Are you thinking of becoming a professional dog trainer, or considering starting your own business in this ever-expanding field?
Although entering this demanding industry can be challenging – not only requiring a high level of expertise and understanding of canine behavior, but also business acumen and solid decision-making skills – it can also reward like no other.
In the latest installment of our Graduate Showcase series, we spoke with Carmen Nixon and David Berlak – owners of Paw by Paw Dog Training in Potomac, Maryland. Carmen is a graduate of the Master Dog Trainer program and David is a graduate of the 12-week Police K9 program at the School for Dog Trainers.
We asked Carmen and David about their time at the School for Dog Trainers, the challenges and rewards of running their own business, and their future aspirations.
What is the philosophy of Paw by Paw Dog Training?
At Paw by Paw Dog Training, we believe in cultivating a happy, healthy, and respectful relationship between pet parent and canine based on clear and effective communication. It is through this philosophy that we strive to keep dogs out of shelters and ensure a loving and supportive family environment. We are proud to work with dogs of all breeds, ages, and temperaments.
We offer the following services: Puppy 101, Obedience 101, Behavior Modification and on a case-by-case basis, Service Dogs.
Could you tell us a little about your respective backgrounds?
Carmen: I am a Salvadoran/American Master Dog Trainer and moved to the U.S. in 2011. For eight years, I worked as a part-time Veterinary Assistant at a veterinary office in San Salvador.
In 2014, I completed a 960-hour Master Dog Trainer course at Highland Canine School for Dog Trainers, where I studied a variety of training methods including basic obedience, behavior modification, search and rescue, police K-9, service dogs, and canine first aid/CPR.
For the past four years I have worked with over 800 dogs and focused my expertise on service dog training, obedience, and behavior modification. I believe in the importance of building a strong bond to create a vibrant human-dog team.
David: I am an experienced K-9 police and military dog trainer. I moved to D.C. from Israel in 2015 to expand my skill set at Highland Canine School for Dog Trainers. During the 480-hour program, I studied a variety of training methods including positive and balanced method, as well as nutrition and first aid/CPR for dogs.
I have worked with over 1,000 dogs of all breeds, ages, and temperaments and have conducted several specialized seminars for police and military dog handlers in the U.S.
I believe the first step towards any successful relationship is communication. At Paw by Paw Dog Training, I work to build a foundation of trust between each client and their dog through customized training plans.
Can you tell us about the process that led you both to starting Paw by Paw?
We met in 2016 while living in DC and formed an immediate connection after discovering we had both completed our studies at Highland Canine and had similar career goals and training techniques. In April 2017, we created Paw by Paw Dog Training and formed a partnership with a PetValu store in Potomac, MD. Through a lot a of dedication and hard work, we have formed a strong and loyal client base in the DC metro area. We now work with over 90 clients a week.
How did your education at the School for Dog Trainers help you to start your own business?
Our education at Highland was fundamental in developing and growing our training programs, as well as implementing techniques to assess each of our clients’ needs.
We also credit Highland with opening our minds to an array of training methods and teaching us how to work with unique dog personalities and behavioral issues.
How easy (or difficult) did you find it to transition to running your own business?
Starting and running our own business has been challenging at times, but also incredibly rewarding. The most challenging part was building our client base from scratch and learning how to best work with our dog owners to ensure our programs meet their goals.
What is your favorite aspect of running your own business?
Our favorite aspect of running the business is being able to customize our programs to fit the individual training needs of our clients. This has helped ensure that both our human and canine clients remain happy as they establish boundaries and build a loving and healthy relationship together.
Do you have any advice for graduates from the School for Dog Trainers?
Our strongest recommendation for students thinking about starting their own business is to practice working with different types of clients. The most important thing you can do as a business owner is keep your clients happy while working toward and accomplishing their goals.
As business owners, it’s also paramount that we establish training plans that our clients enjoy and will want to practice at home. This helps ensure that our training plans build healthy relationships between pet parent and dog.
What are your future aspirations for Paw by Paw?
Our future aspirations for Paw by Paw are to continue to grow our client base by introducing a new location that will allow us to expand our services into agility lessons, nosework, doggie daycare, and other boutique services.