How To Hold Semi-Private Lessons

How To Hold Semi-Private Lessons

Semi-private lessons are my new favorite type of service. They cover a number of client “problem” areas that we don’t always get the opportunity to address through private instruction or group classes.

Dog group in front of a stained glass window
Image via Kat Camplin

What Is A Semi-Private Lesson

Technically, the definition should be fairly obvious. A semi-private would assume that it’s more than one client and less than a regular group class. How you market it determines how it’s viewed.

The Smaller Class

Reactive Rover classes are typically smaller in size, but aren’t really sold as semi-private instruction. This is probably due to the classes taking place in a facility that does other group classes. Marketing a group class as “smaller,” or semi-private allows you to charge more per person per class to make up the income difference you’d normally have in a regular sized class. The smaller class should be no more than 3 or 4 students to make it exclusive. There is a balance with these classes. They have the opportunity to fill up quicker, but you need people with the income to pay more. Sales points can be “more one on one instruction,” or “great for shy or timid dogs.”

Try a few different naming conventions to see which one resonates with your target demographic.

The Group Private Lesson

Private instruction is usually geared for people who can’t make a group class or may have a dog that doesn’t do well away from home. The downside of having a dog trainer show up at your home is it costs more than going to a facility for a group class. If a new client can’t afford your private rate, giving them an option to host a small group at their home and split your rate with friends.

The upside of this type of semi-private is the client fills their own class from their neighbors and friends. The neighbors and friends get to split your private hourly rate and get one on one instruction. This works if all the students have basically the same needs. If one dog is reactive and the others just need basic obedience instruction time will probably not be in balance.

To make these work you really need to be upfront and inclusive to everyone involved. Topics and behaviors covered, the number of weeks the class meets, and what happens if someone can’t make a class should be spelled out in advance. A questionnaire can be helpful to see what everyone’s needs are and find the behaviors that cover the most problem areas. To save you time you’d want to be sure you have handouts and homework for what the lessons cover. The really great thing about doing these “neighborhood classes,” is that neighbors get to work with each other in between sessions, which increases client compliance and time spent training.

If you’re marketing these as a cost saving plan you’d split your hourly rate by the number of students then multiply it by the number of weeks. As an example: Your hourly rate is $100. There are three students in the semi-private class that runs for five weeks. Each student pays $34 a week, for a total of $170 per student. Typically these are run as a package, so payment is expected from each student up front.

Is it worth it? Yes, if you pick the right location. I am interrupted at least once in every neighborhood class by a neighbor that needs a trainer. It’s great exposure, just pick the right neighborhood.

Moving Advanced Clients To Semi-Private Lessons

Semi-rivate lessons are a fabulous way to continue to work with students that may have capped out of all your other classes. Think of these as field trip classes. Finding locations that are dog friendly can be a problem, but it’s usually worth it if you get to work with real world problems and distractions in exotic locations.

Therapy Dogs, DIY Service Dogs, reactive dogs that are too good for a Reactive Class, but not quite ready for the close quarters of a regular class, and students who just want to set new goals, are all great resources for these small groups. How you market and charge for this type of class is up to you. While the hosted semi-private lesson in someone’s home is sold as a cost saving measure, the time spent to set up working locations will probably warrant the “smaller,” class model.

Locations can include dog friendly restaurants, hospitals or medical offices with elevators, public transportation locations like bus stops and train stations, public parks with active baseball games, horse stables, and local hiking trails. Visit each location ahead of time and make a plan for where you’ll work and what you’ll work on. Have a backup plan in case you get there and there is something that prevents you from holding class.

Goals for advanced students can be individualized based on the location. Discuss the goals with each individual student then make sure they know what to do when things are going well and what to do when things are going wrong. Your job for most of these advanced classes will resemble a circus ring leader. You will be watching for unexpected intrusions, giving a heads up to oncoming children, dogs, people, horses, etc., and sometimes running interference with those things. Students work individually unless the students have agreed to work together ahead of time.

Are you already doing semi-private lessons? How are they working for you? Leave us a comment!

Private Sessions Or Group Classes?

Private Sessions Or Group Classes?

Private Sessions Or Group Classes?

When new clients contact you, generally the first thing you will be asked about is classes you offer.  Most people don’t even think about private training.  Knowing whether to guide your clients in the direction of classes or private sessions will help your clients get the most bang for their buck.

Reactive/Fearful Dog

Though there are some incredibly well-run “Reactive Rover” type classes out there, for dogs that cannot be in the same building/vicinity of other dogs or people, classes can just be too much and there will be little to no benefit.  Help the client get a solid foundation on the dog through private sessions. If the dog and owner have zero foundation skills, they will struggle in a group class setting.

Young And/Or Untrained Dog

Beginner Obedience classes are probably the most utilized class out there, but are they always the best option?  So often, the massive distraction of other dogs and people all combined make it difficult for a young or untrained dog to focus on their owner.  Doing even one or two private sessions before putting a dog into a class can make a monumental difference in their ability to focus and benefit from the class.

Owner Needs Special Attention

There are some clients that, for a myriad of reasons, would benefit from one-on-one instruction.  Putting an owner like this into a group class just wouldn’t be fair or beneficial to them.  This type of owner craves your full attention which cannot be provided in a group class setting. Spend some time with them in private sessions so they can be confident in their abilities before you transition them into a group class.

Specific Training Issue

If you have a client that has attended group classes and continues to have problems getting his/her dog to do a certain behavior, a private session may be in order.  This will enable you to focus all of your attention on them and see what the problem may be so you can help them fix it.

Household Issues

Housetraining, intra-household dog aggression, cat/dog issues – many of these are problems that can’t always be solved in a group class.  These often require you to go to a client’s home and help them enact feasible management while they work on behavior modification.

What other times do you recommend private sessions versus group classes to your clients?

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