Dealing With Difficult Clients: Standing Your Ground When You Know You’re Right

Dealing With Difficult Clients: Standing Your Ground When You Know You’re Right

Dealing With Difficult Clients_ Standing Your Ground When You Know You're Right

After 10 years in business nothing surprises me. There is no client that can intimidate me, bully me, or otherwise make me feel like I did something to wrong them. I have built a reputable business with thousands of happy customers. Yet, despite that, there will always be otherwise “difficult” customers who will do their best to test your patience and professionalism. Heck, sometimes there’s even customers who for a split second will make you feel like you should throw in the towel. What you need to understand as a business owner, and an expert in our industry, is that you cannot make everyone happy. This is a harder egg to swallow than we want to admit. After all, we’re dog trainers! What does that actually mean? That means we have feelings. We have empathy for people. We want to make people happy through the service we provide, so we genuinely do feel bad when we let them down – even if and when we know it’s not our fault.

What You Should Do With Difficult Clients

I’m here to tell you to man up. Yes, you heard me. Get over it! Customers that make you feel like you’re a bad person in some way are not worth your time, the same way that a boyfriend or girlfriend who is emotionally abusive to you in any way is not worth your time. At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships, right? Nod yes with me here, because you know I’m right.

For reference, here’s an email I received just tonight from an unhappy customer who is convinced, wrongly, that she wasn’t made aware of our policy to schedule classes in advance:


When I paid for Fluffy, nobody told me anything about pre booking. This is not a cceptable, figure out something else, or reimburse the unused lessons, and I will figure out how I get Fluffy trained. How can you take my money, do not give explanations and do not have space in class?!!!!!!


Ok. So let’s take a look at the above for a second. Firstly, I don’t take you seriously because you a) couldn’t take the time to write me a proper email with proper spelling, grammar or punctuation and b) you were pushy, demanding and downright rude. Do you actually think you are threatening me by taking your business elsewhere? You’re not. Do you know why: because you won’t find better trainers, service, or facilities elsewhere. You, client, just shoved your foot in your mouth because you actually thought that by writing me an off the cuff frustrated email would actually get the results you desired. You are so wrong.

Here is my response:


Unfortunately I cannot make a space appear that doesn’t exist. We have an eight-dog limit per class so that all dogs in class have an enjoyable experience. We cannot overbook the classes otherwise we compromise the quality of the training that we provide. Happy to refund your money — I’ll get a check in the mail to you tomorrow, that’s not a problem. Obviously there was a miscommunication somewhere along the way. It has always been our policy to pre-book for group classes. I’ve been in business for ten years and we’ve always required pre-booking for group classes, so I’m a bit surprised that somehow that wasn’t communicated clearly to you. I don’t know who originally sold you the group class training package but apologize that we didn’t meet your expectations. Again, I’ll put a check in the mail to you tomorrow.


Ok, so yes. My email did take one dig at her. But she totally deserved it. Where in business does it say you have to always be 100% polite? Nowhere last time I checked. Sometimes people need to be dished out what served. That doesn’t mean you have to be super rude, or unprofessional, but when a client thinks they can bully you into giving them a result that you simply can’t give you have every right, in my opinion, to make it one hundred percent clear that their expectations are unrealistic. My client’s demand for me to “figure out something else” is absolutely ridiculous! I mean, seriously?!

After I intentionally put her in place, I made it clear why I couldn’t accommodate her. This isn’t about her, this is about my business and the over all well-being of all clients that use our services. I have policies in place for a reason, lady! At the end of the day, those policies benefit my customers. If you can’t wrap your head around that then I’d be more than happy to show you the door! After showing her the value as to why we require pre-booking, I did apologize. That is, after all, the professional thing to do. I would never, as a business owner, deny somebody an apology for the slim to none chance that it was our screw up. It’s the least I can do. Lastly, I would also never, as a business owner, deny someone a refund for un-used services. I have always felt that the absolutely worst thing you can do for your business is tell a customer that there are no refunds. I feel that by not providing a refund for unused services you are indicating to your customer that you value money more than the quality of service you provide. As dog trainers, I know for all of us that is simply not true. We’re not in this for the money, so let’s not fight over $100 bucks.

Moral of the story? “Difficult” customers aren’t worth your time. Let them go instead of trying to accommodate them. As soon as they walk out that door they make room for your next best, and ideal, customer who will appreciate the type of service you’re trying to provide.

About The Author

dee hoult headshot 2014Dee Hoult is the CEO of Applause Your Paws, Miami’s largest privately owned reward based dog training company. With twenty-two employees strong, Dee believes in positive people training as well as positive leadership based training for her employees. Although Dee still does see private clients for behavior cases, she is most passionate about her company, her people, and her business processes. Dee personally owns five dogs, two cats, and has a reef aquarium. Her husband Sam is lucky enough to also be one of her most valued employees as of January 1, 2015. You can follow Dee’s business on instagram @applauseyourpaws or on facebook at

5 Ways To Win Over Clients

5 Ways To Win Over Clients

win over clients

Whether you have just met a client for the first time or this is their last scheduled session, all 5 of these techniques are important to use to maintain a lasting relationship between trainer and dog owner.

1. Empathy

This requires exceptional communication and a great imagination. Express understanding of what the client is feeling. Employ active listening skills and clarify the situation they are experiencing. All of these are learned, no one is born with this ability. Take the time to memorize some open-ended and non-judgmental questions to use when clarifying what a client is saying. Keep the questions on an index card somewhere you will see them just before a client session. ‘When you said….what did that mean?’ Or simply paraphrase what they said and ask if that is correct. Don’t be critical of the client, their methods or equipment.

Related Article: The Best Approach for Addressing Aversives and Equipment with New Clients

2. Use Their Name

Remember their name (not just the dog’s). We can tell you a dog’s name from 8 and a half years ago without blinking. Find a way to remember the human’s name as well! Use their name to address them when first greeting, instructing and leaving. Think about how great it feels when you hear your own name through a warm smile as you enter a room.

3. Use Humor

Comedians don’t come up with everything on stage right there on the spot. They plan ahead for those moments. Practice getting laughter out of people. Think of slightly awkward situations dog owners get into and make light of it, by telling a story of yourself going through the same embarrassment. We have all been there!

4. Show Appreciation

Say ‘thank you’ & make eye contact, not just ‘um, thanks’. Handwritten notes, however small can go a long way. Send a personalized note with a picture of their dog as a follow-up. Ask if you may share a picture of their dog on your business Facebook page to show how proud you are of their progress. When you are thinking of someone – let them know by texting, calling or emailing. ‘I was at this cute little boutique downtown and they had a Newfoundland hand towel – it made me think of Nora & you!’

5. Under Promise & Over Deliver

Getting a thoughtful gift is over delivering. Anticipate their needs with a Kong or other toy (braided old t-shirt) for their first puppy ever. Be careful about what you promise. Specifying that they will be called at a certain time may be setting them up for disappointment if something unexpected pops up.

“Promise your commitment, but never a specific outcome” – Dee Hoult Applause Your Paws Inc.

Sometimes you won’t see the immediate effects of employing these 5 ways to win over clients, but they will always remember what made them feel appreciated! Years later a dog owner may run into you on the street and express how wonderful a trainer you were for them and their pet, even if they clearly weren’t doing their homework some weeks.

Which of these have you already been using and which will you add to your repertoire? What others would you add to this list?

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9 Ways To Deal With Jealous Clients In Your Dog Training Class

9 Ways To Deal With Jealous Clients In Your Dog Training Class

9 Ways To Deal With Jealous Clients In Your Dog Training Class

I am sure that we have all encountered at least one client, whose green-eyed monster has made an appearance when another client’s dog performed exceptionally well in class. What are the signs and how do we handle the situation?

Jealousy may be conveyed by:

  • Smirking or making sarcastic comments
  • Downplaying the success of others
  • Lack of support (not complimenting or congratulating others)
  • Backhanded compliments (“Oh your dog did very well, despite your messing up”)
  • Tearing down others (Caustic or derisive remarks or open antagonism)

Jealousy is a normal reaction, especially when someone feels insecure about their abilities; however, we don’t want them taking it out on their dogs or making others uncomfortable.

Strategies To Address The Jealous Client

How can you as the trainer, help minimize jealousy in your class? Below are some strategies that have worked for me:

  1. Just as we tell our clients to ignore their dog’s bad behavior, we do the same with jealous people – ignore their behavior, NOT them.
  2. Look for their strengths, what they and their dogs do well, and point them out to everyone.
  3. Praise them for their successes and achievements (big or small).
  4. Encourage them when things don’t go as planned, and remind them of what they have accomplished.
  5. Focus your attention on their efforts (everyone can reach their potential through practice).
  6. Help them to improve in the areas in which they feel inadequate, you may suggest that they stay an extra 10 minutes or request a private session to catch up and feel more confident.
  7. Encourage a group atmosphere where everyone encourages and applauds each other and their dogs’ achievements.
  8. Let the group know that skills take time to learn, and through practice these skills will become second nature.
  9. People need to understand that like us, some dogs learn faster, while others take longer to grasp things.

And as the saying goes, no one is perfect and that includes our furry friends. So encourage them to enjoy the process of training instead of focusing on who’s achieving their goals first.

What are some of the ways you have dealt with jealousy in your class?

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7 Things That Are Common Sense For Dog Trainers But Not Dog Owners

7 Things That Are Common Sense For Dog Trainers But Not Dog Owners

7 Things That Are Common Sense for dog trainers but not dog owners-min

As a modern dog trainer, you have invested a lot of time and energy into becoming the best, most educated trainer you can be.  Throughout this journey, many basic ideas were hammered into your head time and again, until they just became basic knowledge.  Unfortunately, sometimes these basic things are taken for granted by dog trainers and our clients are left hanging without this information.  Here are several things that dog trainers take as common knowledge but clients might not realize.

Click And THEN Treat

When teaching clients that are new to clicker training the basic mechanics, a lot of time is often spent repeating the mantra, “click and THEN treat.”  It seems a very natural behavior to click and offer the treat simultaneously.  As a modern dog trainer, you will gently remind your clients of the proper sequence of this until it becomes second nature to them, too.

“Have A Ton Of Treats”

When a dog trainer says, “have a ton of treats handy,” they are envisioning a gallon-size ziploc bag of small, soft, stinky treats.  When new clients hear this, however, their vision is slightly different.  What you often walk into is a client proudly bearing one small ziploc bag of crunchy cookies (see below!).  Make sure when you plan your first meeting with a client that you specify what you mean by, “have a ton of treats.”  And then take extras of your own.  *wink*

High Value Treats =/= Milkbones

Every modern dog trainer has been there – they meet with a client after telling them what kind/amount of treats to have, and the client has big hard biscuit-style treats.  As a pre-emptive strike, always specify, “small, soft, stinky, and lots of them!”

7 Things That Are Common Sense for dog trainers but not dog owners 2

You Have To Work Outside Your Formal Training Sessions

Working on skills learned in formal training with their dog trainer must occur even when the trainer is not present.  Five to ten minutes, once or twice a day is all that is needed, but even that can be difficult for some clients.  Emphasize that short sessions are okay, and even preferable!

“He Was Hungry”

As a modern dog trainer who understands the power that food can have as a reinforcer, you naturally know that a dog that is slightly hungry will work even harder.  However, your clients are unwitting victims of the “hungry dog” eyes and prone to feed their dog a large meal right before training.  Remind your clients that they should skip the meal right before training, or at least reduce it in size.

“His Tail Was Wagging, So He Was Happy”

This phrase can make even the most hardened dog trainer cringe.  It is vitally important that you help your clients learn basic dog body language, for their safety and their dog’s safety.

Sometimes He DOESN’T “Just Want To Say Hi”

Yet another phrase that can bring a dog trainer crashing to their knees in despair.  This can result from a couple different options.  First, your client’s dog is truly super friendly and they don’t realize how horrifying it can be to other dog owners to have a loose dog come rushing up to them and their dog.  Or second, their dog wants to do much more nefarious things than just say hi, but your client doesn’t understand body language.  Explain the importance of keeping dogs on leash when not safely contained, and not permitting their dogs to get in the face of every other dog in the neighborhood.

Training Is Not A Luxury

As a modern dog trainer, you realize the importance that training provides in a dog’s life in the form of mental stimulation, ability to adapt to different situations, and just providing the dog guidelines for living in a human world.  Make sure your clients realize that budgeting for dog training is just as important as budgeting for basic veterinary care.

What other concepts do you find yourself taking for granted while your clients are left hanging?

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Three Ways To Build Your Client and Networking Base

Three Ways To Build Your Client and Networking Base

Three Ways To Build Your-min

Whether you are starting out or are well-established, keeping your business going is not always a walk in the park. There is so much to consider but perhaps the most central concern is that of getting your name out to the general public. There are several ways to do this, each with their own particular pros and cons. Your dog training business’s success will depend on your ability to be recognized. There is no better way to do this than by NETWORKING and ‘oh my gosh’ it can be daunting task. However, once you get past the initial shock of the concept, you’ll find that it’s actually quite easy.

Recommended Reading: Why You Should Do Some Market Research Before Starting Your Dog Training Business

Reaching Out To Fellow Dog Trainers

The way I started networking is what I have termed ‘going in cold’. I directly emailed nearby trainers (to the North, South and West of me) whose philosophies and training styles most resonated with me. I still remember the first email I sent asking to meet up for coffee or lunch. I regretted hitting the send button almost immediately! But my fears were quickly put to rest. I had failed to realize how warm and willing to help out a well-qualified and experienced dog trainer could be. Thank you John, Linda and Pat for replying to my random invite for coffee! That one little reply email was the stepping-stone for me to connect with other trainers and learn the ropes. It was free and best of all has led to the development of awesome friendships and professional contacts. Even more, the relationships I went out on a limb and created allowed me to learn about how I wanted certain aspects of my own business to be. They even led to my first referrals and clients.

Now the ‘going in cold’ networking method isn’t the only way to gain recognition. You can accomplish the same by going through a paid organization, specifically ones like your local Chamber of Commerce or private associations like Business Network International. They both will cost you up front but they do have the potential to drum up solid business leads and turn you into a permanent fixture in your local community.

Related: Check out our “Mastermind Meetups for Modern Dog Trainers” and request one in your area! 

Join Your Chamber Of Commerce

The most familiar of the two is the local Chamber of Commerce. They typically work to increase your business’s visibility by listing your company on their exclusive business directory. Basically a digital Rolodex accessible via the chamber’s website to help customers find relevant services. They also publish monthly, quarterly, and or annual newsletters that feature local business and community activities. Typically you pay a fee to advertise in them. This cost is independent of the membership price, which can either be a flat rate (typically $400 plus) or a scaled fee. The scaled rate is dependent on the size or type of business, e.g. professionals and large corporations being charged the highest. Most all Chamber of Commerce advertise that they will increase your business’s exposure and recognition. For the most part they do deliver on that promise as is documented by a 2012 research study conducted by the Schaprio Group. They determined that membership is seen as “an effective business strategy” by 59% of consumers. More important for dog trainers is how the study indicates that people will see your business as one that both employs “good business practices” and is “reputable” within the community.

The benefits of being a member are not just limited to customer’s perception or being listed in a directory. The hidden value extends from the meaningful face-to-face relationships you will create with local professionals. Through sponsored business mixers and social events (business conferences or luncheons) you will get to know the businesses in your area in person. It is at these events you can make contact with service providers that you, as a business owner, might be in need of–like a quality accountant, photographer, or pet friendly real estate agent. Before you take the leap, keep in mind that programs and service are not all the same. So check with your town’s local Chamber of Commerce for specifics at the US Chamber of Commerce Directory.

Become A Member Of BNI

Another well-known organization focused on improving business success by way of networking is Business Network International. BNI is based on the idea that “givers gain” and founded by Dr. Ivan R. Misner in 1985. Each chapter creates a concentrated environment for professionals and local business owners to interact and direct potential customers between them through word-of-mouth marketing. It is quite effective when utilized.

BNI will let you attend a local chapter before joining in order to get a better feel for what they offer. In my case, I attended a meeting that averaged about an hour in length. My sponsor (who invited me) asked that I have ready a 60 second bio about myself, my business, and what goals I have. While a 60 second introduction may feel like a trial by fire, it actually was a great icebreaker as chapter members have had the same experience at one point in their careers. There are some particular rules to be aware of when attending. For instance, each local chapter is limited to only one member of a particular profession/business. This means that there will be only one lawyer, one mechanic, or one dog trainer within the group; however there can be multiple chapters within a city. You can visit a group for FREE twice before deciding whether or not you want to join! Much like the Chamber of Commerce, you will get the chance to gain inside access to professional services that are needed by business owners. In the chapter I belong to I connected with a CPA and a professional photographer that will be a phenomenal help to my business. The carpet cleaning company is also in my sights 😉

In the end the possibilities are boundless when it comes to successful networking. Networking is about getting to know your neighbors and building relationships so you can both succeed. So however you get it done – it will certainly help you out in the long run. Where and how have you had the best experiences networking? Are you a member of any business organizations?

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Guest Post: False Bravado!

Guest Post: False Bravado!

marketing tips for dog trainersDominance False Bravado!

If you work with dog owners or cruise the dog behavior groups on Facebook you will often see dogs that are labeled ‘dominant’. I hear this most often in client homes where they have multiple dogs and have categorized one as the dominant or “alpha” dog because of its interactions with the other dogs.
It is often described as the dog who is stealing all the toys, pushing the others out of the way at the doorways, hoarding all of the chew bones or fighting over them, seeking – if not demanding – the humans’ attention away from the other dogs, guarding the food or water bowls, playing too roughly and ‘enthusiastically’ with the other dogs, or keeping the other dogs off of the comfortable resting areas so they can have them as their own. It appears to be seen even more predominantly within a household where the dogs are of similar age, especially siblings.

karen deeds false bravadoHowever, if you take the same dogs out of the comfort of their home or familiar territory (such as a well-frequented dog park) or even away from their familiar play mates, you may see a very different dog. One that is much more hesitant around new things, interacts in a shy or reactive way to other dogs and/or people or perhaps they act overly friendly with a lot of jumping around other dogs or people, doing lots of ‘kissing’, lots of soft body curves, mouth licking, submissive grins, lowered head, or even excessive mouthing, all which can become obnoxious submission. So how can it be that this dog that is SO ‘dominant’ in one situation is so different in another?

Remember the bully on the playground in grade school or the class clown in your high school class? There is a similarity between humans and canines in that insecurity and anxiety will be displayed in a variety of ways. The dog that is pushy and easily over aroused and gets into squabbles with the housemates is much like the bully on the playground, whereas the obnoxiously submissive dog that is constantly seeking approval from the other dogs and/or humans is much like the class clown! You may see both behavior displays from the same dog, just in different situations. The fake ‘dominance display’ is often seen at home and in familiar surroundings whereas the submissive display may be seen in a novel environment or circumstance. The latter is usually not of much concern to most dog owners other than it can be a little annoying, but that obnoxious submission can be extremely irritating to some dogs and can actually cause an escalation in communication efforts that may result in aggression. We have an adult Great Pyrenees, Mama Shay, who is excellent at giving and reading canine body language. She can meet and greet almost any dog that is willing to ‘listen’ to her because she is never forward in her approach unless invited by the other dog through appropriate body language. However, young dogs that fall into the category of obnoxiously submissive, really push her buttons. She will give them an appropriate cut off signal with a head turn or eye avert which usually indicates to a dog with good communication skills that a direct approach is not desired. However, if the dog continues to approach in this overly appeasing way, rolling on the ground showing a submissive grin, doing lots of lip licking and eyes blinking like a flickering Christmas tree bulb, she may be pushed to the level of giving a small growl to warn them away. This in turn, makes them seek approval even more intensely and that can often result in a Great Pyrenees who is irritated and would escalate into more aggressive displays if we did not intervene.

karen deeds false bravado 2Once a dog like this become familiar with their environment and the other dogs in the play group they often turn to the bullying behavior so often referred to as dominance. By being bouncy, barky, and mouthy during play, or playing in a way that can be over the top with a lot of acrobatic movements, pushing the other dogs out of the way as they go through the doorway, or hogging the human interaction from the other dogs these dogs have gone from what appears to be one extreme to another.

Modern, educated dog trainers know it is always extremely important to identify the behavior and body language of the dogs without labelling it. But pet owners have most likely already done that! When they describe their dog as alpha or dominant it is important to get the actual physical behavior instead of the label. I give them another more accurate characterization of the behavior: “False Bravado”. A dog like this displays an almost over-the-top amount of courage but in reality it is a false show of bravery. As mentioned previously, this behavior is a symptom insecurity or anxiety. The dog is compensating for their lack of confidence and appropriate communication skills by bullying.

Hearing the term ‘dominance or alpha’ can give a trainer a snapshot of what may really be happening in the household and the use of the “False Bravado” term may help us reframe what the pet owner is seeing into a more accurate term.

About The Author

Karen Deeds, CDBC began her career with canines competing in the obedience show ring after being competitive in the horse show ring. Following an incident with her competition dog in 1990 that resulted in an aggression problem, Karen learned the importance of understanding canine behavior and how to manage and modify it.

In 1992, Karen, while working with a local Humane Society, quickly realized the need to educate clients on canine behavior… Far too many dogs were being destroyed because of behavioral problems. She found with education, positive training, & behavior modification, more dogs successfully adapted to a family environment. Canine Connection was founded in 1994 to train owners to connect with their canine partners.

Karen met Bob Deeds in 1998, when she was asked to help his volunteer search and rescue team with a ‘new’ training technique “Clicker Training”. They were married in 2004.

Karen was involved in the Assistance Dog industry for almost 20 years working for 3 different organizations and clients with their service, seizure response, or hearing dogs.

Attending continuing education seminars helps to maintain a high level of knowledge of canine behavior, body language, and proven science based training and behavior modification techniques. Karen was the Tarrant County Veterinary Medical Association’s 2009 Community Service Award winner for her work in the field of canine aggression. In 2010, Karen received the Community Educator of the Year Award from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).  In 2013 she passed the rigorous criteria to become a Certified Dog Behavior Counselor (CDBC) through the International Association of Animal Behavior Counselors (IAABC).

Both Karen and Bob are active in Dog Scouts of America as instructors at the Texas Mini Camp, teaching a variety of courses. They also continue to assess dogs for working potential in various disciplines such as SAR, narcotics, arson, bedbug, and service work. Bob and Karen currently perform behavioral evaluations and rehabilitation helping the rescue community better place dogs in adoptive homes.  They also present numerous seminars for a wide variety of audiences.

Karen’s current canine partner is Cassidy, a golden retriever she adopted from Golden Retriever Rescue of North Texas in April of 2010.  They have received their Rally Novice (RN), Rally Advanced (RA), Rally Excellent (RE), Beginner Novice (BN), Novice (CD), and RAE titles and are currently working to compete in AKC Open competition using all force free training.

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