Why Dog Trainers Have Policies and Procedures

May 30, 2023

Why Dog Trainers Have Policies and Procedures.

Dog trainers have policies and procedures in place to protect their interest, the dogs they train and the human client.  It also ensures the human client is on the same page as the trainer. 

So many online discussions focus on the importance of making training enjoyable for the dog.  We agree with that statement and teach our students at ISCDT to train dogs using methods that prevent stress. Training guidelines cannot end there.  There should be more discussions on keeping dog owners happy too.

A few years ago I went to a doctor who charged $100 for weekly visits. I have insurance and was not thrilled with the out-of-network fee, but agreed to it.  At the end of my third visit,  I went to pay and was informed there was a $10 fee for credit card payments. When did that policy begin?

Had they informed me of this new policy before my appointment, I would have brought cash.  They did not give me that option.  The way they handled this change of policy angered me. While I could have brought cash moving forward to avoid the $10 fee, I worried the doctor would continue to implement additional policy changes without providing prior notice.

So how does my problem pertain to dog owners? Dogs will happily abandon a walking lesson and switch to a place lesson.  They don’t care what you do, as long as you spend time with them. The human client, the one who hired and paid you, may not be as forgiving when policies change without notice.

No one wants to hire a dog trainer, only to learn afterwards that company policies don’t align with their beliefs or lifestyle. When dog trainers have policies and procedures in place, owners know what to expect when they sign up for your services.  

Where to post policies and procedures

You can choose to include policies on your website.  Dog trainer policies and procedures should also be detailed in your dog-training service agreement.

During the evaluation, it’s a good idea to discuss dog training policies and procedures with your clients. With some creativity, you can work those policies into the conversation while discussing your dog training style.

What is the difference between Policies and Procedures?

According to the UW – Madison’s policy library, a policy is a general written document that establishes a standard by which the company manages its affairs.  Policies mandate, specifies and prohibits conduct that fails to enhance the company’s mission. It also ensures compliance with applicable laws and regulations.  Policies reduce legal risks for dog trainers.

A procedure is a description of the operational process necessary to implement those policies. Example:

Policy:  When canceling an appointment, the client must provide 24 hours notice.

Procedure:  Clients may  call, text or email XYZ Dog Training Company to cancel their appointment. 

Phone number is :  555-555-5555

Email:  cancelinghurtsyourprogress@fmail.com

Policies that Establish Boundaries

Living with an aggressive or difficult dog is hard.  My heart breaks for families who welcome dogs into their home only to discover their dog has serious problems.  I spend hours each day worried for the family, the dog and the situation.  

The compassion and empathy I feel for this family does not mean they can stomp all over my life. They need to pay for dog training, show up on time for lessons and should not call me on Christmas morning to ask how to handle pushy family members (true story).

The following policies establish boundaries:

Payment plans – Do you require a deposit when clients sign up?  When is the balance due? Most trainers expect payment at the first lesson.  If you decide to break down dog training fees into payments, be clear when the payments are due.

Payment options – You can accept Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, credit cards, cash and checks. Offer payment options upfront so there is no confusion when payment is due.

Refunds – Dog trainers typically do not provide refunds.  Whether you decide to issue refunds or not, make sure your refund policy is clearly described on your website and in your dog-trainer contract.

Cancellation policy (or lack thereof) – My biggest pet peeve are repeated cancellations.  Not only does it affect our wallet, repeatedly rescheduling appointments suggests that the client is not taking training seriously enough.  

Will you allow cancellations?  If so, how much notice do you require? How should clients contact you to cancel?  What fees or policies will you impose when they cancel?

No-shows – There is nothing more frustrating than showing up at someone’s house for a dog-training lesson to find out the family forgot about the lesson.  What is your policy for clients who don’t show up for the lesson?  Will you charge a rescheduling fee or will they lose the lesson?  

What steps do you take to remind clients about upcoming lessons?  Write your policy about no-shows and the procedure you take to remind people.

Lateness – How will you handle a client who shows up late to a class?  If I am 5 minutes late to an appointment, I make up that time by staying five minutes later than scheduled . When the client is late, they miss out on part of the lesson.  In that case, the lesson ends on time so I arrive promptly for my next appointment.

Media releases – Trainers like to showcase their work.  Rather than asking each time if you can record parts of the lesson, get permission from clients beforehand by including media releases in your contract.

Guarantee:  We’ve discussed guarantees in a previous blog post.  Dog trainers should never guarantee their work. The dog owner’s commitment to training determines the outcome.  That said, you can guarantee great customer service. 

Contact:   Clients can text or email me 7 days a week.  I do not offer an option for clients to call me directly because I would never arrive at dog training lessons on time if I had to speak to everyone.   If they choose to call, their call goes to the office. I return the call when I have sufficient time to dedicate to their issue. My clients should feel valued and not rushed.  

After a certain hour, I put my phone away until morning.  I used to respond to messages all night long. That was not fair to my family or my mental health.  Unless the dog or family is in danger, the response can wait until morning. Decide how you want clients to contact you. Include hours for contacting you.

Hours of Service – At the evaluation, let clients know which days and time frames you train.  Prospective client are informed of the days and hours that I train. If a potential client can only train on Sundays and Mondays (my days off), I refer them to another trainer in our company.  

Sticking to Your Appointment Schedule

We recommend you plan out your hours of training and stick to that schedule.   Here is an Example:

This is my schedule for Tuesdays:

11:00 – noon

12:30 to 1:30

4:30 – 5:30

6:00 to 7:00

7:30 to 8:30

If a client is offered a 4:30 lesson, I cannot accept request to meet them at 5:00. Changing that meeting to 5:00 pm, prevents me from getting to my 6:00 pm lesson.  This means I lose out on one lesson that day.  Instead, I offer them a later time.

Likewise, I do not take requests for a 9:30 a.m. lesson. We all need time to take care of personal obligations and to get some rest.  Failing to provide “me time” can lead to burnout.

I also worry that fatigue will cause me to make a mistake.  Mistakes get us bitten.

Policies and Procedures For Safety and to lower the risk of lawsuits

As I mentioned above, establishing policies  protects our clients and their dogs.  When it comes to safety, dog trainers have policies and procedures covering that area in their dog-training contracts:

Client’s involvement in training – If the client does not work with their dog, they will not reach their dog-training goals.  Describe the amount of work you expect from clients each day/week.

Required vaccines – Whether you offer group lessons, board and train or invite clients to practice in public spaces, dogs should be vaccinated.  Let clients know upfront what vaccines are required for your dog-training classes.

Unaltered dogs – Who wants to worry about one client dog impregnating another while under your care? Certainly not me. 

Another concern is the unaltered male who escapes your property in search of a nearby female in heat.  Implement rules on unaltered males and females attending group lessons, coming to your home/facility for training or training in public locations (dogs can get loose). 

Safety procedures – We require all dogs be on a leash when we arrive for an in-home evaluation.  I do not want any dogs approaching me before I’ve had the opportunity to read their body language and determine if it’s safe.  

I also require dogs who exhibited aggression toward me during the evaluation  (or those with a bite record), to wear a muzzle during training. This rule protects you, the dog and your client.   What safety procedures will you have in place?

Behavior in class – An aggressive, reactive or unruly dog can ruin a class for other dogs and their owners.  This can prevent people from enrolling in future training classes with you.

Another negative behavior that affects group lessons are unruly children running around or snacking on the training floor.  Young kids can be rough to have at your group lesson. Include  policies for children and dogs attending group lessons.

Dress code – I cringe when people train dogs in sandals or flip flops.  On a good day I may trip while wearing flip flops.  Now people are doing turns and walking backwards while training a dog. Do you want to risk a twisted ankle or a dog bite to the foot?   Choosing the type of  footwear you require during your  lessons is not a bad idea.  

What about shorts?  I would never train a client dog in shorts. I wear jeans all summer just to make sure there is some sort of protection for my legs should a dog bite me. It is difficult to tell a client how to dress in a home lesson, but for group lessons or board and train visits, it’s feasible. Are there any articles of clothing you would ban?

When it comes to dogs, what tools will you allow in your class? Which is prohibited?  These are things to consider. 

Approaching other dogs:  Will you allow dogs to approach one another in your class?  If you teach a puppy class you will answer yes. After all, clients sign up for puppy classes so they can  socialize their young dogs.

How about lessons for older dogs? As dogs mature they become more selective with style of play. Is it a good idea to allow dogs to meet on leash or is it safer to train without dog-on-dog contact?  

What are your thoughts on adults and children interacting with other dogs in your group lesson? How well do you know the dogs in your classes?  What triggers them?  Are they fearful dogs?  This interaction on your watch may cost you that watch and much more.  Something to consider.

Employee policies and procedures

Some day your dog-training business will grow so much that you have to hire employees to meet the demands of your clients.  Start thinking about employee policies now so you’re ready to welcome staff members. Even when it comes to hiring staff, dog trainers have policies and procedures in place. Here are some policies to include:

Hours and overtime pay

Rate of pay

Dress code

Lunch and breaks

Rules of conduct



Help me, help you!

Much like children, not too many of us like to be told,  “you can’t,”  “we will not allow it.”  

Your written policies and procedures should be short and clearly written.  When explaining policies to your client, add some creativity. Here are a couple examples:

Rather than: “Text me. Don’t call.”

Instead, I say, “Clients may text me seven days a week.  I may not get back to you right away. I don’t take calls when I train. It isn’t fair for me to show up late to your lesson because I am speaking to another client.  I am happy to schedule a phone conversation during my training break.”

Rather than: “Don’t interact with the other dogs in the group.”

Instead, I ask, “that no one  interact with other dogs during our group lesson.  For some dogs, participating in group lessons is horrifying.  We want to raise their confidence in their owner. Forcing them to interact can hinder that outcome for the dog and his owner.”

Let’s not be the NO person, posing policies. Explaining policies beforehand demonstrates respect and compassion for your clients. It also helps people to understand why those policies are in place.

Revisit policies

Laws are amended.  Business models evolve.  Your situation changes.  Review your policies and procedures each year to make sure they: 

  1. Achieve your desired results
  2. Remain consistent with rules, regulations and current training practices
  3. Are clearly written and consistently followed

If those policies do not serve you well and help you keep control over your daily operation, adjust, add or delete them.

What policies do you have in place for your dog-training business?  We’d love to hear about them.

An attorney should help you create your dog-trainer contract. Click here to see samples of policies and procedure templates.

Written by Katie McKnight

Photo by:  Lucrezia Carnelos

ISCDT Dog Trainer Program

ISCDT’s online dog trainer program  consists of 18 hands-on lessons, where students are required to work with dogs. Skill and ability is determined through a series of videos submitted to your personal ISCDT mentor.  Students are also responsible for written homework assignments. In addition to the online program, we also offer one-and-two-week in-person shadow programs.

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