlie

When I asked Beth about the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of owning her own business she said that she loves knowing that she has helped someone have a better relationship with their dog, and that the training that she has taught both the dog and the owner will enhance their bond. However, business isn’t always booming when you’re a small business owner and Beth wants to caution others who may be thinking of opening a small business about the ebbs and flows that come entrepreneurship.

She says that some weeks are very busy and others are very quiet. Business owners need to learn to budget their money during the busy spells so they have enough left over to get through the slow times. Another important thing that business owners need to remember is that their business isn’t one of a kind (unless you’re selling some kind of unique product) and they need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Beth said that she has always offered an obligation free phone consult for potential customers. She says there are so many dog trainers out there, and it can be difficult for people to know which one to choose. While speaking with potential clients, Beth can give them a good feel about her skills as a trainer, and also make them feel confident that her style and personality will be a good fit for them.

No matter what type of business you run, there are always changes and updates to the industry that you’re in. I was wondering how Beth keeps up with all the changes in the dog training field, since it seems like there is new information being released all the time. She told me that it is important for her to keep up to date and she usually reads books and articles on behavior based research.

At the beginning of this column I mentioned how often I see poorly trained dogs. Whether it’s while visiting friends and family or during an outing to the dog park, it seems like poorly trained dogs are everywhere. I wanted Beth’s take on the subject, and this is what she said…

Many dog owners feel that setting the rules, structure and boundaries, will make their dogs love them less. By being inconsistent and never teaching the dog how to behave, many dogs end up out of control and unsettled. I always talk to my clients about having mutual respect, and how a dog that is taught how to behave properly will be a happier dog.

Dog Training
Photo: BuzzFeeders

I could not agree more with this statement! All too often I hear dog owners say that they feel bad disciplining their dog. The result is a poorly trained dog that is a burden to his owner and a nuisance to everyone he comes in contact with. That’s not good for anyone, and it isn’t a great quality of life for the dog.

Taking the time to train your dog will benefit you both in the long run, and it doesn’t matter how old they are. If you’ve been neglecting training your dog and he’s 2 or 3 or even older, it’s not too late to start. It may take a little longer and you’ll have to break some of his bad habits, but with patience and time you’ll get there.

With that being said, I’ll leave you with Beth’s words of advice for dog owners:

Decide what you want to teach your dog and how you want them to behave from the beginning. A dog can be taught things at any age, but it is much easier if you know the behaviors you want from the beginning, and start teaching and shaping the behaviors from day one.

Make sure to check out Beth’s eBook and visit her website thetopdogtrainer.com.

Now it’s your turn.

What is your experience with dog training? What’s worked for you or what hasn’t worked very well? Any information, tips, tricks, or experiences that you’ve had may benefit other pet owners and we’d love to hear about them. If you’re a dog trainer, please tell us a little bit about yourself and what your philosophy on dog training is. Let us know and let’s talk!