Times are tough for many of us financially and unfortunately it seems that pets are often the first to lose out when it comes to cutting back on living costs. As behaviourists and trainers, we often face this reality when dealing with people who want help, but are reluctant to pay for it. Unlike veterinary care, training and behaviour modification is not always viewed as essential and unlike veterinary care, there are also many options when it comes to finding behaviour or training assistance in a totally unregulated industry. Anyone can start a Facebook page and claim to be a dog trainer!
Aside from the fact that this means an enormous amount of dangerously false information is dished out to the public on the subject of dog behaviour, it also means that there is no industry standard for what should or shouldn’t be charged for services. While most qualified trainers and behaviourists (people with actual recognised, decent qualifications in the field) charge very similar rates for the same services, those who are not qualified will sometimes charge a pittance, because they are really just dabbling and have other sources of income, or exorbitant and frankly quite crazy amounts - let’s be blunt – because in many cases they are simply crazy and it is their eccentricity and apparent self-assuredness that attracts clients.
So, I would like to take the opportunity to explain the basis on which reputable training schools, run by qualified professionals, structure their fees:
It is our full-time profession. People often ask: What do you do the rest of the time? We always answer: THIS! This is what we do – we train dogs and work with owners to modify behaviour full-time. It is not a hobby. We are not dabbling. This is our livelihood. Many of us are also involved in teaching the next generation of trainers and behaviourists, but everything we do is in the same profession.
We have years of study at considerable expense under our belts: Believe it or not, dog training is a science. Modifying behaviour means understanding learning theory and how behaviour works on a physiological, neurological and emotional level. If you enjoy neuroscience, behaviour is a fantastic subject to study, but it is also hard work!
We have to rent suitable, safe premises from which to work: While amateur trainers may conduct classes on public fields, verges and in parking lots, running classes that are safe and secure for dogs means renting private spaces that are securely fenced, away from traffic, disease free, and do not allow access for free roaming dogs or strangers. As professionals, we put the safety of our clients and their dogs first – compromising on this is not an option. Unfortunately, renting grounds does not come cheap!
Paying staff: Successful training schools seldom manage with just one trainer. To provide enough individual attention for every client and to ensure the smooth running of classes, more than one trainer per class is generally needed. Those trainers need to be qualified professionals as well and they need to be paid accordingly.
Admin time and costs: While many people think that a trainer’s job is limited to the time spent on the field, many of us spend several hours a day doing admin for our training schools. Answering emails from clients, sending out information, planning lessons and working on training class aids like videos and notes etc. is all part of the job.
Please do take all of this into account when asking us for help. We love dogs and we love what we do, but we also need to eat! While this profession may be a calling, warm fuzzy feelings don’t pay the bills. Unfortunately, we often seem to be confused with animal rescue organisations, but we are not in fact a charity. Please consider that because working with animals has a strong emotional component, it is often very hard for us to set boundaries and to say no, but that we also must look after ourselves in order to survive. Before choosing a cheap dog training option, make sure you “compare apples with apples” – have a look at what other schools with qualified professional trainers are charging, rather than making comparisons with traditional-style training clubs with unqualified volunteers or hobby-trainers who think they know something after having a dog for 5 minutes!