Damn. Cuba and Mokie both made me so proud in their training today I had planned this ridiculously proud, semi-gushing, OHMYGODI’MSOPROUDOFMYDOGSTODAY post. Complete with pictures, and yes, a video of the first time I met Cuba’s litter. Sad for you all, now you’re going to have to wait. I had the blog editor opened, titled, and ready to go, until I got distracted by Facebook (SQUIRREL! Bright and shiny! Dead things and kitty poop!) and read a post I just had to respond to.
Before you continue reading this blog post (as in, the one I’m writing right now), you must read Dear Labby: Dog Trainer Costs More Than Piano Lessons. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
While Labby’s response is a good one, I think it needs to be expanded. I’ve also heard clients say, “If I charged this much money, I’d be rich!” Before going further, let me assure you, I am not rich. References to the “Lomonaco mansion” are the very definition of hyperbole. Why on Earth then, would dog training lessons cost more than piano lessons? (NOTE – I am not trying to discredit piano teachers, I am only explaining why private dog training lessons don’t run for $10 a pop.)
Contrary to popular belief, most dog trainers are not rich or celebrities. Most of them would actually fall into the category of:
Essentially, you’re not just paying for a trainer’s time, if the trainer is worth their salt. Here’s what you’re actually paying for:
- A janitor – I have never, not once, had a client’s dog become sick with a contagious illness (including parvo) while in my care or at my facility. I follow the same sanitization protocols used at most veterinary offices. It takes a long time to vacuum and appropriately mop 6,000 square feet of facility.
- A car service – I may drive twenty to thirty minutes each way to meet with a client. Gas isn’t free!
- Liability insurance – one of the marks of a responsible behavior professional is that they carry a hefty insurance policy. Luckily, I’ve never needed to cash in a claim, but it is my job to make sure my customers are protected.
- A secretary and book-keeper – I probably spend at least 1/2 of my workday each day on tasks I don’t get paid for to support my business; scheduling, blogging, invoicing, entering receipts and mileage, answering emails and phone calls, etc.
- Prep time – while you may pay for an hour, it’s likely that your trainer spends at least 2 or 3x that 60 minutes prepping for the lesson – creating a customized training plan, preparing handouts, readying the training facility as needed, finding volunteers for exposures, writing reports for your veterinarian, creating supportive training videos, etc.
- Education and continuing education – I’ve invested as much in my education as a dog trainer as I invested in my first two years of college. Between achieving my Karen Pryor Academy certification, purchasing each new book, training video, or magazine subscription offering the latest and best dog training information, and attending various conferences and seminars throughout the country each year since, it costs money to bring clients the very best, most effective, and modern training services.
- Rent – having my own facility, I essentially pay two mortgages. It sure is nice to offer a 6,000 square foot air conditioned facility to my clients, but the flooring alone (purchased to protect your dog’s joints) cost more than my car. I want you to have a nice place to train and learn in, but that isn’t free or cheap.
- Equipment – a-frames, tunnels, jumps, visual barriers, flirt poles and tug toys, food dispensing toys, x-pens, tethers, long lines, clickers, treat bags, target sticks, handouts, prepped stuffed Kongs, already-prepped treats, crates for each station, poop bags for when my clients forget, Nature’s Miracle (and enough paper towels to warrant purchasing stock in Bounty) to clean up accidents, etc., all add up. Your piano teacher probably doesn’t provide the piano, right? I bet she doesn’t provide diapers for potty training your kid either.
- Piece of mind. Let’s face it, if your kid doesn’t like the piano and determines he loves soccer instead, it’s really not the end of the world. We’re talking the difference between a hobby and keeping a family member (albeit one with fur and four legs) in your home. We’re talking the difference between a missed concert and you potentially losing your house or child’s college tuition in a lawsuit if your dog bites someone. In many cases, we’re talking life and death, literally, when it comes to behavior problems. Your child’s life will likely not end, nor will you put him up for adoption, if he never learns to play Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G Minor. When you have a dog with behavior problems and invest in a qualified behavior consultant, you are investing in the safety of your dog, the human and animal members of your family, and the safety of your fellow community members. It’s kind of a big deal.
- Customized training plans – Your piano teacher isn’t a composer. Likely, she shows up with sheet music which was written by someone dead for centuries. Your dog trainer, on the other hand, should be able to customize a training plan based on your family’s lifestyle, your dog’s breed and learning history, your training goals and abilities, etc. There are no “recipes” or “scores” that work for every dog, and no good trainer, “positive” or otherwise, is a one trick pony.
- I can train your dog to play the piano. Seriously. Mokie loves her Fisher Price piano.
- Your piano teacher is teaching one skill. I virtually never “just” have to teach a dog to sit. Usually, the dogs I see have a combination of behavior problems – they pull on leash, bark for attention, tear up the owner’s belongings and home, chase the resident cat, bite the resident kids, run away when the leash is removed, eat from the kitty litter box, steal dinner from the table and counter, and may bark for hours in the yard. (These are just a few of the problems we see!) I bet your piano teacher would charge a lot more if she also had to teach your child Spanish, math, synchronized swimming, potty training, appropriate social skills, ballet, and martial arts.
- Your piano teacher is just teaching your child. I have to train every human family member of your household plus throw in some dog training. I bet your piano teacher would charge more if she had to train everyone living in the home how to play a concerto.
- Referrals – sometimes, for whatever reason, I can’t help a dog. Perhaps his owners want to participate in competition sports (which I don’t do), or maybe they need a veterinary behaviorist. Maybe they’re outside of my service area and need someone closer to home. I would never dream of referring a client to a trainer I wouldn’t take my own dog to, and frequently spend a significant amount of time researching so that I can send well-intentioned dog owners not to the easiest or cheapest trainer in their area, but to the best, most appropriate, and most qualified behavior consultant or trainer that will meet all of their needs and goals.
You can find a dog trainer who is cheap, if you’d like. One without insurance, any education, a facility, no supportive educational materials like handouts or videos, one that does not screen dogs who will be attending class with you and your dog for human or dog-aggression, no equipment for your dog to learn on, or from, no volunteers for exposure exercises, maybe one who has a facility but doesn’t sanitize it so that your dog is exposed to parvovirus or other canine maladies. You can find a trainer who has no professional memberships, will not spend additional, unpaid hours writing reports for and collaborating with your veterinarian to make sure your dog has the best care possible, who will conveniently neglect to inform you that if your dog bites a stranger, you are risking your kid’s college tuition. Trust me, there are plenty of trainers out there like this, many of whom charge about what I charge for significantly less service. There are trainers who expect their clients to host 5+ untrained dogs in their home for group classes because they don’t have a facility – naturally, their classes may be cheaper.
Maybe (OK, definitely), this post is a little tongue-in-cheek. While I would never recommend a dog owner open the phone book and simply hire the most expensive dog trainer available, I would also caution dog owners – when you hire a training professional, you are hiring someone to do a job for you. Be choosy, and don’t take the first/cheapest available trainer. Remember that you are entrusting the well-being of a family member (and your own sanity!) in this person, and act appropriately. This is an investment in your dog’s future!
If you are concerned or wondering about the price of sessions, ASK. “What am I paying for?” For each hour I spend with a student, earning revenue, I probably spend at least four hours prepping and making sure they have the best learning experience possible.