Basic Manners Training: Why Common Courtesy and Being Polite Matters

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Imagine two scenarios:

In the first one, a new student is showing up with their rambunctious puppy to their very first puppy training class. They are nervous and excited and do not know what to expect. They begin to approach the business, the door opens and they are welcomed with a smiling person, in clothing with the business’s name on it, who says a cheerful hello, introduces themselves with a handshake, asks their puppy’s name and welcomes them to class. They help the new student get their puppy in the door and direct them to where they should sit. As soon as the new student moves on, they are happily greeted by another worker who helps them to their spot, checks them in to class and gives them a few pointers on how to keep their puppy settled while the rest of the class comes in.

In the second one, this same student struggles to get the door open, keep their puppy with them and not trip over them. They are greeted with a hello and smile but no welcome or handshake introduction. They are asked their puppy’s name. The person is kind and smiling and asks them to take a seat. No one interacts with them until the class starts.

The second one is not poor service, but it is far from excellence. It lacks the common courtesy from the first scenario and has not put the client at ease. Yes, this may be specific to a dog training the class, but the same applies for any time a client walks into a business the first time. They are unsure of what to expect, so why not go above and beyond their expectations? And do not just think about it as a first impression, but as something that should happen every time they walk through your door or communicate with you via email, phone or through your social media channels. In this post, I am going to go through all of these ways that we communicate with our clients and how to provide excellence in customer service for each through the simple act of common courtesy and being polite. I will be discussing this in the context of dog training, but these apply to any business.

The Basics
The basics are the simple gestures of a smile, handshake and eye contact. When you meet someone for the first time you should always extend this basic social gesture. This includes everyone in the family, including children. I’m always amazed at how many children do not expect you to introduce yourself to them. It is just as important to put them at ease and build a rapport as it is their parents. Take the time to meet each family member before interacting with their dog. When you do say hello to the dog, be sure to provide a compliment such as “You have the best ears” or “I love your full body wiggles”. Just be sure to say something different for each dog in the class and be genuine. Do not forget to introduce youself each class if a new family member attends the training. You should take care to also record the names of all family members on your attendance to ensure you remember these for each class. And greet each of them individually for every class. Ask them how they are doing, inquire about how things are going with a specific challenge they had or discuss something they mentioned at a previous class. This demonstrates that you are genuinely interested in them and their dog.

I know many dog trainers struggle with this because either the class is busy, there are other distractions or because we immediately start thinking of solutions to their questions or struggles instead of listening. However, I also think in today’s world we are bombarded by so many distractions that this can be a challenge for many of us. When a client asks you a question or is discussing something with you, stop what you are doing and listen. Be aware of your body language with this one. If you are thinking about what tasks you have to complete, or about your phone beeping in your pocket, or anything else, your body language will show that. Look at the person, lean towards them, nod your head and listen. A great idea is to also paraphrase while they are talking to you. For example, if they are discussing the frustrations of their puppy constantly mouthing them, say something like “It must be overwhelming when you feel like you cannot interact with your puppy without them using you as a chew toy.” This demonstrates that you are listening and are engaged with them.

Remembering Names
Have you said this one before? “I always remember the names of the dogs, but can never remember the people’s names.” Calling people by their first name has a tremendous impact and one that dog trainers often feel they can forget about as long as they remember the dog’s name. What you are actually doing is demonstrating that you just put more effort in the remembering the dog’s name and not the person’s name. Do not fall into this trap and make an active effort to remember everyone’s names. Refer regularly to your attendance list and make the effort to call them by their first name. I will often go and review the list before approaching students during exercises or to demo with their dogs. There is no harm in them seeing you make that effort to remember their name. This is a simple way to go above and beyond to build a relationship and provide excellence to the client.

Phone Courtesy
Do not answer the phone with just a hello. Even if it is your cell phone. Whichever number you give to clients to use is your business number, so always answer it like a business line. Sound cheerful and have a set greeting such as, “Hello, you’ve reached dogma training & pet services. This is Megan speaking, how may I help you?” This provides consistency if you have a team, and only designate team with exceptional client skills and proper phone etiquette to answer the phone. Answer the phone only if you have time to speak with the client. In an ideal world, the client should always hear a live person on the phone, but I know this can be a challenge at certain times. If there is too much noise, you cannot give your full attention due to any type of distraction (for example, we can get very busy during pick up and drop off at our dog daycare), then let it go to voicemail. You are better to return their call when you can listen and have time for the client, then to answer, be distracted or have to tell them you are too busy and need to call them back. The same basic rules apply to phone etiquette; listen, smile and be polite. And always return phone calls in a timely manner. We aim for an hour during business hours, but have at least a 24 hour maximum return time. If you cannot do this, you need to look at solutions to increase your service.

Email Courtesy
First off, always answer emails in a timely fashion. If you do not answer them over holidays or weekends, be sure to communicate that or set up an auto-responder. Aim to always transmit warmth in your emails. Many people feel that communication gets lost in email, but I find it is more often that we do not take the time to extend genuine warmth and sincerity through them. To best describe this, let’s take a look at two examples. These are replies to a client, Anita, who has emailed an inquiry about training their new puppy.

Example 1:
Hello Anita,

We do offer puppy classes. Our Puppy School class starts next Wednesday at 7 pm and runs for one hour a week for six weeks. We will provide socialization exercises and basic training such as sit, coming when called and loose leash walking. You can register for the class by calling us or through our website.

Thank you.

Example 2:

Hello Anita,

Thank you for your email and congratulations on your new puppy! We understand that puppyhood can be a fun but challenging time, so our Puppy School classes are designed to help you teach your dog how to exist in our busy human world and to teach basic manners. We provide excellent socialization opportunities with people, other dogs, objects, noises and a variety of other exercises to help turn your puppy into the confident canine companion you desire. We will also teach basic obedience skills such as sit, coming when called and loose leash walking and help to prevent behaviour problems from developing.

Our entire training team is here to ensure you develop a successful relationship with your dog and we look forward to being a part of this journey. Our Puppy School class starts next Wednesday at 7 pm. The class runs for an hour, every Wednesday, for six consecutive weeks. You can register for the class by calling us at 555-865-0932 or through our website at

Please contact us if you have any further questions and we look forward to meeting you and Bear!

Thank you.

These examples demonstrate that you can extend that same warmth as you can in person. Always try to communicate more in your email exchanges versus just providing the basic information. This applies for all emails, not just when they first contact you. For example, if I had completed a private session with the dog I would start by saying what a pleasure it was to meet them and perhaps something I really enjoyed about the session. These small gestures go a long way in developing client relations. And always reply to emails. Even it if is just a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘you are welcome’ statement.

Social Media Courtesy
The world of social media is still fairly new to many businesses. Read through my post about social media to learn why this is important for today’s business. Social media is an ideal way to improve client relations and promote your business. Do not ignore this area and ensure you are frequently updating and providing your clients with new, engaging and relevant information. Take care to spell names correctly on pictures and to have proper grammar and spelling. Be as professional on your social media as you are in other areas. Social media is a new form of communication, so do not ignore it or put it on the back burner. If a client sends a message through Facebook, then provide a response in a timely fashion and with the same etiquette as you would through an email. Like or reply to client’s comments on Facebook, or mark Tweets and Instagram pictures as favourites. This is a simple way to develop relationships and interact frequently with your clients.

Past First Impressions
Go above and beyond every time you interact with your existing or potential clients. Treat everyone as equals and extend the same courtesy and manners throughout your entire relationship with them. By providing excellence in customer service and just taking those small steps to exude more warmth and a genuine interest, you develop long lasting relationships. The rapport you develop will be crucial in the success they have with their dogs. The more they feel that you care and the more trust the client has in you, the more commitment they will have to the training.

There are so many ways we can provide excellence in customer service through our overall manners. Do you have some other ideas or ways that you do this? Share your thoughts or suggestions below!



Call off the Dogs: Increase your Success by Removing Negativity

stick out tongues

Call off the dogs: to stop attacking or criticizing someone.

I’m writing this post specifically geared towards dog professionals as it continues to be an ongoing problem amongst us, which I think has to do with what a passionate and emotional group we are. Many times, I am ashamed by our industry, but overall I tend to feel disappointed. I am sure this happens within any industry, but I feel it is a large problem within dog training, or rather the pet industry as a whole; critiquing and fighting against each other. We are far too concerned about what others are doing, do not support each other and we are suffering for it. We are happy when another business makes a poor choice, fails with a client or is facing a challenge. We sit on the sidelines and judge each other, and we become obsessed with communicating what others are doing wrong. We have all been guilty of this and in the long run, we are only hurting ourselves. In today’s post, I am going to share some of the situations where we tend to react poorly, share some stories and identify how we can change our behaviour to bring more positive change to our industry.

“We took our dog to this dog training school and saw zero results and we were unhappy. We would like to register with your classes instead”

I know we have all heard this at one time or another. And it could be a very valid statement. However, what do we tend to first think about? We validate it by jumping to conclusions about all the things wrong that business did. In my experience, these should be more of a flag for us regarding lack of compliance. Or perhaps it was not the right approach or class for that client, but the business may not been aware of the challenges until the client was already there. And like we have experienced many times, the client may have appeared happy in class and never provided any feedback that their goals were not being met or even what their real concerns were. We have the advantage of starting out differently with this client because of this feedback. This does not make us better than the other training school. I always try to use this as more of a flag about client concerns versus a negative against another training school. In Calgary, we are full of excellent dog training schools, so if a client tries to complain about one, I do not participate and encourage the negative response. I may instead say, “I am sorry to hear this and I am sure it was just a miscommunication as we know that dog training school typically sees excellent results. We are happy to help you…” Do not encourage negativity and complaining, as you will then bring it into your business.

“They are stealing my ideas”

I know this is a hard one for all of us. I did write a full post on this topic as it is a challenging one for us. However, I think this is the most common concern amongst trainers. The industry is full of trends and over the years I have seen how this works. We have seen the introduction of fear and reactivity classes, playtimes for puppies, clinics and so much more. None of these ideas are unique and can be found around the world. We each have our own unique way of delivering the material and packaging our programs. We have our own client base and network. Unless someone steals an exact full program of yours or a specific name, try your best not to think about how they stole it from you, and instead think how wonderful it is to see they are offering it as well, and take it as a sign this new service is obviously in demand and will be successful. I have seen people tear themselves apart obsessing over what is being stolen from them. Put on your blinders and just keep focusing on what you are doing. Research similar businesses in other countries for new ideas and focus on what makes the most sense for your business, not on what others are doing. You truly get what you put out, so avoid focusing on the negative and what makes you angry, as this will have a negative impact on your business and your overall well-being.

“They are doing it all wrong”

We all do this at times and it has become one of the biggest problems of our industry. Ultimately, we are all reaching the same goals, but just have some different steps to get there. Or perhaps we have different goals and what one business is reaching for is not the same as another. For dogma, we do not strive for perfection in obedience. It is impressive and we love to encourage clients to excel at these skills, but we just take a different approach. It is not about a perfect sit stay, but perhaps a successful tool to prevent the dog from jumping on guests. This does not make one better than the other, so focus on your own business goals and match them to your client’s goals and forget about how everyone else is doing it. The main part is that you and your client are happy, and in turn you will see growth and continued success. It is a drain of your own energy to be concerned about how others are doing things. If you want to learn what is going on in the industry, attend conferences, seminars and participate in online learning. Focus on your own growth and match your programs to your own core values and goals.

“Another dog training business just opened, now I need to worry more about competition”

For an industry that is fighting for more regulations and increased awareness of proper training and handling techniques with the public, we should celebrate the growth of more businesses. The pet industry is booming, and this means nothing but good things for all of us. I hear this concern a lot and many question why my business focuses on building more competition as we operate a successful Dog Trainer Apprenticeship Program which has resulted in an influx of dog trainers in the city. Yes, we are creating our competition, but this is one of the things I am most proud of. There is room for all of us. Clients will choose what is a best fit for them, and this may just come down to something as simple as what time a class is offered. If you are struggling, take the time to look at your own marketing efforts. How are you promoting your business? What are you doing to network and get your name out in the industry? What relationships have you built? Review the success of your services and perhaps it is time to remove or add services. When things slow down, this is not the time to focus on competition and place blame elsewhere. You must listen to this feedback and make changes. You drive the direction of your business, not your competition.

Moving forward

Operating a business is full of challenges and rewards. As an owner, your behaviour and attitude reflects within your team, your messaging and your interactions with clients. Remove all the distractions and keep negativity away. The advice to remain positive is not just a cliché. It is a key component of your success. It takes time and it is hard, but the shift will have a huge impact on your business. Start small by identifying a negative, critical or judgemental thought when it enters your mind. Think about why you feel that way and how you could address it in a more positive light. Try to celebrate and be genuinely happy when others are successful. Block everything that brings negativity to you; this may be a social media group, a colleague or even a team member. I made a choice two years ago to begin removing all negativity from my business and although it has been a challenging path, it has been full of tremendous rewards I would not have achieved otherwise. Negativity holds you back and you’ve got way more to give. What a gift for us all when we begin to have a more positive impact. Take care of yourself and start this today.

While writing this, I have been thinking about ways I can change and promote this more as well. To start, I am going to bring back our shout outs we used to do every Saturday. It was an excellent way to promote other businesses and send out some great energy. I understand this is all much easier said than done, so I suggest you vow to start a small change today. For example, it may be to stop complaining. Or perhaps it may be to remove yourself from certain groups or people. Or it may just be to stop commenting on things that make you angry online. On a more proactive level, get out and network with others in your industry. Socialize with them and enjoy some great times together. Whatever it may be, start it today and begin seeing immediate positive results personally and for your business.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

They are not Dog Trainers!


The title above may seem like an obvious statement, it is one that I see forgotten about all too quickly by dog trainers. Although I imagine it is a relevant lesson regardless of what industry we work in. As we become more skilled, those skills start to become second nature. In dog training, we develop proper body language, exceptional timing and keen observation skills. As our technical skills increase, we don’t even think about them as we perform them. I think most of us have forgotten about our initial struggles with handling dogs and gaining the mechanical skills to train them, and because of this we can become more easily frustrated, and even harder on our clients then we should.

I recommend that we repeat the mantra of ‘they are not dog trainers’ daily. It is so easy for us to forget and it is an important lesson to remember. I encourage my team to think of this often and reiterate it throughout the entire dog trainer apprenticeship program with my new students. I have always taught this within my apprenticeship program, but it was these new trainers and students of the program that showed me how important this lesson is, and is one that more trainers need to remember. It became more obvious as I listened to these students and new trainers constantly approach me to tell me what they noticed clients were doing wrong. This was sometimes appreciated, but for the most part they had unrealistic expectations for where the students should have been.

Learn to lower your expectations. This is nothing against the clients, but do not expect perfection with their handling, timing or mechanical skills. What we expect for ourselves as trainers, cannot match our expectations for our clients. Choose what you feel are important aspects of each skill for them to have a good understanding of first. As their skills improve, you can increase your expectations, but start slow. For example, I do not worry much about timing in the beginning, as I find with coaching and more time, this begins to improve. I see the same with saying the cue only once and their body position (unless it is making the dog nervous or uncomfortable). The dog can still learn and I have never seen these impede their ability to gain the skill. Choose what you feel you can back off of and just remember not to expect perfection.

We also forget how nerve-wracking dog training can be, especially in a group class environment. As trainers, we tend to be excellent at recognizing stress in dogs, but I think too often we forget about the other end of the leash. The students are probably nervous, may be embarrassed about their dog’s behaviour, so are likely to make mistakes in their training. Keep in mind that they are not trainers to ensure you are being kind and patient and not passing any judgement on their skills. This will allow you to be more successful with your training and in turn help them to be more successful with their their dogs! It will boost their confidence and enable you to demonstrate a higher level of empathy, which will also assist with their commitment to the training. So next time you are feeling frustrated, judgemental or impatient with your client, remind yourself of this and ensure you are not expecting too much from them.

Do you have any ways you set your client up for success or have adjusted your expectations? Do you have other skills you are more lenient of with a client but would expect from a trainer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!