Covering All the Bases
To successfully add training services to a pet store, retailers must make sure they are working with the right trainer and offering the right instruction.
According to world-renowned animal trainer and behavioral expert, Ken Ramirez, the four cornerstones to a good animal care plan are as follows: veterinary care, nutrition, environment, and training and enrichment.
Pet stores may have the first three categories covered, as some work with in-house vets, and all will have a wide variety of pet food choices available. Certainly most will also have options for environmental enhancements, from crates to collars, and more. However, some stores may be looking at adding training services and/or teaming up with local trainers—and this can and should be a valuable prospect.
Finding the right trainer to work with a pet store is important, as they undoubtedly will be a reflection on the business and can help the store thrive if approached correctly. As training is largely an unregulated field, retailers will want to be sure that they hire or partner with a qualified professional, and the best place to start is by asking about their background and education. A certified trainer lends the credibility that this person has had to pass rigorous practical and knowledge based testing demonstrating their capabilities.
There are several schools that offer courses to prepare individuals to be dog trainers. Some of the most prominent and recognized programs are the Karen Pryor Academy and The Academy of Dog Trainers. These schools offer certifications demonstrating that the candidate has successfully passed both practical and knowledge-based criteria.
There are also professional organizations that offer external certifications. One of the most widely recognized independent certification bodies is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Those who meet the requirements and pass the evaluation exam can use the title: Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). The requirements include upwards of 300 hours of dog training experience as a lead teacher, passing a 250-question exam covering instructor skills, ethology (the science of animal behavior), husbandry, learning theory and training equipment. Re-certification is required every three years via a re-test or 36 continuing educational credits.
When choosing a trainer, it is important to do some research to avoid being misled by the latest buzzwords or fancy terminology. Training professionals should be proficient at working with animals, as well as people, in a respectful and caring manner. They should recognize that relationships for both people and animals are built upon trust and should utilize modern, scientific methods to train and interact.
Trainers should promote training that is based on relationship building, rather than compulsion or intimidation. Dogs working with the trainer should be happy and wiggly while learning, and the animals—as well as their caregivers—should have fun.
Retailers should look to find reward-based trainers who use positive reinforcement, and stay clear of folks who may be “balanced” or correction based. They will want to work with a trainer who is proactive versus reactive, and is working to teach and educate animals and their caregivers.
It is important to ask for references from clients, veterinarians and colleagues. Check with friends and family, and look for well-behaved dogs sporting relaxed body language, and inquire as to where they learned and with whom they trained.
A trainer that a retailer is interested in hiring should welcome any request to observe a class or individual training session. Watch to see that the trainer is interacting positively and professionally with both their canine and human clients, and that everyone seems to be enjoying the experience. Be sure that the trainer is a good communicator with the dogs and the people they are working with, and that they are available for questions and individual assistance as needed. The instructor should have a genuine interest in what they are doing and should be supportive and encouraging.
This type of professional will welcome questions. Retailers should ask specifically what type of training the trainer employs. Reward-based trainers may have several positive approaches and/or suggestions to modify a behavior; however, they will always seek to reinforce behaviors that they like while ignoring those that they don’t. They will look to educate dog families on alternative or incompatible behaviors with those that they don’t wish to see continue and will use treats, play, affection, and attention to reinforce behavior that they want dogs to repeat.
Additionally, a qualified professional trainer will be someone who is regularly engaging in continuing education to further their professional knowledge and abilities, as well as to stay abreast of the latest information and techniques in the field.
Once a retailer has found a trainer that would be a good match for the store, it is time to discuss the types of training that will be offered. The store’s space may dictate that only small group classes and individual appointments can be offered. Even one-on-one training can be valuable, as other shoppers notice this service and may inquire about future availability. Puppy socialization is another offering which may get new dog owners to become long-term loyal customers as their dogs grow.
Basic manners and obedience, and advanced levels of manners are among the more common course offerings. However, perhaps the store has some additional space for some specialized courses. Agility or nose work classes could set a store apart as a location for specialized courses. The trainer that a retailer chooses to work with may have specifics in their background that could contribute to potential offerings as well.
In addition to enhancing a store’s menu of services, trainers can help boost revenue streams, as they often discuss and are viewed by clients as reliable experts in many aspects of pet care. From food choices to food puzzles to training equipment, such as harnesses, leashes, collars and crates, trainers can direct and encourage sales.
Sitting down with a trainer that the store will be working with to discuss potential inventory needs is an important step in assuring that customers can purchase items that trainers recommend in the shop. Be sure that the store has a variety of sizes and types of products that the trainer can use to demonstrate and model while suggesting purchases.
Finally, offering training and/or partnering with a trainer can provide new marketing and advertising avenues. The store will now have new services available and may even become a niche for training and pet care in the community. Grooming salons, veterinary offices, dog parks and dog walkers may all be great platforms for advertising a retailer’s newly available training services. In addition, the trainer may be promoting the store as their new location for classes and appointments.
Overall, teaming up with or hiring a professional trainer is a great way to provide important life-long quality services for customers. Recognizing that addressing behavior as a priority demonstrates a retailer’s commitment to comprehensive animal wellness. And well-mannered dogs make for happy owners—and they will have their local pet store to credit for this.
Terrie Hayward holds a MEd, is a Karen Pryor Academy-Certified Training Partner and is a CPDT-KA (Council for Professional Dog Trainers) certified professional animal trainer. She works primarily with dogs, using the science of applied behavioral analysis to effect positive change in the learning patterns of animals and their caregivers. Her business, PAW-Positive Animal Wellness can be found on Facebook and online at positiveanimalwellness.com.