Being an entrepreneur isn't easy. It takes dedication, drive and passion for the industry you're going into as well as for the business itself. Many pet parents dream and ponder how to start a dog training business for many reasons, but the most common is a simple love for dogs and a desire to improve the relationship between pets and their owners.
Working with pets is a rewarding experience, and even more so when you can be your own boss: planning, creating, imagining and implementing everything from A to Z. If this sounds like you, and you believe you're a hard working enough person with an interest in dog training, the first step to figuring out exactly how to start a dog training business is to actually commit to this venture.
Keep in mind though that regardless of the sense of adventure, excitement and optimism that will come once you take your first steps into building your own dog training business, it will not always be an easy road to travel. In fact, pet parents who are dead set on launching a dog training business should prepare for a long road of many hours and hard work.
“30% of new businesses in the usa fail within the first two years after launch…”
…according to the US Small Business Administration; and within the first five years that number can jump up to a 50% failure rate. Although this is true across all industries, not just pet businesses, the failure rate in running a dog training business specifically can be even higher for many different reasons.
How to Start a Dog Training Business
Always begin with learning as much as you can and research of the industry you're about to enter.
Doing your homework before you begin – along with plenty of investigation of what's out there – will definitely and significantly improve the odds of your dog business becoming successful. You'll also want to make sure that you have a good support system set up around you, because starting a business, no matter what kind, is a very stressful undertaking overall.
What do I mean by “support system”? It's the people and the environment that surrounds you: avoid all the negativity and consume all positive thoughts and encouragement from those who push you into learning how to start a dog training business. Additionally, gather around all types of resources for information and reference. Grab dog business books, subscribe to our newsletter and follow our Dog Business Column.
“I'm ready. I can do this. I'm dedicated and I want to learn how to start a dog training business!”
First thing's first…
Dog training industry is competitive. But what's even more important to know is that it's also unregulated, meaning that anyone can be a dog trainer, even without any dog training certifications. Some dog owners may hire trainers who are not qualified in the least to train a canine. Thus it's important to get unbiased, objective opinions of your dog training knowledge and handling skills from third-party sources (preferably NOT your family and friends).
If you haven't already done anything like that, make sure to take group classes or private lessons with your own dog in learning how to train dogs professionally. We even have a great column on how to get a dog trainer's certification, if you wish to look into that.
To make sure that your dog training business stands out from the crowd, you'll want to have as many canine training skills on your resumé as possible. Take additional classes and seminars that offer more certificates of completion, new skills, ideas, and if possible, get a list of references of people that have seen your ability to train dogs first-hand.
Having a huge crush on dogs does not qualify you to become a dog trainer, and it especially doesn't mean that you're a really good dog trainer. You need to show potential clients that you have the knowledge and skill set that is required to train their dogs. The more education you have, the higher-quality training you will be able to provide.
Don't forget that you'll be working with the public.
With the above being said, love for dogs is crucial in this business (duh!) but so is the ability to communicate with those on the other end of the leash. You aren't just training canines; you are also teaching their owners. Customer service skills are vital when teaching Fido's other-half how to use commands and other tactics appropriately. Sometimes, it can be even harder than teaching a dog…
Remember that not everyone will have the same amount of knowledge that you do, so you can't expect dog owners to know anything about training animals. Cut them some slack and develop a good sense of patience. Making dog owners feel competent and understanding their needs and concerns is what will set you apart from other trainers in the business. Customer service is a huge part of a thriving business, and those who want to learn how to start a dog training business should look for some good examples, like Amazon or Johnson & Johnson whose love for customers is absolutely top-notch.
If you are articulate and know what you're doing, and you're easy to understand, then chances are good that you have what it takes to launch a successful career as a dog trainer. If you feel like your people skills could use some work, consider investing in a training program. It may sound silly now, but a few night classes in customer service and how to effectively work with clients may be all it takes to make or break your business.
“Where are all the dogs at?”
Picking a good location for your dog training business
Although it is not uncommon to see dog training companies operate in remote and sparsely populated parts of the country, it is wise for a first-time business owner to find an area where the most people — and dogs — are. If you are in a market where you could only train an average of 30 dogs a year, then it would be more like a hobby and less like a viable business.
This part is called market research, and it's responsible for about half of your success. It's absolutely vital that you do your market research.
Another duh: in order to support and scale your dog training business, you need to be sure that you are opening in the area where there is a high percentage of dog owners. The denser the dog population, the better! According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 36.5% of U.S. households own a dog, and you want to be near as many of those families as possible.
If you're open to relocation across the country, then focus on settling your business in a state, city and neighborhood where a large number of families own dogs. You can get this information from local animal control officials, town offices, or any other institution that provides information on the number of registered dogs in the area. Also, check the information in surrounding towns, because some people may be likely to travel in order to receive the best service possible (yours!)
After you have thoroughly researched your market and figured out where the demand is, you can start the next step — scouting for a location.
“Can I just rent any vacant building for my dog business?”
Yes, of course you can. And you can also save some money by starting in your own house, but there are a few aspects of this plan that need to be considered.
Before choosing the actual physical space where your dog training business will be located, you need to keep this important part in mind: seriously consider (and calculate) how much space in square feet you'll require. This is where many aspiring trainers fail by skimping on space, because usually, successful dog training businesses need plenty of room to move and run.
Alternatively, some canine trainers who are learning how to start a dog training business will often begin their entrepreneurial venture in their homes. There's nothing wrong with that if your house is big and has plenty of room where you can accomplish all necessary tasks.
So whether you'd like to run your business out of your home or you're planning on renting a space, make sure it has adequate room for all the supplies and equipment you will need, as well as plenty of space for you and the dogs to move freely while working together.
You also need to think about how easy it is for customers to access your building. If you are planning on running your dog training business out of your home and it's located on a muddy dirt road that is 5 miles from the nearest main road, that's not very easily accessible for your future clientele. You want your business to be easy to find and easy to get to.
This is a type of business that highly relies on easy access to location on a daily basis.
Other things to consider when looking for the proper venue when you're just beginning to learn how to start a dog training business are:
- Is there adequate parking?
- Does the location promote the desired image of your business?
- Is there room for future growth?
- Is there competition located near this location?
* Tip: Be sure to check zoning requirements for the city beforehand to make sure you can run a business in that location.
Who is your competition?
Let's say you have succeeded in locating an area with a large population of dog owners. Chances are that if there are dogs around, there are also well-established pet businesses in the area, possibly even schools and trainers. It is important for your business to stand out by offering something unique, that perhaps the other trainers don't offer.
To understand your competition a little better, check and see how far in advance other dog trainers in your target market are booked.
This type of information is necessary to determine whether there is a shortage or over saturation of dog training services in your target area. There will be places where every dog trainer in town can see you today, which probably means there is an excess supply of canine trainers in that area.
If the latter is the case, don't give up yet — first, examine your ability to stand out from the competition. Having something special to offer, such as really high-quality training at a lower price with amazing customer service and gifts for dogs (etc.) might be all you need to have your dog training business succeed and grow.
Another thing to consider is the type of training that the other programs are offering. If they use a punishment-based training method, a positive reinforcement method may be exactly what that particular area and its dog owners are looking for. The bottom line is to make sure that the market you are looking to come into isn't over-saturated, or that there's something unique or improved you can offer that hasn't been offered yet.
However, if you've done your research and it seems that there is an abundance of highly-qualified trainers in the area that specialize in the same type of training that you will be offering, it may be time to reconsider your location. Even if you have to commute a few towns over, it will be worth it if there is a chance you will get more business. This type of commitment is what it takes to run a successful dog business.
Now it's time for a little paperwork…
Once you've chosen the perfect location, you're well on your way to understanding how to start a dog training business. Now comes the tedious part – paperwork. A big part of learning how to start a dog training business is hidden away in bureaucracy, something many aspiring petpreneurs forget to consider.
The first thing you'll need to do is choose a name for your business. You want it to be something that is catchy and easy for costumers to remember. Before you settle on a name, think about how you'll market your business and make sure that the name is professional looking and great for marketing, too.
Once you've selected the perfect name, it's time to legalize your business. If you're unsure of how to do this, go to your state's business website and do some research. Most states require all businesses to be registered with the state and many have certain licensing regulations as well. For example, if I were to start a business in California, I'd visit this site.
If you can't find all the information that you need online, make a phone call to the state business department and get your questions answered. You don't want to get close to opening your dog training business and realize that you don't have a required license, or worse – get shut down after opening because you didn't file the required paperwork.
You're also going to need insurance. Finding business insurance can be tricky, so shop around well and long. You want to make sure that you have plenty of coverage because you never know what can happen. What if one of the dogs you are training gets hurt and the owners want to blame on you? Same goes for your location – your building/office/area or whatnot needs to be covered in the event there is a fire, flood, etc.
Be smart about your business insurance. At first, focus on the most essential things you'll need and try to minimize your expenses as much as you can. Let's say you live in a place like the desert of Arizona, then flood insurance may not be a high priority for you. Likewise, if you live in Maine you probably won't need tornado coverage.
Talk with multiple different insurance agents and especially read a lot online about all offers you can get before you choose which one to work with. Ensure that your pet business insurance company is giving you the coverage you need without any hidden policies that your business won't require. It's easy to get upsold ten times over your budget.
Now that all your paperwork is completed, you need to keep it organized and in a safe place. You're going to need to refer to this information many times, so you don't want to lose it or have to hunt for it when the time comes. It's never a bad idea to scan everything into your computer so you have a back up copy if you happen to misplace anything.
Dog supplies and products, training equipment and more…
Hopefully you've been planning on purchasing A LOT of professional dog supplies, because you're going to need them. Talk to other dog trainers, research information online, and come up with a list of all the materials that you will need to run a successful dog training business.
Luckily, Top Dog Tips specializes in profiling dog supplies companies, start-ups and providing reviews on all types of dog products. Read everything on this site to educate yourself on what you need, what you don't need and how to work those things.
Obviously you'll need a lot of good quality supplies for training and working with your clientele dogs. Some very first things to consider are:
- Dog bowls
- Agility training equipment
- Calming aids
- Books and videos
- General dog training equipment
You'll wear many different hats as a business owner, so don't forget about the other dog products that you'll be needing as well. Think about the office supplies you'll need, too. I'm not just talking about pens, paper, and sticky notes. You'll need that stuff as well but take into account (as an expense) other, much larger and more expensive things.
Obviously, a computer will be necessary to send emails, keep up with your website and social media pages, create invoices, keep records, and much more. You may also need a separate phone line and maybe an answering machine. What about a desk, office chair, and chairs for your clients? The more detailed you make your list now, the more prepared you will be.
Once you have the list down, start restructuring in terms of priority. Every successful business owner should be good at prioritizing stuff. Find ways to spend as least funds as possible in the beginning without sacrificing quality of your services.
Try to spend less and be prepared to get your hands dirty
Chances are you’re not going to have lots of money to hire a cleaning service, general contractor, lawyer, accountant, marketing firm, or web designer at first. In order to keep your start-up costs low, it is advisable to do some of these things yourself. If you don't know how, take a class or find someone who can help you pro-bono.
Do your own painting and household repairs and learn accounting, basic bookkeeping, the basics of online marketing, social media and website design, or at least website maintenance. Doing these simple tasks on your own can help your business get off to a better financial start because your start-up costs will be considerably cheaper. And, if the business fails, you will significantly reduce the impact on your own financial health.
RELATED: How to live on a budget with dogs
Also, learning everything first-hand will make you a much better boss later down the road once you start outsourcing tasks and hiring professionals to handle specific parts of your dog training business.
Now that you understand how to start a dog training business, the rest is up to you.
Even with a well-prepared plan, starting a dog training business – or ANY business for that matter – isn't easy. There’s a lot involved both physically and emotionally, and it can take some time for you to build up a clientele. Try looking online for free resources and visit your local government to look into the rules regarding licensing and registration.
Research the web for financial grants and free business-planning services. There are great benefits to be had from incubator and mentorship programs, along with other government-run services. You'll find resources on creating a dog training business plan and securing financing. Here are just a few of the great resources out there:
- BPlans has tons of great stuff to get your business up and running quickly.
- Check out MyOwnBusiness for some great free business planning information.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration is a great place for info.
- Entrepreneur.com has lots of free advice, tips and inspiration.
Remember that everything takes time, and building up a strong business is no exception. Don't expect things to take off right out of the gate. Give yourself time to build relationships with clients and get people in the community talking about your business. Before you know it, you'll have a successful dog training business.