With over $100 billion generated in sales in 2020 alone, there’s no doubt that the pet industry continues to go from strength to strength. One aspect of the industry that sees continuous growth is dog training. No matter your location or specialized area of dog training, it seems there will be no shortage of potential clients for your services.
Although we haven’t quite reached the saturation point in the dog training industry, there are certainly ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors. One great way to do this is to gain further education in the field. We found in our 2020 National Dog Trainer survey that trainers who undertook formal education in dog training had greater earning potential (trainers with formal education had an average annual income of $64,800, compared with just over $46,000 for trainers without education), so gaining education through a formal program – like the courses we offer here at the School for Dog Trainers – has undeniable benefits.
In the latest edition of our Graduate Showcase series, we spoke to Jessica Geas, owner of Petrichor K9 based in Rhode Island. Jess has worked with detection dogs for over a decade, and has completed our Master Dog Trainer program. Alongside her German Shorthaired Pointer, Murphy, Jess has an incredible passion for training dogs and achieving the best results for her clients.
In the interview below, Jess speaks about her background with dogs, the benefits she gained from studying at the School for Dog Trainers, and her future aspirations for Petrichor K9.
Please tell me a little bit about your business, Petrichor K9, and the services it offers.
Petrichor K9’s goal is to help humans and their dogs create happy lives together through clear communication and trust. We offer group classes (currently not happening due to ever-changing Covid regulations….) and private one-on-one sessions for owners looking to work with their dogs on basic obedience or some behavior modification. I also occasionally offer board and train to those looking for off leash adventures.
When I first started Petrichor K9 I wanted to offer bed bug detection services but helping people with their pets has become a full time gig. I have offered nose work classes using the kits as well as training on bedbug odor to those brave enough to find interest.
Could you tell me a little bit about your background with dogs prior to attending the course at the School for Dog Trainers?
In 2006, I joined the United States Air Force as a Security Forces member (basically an MP). I chose that specific career field with the sole intent to become a K9 handler, but I hit a few bumps in the road. My first attempt came to an abrupt halt when I tore my ACL while waiting for my school date. On my second attempt, my application was denied due to lack of time left on my enlistment and my school slot wasn’t guaranteed even if I did reenlist, and that wasn’t a gamble I was willing to take.
So I finished out my enlistment and started seeking alternate routes of how to accomplish what I set out to do. I went through a civilian law enforcement academy in Brevard County, FL, but I decided that wasn’t the route I wanted to take. I worked for Southern Coast K9 in New Smyrna for a brief period of time, taking in as much as I possibly could. As a kennel tech there I got my butt handed to me by hundreds of dogs, but it was worth it when one of the trainers took me under his wing and allowed me to shadow as long as my duties were completed.
That’s when it clicked – I wanted to train. I wanted to be more than a handler, I wanted to understand the science, the motivation, what really went into the working dog. My next step would be to find a place to further my education.
How did you first hear about Highland Canine/School for Dog Trainers?
Highland came up relatively quick as I was researching schools that would accept my GI Bill.
Which program did you study at the School for Dog Trainers?
I studied the six-month Master Dog Trainer program.
Can you provide some insight into how your education at Highland helped you to start your own business? How do you use what you learned at Highland in your day-to-day business activities?
Highland was very well rounded in the curriculum which was naturally beneficial for those looking to venture into their own business. As much as everyone dreaded staying in the classroom for ‘business week’, I almost wish it had been longer knowing what I know now.
I use quite a few techniques on a daily basis that Highland taught me. Providing broken down, simple explanations to clients can be challenging, and I remember Jason referencing dogs basically being on our ‘payroll’. If we stop leading and paying our dogs, they can decide to not work nearly as hard for us (if at all). This seems to provide that “a-ha” lightbulb moment with my clients. Communication is key when you’re training both humans and dogs, so I think back to how things were explained to me and helped me to better understand.
How easy (or difficult) did you find it to transition to running your own business?
My transition to becoming fully sustainable was more or less what I expected. There were times I really wasn’t sure if I would ever get there, but I also knew it wouldn’t be quick and easy.
I worked another full-time job for my first three years, then in 2019, I was offered an amazing opportunity to partner with Harbor Animal Hospital in Warren, RI. The hospital offered me training space, kennels, a fully stocked client database, as well as my very own office. I have officially been partnered with Harbor for over a year and that network has helped me skyrocket even through the current pandemic. In year four I continue to learn, adapt and grow.
What is your favorite aspect of running your own business?
One thing I appreciate more than anything is my free time. I moved back home to Rhode Island to be with friends and family, so to be able to actually have time to spend with them and help them when needed is probably my favorite part. But more than that, I get really excited at the thought of being capable of creating a successful business out of nothing. While I’m primarily a one woman show, I couldn’t have done it without some amazing human beings who gave me a shot and then spread the word. I have some of the most amazing friends who started as clients, word of mouth is incredibly powerful.
Today's students at Highland are graduating into an industry which is experiencing significant year-on-year growth. This obviously has many positives, but it also makes it a very competitive industry to be successful in. Do you have any advice for graduates from Highland who are thinking of starting their own business in this industry?
This is certainly a growing and desirable career field and there are plenty of other trainers in my area. My mom always used to say there’s a butt for every seat – I believe that. Not every client is going to click with the personality of their trainer, that’s something I have come to find out. I have picked up many clients that said they didn’t vibe well with another trainer but worked incredibly well with me. I humbly accept that might be the case with some of the individuals I consult with. That’s okay! Be okay with that. Competition only exists if you’re doing the same things as everyone else!
What are your future aspirations for Petrichor K9?
I really love the pace I’m keeping right now – I feel I’m right where I should be. I would absolutely love to have my own small facility, an acre or two with indoor and outdoor training space as well as a small kennel. Part of me would still really love to be a handler and get more involved with working dogs but that’s a much bigger pond with some much bigger fish. As long as my mind is open and my passion continues to drive me I believe there is plenty of opportunity for growth in my future.
Read more in this series:
Graduate Showcase: Anna Shreeves & Walk SLO Pet Care
Graduate Showcase: Carmen Nixon, David Berlak & Paw by Paw Dog Training
Graduate Showcase: Steve Rigden & Taipei Dog Training
Graduate Showcase: Rebekah Collins & LittleRose Canine Services
Graduate Showcase: James Leung & Hong Kong Canine
Graduate Showcase: Katie Weibel & Appalachian Dog Training