Secrets to pet business success

Dog trainer teaching dogs

This article was originally published in the dog*tec blog. 

We’re asked often by clients and workshop attendees as we lecture across the country for the secrets to success in this industry. Here’s what we tell them.

Get and keep yourself educated

Whether you are already or wish to become a dog trainer, walker, sitter, or daycare or boarding facility owner, you owe it to yourself, your clients, and the dogs in your care to know everything you can about dog behavior. We have an unfortunate habit of assuming we understand dogs because we’ve lived with them all our lives. The truth is we suffer from a host of often damaging misconceptions and pieces of conventional wisdom about why dogs do what they do. Ridding yourself of these myths will make you a more effective dog pro.

Start by attending a scientifically-sound program based on positive reinforcement, then keep up your education through seminars, reading, DVDs, and professional conferences.

Learn how to market yourself

A lack of or poor marketing is the number one reason for failure in our industry. Too many dog pros rely on a “build it and they will come” approach, or a few brochures or fliers spread around town. This rarely gets the job done, especially in a busy market like the Bay Area. I also see dog pros waste precious money on passive advertising that rarely works—Google ads, yellow pages ads, direct mailers, etc. Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive or stressful, but it needs to be done and done smart.

My focus when working with clients is to develop inexpensive community-based marketing plans that play to personal strengths—good writers can write an ongoing column or newsletter, for example. I also recommend finding a way to stand out. Look around at other service providers in your area. What can you do differently, better? There are lots of pet sitters– is anyone focusing on animals with special health or behavioral needs? Anyone sending video report cards to clients on vacation? There are lots of dog walkers—is anyone focusing on small dogs? There are lots of daycares—what will make yours special? Small playgroups and a well-crafted daily itinerary? Special monthly event days?

Work ON the business, not just in it

I can’t stress this enough. To be a successful dog pro, you have to do more than see clients and care for dogs. You have to be your own secretary promptly returning phone calls and emails, your own admin assistant handling paperwork, your own accountant managing your books, your own marketing manager executing your marketing plan, and so on. Though you can (and should) get help with many of these tasks, the reality remains: You have to actually run the business. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of client needs, but if you don’t work on the business itself it won’t grow.

Keep to a master schedule

Working on and in the business demands efficient use of time. I teach my clients how to create a smart work schedule that allows them to effectively run their businesses while also enjoying plenty of down time and flexibility. After all, there are supposed to be perks to working for yourself. Whether you’re the type to flounder under a lack of structure, getting little done without the external pressures of a job and boss, or the type to work yourself to the bone when there’s no one to tell you to knock off for the day, a master schedule creates a sustainable balance.

This approach to scheduling involves setting aside specific days and times for each business activity, as well as protected personal downtime. When there’s a specific task to be done, it’s assigned to its logical spot in the weekly schedule, rather than relegated to a post-it note, intimidating to-do list, or a hopeful “I’d like to get to this someday when I have time.” A master schedule operates on the concept of “do dates,” listing when something will actually be accomplished, instead of “due dates” that simply cause stress. When everything has its place things get done—and that means success and peace of mind, too.

Though running your own dog business can be challenging, few who do it will tell you they’d rather do something else. Working with dogs and dog lovers is a great way to make a living, especially when combined with the freedom that comes with owning a well run business. So be bold. If you already own a dog business, take it to a new level. If it’s been a long-standing dream, give yourself permission to pursue it.


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Living a top dog life


By Candace D’Agnolo, CEO of Dogaholics

Hello. My name is Candace and I’m a dogaholic.

I’ve been a dogaholic “legally” for the last decade, but I know in my heart and soul that I’ve been a dogaholic my whole life.

I moved eight times before junior high. So when I had to say good-bye to classmates and neighborhood kids every year, my only constant and consistent friends were our family pets. So when it was time for me to start a career, creating a pet business seemed like a natural fit.

My vision for Dogaholics was to be a small retail store and serve my local neighborhood with healthy food and treat options. But, that was small thinking!! I eventually learned that when you dream big, you start living what I call the “Top Dog Life”!

Over the last decade, Dogaholics became more than just retail products by expanding into doggy daycare, grooming, dog walking, branded merchandise, speaking engagements, classes, online educational programs and now business coaching… connecting pet parents and petpreneurs all over the world!

Maybe you started your pet business because you wanted a more fulfilling career. Or perhaps it was because you liked dogs more than people. But as your business grows, you quickly realize it’s less like playing with puppies all day and more working like a dog.

I’ve been there. Working like a dog has been a consistent theme in my adult life. After dealing with massive construction around my stores and employees stealing from me in the height of the recession, I hit the danger zone in 2010 when my business and personal life were failing. I had $200k in business debt and wasn’t generating enough income to pay my bills. I was working 16-hour days on a regular basis; I gained 50lbs and my marriage was suffering. Instead of giving in to the anxiety and stress, I turned it all around and have since brought millions of dollars into my business. I travel around the world and live a stress free life with my canine kids.

Why do I mention all of this? Because while it’s my unique story, our roller coaster rides aren’t that different. Life and business is a roller coaster. Starting out slow and chugging along, then speeding ahead – faster than you can seem to keep up with. There are ups and downs, and turns ahead that you don’t even see. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after running my own company for ten years, you better like riding the roller coaster because it rarely ends when you want it to!

Fortunately for me, I was able to stop the ride for a moment. In April of 2016, I strategically sold the retail division of Dogaholics to Bentley’s Pet Stuff. The economy, competition, internet, and big box stores had nothing to do with me closing. I got the price I wanted and I was able to exit my business exactly how I always dreamed…on my terms.

If you want to stop the roller coaster of business (or at least control the speed) – you must learn what it takes to be a good leader, develop systems around everything, and train your team to thrive.

I look forward to sharing more retail and business tips on how to stop working like a dog and how to start living the top dog life instead!


Learn more about Candace’s life as a dogaholic on Pets Mean Business!


1candaceIn addition to being the CEO of Dogaholics, Candace D’Agnolo is a successful business coach, author, and speaker.  She started Dogaholics as a retail store, and took her initial concept of a brick and mortar location and turned it into multiple revenue streams – retail, services, online informational products, books, merchandise, and now business consulting. Candace is also a board member of Chicago Canine Rescue and loves giving back to her local community. She has helped raise over $200,000 for shelter dogs and find many forever homes. Having a way to give back through her business has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.