One of the most frequent problems dog training professionals face is potty training failure. Clients are getting incomplete information from a number of sources: online searches, Veterinarians, friends, and previous experience. A lot of these sources conflict, so clients are cobbling together a plan and it doesn’t always work. Let’s help them out.
Potty Training Basics
At it’s core, potty training is teaching dogs that when they feel pressure in their bladder or bowels they go to a specific place to relieve it. This requires some specific skills, both on the human and dog end.
- Predict when there is a high probability of the dog needing to relieve themselves.
- Showing the dog where they would like the dog to relieve themselves.
- Teaching a signal that dog can use to ask to go to the location.
- Reinforcing the dog for relieving themselves in the correct location.
- Looking at failure as a failure in the plan, not in the dog.
- Must have muscle tone enough to hold urine or feces long enough to get to the proper location.
- Must know the route to the proper location from all household locations.
- Must be able to signal to humans to open a door if a dog door is not available.
- Must be able to recognize the substrate as something they can relieve themselves on.
The Problem With Potty Pads
One of the most frequent problems I see is when clients are using potty pads. They’re using pads for a number of reasons, so asking “why” is very important. A lot of clients are using them because outside is unsafe and they’re waiting for full vaccination before teaching the dog to go out. Some have busy households and they can’t quite spend enough time watching the dog carefully.
First, clients are teaching dogs to go to the wrong location from the beginning. If one of the skills is knowing the proper route to the appropriate place, they’re teaching the wrong one. Clients also frequently splash potty pads all over the house, so that “one location,” is now understood to be the entire house. If the client is set on using potty pads make sure it is located as close to the door the dog will need to exit to go out when they are ready.
Second, potty pads contain a “dog attractant.” Since dogs use their sense of smell to tell them where they should relieve themselves, clients are teaching the wrong smell from the beginning. If the client is set on using potty pads make sure they use the dog’s scent instead of the attractant to teach them where to go. This means leaving feces and urine for a bit and making sure the pad is large enough for the dog to relieve themselves on the other end.
Finally, dogs seem confused by the substrate and similar household items like rugs. The non-woven fabric layer contains cotton, which is also in a lot of rugs and clothing, so there can be confusion when smelling for that perfect spot. Again, scenting the pads can help dogs understand what smell they should be looking for. Translating this to outside, they will mark and over-mark their last spots.
Learning The Routes
Clients are obviously worried about accidents between the time they know the dog has to relieve themselves and getting to the right spot. This means dogs are frequently carried to the spot instead of learning to walk it on their own. This is particularly common with puppies and small dogs.
Make sure the client is letting the dog walk. If they have had problems with accidents make it a fun Run To The Door party, so the dog is learning to walk or run quickly to the exit. Make sure the client is doing this from multiple locations in the house, not just the pen or crate area.
A Really Big Signal
The most common breakdown is when dogs need to ask the human to open a door so they can get to the right location. Most people expect dogs to figure this out themselves, but what ends up happening is a quiet dog sitting next to a door that no one sees. Dogs also come up with destructive signals such as scratching or loud barking.
Talk about what works for your client. Bells in either manual or electronic form almost always work and can travel with clients on vacations and outings if needed. Some clients like the bark, so teaching the dog to Speak! would be needed. No matter what the signal, it’s important to teach it as a separate skill. Signal = Door Opens.
Teaching a bell is great for passive learning. The human rings the bell, opens the door, and takes the dog out. Most dogs learn that the bell opens the door in a week or two all on their own. If you need to teach the bell ringing as a skill, watch the dog interact with some targets first. Do they use their nose or their paw? Choose the one they use most often and make sure the bell is hung low enough for them to use that body part.
Make sure clients aren’t asking for a Sit before the door opens unless the door opens into an unsafe environment. We want the Signal to mean the door opens, and asking for patience with a sit may delay the door opening to the point of an accident happening.
Understanding The Right Spot
There are a myriad of reasons why a dog might not want to use the right spot to relieve themselves. Substrate preference, wetness, competing smells, and fear responses can impede potty training to the right location.
If at all possible start training on the substrate the client would like them to eventually use. If you’re training a puppy or small dog without muscle tone to hold it yet, still try to replicate the substrate. This means instead of potty pads you’re going to use a litter box with the appropriate material. Sod pieces and gravel are much easier to clean and cheaper to replace than potty pads. In a perfect world this is close to the eventual exit door, but puppies may need one close to their sleeping location for middle of the night potty breaks.
It’s important to keep the right location scented but clean. This means not picking feces up right away so the area is scented, but no leaving it so long that the area is soiled. If there is more than one dog in the household make sure that they both are comfortable using the area. Some dogs aren’t keen to over-mark other dogs, so they may need their own spot. If there is wildlife in the area, make sure the area is cleaned or watered a few times a week if the dog is suddenly reluctant to go when they had previously gone.
Outdoors can be scary. Dogs outside during fireworks or thunder or trash trucks can associate the location they heard the sound with the sound. Dogs can also be afraid of the dark, so they may go out during the day but after dark have a problem. Dissecting fear responses can take some time, but desensitizing the sound or adding more light in the yard can get the dog back to a place of feeling safe.
Distractions can impede potty training. Be sure that during the learning phase that Door Opens = Go Potty First is taught from the beginning. Getting to sniff and zoom and play should come after they’ve relieve themselves. This may mean using a leash to prevent the dog getting distracted until potty has happened, then the leash comes off and the dog can roam and play as they like. For some dogs coming back in is boring, so make sure you pay attention to what the dog is communicating about staying outside vs. going inside. If they are reluctant to go back inside, make inside play time. Toys fly, food mysteriously appears to be hunted, and it’s fun to be indoors.
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Mentors Prevent Mishaps
Knowing the right questions to ask new clients often comes after many years of experience for many professional dog trainers. There are many situations that a new dog trainer may not be aware of or familiar with because they haven’t come across them yet. Ultimately, you don’t know what you don’t know and this can put you in an uncomfortable position if you’re not careful when taking on new clients.
This is often where working with a mentor can be priceless. Mentors can teach you how to onboard new clients, manage clients, and manage other aspects of running a small business – let alone a dog training business. A mentor can teach you what you should look out for and what questions to ask new clients before taking them on so that you can provide them with the best training program possible to get results. Their stories can give you insights into what to lookout for with your own clients so you can set yourself up for success. However, not everyone has access to a mentor which is we try to fill in the gaps with this website, podcast, and Facebook groups.
If you don’t have a mentor to teach you the ropes or what red flags to look for, the second best option is to make sure you’re asking the right questions to new dog training clients so that you’re fully aware of what you’re taking on before you commit to training their dog.
What Could Happen If You Don’t Ask New Clients The Right Questions?
Because dog training is completely unregulated, many dog trainers start out without much formal training at all – especially when it comes to business or client management. This results in well-meaning, but uninformed dog trainers taking on clients they aren’t necessarily ready for. They may not be aware of the risks or unfortunate scenarios that could result from taking on certain clients.
Fortunately, there is a way to avoid complicated or risky situations – asking the right questions before taking on a new client.
Speaking from experience, I’m quite certain that there are many new dog trainers out there that are taking on cases with a bite history too prematurely simply because they didn’t ask the right questions before working with a client. Many dog training clients leave out important details from intake forms or conversations because they assume those details irrelevant to their training goals.
For example, a client could inquire about basic obedience and manners with their dog, Fido. Fido has a long history of resource guarding his food and toys from people and other dogs. Their assumption is that Fido’s resource guarding behavior with a small bite history is irrelevant to their basic obedience goals and they choose leave out those details. A new dog trainer may not assume an inquiry about obedience requires an in-depth intake form or questionnaire and so they leave out important questions that could have uncovered these details. This kind of scenario happens all too often and leaves the dog trainer in an unsafe situation with the potential for a lawsuit if something goes wrong a group class with other students.
This is just once scenario in which asking detailed, seemingly irrelevant questions before taking on a new client can help prevent unexpected, dangerous accidents. Without a mentor to teach them otherwise, a new dog trainer may not be aware of the risks they’re unknowingly taking on.
What To Do If You Don’t Have a Mentor
Through this blog, podcast, and courses, I hope to educate those that are just starting out so that they don’t find themselves in scary situations. As dog trainers, we know that prevention is always the best policy and preparation is the best form of prevention. We work with animals and people which can lead to unpredictable situations. I want you to feel confident and professional in your business which is why I created the New Dog Training Business Template Bundle which includes an in-depth new client intake form, in addition to 9 other templates, that you can start using today.
Additionally, I’ve got some exciting events coming up for new dog trainers starting up their own business!
Join Me for Facebook Live February!
In the month of February, I’ll be doing Facebook live videos every week in our Facebook group, “Startup Tips for Modern Dog Trainers.“ Be sure to join the group so you can also benefit from all the free tips around starting up a dog training business I’ll be sharing. At the end of the month, I’ll be hosting a workshop for new dog trainers looking to start their own businesses so stay tuned!
Join the Facebook Group
It is a story often told among dog trainers. It goes something like this:
A prospective client calls and says that another dog trainer – sometimes multiple dog trainers – could not help their dog or said their dog was beyond help. We take the case and find that the dog is indeed help-able. In fact, we do wonders with the dog in a short period of time, and we are perplexed and discouraged that the other trainer (or trainers) almost destroyed the client’s hope for their pet, when in fact the case really was not that difficult.
Recommended Reading: The Importance of Asking the Right Questions to New Dog Training Clients
When we take such cases and succeed in helping a dog, there is a part of us that feels superior – that other trainers in our area are not as capable as we are. Frankly, it feels kind of good, and we can’t wait to herald the news to our other colleagues so that they can be wary of the incompetent, unhelpful trainers who nearly destroyed some pup’s life.
All is well that ends well, right? The dog received the help it needed. The client is happy. We feel more confident than ever. But there often is another side to such stories.
Taking Client’s Comments With A Grain Of Salt
Perhaps the client was indeed telling the truth about the other trainer(s). But stories about multiple trainers failing cause me to be suspicious of the client – especially if my impression is that the dog’s problems are easily remedied.
We need to consider that clients may not always be truthful. They are human (like us), and sometimes they are not above behaving in a way that gets them what they want or makes them feel good (like their dogs).
A case in point: I recently was approached by a prospective client who told me that one of my most trusted colleagues and referral partners had recommended my board-and-train program. According to this client, my colleague thought it would be a better option for this particular dog than her own group class.
When I called my colleague to thank her, I learned the prospective client was lying. In fact, my colleague had this client on the roster for an upcoming, limited-size group class and had no idea the client was still shopping around for trainers.
When questioned about the situation, the prospective client began back-pedaling and telling me more lies to extricate herself from the first one. I decided not to accept this person as a client. If she was willing to blatantly lie to me (she could have just said they would rather do a board-and-train program), then what would she have been capable of unjustly saying about ME? It just didn’t seem worth the risk.
Digging For The Truth
As a rule, when a potential client tells me they have worked with one or more trainers, I require them to tell me who the trainers were, what steps were taken to solve a dog’s behavior issues, and how the dog responded to those steps. (And if I personally know one or more of the trainers mentioned, I might call them to better understand their experience with the client and dog.) If the prospective client is not willing to be forthcoming with such information – or if the information they provide throws up red flags about their own credibility or willingness to follow through with a trainer’s advice – I am better off without them.
Give Colleagues The Benefit Of The Doubt
Professionally speaking, I think it is a bad idea to give credence to unverified testimony against colleagues. Doing so risks us forming (or worse, spreading) false conclusions about them, and it potentially burdens us with deceitful or non-compliant clients. There are two sides to every story, and if we are to make a judgement about the credibility of a prospective client or the professionalism of a colleague, it is only right to get all the pertinent details and understand both sides of the story.
My mission as a professional dog trainer is helping dogs, but sometimes owners need help too. And sometimes helping an owner is showing them that some behaviors are rewarding, whereas others are not.
Have you ever had a similar experience?
Dog Training Business Tips
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Most likely, you became a dog trainer to help dogs. However, it is difficult to help dogs if your phone isn’t ringing and you’re not getting new clients month to month. In this introduction to marketing for dog trainers, I’m going to discuss 5 strategies you can implement this week to get more clients in the coming months.
Marketing for Dog Trainers
When most people think of advertising, marketing, or sales, they usually get a knot in their stomach. They have become “dirty” words that identify slimy sales people who only care about getting your money. Fortunately, times are changing and I couldn’t be more excited about it!
Advertising is mostly about interrupting someone’s online experience with undesired ads, pop ups, or auto-play videos. And I’m willing to bet that this kind of advertising doesn’t bug anyone more than me! Fortunately, modern marketing is starting to take a different path.
The approach behind marketing these days is to meet people where they want to be reached. Go where they are looking for help and provide something that they find valuable. For example, if a potential client is searching “how to train my dog” on Google, a modern dog trainer would have an article that shows up on the first page of the search results with tips on “how to train your dog.” This approach offers something of value to a potential customer and will build trust, start a relationship, and drive a desire for more from that resource. Hmm… sounds a little familiar to modern dog training? Essentially, you’re starting to build a positive association for yourself in the eyes of potential customers.
Where do you go to learn more about a certain subject? For most people, that’s a search on Google. Google has positioned itself as THE search engine people use to learn about a problem they’re experiencing. With dog training, problems could include chewing, barking, pulling, digging, etc. Understanding how Google works is important, if not the MOST important, marketing strategy a dog trainer could use. I have personal experience with this.
Late last year my husband and I decided to move from Texas to New York for a variety of reasons. Scary! I knew I had to master Google so that my business would show up in my new service area. Five months before the move I implemented several tactics to demonstrate to the search engine that my business was moving. The techniques I put into place meant I had clients calling me from my new service area within my first month of living there. In fact, I had a client booked before I even had time to file for my new LLC!
The benefits of mastering search engine optimization (SEO) are undeniable. SEO can help every dog training company stay ahead of their competition – new or old. Most of your future clients will find you through Google search results or paid Google Adwords campaigns.
Social media can monopolize your time if you’re not careful. Most potential clients will look you up on social media before they give you a ring so you can’t ignore it. A strategic approach is key to not wasting time on social media. Tools like Buffer or Hootsuite can help you mass-schedule posts on multiple platforms at once – time and life saver!
Social media is also picking up speed when it comes to searches. There are millions of searches performed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more every single day. Sites like Facebook will recommend friends of friends to like pages. Social media plays a crucial role in building trust in potential customers and most potential customers check out you social media to make sure your company is still active. Take some time every week to set up a schedule of posts to share on you social media accounts.
Blogging (and Vlogging)
Blogging has evolved into something more than an online diary of one’s personal stories. Blogging is now used by some of the most well-known brands like Evernote, SalesForce, and Etsy. A company blog helps you build rapport with current and future customers. A blog page is one of the most visited pages on a website as people research their potential purchase. This is one of the best places to share your company’s story, share success stories, and make announcements. Like social media, an inactive blog can signal to potential customers that you’re not available so come up with a strategy to maintain your blog if you start one.
Getting New Leads
PPC advertising or “Pay Per Click” advertising is intimidating. Many inexperienced small business owners over spend very quickly which leads to a traumatic one-event learning experience. It can be hard to come back from (I should know, it’s happened to me), but PPC advertising with Google Adwords can be one of the fastest ways to get new leads. At first glance, Google Adwords can seem easy, but there are many detailed options you should know about to control your spending. Mastering Google Adwords can easily be the quickest way to grow your business so it is worth a second look.
Digital Marketing for Dog Trainers
Digital marketing is something that modern dog trainers need to learn about right now. Times are changing and business that don’t change won’t make it. Fewer people are relying on word of mouth and are turning toward Google and social media to find the help they need. Make sure you’re there when they’re looking for you!
I’m working on a new book on digital marketing for dog trainers. If you’re interested in growing your dog training business to the next level, going from part-time to full-time, or simply want to start getting more consistent client flow each month,you’re going to want to read this book. Sign up below to receive a notification when it is released and an exclusive discount for subscribers only.
“Digital Marketing for Dog Trainers” will teach you how to:
- Show up on the first page of Google to get more clients
- Get leads immediately with Google Adwords campaigns
- Get more people to call once they land on your website
- Create a blog that makes you unique & valuable to clients (and isn’t a waste of time)
- Manage and automate your social media like a pro
- Start an email subscription list customers will love
- Track and measure your efforts to stop wasting time
- And more because I keep adding to the list every day!
Let’s see how we can grow your dog training business to the next level. Whether you’re going from part-time to full-time or simply want to get new clients more consistently each month, you can benefit from a course I’m working on.
Check out the courses I’m producing to help dog trainers start and grow their businesses.
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 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 www.facebook.com/applauseyourpaws.