Have you ever wondered why your dog trainer charges what they do for their services?  Do you know why they have the cancellation policies they have? I mean, it’s just dog training. There should be no reason a training session can’t be rescheduled to a different time… right?

Where most of my blog posts have something to do with dog behavior, health or training, this post is intended to help dog training clients understand why their dog trainers do what they do when it comes to fees and training schedules.

The truth is, of all the things dog trainers dislike talking about the most money ranks pretty much at the top.  People don’t become dog trainers to make lots of money (far from it), they become dog trainers because of their interest in the science of animal behavior, their love of animals and their desire to help dogs and their families live long and happy lives together.  For most of us professional dog trainers the undesired reality is that to be a successful dog trainer, we must start and run our own businesses because there are few to no places a dog trainer can go to work for somebody else and make a living.  When running a business, there are the financial and time constraint realities that come along for the ride and those realities influence things like available time for training sessions and the cost of doing business.  This is where money begins to raise it’s ugly head.

Professional dog trainers who are worth their salt and who do their clients due diligence, not only spend an hour or so per session training their client’s dogs.  They also spend time developing training plans for each session, updating client records with results and observations, research behavior topics when things get sticky to help resolve issues, reading and answering email and text messages and fielding phone call questions.  For every hour a dog trainer spends with a dog, there are usually 1-2 hours of additional time spent behind the scenes.  More challenging cases like fear and aggression can be even more.  When you look at the hourly rate your dog trainer charges, these activities must be factored in.  Other things that require your dog trainers time are marketing (yikes…not my favorite part), managing business records, returning calls, email and text messages of potential clients, participating in continuing education activities to build skills and stay abreast of new learning in the science of dog training.  Sometimes dog trainers even schedule and stick to time off plans so they can take care of their personal and family needs…though this is usually less regular than it ought to be.  While these latter activities are not directly part of training a client’s dog, they do influence how much available time a dog trainer has in their schedule to allot to training dogs.  What your dog trainer charges for their services is based on many factors.  Location, specialty skills and education they have attained, their experience / time on the job, the type of training service being offered (fear, aggression, anxiety are more difficult and are going to cost more than basic manners), competitive market, the cost of doing business and ultimately what they need after business expenses to pay their bills.

Charging for services and actually obtaining payment are two different things sometimes. For this reason, it is common practice for dog trainers to institute policies such as: no or limited refund periods, no “free” make up sessions if a client misses a session and full payment, or at least a deposit, being required upon scheduling an appointment to reserve a training spot.  These policies often rub dog training clients wrong.  After all, sometimes other things come up that are more important than the dog training session in that moment.  This is true!  We all have things that come up in life that are not planned and we have to roll with the punches.  Getting sick is one of those unplanned things.  Your dog trainer greatly appreciates clients who avoid spreading the YUCK around when they get sick!  Kids activities, opportunities for a unique get away, work schedules change and so on.  The question is not whether or not these things happen.  The question is who should bear the financial brunt of the impact?  I’ve had clients feel penalized for getting sick when I explained that we can certainly not meet at a given time and then schedule a future “make up” date but that new time slot has a new cost to it. Why should they have to pay for a new time slot when they got sick they ask?  Why would you expect me to give you a new time slot for free and thus take a pay cut because you got sick or had something come up I ask?  This often gets head tilts and the realization of the consequences to both parties when things come up.  After all, if you buy tickets to a baseball game, theater event, or other space constrained event and you get sick or something comes up….you don’t get a refund or free ticket to the next event, you simply miss the event.

So why do dog trainers ask for payment or at least a deposit when new clients book their first sessions?  Usually for the same reasons as mentioned above.  If there is not a financial stake and something comes up, it is all too easy to call and cancel and appointment and leave their dog trainer with an open “unpaid” time slot and no opportunity to fill it with a new client.  Imagine going to work and having your boss tell you there is no work today and so no pay when you were counting on a scheduled income…that is what cancellations are for dog trainers.  Remember when you book a training session with a Professional Dog Trainer, you are reserving a unique time slot and that slot is protected for you unlike many other business types who are either not constrained by capacity or who over book time slots to protect themselves from cancellations.

For example, I sat in a doctor’s office recently.  The waiting room was full to the brim.  I luckily knew the doctor had been called out for an emergency and cancellations were happening, I was only there because I had to talk to a PA about a procedure schedule.  Waiting for the PA, I listened to the receptionist make phone calls to people who had appointments.  I was amazed that not one, not two, not even three but four different people had a 4pm appointment with the same doctor that the receptionist needed to reschedule. Flabbergasted, I now know why it is common to wait for more than an hour when coming in to see this doctor.  Overbooking airline seats is another common practice, get to the airport late and you might find yourself in the terminal when the plane takes off due to overbooking.   Many businesses employ the overbooking method to protect themselves from cancellations.  Those that don’t usually don’t have capacity constraints.

The fact is, when talking money with a dog trainer, you will be seeing them at their most uncomfortable, even if they look calm and collected.  The ugly truth is that the trading of financial instruments for goods and services is what makes the world go round and provides us opportunity to attain the things we want and need.   Time is a commodity that is finite and cannot be recovered when lost.  Your dog trainer wants nothing more than to help you with your dog training and behavior goals and to do that, they must be able to make a living and keep their business running.  Giving away free services, not charging for their expertise and taking pay cuts to help their clients may sound wonderful but in the end, it is not a good business practice and results in many very good dog trainers closing down shop in search of jobs that pay a reliable salary.

So now you know why your dog trainer does what they do when it comes to fees and training schedules and how hard it is for them to talk about money instead of how they are going to train your dog.