Here's the Industry Preference
It is not uncommon for other trainers to have you go to their website, pick the class that you want (whether a group class, initial consultation, or assessment), fill out a long and involved information form, add the service to your cart, and pay for it before you have any contact with a human being.
This system has a huge advantage: it’s incredibly efficient. The trainer doesn’t spend time with you until after getting paid.
In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this model. Time is money, and those dog trainers want to get paid for their time. They’ve simply designed their initial contact system around that. I get it. I really do. I love getting paid for my time, too. But the initial conversation is one of those places where I think it is actually best for me and you to offer my time for free.
Initial Consultation Fees
I want to emphasize that I certainly don’t have any issues with other trainers charging for an initial consultation for private sessions. After all, they are taking their time to drive over to a client’s home in order to meet them, meet and assess their dog, hear the dog’s history, listen to the family’s training goals, and come up with a rough draft of a training plan.
Typically, these sessions will take 1 to 1.5 hours and the fee runs from about $125 to $200. In some cases, the trainer may give advice and simple training techniques to help with the situation during that time, but others see it as an information-gathering session only and save the training for upcoming sessions (so no actual “training” happens in that initial, paid session).
That being said, in most cases I consider this kind of consultation to be a waste of time and money. Instead, I offer a free 30-minute phone appointment (okay, I usually run over). During that time, I will listen to the dog’s history and find out what the family wants for training.
Usually, people have one to three issues they need help with. During our conversation, it’s not unusual for me to discover that the issues they think are the issues aren’t really the issues at all. Instead, it would be best to focus training on other related or underlying issues.
By taking time to listen to their story, I am able to offer what I think are the best options for them to choose from. Then, once we’ve made a decision together, they can sign up for my dog-training services.
If people want to pay me to come to their home for this conversation, that’s an option. I don’t recommend it though. Instead, I prefer to talk on the phone.
By using a phone call, I am able to cut out the unnecessary travel time completely. Since I’m not going anywhere, I can minimize my time involvement and feel comfortable offering that initial consultation for free. (So far, no one has chosen to pay me to come to their home. That’s not surprising since it’s throwing money down the drain for exactly the same thing.)
Beware the Myth that Drives the System
Still, elsewhere in the dog training world, we see people pay $100–$200 for an extended, initial session.
It all comes down to a popular myth that runs rampant through families struggling with dog behavior .
According to the myth: The trainer needs to be present in your home and meet your dog personally to understand the problems you are experiencing.
It’s simply not true.
Sorry, but I don’t need to come to your home and see your dog jump on guests to understand the problem. I don’t need to come to your home and see your dog bark at other dogs to understand the problem. I don’t need to come to your home to see your dog guard its toys to understand the problem.
Being in your home is simply not necessary in most cases. In fact, it can actually be counter-productive.
Once people realize that, they understand why I prefer free initial phone conversations. And they are thankful, because they can use the money they would have paid for that visit toward actual dog training.
Are We a Good Match?
Here’s something you should know about my business: I don’t work with just anybody. I only work with people who are looking for the kind of training I offer. And by that, I mean science-based, force-free training.
So, before you ever put any money on the table, I want to know that we are a good match.
For what it’s worth, I believe the most important thing you need to pay attention to when looking for a dog trainer is whether they are on the same page as you. You want a trainer who shares the same values and wants to use the same tools that you do.
Not all dog trainers are the same. This is very important to know before you hire someone to work with you and your dog.
If you and your trainer are going in different directions, that can lead to frustration and a lack of results. I want to head this possibility off at the pass. So, I want to spend time with you to make sure we are a good match before any money changes hands.
If you would like a quick overview of how dog training has changed over the last half century and how different kinds of dog training are related to that, watch my informative video below. That will help you put trainers and their methods in perspective and help you determine what kind of trainer you actually want to work with (which may or may not be me).
I Still Use Appointments
I was talking with a trainer a few years ago. He didn’t like the idea of a free initial phone call. He preferred charging $200 for the first visit. His reason was this: People are busy and they don’t have time to schedule 30 minutes on the phone.
That made absolutely no sense to me. If they didn’t have the time to schedule a free 30 minutes, why in the world would he believe they had the time to schedule 2 hours for $200?
Actually, I confess a part of me does get it. People are more willing to keep appointments they have paid for. And the more they pay, the more they value the time. When there isn’t any money involved, they are less likely to value the time and show up to the appointment. In many respects, what he does is simply good marketing.
And he’s right. The system I use is a bit harder to implement. People call my business number and leave me messages asking for me to call them back “anytime”. I call them back as soon as I can. And if they don’t answer, I ask them to go to my website and set up an appointment.
I appreciate their willingness to be available, and I feel bad that I can’t just keep calling back. I have meetings and clients throughout the day and I live by my calendar. I simply don’t have the luxury to call back again and again hoping that someone will pick up and have the time for a call.
So, I still need to use an appointment system, even though the appointment is free and over the phone.
There are Limits to the Free Option
Unfortunately, there are times that I make a scheduled call and the person doesn’t answer. When that happens, I allow 10 minutes for them to call me back. After that, I need to move on to other tasks.
I follow up with an email reminding them that they missed our appointment and we need to reschedule. Usually, people will tell me why they missed the appointment in their reply.
For what it’s worth, the typical reasons include things like “I forgot”, “I was busy with yard work”, or “I was at the store”. (Can you see how that other trainer was spot on with his understanding that people will not value our time without paying for it up front?)
Obviously, I can’t spend timeslot after timeslot chasing people to have a free conversation in the hopes that they just might happen to be available. My generosity has to have a limit. That’s why I have a policy that allows for two missed phone appointments. After that, I charge a deposit for the timeslot, which will be returned upon the completion of the call. But if they do not show up, it is forfeit.
It’s the Best Option to Start Us Off
I realize the system is imperfect. But I really think it is the best option in the long run. It avoids potential future friction, and it saves my clients money. (After all, “Making Human Dog Training Accessible and Affordable” is my mission.) So, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
To make things easier, I’ve added a new way to set up the initial appointment. I have added Calendly to my website. That enables people to simplify getting on my calendar by claiming a timeslot that works for them right then and there without having to go back and forth with me coordinating.
The Call is Risk Free and Enjoyable
I can think of many reasons why you might not want to set up a call. Maybe you struggle with time. Maybe you don’t want to give out your phone number. Maybe you are nervous about talking with me on the phone. I totally get it.
I encourage you to put all that behind you, though. I try to make the call as fun as possible. I often end the call with, “Have you found this time with me helpful?” The answer is usually, “Most definitely!”
By the time we are done, you will have a much better idea of the struggles your dog faces. That will help you put your own struggles in perspective. Furthermore, you are under no obligation to sign up for classes when we are done.
And, on top of that, the whole thing happens on my dime.
If you are looking for dog training, feel free to get in touch. I have my fancy new Calendly tool below. When you sign up for a call, please make sure to tell me about your dog and your struggles. And please be ready for me to call back.
I look forward to hearing your voice.
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Hi! I’m Bo McGuffee, owner of Puppy Tutor Dog Training. My mission is to make human dog training accessible and affordable. If you are looking for an alternative to the more aggressive training styles out there, then you’ve found the perfect dog trainer for you and your dog.