Since 2006, the School for Dog Trainers has welcomed numerous prospective dog trainers from around the world. Our comprehensive dog trainer programs have helped to set several of our graduates on their way to starting successful businesses in this competitive industry (94% of our graduates are either employed as professional dog trainers, or have started their own dog training business). Earlier this year, we unveiled our Southeast Campus, and we are excited to be able to provide our programs to a wider pool of dog training professionals.
Our Dog Obedience and Behaviorist Program is the starting place for many of our graduates. This program is offered in six, eight or twelve week increments, and it allows students to gain a true understanding of canine behavior. The course is a mixture of hands-on training and classroom theory, teaching students how to identify, apply and resolve dog behavioral problems. Students learn from a world-class team of experts who have years of experience of dealing with dogs and their owners.
In the latest of our Graduate Showcase series, we spoke to Manda Ballard – founder, owner and head trainer at DogMore Academy. Based in Allegan, MI, serving clients across west Michigan, Manda graduated from the School for Dog Trainers in 2015, completing what is now our Obedience and Behaviorist program.
In this interview, we caught up with Manda to learn more about DogMore Academy; find out about her history with dogs prior to attending the School for Dog Trainers; and her advice for upcoming graduates.
Please tell us about DogMore Academy and the services it offers.
DogMore Academy is based in Allegan, MI. We serve the surrounding areas of west Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Holland.
We provide in-home dog training, and our training is always tailored to the training goals of our clients. We currently offer three training programs – Elite, Complete and Manners. The programs vary in duration and cover different aspects of dog training, from obedience commands to E-collar training. In the future, we’re looking at introducing online training, and further out, board and train options at a dedicated facility (currently in development).
One additional service we have introduced is our WalkMore Drop-In Clinic, which takes place every Wednesday evening. Every DogMore Academy client has lifetime access to these sessions. WalkMore provides a lot of benefits for our clients – it gives them access to professional advice, allows them to ask any questions they might have about a new behavior they are seeing in their dog, and overall, it’s just a great opportunity for socialization (for the owner and the dog!).
Could you tell us a little bit about your background with dogs, prior to attending the program at the School for Dog Trainers?
Sure. So I guess like a lot of dog trainers, I’ve always loved animals. A lot of my childhood was spent on my family’s small hobby farm with so many different kinds of animals.
Growing up, I wanted to be a vet tech, just like my Mom. But when I was 16, I got a job working at a dog daycare and boarding facility, and it completely altered my perspective. I could see how dog owners would come to the facility and would talk about all of their frustrations with their dog, and a lot of them just had no idea about how to resolve them. It was clear to me that the main problem was a communication barrier. This was stopping them from living a harmonious, happy life with their dog, and it motivated me to help them.
How did you first hear about School for Dog Trainers?
I was looking for an in-person program as opposed to online – a place where I could go and learn hands-on dog training. Honestly, when I searched online for dog trainer courses, this was one of the only schools where I could find good information about the program.
Can you provide some insight into how you use the things you learned at the School for Dog Trainers in your day-to-day business activities?
You know, probably the most important thing I learned is that it’s so important to keep an open mind when it comes to dog training. There are a hundred ways to train a dog, and we should always have an open mind.
During my studies, I remember watching videos that weren’t exactly in line with the methods we were learning. However, we acknowledged everything that was good and everything that could be better. You can always learn, even from the philosophies or methods you don’t agree with. The way I train now may be a little different from what I learned there, but it’s because of what I learned at the School for Dog Trainers that I was open to trying different things and discovered what works well for me and my clients.
How easy (or difficult) did you find it to transition to running your own business?
The transition felt good, but it was also really scary at times. It’s definitely been tough, especially when things slowed down, but overall it is very rewarding. I definitely don’t have any regrets about it, that’s for sure.
What is your favorite aspect of running your own business?
Not having a boss! And freedom. The freedom to make my own schedule and choose the clients I want to work with.
And also, with getting our facility ready, it’s been a really fun project to watch it transform from nothing and see how it is coming together. It will be even more fun when it opens, we’re excited about that.
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?
My advice would be to forget about the competition and make friends with them. There is more than enough business for everyone, and if you know what you’re doing, people will come. I’ve received referrals from my competition before. In most places across the country you’ll find that if you are a good dog trainer and you know how to teach dogs (and people), you’ll make a success of it.
What are your future aspirations for your business?
The main one for us right now is to get our facility open for board and train clients. That’s a longer-term project, but it’s the most important one for the business.
We’re also starting to get more things going with service dogs – from helping people to select the right puppy, to working with people who already have a dog that they are training to be a service dog.
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
Graduate Showcase: Jessica Geas & Petrichor K9
Graduate Showcase: Patrice Goldston & Dynamic Dogs of NC
Graduate Showcase: Camila Jaramillo & Good Dog