The 6-Figure Trainer: Kris Taylor of Taylor Made Working Dogs
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Looking back, it seems like Kris Taylor’s career path would’ve been obvious from the start. But instead of turning his lifelong hobby of dog training into a lucrative business right out of college, the San Diego native took a few detours — professional baseball, a family business and a stint in the Army among them.
In 2008, he came to the startling realization that he didn’t know what to do with his life, bitten by the entrepreneurial bug but not sure exactly what direction to take. At breakfast with a lifelong friend and mentor, Taylor sought guidance.
“I asked him, ‘What should I do next?’" Taylor recalls. "And he just looked at me like I was clueless and said, ‘Why aren’t you a trainer?’ It was really an ‘aha’ moment."
At that time, Taylor was a member of a social club of dog owners, about 11 of whom were dog trainers who often came to him for advice. He’d also grown up around trainers, including his mother, who raised German Shepherds and took the family to dog shows and other canine events when Taylor was a kid.
“I’ve always had a crazy entrepreneurial mind,” he says, “and I’m a third-generation trainer and I’ve worked with dogs for more than 20 years, but I never put two and two together until that morning.”
That very afternoon, Taylor designed his business cards and got to work. Today, Taylor Made Working Dogs employs 14 workers with about 40 dogs on-site at any given time. "I have a five-acre property with a training field and kennels,” he explains. “It’s a pretty big facility, with private cabins for mothers who are pregnant and having puppies. It’s safe and secure.”
Taylor, his girlfriend Liz Snider and one other employee live on the campus, which also includes a boarding area, along with a workshop and commercial kitchen for their dog food business, Wild Instincts.
“We make custom dog food with pure ingredients and a digestive enzyme that no other company uses in their food,” says Taylor. “As an athlete I know how important nutrition is to performance, and I’ve finally put that biology degree to good use.”
Pet Love in the Time of Coronavirus
After suffering at the start of the year, dog training has taken off again in the waning months of 2020. “We definitely took a hit with the pandemic because people weren’t going out at all and didn’t want to drive to their trainers,” Taylor says. “We saw close to a 50 percent decrease in training bookings.”
At the same time, the dog food business began to thrive. Taylor was one of few employers during the pandemic who brought on new workers. “We added a ton of restaurant equipment and a walk-in freezer,” he says, “and we’re still looking for more employees in sales.”
Taylor attributes the food business growth, and the return of training appointments, to this year’s explosion in pet adoptions. “People are spending more time at home with their dogs," he observes, "and they want to make sure they’re well-fed, healthy and well-trained.”
Nationwide statistics underscore his point. In Los Angeles, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported double the number of pet adoptions in June over the same time last year, with 10 to 13 adoptions every day.
And almost 90 percent of respondents in a survey from TD Ameritrade said their animals help them feel less lonely during the new social-distancing era — particularly in the spring and early summer, when start-and-stop lockdowns were the norm. Fully one-third of those surveyed said they were considering fostering or adopting a pet.
Even before Covid-19, the pet services market was booming, as more families with disposable income invested in pampering their pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, the non-veterinary services market grew 88 percent from 2009 to 2019, to $6.3 billion.
For Taylor, trends are compelling, but he focuses on what he knows and loves: how to train dogs effectively, with care and compassion. “I always tell my clients the truth, and sometimes it’s not exactly what they want to hear,” he says. “We have to be unbiased and open about their dog. We can’t turn blue eyes to brown, of course, but we’ll give the dog better options for stressed-out situations and help them build confidence.”
As for what’s down the road, Taylor is keeping an open mind. Exploring a franchising opportunity isn’t on his radar just yet. “I’ve been doing this since I was a child and it’s really a labor of love,” he says. "Some companies think they can train their trainers in three months, and I know that’s not enough. Three years, maybe, because it’s a constant learning experience. Even for me, I am learning new things and growing every day. A really good trainer is like a doctor: It takes a lot of knowledge, experience and study — plus talent.”
But all options are on the table. “Who knows what the future holds?” Taylor says. “We focus on care and quality, and the business seems to work itself out."