They wound up with these hybrid clients, which is fun. So we meet online for some things, meet in person for other things, and wind up with a work-life balance.
PocketSuite Dog Trainer Pro
Dog Trainer Pro, Irith Bloom, is a Dog Trainer in California. Her experience training dogs both virtually and in-person makes her a great asset to the PocketSuite Pro community. Irith talks to CEO, Chinwe Onyeagoro, about the benefits of online training, knowing your worth and her favorite vacation spot.
Hi. First things first. What’s the right pronunciation of your name? I ask because I always get that question with my name. Is it Irith?
Yeah. I can so totally relate. So, it is Irith, with a hard T. It’s a long, complicated story. I won’t get into Spanish vowels and pretend the H is silent.
Love it. That’s a story I want to get into at some point. So, we’re excited to talk to you about The Sophisticated Dog and learn a little about your journey as an entrepreneur. Also, talk about what you’ve learned along the way that other community members can learn from those just getting started and those trying to take their business to the next level.
Yeah. And I’m excited to talk about that too. When the pandemic started, I discovered that many people had no idea how to take their business online. And I’m part of a trainer community here in Los Angeles. We have this trainer community that crosses a couple of counties, and all these people kept telling me, how are you doing this stuff online? How are you doing this online?
And I wound up doing a series of presentations for free because I wanted to benefit my colleagues. Walking them through the steps of here’s how you set an online session. Here are some options for ways to get paid. Here are some ways to make sure that the client can be seen, and that you can be seen, and then just walk them through some of the more practical issues of how you train when you’re not in person.
And, I’m just lucky because I started doing online training years ago, a long time before the pandemic. I’ve been doing online training for at least five or six years, maybe longer. I don’t remember when my first online client was. I go back so far with online training that there was no Zoom.
You’re kidding. It’s hard to believe that.
And people are like, can we do an online session on Skype? I’m like, no. It’s so much better for me. I have nothing against Skype, but it’s just not how the tool was meant to be used. It’s really not.
So, I’ve been doing this for a while. It’s been really fun, and really successful in a lot of ways that I didn’t expect to.
Say a little bit about that.
Well, so one of the things I’ve noticed, okay. So before, as I said, for years now, I have been helping people both online and in-person. But when the pandemic hit, I went exclusively online for a few months while we were all sorting out who would get sick and how we were getting sick? And when we were all just in real lockdown shock.
Absolutely. And so, for a while, I was 100% online, and now I’m probably like 90% online, honestly, maybe even a little higher. And what I noticed is that my online clients got better results than my in-person clients.
That is hard to Believe. What’s the secret there?
So, I spend a lot of time thinking about that, and basically, what it comes down to is that if I’m there in person, people are really inclined to hand me the leash.
And say, hey, can you show me how to do this? Can you teach my dog to do it? And what that means is that I get to practice skills that I don’t need to practice. I’m not like patting myself on the back; it is just a fact. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in this industry. I’m good at training dogs. I’m not the one who needs to learn how to train their dog. They’re the ones who need to know how to train their dogs.
You know what, I’ve heard that. I’ve heard that you spend a fair amount of time when you’re in-person building that direct relationship with the dog when it’s not about your relationship with the dog. It’s about the pet parent relationship.
So, take that out of the way.
Yes. And so, when I’m online, they can’t lean on me. They can’t use me as training wheels.
They better actually do it. And what I find is we very quickly figure out if they can’t do it, if I’ve done it in a way that doesn’t work for them,
Then I’m like, okay. In that case, let’s change it.
Let’s do it this way. And see, does this work for you? Do you work better with this technique or that technique? Let’s find the thing that works for you because you live 24 hours a day with your dog.
But isn’t it a challenging setup with the camera? Are they obsessing about it? Can you see what he or she is doing right now? Do they have to have a couple of phones for you to see every angle?
So, that’s such a great question. And I have to say it depends, which by the way, never talk to a dog trainer about anything they’re going to say. It depends. It’s like our-
Like a weather forecaster, right?
Yeah. It depends; you never know because every case is different. But I’ve found that most people don’t get very self-conscious about it, which is nice. I think part of that is that at this point, we’re all trained. We’re all a little bit Zoom savvy and camera savvy.
But also, I just tell people, I’m like, hey, can you do me a favor and just tilt the camera down a little more.
Or put the camera in this direction. And I make it very matter of fact. Not like you’re doing something wrong, but hey, it would be helpful if I could see the floor; I don’t need to see necessarily your whole body. I need to see what the dog is doing at this moment, or maybe on another occasion. I don’t care what the dog is doing. I want to see what your hands are doing.
I can be really specific about what I want to see. Having said that, I have had a couple of clients, and it’s usually people who have young kids.
It’s all this like remote schooling, original learning. Kids are so good at it. And, I get like four angles on the dog. I can see the front view, rear view, left side, and right side.
Wait for YouTube videos, right?
It’s actually really great. And so that can be fun. So sometimes, if people are worried, I’m not going to be able to see it. I’m like, you can log into this call on two different devices, just set one up on your desktop.
Carry the other one around while you’re working with the dog, and we’ll have two angles, and I’ll have a better shot of seeing. Sometimes I ask people to do two cameras, but I have to tell you most of the time, I don’t. Most of the time, one camera works well enough.
Well, let me ask you this. Where do pet professionals have the most anxiety about going online? Where are folks like, not sure if I can bridge the gap? I’m not sure if I can make this leap.
Yeah. This is going to sound funny. But what I found when I first started into this and into helping other professionals with this is what I mean, a year and a half ago, or whenever that was, was there was definitely an age gap.
People who were in their 20s, they were like-
No problem. Yeah.
And people who were in their 50s or 60s who have been doing this for decades in person were just completely; I have no idea how I could possibly do this. So the first thing for some of those people was to get the technology fear out of it.
Just say, the technology’s pretty user-friendly. And literally, I had a Zoom step-by-step presentation.
Then I got all these follow-up questions. So I made another presentation answering all the follow-up questions.
Here’s what I don’t understand. Even over 40 and over 50, many of these folks are zooming with their kids and grandkids. They’re using FaceTime. They’re doing all of this in their personal life. But when it comes to business, there’s a wall. In terms of like, well, can I use the same technology in my business? So, that’s the part that really shocks me.
Yeah. It’s surprising. But what I wound up seeing was that many people were saying, I’ve used Zoom before, but how in the world would I do that with a client? Then there were the ones that just really hadn’t, they’d used FaceTime, but FaceTime is not ideal for our purposes generally.
So, just getting them over that. I don’t think it was rational, like it was a technophobia that some people were experiencing. They felt that they couldn’t possibly do it. Then the other thing that came up was people were like, but how can I show them what to do if I can’t demonstrate? And that’s where a lot of people of all ages were getting stuck, because they’re used to, as we were just discussing, taking the leash in their hand, pulling out the tricks, walking the dog through the behavior which is great in the sense that sometimes you jumpstart the dog. Then it’s easier for the person who’s a new person to this.
And you’re not asking them to learn how to tap dance while singing the Star Spangled banner. And they’ve never done either of those things. So, in that sense, it’s nice. And so people were like, how do I get around that? So, there was a lot of discussion about how you coach without being there in person and sharing videos. So you were talking about people Zooming or Skyping or FaceTiming with their kids. They’re not usually sharing videos.
Or resources. And so, just the idea of, here’s how you do a screen share. If you’ve got a good video, I don’t care if it’s your video. It could be Emily Larlham’s video of this is how you teach a dog to sit. You stream the video to them, saying this is what we’re going to do next.
And then you do step by step, which is something that all of us dog trainers should really know how to do. And we should honestly know how to do better than some people know how to do it. Which is to say, I’m not going to demo this. I’m going to tell you, take the treat, put it in this position, do this movement, watch for this in the dog. Whatever it happens to be like if I’m teaching to sit. I sometimes like just to catch the dog sitting; dogs just automatically sit.
I’m like, oh, you sat, good job. Have a treat. I never push a dog down or pull a dog up.
You use a lure for dogs who aren’t just spontaneously sitting because they’re like, I don’t know what to do. I think I’ll sit. So I would say put the treat right at the dog’s nose. And then I watch, is the treat right at the dog’s nose. And then I say, now pull that treat upwards, and they pull it upwards. And I see, they’re losing contact, slow down your hand or whatever it is. And I can take them step by step through the process, the same way I would do in person. But for whatever reason, that was hard to imagine for some people.
That step by step, those are pretty detailed. Because a lot of times, if you’re in person, they can see you do it. And you save a lot of time. You don’t have to explain every detail. Does that mean that your sessions have to be longer, where it’s like having to explain a lot more than them observing and seeing?
That’s a great question. And it’s so funny. I never thought about it that way. No, my sessions are not longer. They’re about the same length. And one of the things I find, how do I put this. For most people, as you get practiced at teaching and explaining, you get more and more efficient at it, right? So, one of the things you just pointed out, like sometimes demoing, is easier. Part of it is the instance with a food lure; dogs react differently to food lures.
So some dogs, if you pull straight up, it works really well. Some dogs need to pull out a little; some dogs need to push towards them a little. And, what that means is sometimes I don’t know what the dog’s going to give me. And so I might take an extra minute or two while I’m explaining to them you need to push the treat a little bit, almost as if you’re trying to tip the dog’s head backward, I might say.
And, the thing is that it still doesn’t take longer because I haven’t taken the demo time. So, I think it all balances out.
So, okay. Let’s fast forward. How long, if someone who already has a full schedule of in person sessions says “Yes, I’d like to add online sessions to my practice.” What’s the reasonable expectation of how you can start to feather online into your work routine, both investing in the education around it and then also starting to serve clients with it?
Right. The first thing I’ll say is, if someone is hesitant about working online, they definitely shouldn’t set some huge goal of like I’m going to be online only by the end of 2021, which is a month and a half from now. That’s not a realistic goal. They should set themselves a goal of having one online client, or two online clients, depending on how their business works, some percentage online.
But you set a really reasonable goal, and it has to start with one client. What I usually recommend is, find a pretty straightforward case. Don’t start your online training with a dog that is being monitored by animal control. I get those cases too.
So, don’t start with the animal control case. Start with, we just adopted a new dog, and she doesn’t know how to do anything, and we need to teach her basic behaviors. That’s a good place to start. Things that we as dog trainers have taught 1,000 times, or 10,000 times for that matter. So, we’re pretty comfortable teaching those things. So you start with something that’s pretty manageable for you, and you tell the client, listen, this online thing is a little bit of an experiment for me. Are you comfortable with that?
I’m about to suggest something that I don’t think people should actually do. I don’t actually want you to do this, but if you feel really uncomfortable, you can say I will give you a 10% discount because you’re my first online client. Now I’m going to say, don’t do that. One of the problems with dog trainers everywhere seems to be that we undervalue our skills, expertise, and the value we provide.
And so, we have this tendency to give discounts and feel sorry about our prices. Don’t; you’re a professional. You’ve worked hard to gain the knowledge you have. And if you really think because it’s an online forum, you want to give a discount, just make sure it’s only for the first couple sessions. Because you don’t want to then be like, all my online sessions will be discounted.
Because you’re going to spend just as much time online as in person, and for me, what I’ve found is in person, you have driving time.
And so people think, I’ll do online sessions, and there won’t be any driving time, and it’ll be less time out of my day, except that you have to provide notes to the person somehow.
Right. All the prep.
And so prep, notes, and all of that. I have to allow time for that. So, the time I would’ve spent driving, I wind up spending doing those things where I use paper and a pen during an in-person session. I know nobody else does, but I’m old-fashioned. So, I literally have a piece of paper that says your tasks for this week. There’s a column for the task. And then a little blurb for key points to remember. And I say like, sit, bullet points, practice this five times a day. Remember to use an empty hand and not the lure because the dog has already learned the lure or whatever it is.
And then you note the next bullet point down. Praise the dog anytime you see her lying down, and then grab a treat or whatever. It’s the simple little thing that I put together. So now I have to do that in a document that I can share after the session. I like just to share Google Docs; Google Docs is nice, universal, easy. That’s what I use personally. Not everyone loves Google. I know that, but it works for me.
And so that’s time that you’re spending too. So, I think sometimes we feel like we should discount because it will take us less time, and it will be so much easier. I’m here to tell you, folks, it doesn’t take less time. And it’s just as much effort, especially in the beginning. It’s going to be more effort because you’re stretching your wings and doing new skills you haven’t done before.
So pick an easy client, don’t go out with your most challenging client. Find someone whose personality meshes well, and you’re going to be comfortable together. The training tasks are pretty straightforward and then start. Then I think that for most people, once they get past the first couple of sessions, it stops feeling so awkward. And then you’re like; I could do this with more people.
All-day long. Right?
We’ve got dog trainers on this Instagram Live. The PocketSuite Community includes all types of pet professionals: groomers, walkers, and then we also have beauty and fitness folks. I don’t know if they’re signing in for their pets or if they’re thinking about moving online for their businesses. So for those that are still on the fence about whether or not online makes sense for them, can you share a little about some of the success stories, people who went from zero? We talked to one dog trainer who now trains zebras in Israel because she can do that online. Can you share a bit of, what you’ve seen, the transformation you’ve seen, and some of the businesses that have really stepped into this?
So, a lot of people wound up training locally through this pandemic with local clients. Then they wound up with these hybrid clients, which is fun. So we meet online for some things, meet in person for other things, and wind up with a work-life balance. It’s a little bit easier because you don’t necessarily have to be sitting in traffic. Well, I mean here in LA, it’s Los Angeles traffic, which is just-
That’s the worst traffic.
Just no fun. So, I hear Honolulu’s worse, actually, sadly. But anyway, so just being able to decide when they’re getting in the car. And getting in the car has been such a huge transformation for some of the people I know locally. I know other trainers, and I’m definitely one of them, where we’ve been able to pick up clients nationwide, worldwide. Depending on the person, like training a zebra in Israel, which I think is totally awesome.
You don’t really have to be there in person because the way I look at it, and the way I explain this to my clients is, in the end, even if I come to you in person, I’m there for one hour out of the week, and the pet parent is there for all of the hours out of the week. And so, it’s really not about me teaching the dog or the dog forming a relationship with me or the zebra developing a relationship with me.
So, I have a lot of cat professionals who work online. And interestingly, cat people, I train multiple species also. And cat people are very different from dog people in their expectations of what training will look like and the expectations of their pets. That’s a side note. Cat people are a little more realistic that cats are cats. And sometimes, dog parents expect their dogs to be not dogs in certain ways.
But anyway, cat professionals, I know a lot of cat professionals who have taken this opportunity to take their business nationwide because they don’t need to see the cat in person. A strange person comes into the home for half of the cats out there, and they hide under the couch. You’re not going to be able to do anything anyway. So it’s this great opportunity. I find it works well with fearful pets of any kind. Whether a fearful or aggressive dog, cat, parrot. Parrots are under a lot of stress.
Living with humans is very unnatural for most parrots. Parrots aren’t really meant to live alone. There’s a whole slew of things I could go into, but I’m not going to go down that path today. But, if the animal is aggressive and a potential danger, then not being there can also be so helpful. So like Michael Shikashio of aggressivedogs.com is a really well-known trainer. Excellent, excellent trainer.
He does a lot of his work online, and it winds up being really helpful because these dogs are often dangerous. It’s one less opportunity for something to go wrong. Whether you’ve got the aggressive dog cases and don’t want another bite on that dog’s history, or you’ve got the fearful dog cases and don’t want to scare the dog by entering, which means the dog can’t learn as well because they’re scared. It could really be an advantage. That’s why I’m seeing some of the pet professionals see the advantage, as in saying, if I’m not there, I’m not changing the dog’s behavior. I can see the dog’s behavior as it really is.
Irith, you are a wealth of knowledge. We are excited to be talking to you. We’re going to move into the lightning round. We want to learn about you and the things that you love and care about as a human.
We are going to cheer you on. PocketSuite is really proud to be partnering with The Sophisticated Dog trainer. So Irith, tell us, what are you streaming on Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, wherever you stream? What are you watching?
It’s funny. Right now, I’m off of Netflix. When network television came back, and I was like, there’s new stuff to watch. So, I’m totally like, CBS should just pay me. They should just pay me and be done with it because I watch eight different CBS shows; I’m a procedural person. That means I watch things like NCIS and FBI, and those have all just come back. I do stream Star Trek on Paramount Plus. I’m a Paramount CBS heavy person for whatever reason. Right now, I’m not watching anything on Netflix. It’s really weird now that I’m thinking about it.
I know I’ll get back to Netflix. Everyone keeps telling me that I need to see My Octopus Teacher. As I said, I work with multiple species, and I love octopuses. They’re amazing animals, and I’m like, why have I not seen this yet? So I need to go back and watch that. I know that’s on Netflix.
Okay! What’s your favorite vacation spot?
The State of Hawaii. Basically anywhere in the State of Hawaii. I have to say I’m originally an East Coast girl. I grew up in the Northeast. Hawaii was so very far away. I never went there until after I got married, moved to Los Angeles, and now we go every year. If I don’t go to Hawaii once a year, I’m sad.
What’s your favorite quote or words to live by?
Words to live by, “progress, not perfection.”
This is so true, by the way, for the online business thing. If you’re going to prefer online in your business, one of the things you should do is to add an online session page to your website. So people know that’s an option.
Yeah. So, it’s not just like something buried in your service list; make it fairly pronounced.
Love it! So, what’s coming up for you. Something we can celebrate for you?
Well, the next thing is, starting this weekend, I’m participating in Geek Week, which is The Pet Professional Guild’s upcoming event. And I’m speaking a couple of times at Geek Week. So, feel free to hunt up my name. My last name is Bloom, B-L-O-O-M. Much easier to search than my first name and find me on Geek Week. I’m going to be speaking at Victoria Stillwells Dog Behavior Conference again next year.
There’s a wave of conferences in the fall, so the PPG conference is the last one. So, I’ve already done my other two. I’m going to be presenting to Spanish language speakers in a few months in early 2022. So that’s one thing. Then the thing that I’m really excited about right now is that I have started a puppy training online program with some colleagues of mine. The membership doors are closed right now, but they will reopen in 2022. We don’t have an exact next launch date, but we will reopen in 2022. We also have an associated book.
Always great to be oversubscribed.
Yes. We also have a book out which is called Your Puppy and You. It’s four authors. It’s a team of four amazing trainers. We all have different focuses, but we all agree on the fundamentals of how training should look, and between us, we have many decades of experience. It’s a bit scary actually if you think about it too hard.
That’s been something that I’ve so enjoyed. That’s been a passion project. We all connected because of a program that we signed up for, an online program. The person organizing the program put us together as an accountability group, and we all just hit it off. Even when the program ended, we kept meeting.
And then, when the pandemic started, we were meeting more because we needed human connection. One day, one of us, I honestly don’t remember who said, we all keep talking about our puppy clients. We should write a puppy book. And that was how it started. So, then first it was a book, now it’s a membership.
I love it! I love that story. And I love the notion that you just keep expanding the set of resources that you’re putting out there for dog trainers who are just starting out and for pet parents. That’s amazing!
All right. Final question, Irith. Where can we follow you? Is it on Facebook, on Instagram? What’s your handle? So folks can follow you going forward and visit your website.
Yes. Okay. So, the best place to follow me is Facebook. If you go to my Instagram channel, you’re going to see there are like half a dozen posts. I get mentioned occasionally, but I just don’t spend a lot of time on Instagram for whatever reason. We all only have about this much social media time, and you’ve got to pick where you put it. And so, I’m very comfortable on Facebook for whatever reason. I guess because I’ve been on it long enough. So, I’m at facebook.com/thesophisticateddog.
So make sure there’s two Ds, sophisticated and then another DOG. Or you can just search on Facebook, the sophisticateddog, and it’ll pop me up. Be aware that another company has a similar name. A side note is that they adopted it after I already had the name. So I was a little puzzled by that, but that’s okay. So, it should just be just plain, thesophisticateddog. If there’s anything else after it, because Facebook won’t let us have exactly the same name. It’s not me.
So, you can check me out on Facebook, thesophisticateddog, and my website is thesophisticateddog.com. You can also get there by going to choicerichtraining.com and a couple of other URLs; it all points to the same place. If you happen to forget the second D in my website, I also have sophisticatedog.com.
I have lots of friends on the internet. So they were like, you might as well just buy the URL if you think people may misspell it. So, if you go there, there’s a little popup. I know how annoying popups are, but hopefully, mine is short and not annoying, which says to join my mailing list. If you join my mailing list, you’ll get occasional messages. Things like, hey, I’m going to be speaking here, I’m going to be doing this. And, you’ll be on the list for when the membership for the puppy program opens again. So, the sophisticateddog.com or I am on Facebook all the time at facebook.com/the sophisticateddog.
Awesome. Well, Irith, we have really enjoyed connecting with you, learned so much. And again, I think there’s an opportunity for us to continue this conversation with the PocketSuite community. I am excited to have you back talking to the community again soon. Thank you!
Thank you so much.