Online Dog Training: What Trainers Need to Know To Take Their Business Virtual

by | Jun 16, 2020

Considering offering online dog training classes or virtual services for the long-haul?

During COVID and “shelter at home” you jumped feet-first into online dog training, offering one-on-one lessons and group classes via Zoom, and finding other ways to keep some income coming in while in-person services were prohibited. And now, as the world slowly opens back up, you’re realizing you enjoyed some of the perks of online training and aren’t quite ready to let it go.

If you’re trying to decide if you want to offer online dog training long-term or have already decided to continue offering online dog training services, this post is for you.

Let’s start with the basics.

First things first: What kind of online dog training services will you offer?

When adding online services as a way to triage your business during COVID, you likely just picked something and went with it. If you’re now working on adding these services for the long-term, it’s time to re-evaluate the decisions you made quickly in the moment.

First up? What you want to offer and how you want to offer it.

Generally speaking, the options for online dog training fit into two broad categories:

  1. Private lessons
  2. Group classes.

Once you know whether you want to work one-on-one or with multiple students at once, you need to decide if you prefer to work with them live — with you seeing them and providing feedback in real time — or if you want to work with them via some sort of video review process. You might even choose to offer an option where the information only flows one way… you publish the information without offering any opportunities for review.

It’s important to pause and note there are no right or wrong answers here.

Most dog trainers during COVID opted to offer private lessons or group classes in real time, via Zoom (or another platform like it). This model is the most like in-person dog training, and therefore the option most clients and trainers felt comfortable with.

However, there are many trainers who are successfully using a model where students can submit their homework, and then they get feedback later on (Fenzi Dog Sports Academy uses this model for Silver and Gold students, for example). And self study classes, where you publish information but don’t offer any review options, come with a number of intriguing benefits, like scalability and the potential for passive income — but likely require more of an upfront investment, to create the content.

Then there is also the option of creating a hybrid model — for example, Michael Shikashio has shared that some of his behavior cases start in-person and then transition to a video review model.

It will all depend on your business, your clients, and what you have to offer.

Technology Options: Choosing Online Dog Training Tools

Once you’ve chosen the type of services you want to offer and the way(s) that you want to deliver them you still need to figure out the specific tools you want to use and then decide on details around the topics and problems your online services will cover.

We’ve written before about the hardware (camera, mic, etc) that we recommend, so for this post I’m going to focus on the online platforms you can use to communicate with your students.

zoom logo

Live Lessons or Classes with Real Time Feedback

The most popular choice by far for live lessons or classes, Zoom allows you and your client(s) to simultaneously share a live video feed, so you can demo and then see them as they work with their dog.

Zoom offers a free plan, which can be a good option if you’re only offering private lessons — however, it caps group calls at 40 minutes if you’re using the free option. Paid plans start with the Pro plan at $14.99/month and for most dog trainers the Pro plan will include all the features for group or individual lessons. Click here to check out Zoom or sign up. 

Alternative options: Google Hangouts Meet, and Skype.

facebook logo

Live Lessons or Classes with Delayed Feedback

Facebook groups seem to be the most popular option for dog trainers who want to offer limited or delayed feedback lessons. This is likely because there aren’t many options that allow you to both post class content and receive student homework in a video format…. Plus, Facebook groups are free.

If you decide to find an alternative option, be aware that many of the online teaching platforms are meant to create self study only classes (classes without homework review). You’ll want to specifically find a platform that offers forums or discussion features.

Fortunately, most of the options out there offer a free trial run — I recommend creating content for 2-3 lessons and then doing trial runs with a few options, setting up your classroom, and playing student to test things out before making a final decision.

Alternative options: Kajabi, Thinkific, or even just via youtube and email

Self-Study or Self-Guided Courses

If you want to offer classes that don’t actually require you to regularly review homework or give live feedback, you’ll want to decide if you plan to run the courses in cohorts (groups who sign up all at once, share a start date, and then receive the course information at the same time) or with rolling enrollment (students sign up anytime and then receive things either all at once or on a “drip” schedule, based on when they sign up). In either case, there are a TON of options out there.

The absolute simplest model is to offer an email course. By using an email marketing program that comes with automation services, you can allow students to sign up for a course and then send them content via email. Using this model you can link to youtube videos, PDF downloads, or including written lesson content within the body of the email itself.

The downside of this model is that you need to determine how you’ll collect payment for the courses, and then will either need to set up a system to make your payment tools and your email automation program talk to each other or you’ll need to add students to the system manually after they’ve paid.

There are two options I typically recommend for this — ConvertKit and Mailchimp.

Other tools are literally made for delivering this kind of content. The big four are Kajabi, Teachable, Thinkific, and Podia (though there are many more).

online dog training choices - feet and arrows

How to Decide What Dog Training Topics to Teach Online

Now that you know the format and the tools you plan to use… it’s time to talk about the actual content that you plan to offer.

There are a few important considerations here — first, while in person your competition is typically limited to other dog trainers in your immediate local area, online you’re competing against any other dog trainer offering online training on the same topics. If you want to sell online dog training beyond your immediate local area, you’ll need to have a plan to help you stand out from the crowd.

If there are a lot of courses on a topic, or a major industry player who covers a topic (think separation anxiety and Malena DeMartini), it’ll be harder for you to sell things on that topic. That means you need to do some research and see what other online dog training options your clients will have to choose from.

Niche topics will likely do better online than general topics. So if you offer a class on Recalls or Loose Leash Walking, it will likely do better than an online Pet Manners class. This is also how you become well known as an expert in a particular subject matter… which will lead to selling more online services AND being able to charge more for them.

Marketing and Selling Online Dog Training

Finally, marketing and selling online dog training can be very different than marketing and selling in person lessons. While most of the major concepts remain the same, when you go online everything goes online. Many in person businesses rely heavily on local referrals — online classes will need to rely on digital referrals.

And your email list will take on an ever greater importance.

Since fewer of your clients will come to you via referral or personal recommendation, you’ll likely need to create more online marketing. That may include some free content, so potential clients can get to know you. That means deciding what to offer for free, vs what you should charge for.

You’ll also likely need to spend more time on marketing, doing more work to drive traffic to your website.

Finally, your sales process is likely to look different too. Online, you won’t want to spend as much time hand selling clients one at a time. Instead, you’ll need your website and online presence to do most of that work for you… with maybe the occasional email asking a question.

Does Offering Online Dog Training Make Sense for You?

Whether or not you decide to offer online dog training for the long haul is ultimately up to you as the business owner. It can certainly be lucrative when done well (Pat Flynn shared his company made $900,000 their first year offering online courses). But if you’ve traditionally offered in-person services, it will require a shift in your business model.

That’s true even if you offered online training options during Stay At Home. Selling virtual services was easier when for most clients their options were online dog training or none at all. I’d expect selling to become harder as in-person options become more available again.

Was this helpful? If so, leave a comment below and let me know what you learned, or what you plan to offer online going forward! Have questions I didn’t answer? Leave those in the comments too and I’ll make sure to respond!

2 Comments

  1. Debbie Schaefer

    Very timely and so helpful Melissa. I think a lot of us are thinking about some of this now and like any new adventure not sure what the pros and cons are. For me, this helped clear things up.

    Reply
    • melissabreau

      So glad this was helpful for you Debbie!! Definitely let me know if you run into questions and I’ll do my best to answer them 🙂

      Reply

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