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The Most Common Software for Dog Training Businesses

by
Nathan Bertram

Most pet care business software is built for kennels or groomers, leaving dog trainers to mix and match several software solutions to meet their needs. Let's take a look at the most common solutions we see and identify a potential solution to getting tangled in software.

I've spent the past 15+ years writing software for companies of all sizes, and in many different industries. I'm familiar with creating software that delivers value to its users and have seen what software that's fit-for-purpose can do for the businesses that use it. Watching my wife try to find software like this for her dog training business was sad and frustrating. Sad because her experience and knowledge is primarily with dogs, not software, and yet she spent about half of her time fighting with software, not caring for dogs. It was frustrating because as a software developer, I knew I could solve the issue, but it wouldn't be something I could solve quickly.

Since then we've seen trainers from all over the world struggle with the same issues. I'd like to cover the key areas of a dog training business which are most common to implement a software solution, the most common picks that we see, and an unbiased-as-possible look at the pros and cons of each.

Let's start with the most basic and common business problem:

Accounting

All businesses need some sort of process to manage and account for incoming and outgoing funds, dog training business is no different. While there are many accounting systems to choose from, we really only see two processes/systems among our clients:

  1. QuickBooks Online
    It's the most well known accounting system which can also be integrated with many third party systems allowing you to automate most of the back-end accounting process.
    + Your accountant will be happy
    + It has an API that can be integrated with many other invoicing systems
    + In lieu of a separate invoicing program it can generate and issue invoices
    - Requires some knowledge of business accounting/finance to ensure its setup correctly
  2. Whatever Your Bookkeeper/Accountant Uses
    Some of our clients leave this decision to the person who handles the year-end financials. If they choose a system other than QuickBooks Online it can mean additional work and process for you and your staff. Most systems will allow you to export invoices, payments and payouts into a CSV which can be imported into these systems.
    + Doesn't require your existing Bookkeeper/Accountant to change software
    - Requires you and your staff to establish separate processes to supply the system with information

Scheduling

We see the most variety in scheduling software. For a service based business, like dog training, this functionality is a critical component to your overall client experience and can either help make your business process smooth, or introduce more issues that need to be solved. These are a few of the systems we see frequently:

  1. Built-in Website Forms and Widgets + Google Calendar / Back-end Scheduling Software
    Because the majority of scheduling programs are not built for dog training business, or their back-end system does not include a website integration, the most common process to schedule a training is via a contact form on their website. Now that scheduling software is fairly ubiquitous across many industries, many consumers expect this same level of ease with all providers which they engage. Scheduling appointments via web forms increase the administrative burden within the business and reduce client engagement.
    + It's easy to get started
    - Requires additional handling/communication
    - Doesn't meet modern client expectations
  2. Acuity
    Acuity is primarily scheduling software for small business, and it does a pretty reasonable job at that. The interface is simple and straightforward, it can be integrated into your website via forms, and allows you to set multiple schedules/calendars. Where it fails to hit the mark for dog training businesses is in its ability to schedule sequenced group classes, and its management of client information. It requires frequent management and checks by staff to ensure its setup for your upcoming schedule and that you're gathering the right client information.
    + Great for simple schedules and one-on-one trainings
    + Simple interface for scheduling
    + Relatively inexpensive ~$25/m
    - Additional costs for each new "Calendar"
    - Not ideal for collecting and reviewing client or pet information
    - Group classes can be challenging
  3. Vcita
    Primarily scheduling with some additional CRM-like functionality, and email marketing. While it doesn't have a full integration with your website, they do offer a booking landing page and a client portal. For trainers, the limitations come in keeping information on pets (platforms that don't specialize in pet care focus on the client), and in customizing and adding intake forms to ensure your client information is updated. It's more focused on appointments as a way for leads/sales generation rather than operating a service based business.
    + Capable scheduling functionality
    + Integrating marketing email campaigns
    + Accessible Client Portal
    +- Moderately priced ~$85/m for medium sized business
    - Not designed to handle pets in addition to clients within their CRM
    - CRM Messaging is one-way
  4. SuperSaaS
    Similar in concept to the above with its own take on flow and design. SuperSaaS offers a lot of customization to your calendar and it can be integrated into your website. The interface is quite dated and may not leave a good impression with your clients. For dog training business it doesn't easily manage a variety of services and the crediting system is a bit unintuitive. With that said, it can be had at an extremely affordable price.
    + Inexpensive ~$10/m for a small trainer
    + Offers integrations with your website
    + Very customizable
    - Dated design/interface
    - Not very flexible for multiple training services
    - Limited client information / CRM functionality

Payment Processing

No business can survive without collecting monies from their customers! Dog training businesses tend to live in a space stuck between online and offline retailers. While online payment processing has advanced significantly over the last decade, seamlessly integrating them with your business can have its own challenges. The choice in processor tends to depend on the way the business handles payments, online only, online and in-person, or in-person only. The majority of smaller trainers tend to stick to one of the first two, some larger businesses with brick-and-mortar locations may choose the latter.

  1. Square
    The choice for simple in-person payments. Online processing is also available but restricts the flow to Square's own design/flow. Straightforward fees and nicely designed small PoS.
    + Simple to set up
    + Inexpensive PoS, 2.65% + $0.10 for in-person, 2.9% +$0.30 for online
    + No programming required
    - Requires the use of Square's mobile app to enter and accept payments
    - No control over the payments flow
    - Not integrated with booking systems, need to manually reconcile invoices
  1. Stripe
    The choice for powerful eCommerce integrations. While they do offer a Square-like out-of-the box processing flow, most Stripe integrations are custom and can more easily be integrated into an existing website. Moving to offline transactions, however, requires much more advanced programming knowledge. Anything can be done with Stripe, if you know how, but most dog trainers are not also programmers and their time is not best spent on programming a payments flow.
    + Extremely powerful payment processing solution
    + Can be fully transparent to the end user, not requiring any Stripe branding
    + Comparable pricing: 2.7% + $0.05 In-person, 3.9% + $0.30 for online
    - Requires programming knowledge for better integrations or paying someone to integrate into your website
    - More expensive PoS options ~$300
  2. Traditional Payment Processor PoS
    While less common among trainers, if most payments are taken in-person we do see some more traditional PoS systems. There are many disadvantages to this system, with the primary advantage being that funds are received quickly and these systems tend to charge lower fees. Integrating them with any other system is all but impossible and requires manual reconciliation.
    + Inexpensive, some processors charge fees just over 1%
    + Quick access to funds
    + Customers are likely familiar with them
    - Manual operation and manual reconciliation
    - Poor interface
    - Long contracts
    - Poor reporting requiring further manual reconciliation

Forms and Agreements

Dog Training and other pet care businesses are unique among service based businesses in how much information they need to collect from their clients before the service can be performed. It's much more similar to a medical practice with their intake forms. Therefore collecting and processing intake forms and client agreements is one of the most critical tasks within the client onboarding process. In this area we see some of the least advanced solutions - our belief is this is because the better solutions are expensive relative to the other software on this list, but also because most scheduling systems do not handle this very well. As a result, these are the most common processes we see:

  1. HTML Forms
    The most common process we see among dog trainers is an HTML form on their website which sends an email to them, or has a simple integration with a CRM or email marketing system. This process is easy to set up, doesn't require any programming knowledge (If using something like Squarespace, Webflow, or Wix for you website), and is familiar to most consumers. Where it fails, though, is that it doesn't create client records, update that information, or seamlessly integrate into the rest of your process - like when a client wants to make a booking.
    + No additional costs to set up
    + Can be done in under an hour
    - Usually requires manual processing
    - Doesn't integrate well with other real-world business process
  2. Google Forms/Google Docs
    Similar to the above, using G-Suite products is simple to do, costs little and can get you going quickly. It suffers from the same issues as above but also adds on the fact that it cannot be integrated with another system and it lacks some professional presentation. Great for team collaboration, not ideal for customer-facing process.
    + Low Cost $8/m/user
    + Is very extensible, you can probably create the forms you need with their tools
    - Cannot be integrated with other systems
    - Requires manual handling to transpose information
  3. DocuSign
    The premier document signing system. DocuSign does everything a dog trainer needs in their forms and contracts, and then some. Where it fails for the average dog trainer is in its price and in integrating it within your customer journey. It wouldn't make sense to send a DocuSign document in the middle of your client onboarding process.
    + Very powerful form creation and document signing capabilities
    - Expensive ~$85/user/month for the fields a dog trainer would need
    - Integrations with other software requires a programmer

Client Relationship Management (CRM)

We don't often see full CRM systems used by our clients. Most of the time they're using a client database that's within an existing system and not a standalone CRM. This tends to cause issues when trying to quickly find client information, history, send them a message, find out what dogs they have, or just go back through their past appointments. Like intake forms and agreements, the client information is a critical part of the pet care process, but tends to see less attention compared to things like scheduling and invoicing. Also like forms and agreements, we believe this is because there aren't many options that integrate well with the rest of a pet care process. Also that CRMs are typically used to manage sales processes, not client process. More often than not, we see our clients previously using no formal system at all.

  1. Client Records in Scheduling or Email Software
    Every marketing campaign or scheduling software will need some basic records for the client. Sometimes this is as little as their name and email address, sometimes it will include a few more field and perhaps some notes. They can often show you how many messages, or what messages, were sent to a client. They can show you what appointments that client attended and perhaps keep some notes. Where they struggle is telling you if that particular client has filled your intake forms, how much they've spent with you over time, who their pets are and if they've been vaccinated, and more pet care specific things. With that said, something must be done to capture these things and this is the base level starting point.
    + Ties client information to the function of the software (Email/Scheduling)
    - Doesn't sync with other systems
    - Doesn't grab information specific to your business
    - Difficult to tell which clients are active and which are not
  2. Google Drive
    If the other systems our clients had been using didn't also allow them to upload and store files specific to each client, they usually had a Google Drive account where they would store each client's information. Great for document storage, time consuming to sort through all of the information.
    + A great way to store any documents you keep
    + Easy to share with colleagues
    - Doesn't integrate well with other systems
    - Time consuming to switch between systems to find documents and ensure you have them stored for each client

Video and Content Management

Trainers tend to be moving online to deliver their messages and programs - this had only been accelerated by the pandemic. The choices in systems are often a result of online content's focus within their business. If it's a significant part, they tend to seek the focused video/content hosting platforms. If it's not, they'll use some less expensive alternatives.

  1. Kajabi / Thinkific / Teachable
    While each are very different systems which could justify a separate list, I'm grouping them together here because the functionality they deliver for dog trainers is similar. If your main source of income is via selling your training content online, these are all good options to assist. Not all are aligned to a step-by-step type training program, but can be adjusted to suit your needs.
    + Highly capable hosting platforms
    + Good control over your content and who has access
    + Most provide tools to help you understand and influence your sales process
    + Some include website builders so you don't have to have a separate website
    - Expensive ($100+/m) for those who's primary income isn't selling online videos
    - Limited integration options with other systems

  2. Google Classroom
    A small number of clients had used Google Classroom. It's designed for school teachers and doesn't typically align with dog training process, but does allow you to control who can access your content.
    + Gives you control over access of your content
    + Structured for learning
    - Structured for school learning (Including grades and tests) which doesn't fit all trainers
    - Can't be integrated into other systems
    - Doesn't have a payments flow built-in
  3. YouTube
    Lastly, some of our clients had been using Private YouTube videos. The main benefit here being that it can be had for free. Unfortunately it doesn't allow you to really control who has access to the content, anyone with the right link can access the video.
    + Inexpensive/Free
    + Can host any video
    - Free plans place advertising on your content
    - Cannot control who can access your content

Marketing Campaigns

Most of the trainers that we see do not actually use a marketing campaign platform to do marketing campaigns. Those who do, however, tend to stick to one of the following:

  1. MailChimp
    It's hard to go wrong with MailChimp if your goal is to send timed marketing messages to your clients. The interface is simple, email deliverability is high, and the quality of the emails sent among the best in the industry. If you're looking to do marketing campaigns or newsletters to your clients, we would recommend MailChimp.
    + Integrates with many systems to automate messaging
    + Great interface and automation functionality
    + High quality emails less likely to end up in SPAM
    +- Starting around $50/m for the average sized trainer
  2. Constant Contact
    Constant Contact has been around for quite some time - they offer much of the same functionality as MailChimp for a slightly cheaper price. From a dog training perspective, there likely isn't much different between the two. The emails sent via Constant Contact tend to be a little less clean in their design, but overall not too much to complain about. Fewer systems willb e able to integrate out of the box with Constant Contact - that may be the deciding factor.
    + Sends mail campaigns and newsletters with the best of them
    + High deliverability
    + Slightly less expensive ~$45/m for the average trainer
    - Email templates not as clean as MailChimp
    - More difficult to integrate with other services

Many Choices, One Core Problem

On their own, each of the solutions above are very logical and good decisions, but they each tackle one specific issue well and don't solve the others at all, or very well. For the average dog training business this leaves you with workarounds to integrate them together and leads to death by a thousand paper cuts. Selecting a solution for each of these problems can quickly add up to an unsustainable number for many dog trainers, a few hundred to $1k/m in software fees is not uncommon. The strength of a separate system for each lay in their ability to focus on that one function (No system focusing on things other than document signing will be able to compete with DocuSign), but it's also the weakness, as small business owners it's not feasible to integrate these systems well enough that it doesn't add to your administrative burden.

To solve this, we're building BusyPaws to handle most of the above (Scheduling, Payment Processing, Forms/Agreements, CRM/Client/Pet Management, and Video Content Hosting). One solution to solve the software problem for dog trainers and other pet care providers. We won't be stopping there, though, we're looking to improve the process beyond handling the above.

Whatever solutions you choose for your business, we hope that everyone can spend more time doing what they love with those they love.

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