Obedience: Improving Client Compliance

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Many service providers struggle with client compliance. Whether it be a car mechanic who wants clients to regularly service their vehicles, a doctor who requires a patient to improve their eating habits or a dog trainer who recommends regular exercise for a dog to improve their behaviour. It can be frustrating for us when a client does not comply and it is hard not to take it personally; we may feel that we have failed them, be angry at the client for not doing the work or sad for the dog who we may believe is being treated unfairly by the client not doing the work. Relationships are complex with a lot going on between yourself, the client and the dog that could be affecting the progress. If you have not already, I recommend you read my post They are not Dog Trainers. In this post, we are going to look at ways to gain a better understanding of challenges with client compliance and brainstorm ideas on how we can improve it!

Relationship Building
This is a critical part of the job for a dog trainer, as we know if we do not get through to the person, we are going to have limited success with the dog. We need to take the time to develop this relationship with the client so that they feel comfortable with us and trust us. Most dog trainers need to build on and develop their interpersonal and communication, as I feel so many ignore the value of this important skillset. I believe that is our responsibility to develop this relationship and make it work, regardless of how we may feel about the client. This is an in depth topic, and I highly recommend The Human Half of Dog Training by Rise VanFleet. This is a brilliant book and one that every dog trainer should read!

Help Them Set the Right Goals
One of the first things you should do with a client is ask them what their goals and/or expectations are from the training. Often clients only think about the end goal or have set unrealistic expectations for their dogs. By helping to set smaller, more attainable goals, you also help improve compliance. This is because they begin to see more immediate results, which in turn motivates them to do the training. If they feel like things are too much work or too difficult, most will begin to feel overwhelmed and discouraged with the training. On the other side of this, sometimes clients do not expect enough from their dogs or feel like they will be unable to attain a reachable goal. By helping them obtain and surpass these goals, you build their confidence, which also helps to motivate them to do the training.

Ensure they are in the correct training program/class. If it is not, it may cause a regression in the behaviour or put the client and dog under unnecessary stress. It is not a failure on our part if a dog is not a good fit for a program, but we are failing the dog and the client if we do not set them up with the correct option. An example of this would be a dog that enrolls in a regular obedience program and they find the class too over-stimulating or become fearful. We should consider a reactive or shy dog class for the dog, but we may be hesitant to recommend this and instead try to resolve this concern in the current program. By doing this, you will not see the same level of success and it is likely stressful and unenjoyable for both the dog and the client. At the same time, you could also be inhibiting the success of the other dogs in the class. This is unfair to everyone and will lessen the chances this client will remain with you for training with their dog. Help them by providing them the guidance to find the right fit; whether it be another class or private training option. The right program is a critical part of client compliance and success!

Create Mini Compliance Checks
I do these more to gather information and better understand the level of commitment from the client. However, keep in mind that some of these tools or resources are not ideal for the client, so it may just provide you additional information on what they require for their learning.

For private training, dogma sends out a history questionnaire with the request that it be returned before we meet. If a client does not do this, we just go through it during the initial consult, but we do tell them that more of our time will be spent on this at the session (we also include that information when we first send out the questionnaire). We must always have some history before we meet, so at the very least request a brief summary of the concerns. However, completed questionnaires are mandatory for aggression cases. Some clients provide great detail and some fill it out quickly and in short form. This helps us to understand how to format our summaries to them as well. There may be legitimate reasons for them not completing the questionnaire, but I do make note of it as a potential sign of limited compliance.

For group classes, we send out a summary email from the orientation and request confirmation that they have received it. We follow up with those that don’t confirm, which has resulted in better communication with us and more of them reading the resources. We have also hid questions or created opportunities to win prizes within our handouts. They really enjoy this and provides some positive reinforcement for reading the materials. Knowing their preferences helps me to better assist them, which may just mean I point them to key resources versus requiring them to read large amounts.

Get it in Writing
For private training services when we train the dog for the client, we cover our expectations within our agreement. We state and have them sign that the success of the training is dependent on their commitment to the work they do with the dog as per our program. We mandate a review session with them for every four sessions or at the end of the program, depending on the service. We provide this at a discounted rate to encourage them to take advantage of the extra training and support. We also track the dog’s progress, and if we feel the training at home is not being done, we put a hold on our training and work with client on what is required of them. We ensure this is always done through a collaborative decision as we know life can get busy, so never want to put the client under too much pressure. However, the success of the training reflects on us, so we want to ensure the client understands the expectations right up front.

Consider Levels Training Classes
When I did regular progression classes that ran once weekly, I began to observe that students were at varying levels throughout the classes, some took the classes seriously while others didn’t, and some just needed more time to learn the skills. It was hard to address everyone’s concerns and I just didn’t like the way the system worked. As a solution, I developed our urbanK9 program and it has tremendously helped increase compliance and our retention rates. The clients receive a checklist for each class and must obtain all of the skills to move to the next level. It is a drop in format so works within their lifestyle and allows them to progress at their own pace. It has been a win-win for all!

Don’t Take it Personally
This was a hard one for me to get through. You never know what your clients may be going through or what experiences they have had in the past and how these may impact their commitment to training their dog. It is not realistic to expect 100% success with every client, so do not dwell on the ones that are not compliant, or allow them to make you feel like a failure. They may have different expectations for their dogs at home and sometimes another trainer is just a better fit for them. Take the time to discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions with fellow trainers, track your successes and focus on the positives!

Do you have other ideas for improving client compliance or tools that have worked well? Do you work in another industry but experience some of the same concerns and have some unique ideas we could apply? Share your thoughts in the comments below! Feel free to email me at megan@dogmatraining.com with any questions!

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