January 17, 2024
The First 5 Steps to Starting your Dog Training Business

Here at Click and Repeat, we often talk to people wanting to start their own dog training business. Maybe they’re wanting to switch careers or go part-time and fill the gap with dog training. Sometimes they’ve just completed their certification and are now stuck on how to move forward with starting the business they’ve been longing for. 

Either way, setting up as a professional dog trainer is a big step. So, if you’re dreaming of taking the leap, save yourself a whole heap of worry, financial struggle, and lost sleep by following the guidelines in this post…

What you DON’T need right away

Shockingly, you don’t need a logo or website or ‘all the things’ right off the bat.  Many people feel the need to get all of their ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed before they can begin taking clients. Some may even use those things as a procrastination technique to put off taking the plunge… and who can blame them? Plunges can be scary. (But exciting!)

Having a logo and website right from the beginning is nice – but if you’re short on cash and really want to start a dog training business, the best thing you can do is… well… train dogs for people.

However you start taking money for your services, there are a couple of legalities you need to take care of.

Step 1: Decide on your business name

The very first step to creating a dog training business is deciding what name you’re going to work under. Are you going to use your own name? Or create a specific business name? There are pros and cons to both, which we’ll explore in a later post, but for now, pick one.  You can always change it later if you really want to, but making this decision upfront is what will allow you to register your business AS a business.

Then, in case you hadn’t guessed… you need to make sure you register as a business in whatever way your location legally requires you to do. You don’t want to miss this step — failing to register with your state, province, etc can have serious repercussions later.

Step 2: Get insurance.

In the dog training industry, we are, shockingly, dealing with dogs. Dogs have teeth. Even if you’re not taking BMOD cases, however, insurance is still an incredibly important step — a trainer I used to work for once had a client trip and go through a wall in the training building where the class was being held. Insurance can help protect you from being sued.

Please don’t skip this step! Yes, insurance can be expensive, but getting sued because someone got injured while you were working with a client can be far, far more costly. Dogs can be unpredictable and their people even more so! Cover yourself for unexpected events with the proper insurance.

Step 3: Start finding clients.

Once you’ve registered as a business and signed up for insurance, it’s time to actually start taking clients! When you first start out, the best thing you can do is tap into your existing network of friends and family. Put the word out on your social platforms that you’ve started a dog training business and you’re now taking clients. Hustle, hustle, hustle.

Don’t fret too much about what to charge. Determine what others charge in your area and start there — you can revisit your rates and raise them once you begin to be booked more consistently. 

The best way to learn is by doing, so just start with what you have and go from there. Get some ‘professional’ training hours under your belt. Expect those first clients to be a little rough and the process a little clunky. Take notes for yourself about which pieces could have been smoother after the fact and develop a plan to help them go more smoothly next time. You’ll iron out the wrinkles as you go; things do get easier with experience.

Step 4: Get serious about your numbers.

Once you’ve got some established clients, it’s time to think about money – namely, how much do you need to make to cover your business expenses AND your wage?

If you want a business rather than a hobby, now’s the time to crunch those numbers so you can understand how many clients your business needs and start charging appropriately.

When you’re new to business it’s very easy to under-charge; honestly, that’s okay. But after you’ve served your first few clients it’s time to set business goals for yourself so you know how much the business needs to make to pay you a livable wage. 

As a business owner you now pay your own taxes, health insurance and whatever other ‘hidden’ deductions would otherwise come out of a salary. It can add up quickly, so you need to factor those expenses into your calculations. As a quick rule of thumb, you usually want your business to make at least twice whatever you would like to be able to pay yourself. Once you’ve figured out those numbers you can reverse engineer them to figure out how many clients that means you’ll need to bring in.

Step 5: Start marketing.

As for actually bringing in those clients… If you want to move from ‘hobby’ to ‘business,’ this is the step where you need to begin thinking about marketing. That usually includes beginning to think about a logo and website. 

It’s perfectly fine to start out with a cheap logo, then get something better designed later on. In the beginning all you need is something recognizable as yours that conveys the message ‘I train dogs’ and your business name. Later you can splurge on a more professional logo but for now, functional — and legal — gets the job done.

Once you have a logo, get some cheap business cards or fliers printed (we like Moo.com for this) so you can chat with local business owners. Take ice-breakers like cupcakes if you really want to be remembered, and leave fliers or business cards to be handed out.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when looking for potential referral sources either. Here are some ideas for businesses that might be able to refer clients to you:

  • vet clinics
  • feed stores 
  • groomers 
  • local apartment complexes
  • realtors
  • fence installation companies
  • plumbers
  • landscapers
  • interior decorators

You can also train in public wearing a T-shirt with you business details to attract clients! You can find lots ideas for how to market yourself here. And if that’s not enough, this post has even more novel ways to promote your business.

And now…Time to level up your business!

Once you’re in the situation where you’re spending far too much time fielding incoming inquiries about your services, it’s time to start playing a bit bigger. 

You’re now at the stage where you’ve validated that can make you money as a professional dog trainer. That you have a business, not a hobby… and others treat you as a business owner.

It’s (finally!) time to start thinking about polishing up that logo, getting a basic website, formalizing your services and maybe researching a booking platform.

Your website doesn’t need to have lots of bells and whistles. All it needs to do is be your business’ home online and maybe take bookings for you.

The pages you’ll need are:

You have choices about how to get your website.  You can get it done for you, or go down the DIY route (our class via Fenzi opens on Jan 22nd!). This decision will depend on how much time you have vs. how much cash you want to invest. 

Final words…and a caveat

Many, many businesses fail in the first few years. One of the biggest reasons is new business owners who have unrealistic expectations. The tough reality is that it usually takes at least three years for a business to start turning enough profit to support both itself and the business owner. 

Before you dive in, think about how you’re going to support yourself in those first years of getting the business established. Do you have:

  • Capital to live off?
  • A job to pay most of your bills?
  • A spouse or partner who can partially support some of your expenses so you don’t need to be making a full-time wage?

Any of the above can make the transition from paid employee to business owner more achievable… but ‘hope and pray’ is a lousy business strategy. Don’t let the dream of owning your own dog training business turn into a horror story by rushing in without a solid backup plan. 

Want to talk your idea through with someone who knows the industry? Melissa offers free strategy calls. Get in touch.

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