BusinessPaws: Client Boundaries for Dog Trainers

Megan Stanley

Fences are effective boundaries for our furry companions, but what do healthy boundaries between you and your clients, and you and your business look like? This month Megan offers some advice.

Owning a dog training business is exciting. You are doing what you love, get to work with dogs, help people, and you’ve surrounded yourself with like-minded dog lovers. You are passionate and committed to helping dogs and their families. It’s wonderful to be able to set your own schedule and you are eager to get out and help as many dogs as possible. However, many dog trainers begin to feel overwhelmed and/or struggle to manage growth. Often, because of our passion for the dogs and desire to grow our business, we forget about our own needs and do not set clear boundaries within our business. This can lead to burnout and limit your potential for growth. I’ve identified three areas to set clear boundaries to develop stronger relationships with clients, improve productivity and take care of yourself.

Set Your Schedule

Setting your schedule goes beyond when you plan to offer training sessions. It includes everything that you do for your business, including client communications, social media management and administrative work. Essentially, everything to do with work should be scheduled within your office hours. Many dog trainers struggle with time management because we love what we do. Time management is a lengthy topic that I will dedicate an upcoming post to. For now, let’s discuss our hours of work and how they help with boundaries.

  • Set office hours and stick to them. There are numerous benefits for setting office hours. First off, people will be more respectful and value your time when you value your own time. Secondly, by setting clear hours of work, we tend to be more productive within our times of work. And most importantly, you are setting clear boundaries for work time and your time off – a critical part of preventing burnout. Have clear communication on your office hours by having them outlined on your website and your social media, set up auto-responders, and share reminders.
  • Trainers Tip: Automate your schedule to not only save time but limit special requests that are outside of your office hours. BusyPaws has scheduling built into their app to make setting your office hours a breeze! There are some excellent scheduling tools such as Acuity, but I love the ease of having it in one place like BusyPaws offers.


Have Clear Policies

Policies set clear expectations and guidelines for the clients regarding your services. They avoid confusion and miscommunication and help to resolve conflict more effectively. Policies and clear documentation are a key part of setting boundaries because they outline the expectations and requirements for clients and what they can expect from you. Present this information upfront to avoid surprises. Policies should be visible on your website, receipts, and intake forms.

  • Key policies and documentation. Some important key policies every dog trainer should have are refund, cancelation, missed classes, and requirements for attending training. Additional documentation may outline equipment requirements or specific instructions for when they attend training. It’s also a great idea to have a FAQ document or section on your website for additional clarity. Be sure to include why you have these policies and requirements in place. Clients will be less likely to question or ask for exceptions when the reason why a policy is in place is clear, reasonable and fair.
  • Trainers Tip: Build these into your intake forms and have policies outlined on your website. Link to your policies within all your intake and registration forms to make it easy for your clients. Have them agree to them as part of your intake procedure. This is another thing I love about BusyPaws – it is easy to build policies into the intake process to avoid any confusion/conflict.

Saying No for Self Care

Most dog trainers are helpers by nature and as a result say yes to too many things. This can overwhelm your schedule, delay your priorities, and even limit your ability to do good work. Once you have set your office hours and outlined key policies, it is important that you stick to these – your actions must match your words. Of course, special situations may arise that constitute an exception, but be wary of doing this early in a relationship with a client. Learn to say no to things that take you away from your priorities and goals for your business. It’s not about saying no to everything, but rather learning to say yes to the right things.

  • Write down your priorities, goals and who you want to work with. Saying yes to something means saying no to something else. By clearly outlining your focus areas for growth, it helps you better identify things that may be outside of your focus. When you are first starting out, it is common to say yes to everything as you hone your skills and build your network. Doing this for too long will cause overwhelm and eventual burnout. Sticking to your office hours and policies help but pay attention to your intuition. Say yes to the things that energize you and fire up your passion.
  • Trainers Tip: I highly recommend the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown to help you better identify what’s essential in your professional and personal life to gain better work-life flow.

Boundaries are a critical part of selfcare for you and your team.  Being upfront and transparent with your policies demonstrates that you are a professional business. By outlining your policies and being clear on expectations, clients respect your time. They understand that you treat everyone as equals and that they are not the only one you are working with. It creates a much stronger relationship and will improve their overall compliance. When you set boundaries and provide clear expectations, all while delivering exceptional customer service, you will begin to attract the right clients and experience greater success.


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