Dog Training Franchises Can Struggle in a Crowded Marketplace. Here's How One Company Expanded to 300 U.S. Franchises. Dog Training Elite used a personalized model — training dogs and educating owners — to differentiate itself and expand.
- Dog Training Elite's model includes in-home, personalized dog training services which focus on training the dog and also educating the owner.
- The company has diversified its services beyond traditional dog training to include a dog daycare focused on keeping dogs active rather than training them, as well as training service dogs.
- Dog Training Elite adopted a franchise model in 2015 and has expanded significantly, with more than 300 franchises across the U.S. However, the dog training franchise market is expected to remain highly competitive.
After two decades working for others in the dog training business, John Mestas started Dog Training Elite in 1995 with an idea to differentiate his business — in-home, personalized dog training focused not only on training the pet, but educating the owner.
"We found that keeping the one-on-one training was the secret," says Dog Training Elite's CEO, Mark Mestas, John's son. "The way we found is super successful is in-home, teaching people as much as you're teaching the dog."
John Mestas built Dog Training Elite on that in-home, personalized approach rather than the traditional training sessions, where many owners would bring their dogs to a facility for a group training class.
Today, Dog Training Elite offers seven standard and advanced training services to dog owners, which include service dog training, therapy animal training, and anxiety and aggression training. The nature of the in-house training model dictates that the trainer works with the owner as well as the animal. This works in the owner's favor, Mestas says, so the dog listens to the owner as well as the trainer.
The way we found is super successful is in-home, teaching people as much as you're teaching the dog.
"We teach the family and the owner as much as we teach the dog so that when the trainer is not around, you know exactly what you're supposed to do and how to do it. They're highly involved in the training." Mestas says that the trainers go out and will first start working with the dog while explaining to the owner the object of a lesson. "Then, we'll ask the owner, ask the family, to do it, because when the trainer is not there and the dog gets out, you need the dog to listen to who's home."
New avenues for revenue
Dog Training Elite has found new sources of revenue adjacent to the training business, including a dog daycare, where the focus is on keeping the dog active rather than training. "We've evolved a little bit where we also offer a kind of like a day camp," says Mestas. "We don't do any important training [at the day camp]."
Additionally, Dog Training Elite trains service dogs, which KC Owens, Director of Training, compares to the dog earning a doctorate. "A service dog does all of the same things, all of the same commands that a regular dog does, but you have to have proof, meaning the dog has to be rock solid in just about every environmental situation that you can come up with."
Even service dogs have various levels of training, Owens says. "If you're looking at a mobility service dog that needs to support an owner, then the dog has to be fully developed. It's not going to be ready until it's two years old. If you're talking about a dog that's meant for PTSD, the mental state of the dog still has to be fully developed to really be 100%. So you're still looking at two- to two-and-a-half years old."
This is where, Owens says, the personalization approach comes into play again. The owner and the dog learn together, making the period the dog and owner must get familiar with one another when they are living together much shorter. "So if you get a service where that somebody else trained the dog for that two years, you're going to spend most likely another year and a half to two years, learning how somebody else trained your dog. But if you are doing the legwork day in, day out. you've learned as your dog learns."
Dog training experience not necessary
Experience with training dogs — or even working with animals — is not required of Dog Training Elite franchisees and Mestas says that 99 percent of Dog Training Elite franchisees have no prior training experience. In fact, he says, they often prefer someone with no experience, for a simple reason:
"When we get someone who comes in with no dog training experience, it's actually a lot easier, because they don't have bad habits and they are not stuck in a way that they can't get out of," Mestas says. "A lot of trainers will come in and they have their own thing and they've developed their own way. We have developed a way that makes the training a lot easier on the family and the dog and has sped up the process, and a lot of trainers might not necessarily like that way."
Low barriers to entry, crowded marketplace
Dog Training Elite began franchising in 2015 and now has more than 300 franchises located throughout the United States. The dog training franchise marketplace is crowded, including other franchises that have adopted similar training models, and new franchises can struggle in this saturation.
Moreover, relatively low barriers to entry — low franchise and other upfront costs — mean that competition in the market will remain high.
Additionally, licensing requirements for dog trainers vary from state to state and potential franchisees should consult an attorney to determine what, if any, requirements they are subject to.