Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in pet training but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Staci Lemke, Owner of Manners for Mutts Dog Training, located in Irvine, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Manners for Mutts offers a wide variety of training services. Whether you have a puppy, an adolescent, or an adult dog, I offer basic training through private in-home training plans or group classes. I help people experiencing more difficult problems, such as destructiveness, fearfulness, or excessive barking, to improve their dog's behavior. Besides the basics of dog training, Manners for mutts also offer some unique services. For instance, I offer training specifically for families with children and dogs. I work with the whole family – parents, kids, and dogs to teach everyone how to interact. Kids learn to respect the family dog and how to take an active part in training him. Dogs learn not to chase, jump on, or use the kids as chew toys. Parents learn how to teach the dog skills like sit, down, and come when called, which every dog should know. Families love it, and it's fun to work with the kids and their dogs! Along with my in-person training, I offer virtual private lessons so I can help people outside of my service area and a variety of online courses designed to help people with topics such as raising and training a new puppy, recall (come when called), walking on a leash and living with an adolescent dog.

Tell us about yourself

I guess it goes without saying that I've been an animal lover all my life. I've had pets of varying species all my life; I raised project animals in high school with Future Farmers of America (FFA) and worked on several horse ranches. What really got me started in dog training was working in a Veterinary Clinic. Along with being a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), I am a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT). I saw all these dogs coming in with behavior problems – fearful, aggressive, and unable to be handled for examination or treatment. Owners, too, complained about the same behavior problems over and over – going potty in the house, puppy play biting, barking, jumping, and stealing food off the counters, among others. You could hear the frustration in their voices.

We also had dogs that were brought to the hospital to be euthanized because of behavior problems. They would guard objects and bite anyone that tried to take them away or were so destructive when left alone that they were hurting themselves and costing the owners thousands of dollars. One dog was brought in to be euthanized because the owners had just had a baby the dog was acting now aggressive toward the owners. It's a sad situation when a dog owner is so frustrated with their dog's behavior that they are considering putting the dog to sleep. I knew many of the behaviors I was seeing could be prevented or improved if the owners just had some help and guidance and the dogs just had some training. I decide to start teaching training classes at the clinic. I started with puppy classes that concentrated on preventing behavior problems. The classes were incredibly popular, so much so that after a short while, we had a waiting list for people to get in! It sort of took on a life of its own and kept growing. I added more and more classes and finally started doing private in-home training. That's when I started Manners for Mutts. That was in 2003. I ran it as a part-time business until January 2016, when I retired from veterinary medicine and decided to go full-time into dog training.

What keeps me motivated is providing a service that enhances relationships – the relationship between dogs and owners. I want dogs to be a part of the family and to be able to participate fully in family activities. After all, companionship is the primary reason people own dogs. On the flip side, behavior problems are the number 1 reason dogs are relinquished to shelters. When I can help someone improve their dog's behavior, I can help make the relationship better, and ultimately, the dog stays in the home. Happy owner, happy dog, happily ever after – Now that's a success!

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Taking my business from a side hustle to a full-time, lucrative, and sustainable career in less than 3 years.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

The biggest struggle I have is promoting myself. It's really hard for me to go into a business and say, "Hey, have you met me!" When I first started running the business full-time, I put together informational packets and drove around town, passing them out to dog-related businesses and vet's offices. It felt very awkward at first, but once I forced myself out of my comfort zone, it really paid off. I have wonderful relationships with many of the vets, groomers, and dog walkers near me and have formed a great working relationship with a local Dog Daycare facility where I teach my group classes.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Realize that running a business is hard work, especially when you're a one-person show like I am. You will work harder than if you were someone's employee.
  2. People will try to tell you all the reasons why you shouldn't, don't listen to them!
  3. Give back to your community. I love participating in community events and local pet fairs.

Where can people find you and your business?


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