BusinessPaws: A Guide for Client Compliance in Dog Training

Megan Stanley

Ensuring clients follow, and stay, on plan is a significant challenge for any business. This can be especially challenging in a pet care or dog training environment. Megan Stanley provides her insight to help you ensure your client's success.

BusinessPaws: A Guide for Client Compliance in Dog Training

One of the main concerns from dog trainers has to do with client compliance. Clients who don’t follow training plans, don’t commit enough to their dogs, or struggle getting homework completed. The complaints are endless and common to hear but it’s not uncommon for service providers to struggle with compliance. Whether it be a car mechanic who wants clients to regularly service their vehicles or a doctor who requires a patient to improve their eating habits. It can be frustrating for us when a client does not follow through and it is hard not to take it personally; we may feel that we have failed them, be angry at the client for not doing the work or sad for the dog who we may believe is being treated unfairly by the lack of commitment. In this post, we are going to look at ways to gain a better understanding of challenges with client compliance and I’ll share some simple solutions to improve it.

They are not Dog Trainers!

The first part of understanding client compliance is understanding and remembering that they are not dog trainers. Our skills as trainers become second nature, so it’s important that we practice patience and understand that clients are on a learning curve. Is it that they are not being compliant or are we expecting too much from them? Ease up on your expectations, particularly technical skills and treat them with the same empathy that you would a dog that was just learning. We can help clients be more successful by understanding that they are not skilled trainers, and we need to recognize when they may be struggling with the skills vs not being compliant.

  • Keep things simple by focusing on a few skills at a time.
  • Break things down further when they are struggling with a skill.
  • Do the hands-on work for the client when they are hitting walls with the training progression.
  • Use that positive reinforcement on your clients as well! Celebrate and build on their successes.
  •  Focus on developing the relationship with your client. I highly recommend The Human Half of Dog Training by Rise VanFleet to help.


Help Them Set the Right Goals

One of the first things you should do with a client is ask them what their goals and/or expectations are from the training. Often clients only think about the end goal or perhaps have set unrealistic expectations for their dogs. By helping to set smaller, more attainable goals (think shaping!), you also help improve compliance. This is because they begin to see more immediate results, which in turn motivates them to keep up the training. If they feel like things are too much work or too difficult, most will begin to feel overwhelmed and discouraged with the training. On the other side of this, sometimes clients do not expect enough from their dogs or feel like they will be unable to attain a reachable goal. By helping them obtain and surpass these goals, you build their confidence, which also helps to motivate them to do the training.

  • Have a clear step in your on-boarding process that asks what their goals/expectations are from the training program.
  • Have clear goals/expectations outlined for each of your training programs to help the clients have a clear understanding of what to expect for results.
  • Measure the progress towards your agreed upon goals. I love having one main goal and refer to it continually as we work through the programs. For example, I recently had a client whose goal was to be able to walk by strangers on the street without their dog reacting. Each exercise we work on and see progression, I refer back to how this is helping them reach their end goal.

Remove the Guesswork

How we structure, package, and sell our programs can attribute to low compliance/retention in your programs. Too often, we blame the clients and assume it’s lack of commitment, when our processes or programs may need some fine-tuning to garner more success. Remember, that you are the expert. Be honest about the commitment needed and offer a solution that will be realistic in helping your clients reach their training goals.

  • Keep options simple. Too many choices upfront will overwhelm a client right away.
  • Outline training packages with clear outcomes/expectations.
  • Ask your clients what their budget is and the time they can commit to the training. Build programs around this.
  • Consider levels-based training that measures their progress so they can work at their own pace.
  • Measure and track their progress and communicate effectively on it. BusyPaws allows for some excellent ways to do this within their software.


Don’t Take it Personally

This is a tough one. You never know what your clients may be going through or what experiences they have had in the past. These past experiences may impact their commitment to training their dog. It is not realistic to expect 100% success with every client, so do not dwell on the ones that are not compliant or allow them to make you feel like a failure. They may have different expectations for their dogs at home and sometimes another trainer is just a better fit for them. Assess retention in your programs to identify any gaps. Don’t focus on what is going wrong and think of them as failures, but instead use this as feedback to grow, learn, and improve your processes.

The human side of dog training is complex. Have realistic expectations of your clients and help them set realistic goals for their dogs. Focus on building a strong relationship through clear communication, support, and always asking for feedback. Do not forget the power of that positive reinforcement. Reward your clients and offer on-going positive feedback. Focus on what they are doing well and build on that!

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