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Dog owners beware: Anyone can buy a dog training franchise

Lately, more than ever, I am getting inquiries from clients who have already done dog training with “so and so,” or other companies, and were unsatisfied for one reason or another. These people have spent a lot of money in some cases, but didn’t get the results they were looking for. You may imagine this is sometimes the customers fault– and it is… sometimes. But as a pro myself, I can get a pretty good idea what sort of professionally-trained foundation a dog has, or has not had. I hear complaints about other trainers all the time, and I usually take it with a grain of salt, preferring that they focus on what we’re doing now and going forward. Most of these trainers I have never heard of anyway, but clients are more frequently telling me about dog training companies with multiple locations, or in many cases, franchises. These are not the big-box stores like PetSmart and PetCo that are known for their sub-standard version of “training” and wasting peoples time once a week for 150 bucks, these are companies charging a lot of money and promising big results.

To further investigate this concept, I began with a quick Google search, typing in “dog training franchise.” A flurry of results came up. Some of the names: Bark Busters, Fetch Pet Care, Zoom Room, Off Leash K9 Training, Sit Means Sit, Dog Wizard Academy, and many more. It’s not the route I chose to go in my career seven and a half years ago when I started my own business (after years of apprenticing and working for other companies), but apparently this is a popular thing. I have no particular issue with a well-researched individual purchasing into a dog business franchise to run out of their home, but it’s worth a deeper look behind the marketing.

One of the benefits to a franchise is immediate marketing power, and these companies don’t hesitate to tell you that people are willing to pay good money for dog training, and know the brand names. Each brand has something to boast– amazing fast results, guaranteed programs, a special (ultimately meaningless) certification, “featured on tv,” and soforth. But marketing can be misleading. Let’s say the trainers at the headquarters of your franchise had part in a tv episode on “Animal Planet.” Regardless of the fact that they’re not even in the same state, are staffed with completely different trainers, and did the tv spot years before you even joined the company, you can now advertise on your own website: “As Seen on Animal Planet.” That’s positive marketing power. Unfortunately, it can also work in the opposite way. In the past 2 years alone, three Sit Means Sit trainers were charged with animal abuse. Because it’s a franchise, they are independently responsible, but this is caveat emptor to you dog owners: Regardless of the company’s name, know who is training your dog.

What I am also concerned about is the amount of training these freshly minted dog trainers receive.

To see if my concerns were valid, I viewed the websites of four different dog training franchises. They all advertise solving behavior issues, off-leash training, and more. One called “Bark Busters” did not provide any information on length of franchisee training, they ask you to contact them. I have zero respect for Bark Busters as a training company, and I have nothing more to say about them at this time, other than– if you use their services, best of luck to your dog. The other three franchised companies provided more info on their offerings. A company called “Dog Wizard Academy” had a very bright, informative website and offers 12 weeks of hands-on training for new franchisees. However, the topics covered are broad, naturally, and include “aggression,” which in my professional opinion takes much longer than 3 months to even touch upon, let alone become proficient in. In the other 2 cases, companies called “Off Leash K-9 Training” and “Sit Means Sit,” offer 3 weeks of initial hands-on training to the new franchisee. Yes, that’s right– apparently, 3 weeks is all it takes to learn how to be a dog trainer, work with complex behavior issues, and operate a business… Well, that and anywhere from $15,000-$96,400.

A lot of people nowadays want to start their own business and have a career change in life, and that’s great. But dog training is not just something you jump into by hanging a shingle. You will quickly be out-classed. The following is an example of what I found online (I added the bold):

Are you interested in starting  dog training franchise?  Have you always wanted to be a dog trainer? Turn your passion into a dog training business!

As an Off Leash K9 Training trainer, you will spend 21 days at our facility in Northern Virginia, observing and taking part in over 240+ hours of dog training! … At the end of your 21 day training, you will have all the tools, knowledge, and know-how to deal with basic obedience, advanced obedience, and behavioral modification. You will be able to make dogs look like the dogs in our 500+ before/after videos! You will also have a website and everything else you need to get you started in the dog training world!

Let me get this straight. You will have “all the knowledge” and “a website and everything else” in 3 weeks. In my opinion, that’s simply not possible, particularly not the “everything else.” There is no way to master these sort of skills in 240 hours… You’d be about 9,760 hours short of the “10,000 hour rule” of mastery. But even if you do gain an array of positive training and business skills, what about basic math skills? 21 days to become a dog trainer is advertised as “240+ hours of dog training.” I have never heard of such an intensive program that you go 21 days straight for ELEVEN+ hours each day. It doesn’t seem possible, and lends me a degree of skepticism (something I already have a healthy level of).

To be fair, some of these companies do offer continuing education, yearly seminars, and phone support– but what about the dogs these franchisees will be training fresh out of the gate? Do you want your dog to be a guinea pig for a brand new trainer with only a few months of experience under their belt? If you do, that’s fine, but I personally would not pay that kind of money for my dog to be a newer trainers learning experiment.

So how long does it really take to become a dog trainer? I understand everyone wants to jump in and make money, but the reality is, when I have an apprentice trainer who is learning how to train dogs, they are not even allowed to do a private obedience lesson with a customer with less than SIX MONTHS of training under their belt, and more in some cases. The average time to produce a dog trainer is ONE YEAR, for a basic-level trainer, who works with obedience but not more complex behavior issues or aggression. There is no “quick way to rake in the cash,” and you need more than a fancy website, you need more than a well-trained personal dog– you need to provide quality training from a foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience in a variety of venues.

If you want to become a successful dog trainer, buying into a corporate franchise is certainly one of your options, and it does work out well for some people. But it’s certainly not the only option. To be clear, I am not saying all the franchise-owning trainers are bad or sub-standard trainers– absolutely not– it fully depends on the individual person. If they are a driven self-learner, I’m sure they could find a way to compensate for any lack of experience, and work to become a well-versed, competent trainer. In some cases, a franchise trainer may be an already working and adept dog trainer who decided to make a smart business decision and team up with a company. But as a dog owner myself, I don’t want to simply know what “brand” is training my dog, I want to know who is training my dog. What have they accomplished, what’s the scope of their experience, and will they deliver up to the expectations of a big-name company? To know this, you will have to look past the smoke and mirrors of marketing, and learn how to choose a dog trainer.