Interview with Jeff Feuerwerker
Pet Pro, Jeff Feuerwerker, is a Dog Trainer in Ohio. His experience training with the renowned Academy of Canine Education makes him a great asset to the PocketSuite Pro community. Jeff talks to CEO, Chinwe Onyeagoro, about his previous fear of dogs, how he overcame that and his counterintuitive approach to training.
Where did you start and what was the straight path or windy road that led you here?
Well, I was fresh out of dog training school and I had no idea what I was doing as far as running a business goes. I knew how to train dogs, but as far as getting clients that was not my forte. So early on, it was kind of “rough”, pardon the pun.
As the calls are coming in, I have no sales skills whatsoever. I had no idea how to price my service. Just clueless. But people would hire me because their dog was so bad, every other trainer would recommend “Put it down”. So I became the guy people came to as a last resort.
So right out the gate, my very first paying client was a dominant aggressive dog, which is exactly what I was taught to run away from in dog training school. So we were taught to deal with fear aggression, but not dominant aggression. Now I wanted to get in the game of dog training so badly that I just said, “Okay, you know what? I think I can do this. I’m going to give it a shot. They are willing to pay me. I’m willing to train. Let’s go.” So I can remember going there and right away, the person I was with at the time, gets bit by the dog immediately. As soon as she walks up, dog just bites her. Dog had bitten everybody in the family. Bit the neighbors, bit the kid’s friends that lived there and it was a pretty big family.
So three weeks in, the girl says in tears, “I didn’t tell you this when I hired you,” because I had a six-week program back then. She said, “I was just giving this three weeks and if I didn’t see results, I was just going to send him back to the shelter, let him get put down. My mother’s telling me every day I’m crazy for trying to help this dog.” Just so everyone knows, this is a dog that they adopted. On his cage at the kennel or the shelter, it said, “I bite,” like that right there. He was already in trouble for biting a bunch. He was scheduled to be put down. So they had taken him as a last chance. We made so much progress within those three weeks, she’s like, “Let’s do this. Let’s do the rest.”
So at the end of his session, we were able to have him actually interact with all of the people in the neighborhood that Adam had bitten. They were very successful with him from then on. So that kind of paved the way and gave me the confidence, “Well, look, if I can handle this and none of these other trainers can who have been doing this for years, then what does that say?” And so I went, “Okay, you know, if people need help, I’ll help them.” But again, I wasn’t getting little puppies at all. I was getting Rottweilers, Shepherds, Pit bulls, that are known or have been in trouble in the media for having these bad behavioral issues and people going, “Well, look, no one’s helping us. Can you help?”
So by doing that and doing that consistently, that’s what helped build my reputation in the area, which finally led to cute little puppies and being able to take on work like that.
Was there something unique about your training when you were going through your dog training program that put you in a position to do what others have not been able to do? Or was it just your fighter mentality with you thinking “I’m going to go where folks say it can’t be done.”
It’s a great question. I was actually very scared of dogs, although I loved them, but around age 16 I can remember just getting bit right and left and right and left. And every time I’d go, “Oh, dogs.” I’m there with a group of friends. I would be the one to get bit. Like petting the dog, everyone’s like, “That’s never happened.” So all of a sudden I had this huge fear of dogs, even though I loved them. So going into dog training school, I was very apprehensive of working with these dogs that seemed aggressive. But watching everybody in class do it, I’m like, “Okay, this isn’t so bad. I think I can start to get used to this.”
Then the switch to the dominant aggression thing really came from a lot of self studies after school and going, “Okay, so I see the similarities, I see the gaps. How can we fill that gap?” I had started off learning positive reinforcement just with my own dog. Then in dog training school, we learned the exact opposite, how to do positive reinforcement, but also how to correct the dog if the dog did make a mistake. So when I started weaving those two things together, that’s where the magic started to happen. It was not only about being able to help people, but also helping people help themselves. Because the biggest problem that we would see is, this stuff’s very political in the dog training world, and you’re either on this side or this side. It’s pretty extreme. So we look to bridge that gap and help people and say, “Look, it’s not about the method for us. It’s about what’s the method for you, that’s going to work for you.” Because there are many roads that lead to dog training paradise, but some are a little more bumpy. Others completely hate water, they want to avoid it. Some want to take a jet. They can all get there, but you’ve got to find the path that’s going to work best for you.
I tell people all the time, “Look, if you go down this road, yeah, it might take you a little longer. You’re still going to get there. You know what? You might have some more cool scenic routes along the way, maybe some fun detours.” But all in all, what we’re looking to do is help dogs not get put down for silly behavioral issues. Or help dogs not even get into that mess in the first place by educating puppies when they’re young so that these aggressive tendencies don’t happen. I just got off the phone with someone, trainers will tell someone the complete opposite of what we recommend. I just had a case. A guy just called right before this interview. He’s like, “Hey, this dog is being aggressive toward our cats, with the wife, and here’s my strategy.” And I’m like, “Look, man. I’m sorry, let me cut you short. I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t recommend that. I’m sorry. We actually do the opposite.”
So we find our methods to be so counterintuitive that oftentimes when someone works with us, they’ll say, “Look, one session with you, we’ve learned more than in our entire lives, having owned dogs, having worked with dogs. Where have you been?” So that’s what helped keep pushing us forward even after we weren’t just working with the toughest of the tough cases.
Wow, I’m fascinated by this. I live in a neighborhood with a lot of dog owners. There’s definitely a bit of a push pull in terms of training philosophy – leash, on leash, off leash. Can you share a little bit about your clients? Is there something special about them that they’re willing to take on these more aggressive dogs? Are they more compassionate? Have they been part of the challenge in creating these aggressive dogs? Or are they inheriting them?
My gosh, yeah. That’s a great question. That’s all the above. So I couldn’t tell you there’s one percentage more than another, but I can tell you this for absolutely sure, the majority of the cases we see where it’s full blown aggression out the wazoo. It’s not from dogs that came from shelters that were beat or bait dogs. Unfortunately, it’s from dogs that they got as puppies and they didn’t know what they were doing and the dog got out of hand. I can’t tell you how many people go, “Hey, you know what? We had to put our last dog down, Jeff. So that’s why we’re really going to listen to what you have to say.” I’m like, interesting.
But we have other people where it was a total inheritance. I have a lady I’m working with whose dog actually killed two other dogs, unfortunately. The first time, it wasn’t in her possession. The second time, she was coming in the house, the door is open, dog just ran right out, went right for another dog. The end was not good. So we have other people where they start out and maybe their kid gets a dog and says, “Oh, I’m going to take this dog to college.” COVID happens. Then all of a sudden the dogs are not going to school with the kids or plans change.
We see a lot where someone’s mother might get elderly or sick and she passes. Then you have this dog that was there as this woman was aging or man, whatever it is. The dog is becoming more protective as this woman’s becoming weaker, which is naturally what dogs do. Then all of a sudden this dog who’s been guarding this person for years and years and years and years, that person’s gone, now that dog’s going nuts. Now they’re in the hands of another family member, inherited, and they’ve inherited this giant issue. Guess what? They’re telling me stuff like this. “Jeff, I can’t let mom’s ghost come back and haunt me. We have to not get rid of this dog. We can’t put it down. We must fix it at all costs.”
So I think my clients come to me, most of them, with the willingness to do what it takes to get the result, even though they’re clueless and blind to what it might be. They’re just like, “We don’t know what it is, but help us. We want to fix this.” That’s exactly what the last guy said right before this call, “We want to keep this dog. He’s a part of the family.” So yes, they are more compassionate. It’s not just a dog. It’s a family member. That’s probably the biggest difference. You don’t turn your back on family. Some people do, but I’d say that’s a much stronger pull when it’s blood. Even though it’s not, it is as close as it could get.
One of my mentors said it, “You have to stay in the game to win the game.” If you don’t stay in there, it’s impossible to win. Then they give so many examples of people in history where you would look at them and go, “Oh, they were naturally gifted or they’re naturally talented.” That wasn’t necessarily the case. They were the ones that kept failing and not quitting.
So tell me about the CIA. Hopefully, I won’t disappear after this conversation.
Oh, gosh. Me too. It just started as we were looking for something clever to do with branding. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that clever. So, it turns out one of Oprah’s friends had this business name that we had chosen and she sent us a cease and desist letter, so we agreed. One of my clients, thankfully, was an attorney and she was in correspondence. So we agreed on, as long as we didn’t use the full version of the name, which I’ll leave unsaid, we would be okay.
So we use just CIA Dog Training and we’ve changed what the CIA stands for. So now it represents our method of training, which is our Canine Integral Approach where it’s very much so the Jeet Kune Do of dog training. Where we’re going to take everything that is good and get rid of all the useless stuff and junk. Because we find so often people are doing things that… Will it produce a result? Yes. But it just takes so much time and it takes so much effort, the average person in the average lifestyle, especially in America today, they go, “No. We’d rather just get rid of the dog and try again.”
So in order to help prevent that, we try to find strategies that are fun, not frustrating, and that way people look forward to training their dogs. Instead of coming to their house each week, which I hear from all the trainers I’ve trained, they’ll go, “Oh, Jeff, what do we do when we show up to the client’s house or we’re dealing with them virtually and they say to us, ‘We didn’t do our homework?’” Usually that’s not the problem, it’s usually that they didn’t want to do it, because it felt not fun.
So that’s another way we really try to bridge the gap with our canine integral approach, or CIA dog training, is to make sure that people look forward to doing it. Again, it’s a technique or a method that’s going to work best for them while being able to sidestep a lot of stuff in the process. So for instance, we have something called the AI approach, which is like an all-inclusive exercise where we will take just one simple thing, like leave it, and be able to build a sit, stay, eye contact, and then expand from there into the rest of basic obedience, and sometimes even beyond with something so simple.
What’s nice about it, is it gives someone a foundation of how to build. Now it’s not just like, “Oh my gosh, what have we learned this week? Why is it so tough? It’s so new every time.” Well here, we’re just slowly building. I found that by running a few challenges online and doing some virtual workshops, which if you set your client up right, it’s like watching a plant grow. You don’t notice it. It’s like being around your kid and you don’t really notice the growth, but your uncle or somebody else goes, “Wow, that dog’s so incredible.” The people are like, “Really?”
It’s because, for one, they don’t have anything to really compare it to except themselves. Again, that change can happen so subtly and gradually that they don’t notice. We’re not trying to set people up to have to spend an hour or two hours working on one behavior. We want to set them up to spend five, 10 minutes, get a quick win so that dog’s happy, they’re happy, and they can’t wait to do it again. That’s where we think the magic lies – is right in that little spot.
So you mentioned virtual workshops. We’ve talked to other dog trainers who said, “Yep, I have done online workshops, but it’s tough to do dog training that way.” What’s your take on it?
Oh, it’s absolutely easy. The tough part is you don’t have the clout from the people in your area repping or supporting you, let’s say. So now not only are you in, let’s say a crowded market, you’re in a crowded space where other people have built way more authority. So if someone’s just coming out the gate like, “Oh, I’m going to run this virtual workshop and people are going to buy. Oh yeah, that’s cute.” But most of your audience is going to need more than just that little touch point to really trust and put their faith in you.
Unfortunately, the way a lot of us are taught to market, it’s like, “Give them this and set them up for the sale.” That might work, maybe let’s say with teaching someone Facebook ads, but in the dog training world, unless someone can really experience or see a tangible result, you could give them all the testimonials in the world, and that still doesn’t necessarily push them over the edge as one might think it would, or how it does in an offline business.
I see. So the virtual workshop is sort of the top of your funnel. It’s kind of exposure. It’s expanding the set of folks who know about you. It’s not the training. It’s not the, “You’re going to see transformation through this workshop.”
I think that’s how a lot of people sell it as you’ll see transformation and maybe they do that a little bit. I’ve messed around in a lot of different styles and methods of marketing. What we find might work for, let’s say a knowledge based product outside of dog training, seems to work completely different in the dog training world. I know this because I’ve been in some decently high-end masterminds with some other dog trainers and guess who was selling the most product. It wasn’t a dog trainer. It was a marketer that wasn’t even a dog trainer that created this whole scheme about how their mom got this dog and it was destroying her, so she hired six trainers. Now he’s helping all the other elderly women out there to train their dog of that specific breed.
Then they branched out, started doing this with all sorts of other breeds. They’re making so much money, all the other dog trainers are drooling like, “Well, why can’t we sell our $10, $100 dollar little workshop. We don’t get it. We’re actually live. They’re just selling all this automated, evergreen style, set it and forget it, moonlighting on the beach, hashtag #laptoplife. It’s like no way.” Having known the other ones that actually have businesses and then seeing them start to flourish and talking to them and saying, “You know what? It wasn’t what they were telling me. It was what this person said. Or it wasn’t that method. It was that this happened.”
Then the next thing, especially with the workshop game or the webinar game or whatever it is, is it varies depending on your marketplace. Now, luckily it’s not as flooded in the dog training world. So usually I find in dog training we’re at least a year behind. Where maybe webinars in the marketing world, it’s like, “Oh yeah, a webinar. No, not doing it. We’ve seen that a million times. We don’t want a sales pitch.” Where in the dog training world, it’s like, “Oh, a webinar. We’ve never seen one of those.” But it is getting more and more flooded and more saturated. So as the time passes, there’s going to be more people competing, which can feel very off-putting for a dog trainer getting started. What they need to realize is a lot of these people are going to go spend a bunch of money, fail and get out of the game, like most of the people I went to dog training school with.
If you can just steady the course and keep learning, you’re going to keep earning and you’re going to keep getting better and better. You’re going to keep being able to provide better results for your clients. It’s going to really start to produce a snowball effect over time. But you have to be willing to go through some of that, because if you’re not in and you quit, you’ll never see the benefit of it. Just like your clients, if they’re training dogs and you work with them for a day and they need a second session, they don’t follow up. But what’s that one day of exercise going to do? Same thing it does for a human body. It’s better than none, but certainly, you’re not going to see it a year later.
Yeah, it’s funny because no matter which industry our Pros belong to, the tried and true message that they share is “Stay the course”. Be consistent, stay the course, in terms of success. Does that resonate with you?
A hundred percent. One of my mentors said it, “You have to stay in the game to win the game.” If you don’t stay in there, it’s impossible to win. Then they give so many examples of people in history where you would look at them and go, “Oh, they were naturally gifted or they’re naturally talented.” That wasn’t necessarily the case. They were the ones that kept failing and not quitting. Then through all those failures, like the invention of our modern day light bulb, 10,000 failures plus, then here you go. It’s like, here is the end product. In those moments, where they came to him and said, “Hey, what are you doing? Why are you wasting all this time?” He’s saying, “You know what? It’s not that I’ve failed. I’ve learned another way it won’t work. So eventually I will come to the way it does.” Have that faith, even when it doesn’t exist yet of how to make your business work. That is what it means to stay in there and just demanding of the universe to produce this result for you by not quitting and continuing to show up.
That’s what it takes honestly, to deal with some of these stubborn puppies. When they say, “No, I’m going to get my way and I’m cute. Let me do what I want.” It’s so easy to just say, “Okay, do what you want. But that won’t produce the result you want.” So if someone really wants to make dog training a career, then that’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to make it. You’re not going to try. Because there’s a huge difference in try and make. I had a conversation with someone one day and they’re like, “Look, what would make you happy?” I was like, “Just to have a dog training business.” They were like, “You know what? Not cool dude.” They were like, “You need to have the best dog training business. Or don’t do it.” There’s plenty of okay dog training businesses. So that really fueled me to keep going and keep seeking knowledge and keep producing better results.
Check out our comprehensive Pet Pro Resources for everything you’ll want to know about working in the pet industry–from grooming to training!
Are you worried at all about what dogs are going through right now? What some of the impacts might be when we pick our heads up and hopefully return to some state of normalcy?
Yes, oddly enough, not too much more than I used to. Because even when things were open and people could take their dogs places, it was a lot of the same stuff we’ll see now, where the dogs that were bad, people would just hoard and hide and not let out in the public. Then you have these instances where a door opens, a dog runs out, and you’ve been hiding this dog in your ivory castle. Then all of a sudden it escapes and next the city’s trying to burn down your house. Forgive me for all the analogies, but really what we’re experiencing these days, is really a lack of education and expectation. It’s misaligned. So someone’s expectation is, “Hey, you’re a dog trainer. So come to my house, you train my dog and then it’s going to be good forever and I’ll pay you money for that.”
So a big part of what we do is educate people to understand, “Look, this is a conscious thinking creature. It makes decisions on its own. At best, you can influence those decisions. But at the end of the day, this thing can choose, just like a human could let us down.” Hence our divorce rates. So, what we really need to do there is shine a light, not into their world without really looking at ours first, and saying, “It’s absurd to think that we just train them once and they listen. That guy I just talked to, I referenced a trigonometry class. I said, “Look, you got 20 kids in a trigonometry class. How many of them learn trig the first day? How many learned the second day? And on the 20th day, do they all learn or do they learn at different rates?” So when someone says, “Well, how long is this going to take?” “Okay, well, you tell me. I don’t know. How much effort do you want to put in?”
So once we get people to understand the expectations and understand that a dog’s not meant to just bark at UPS people and charge people. This is my thing that I love, “Oh, just let him sniff you and he’ll be fine. But just hold still. Don’t move. He hasn’t bitten yet.” To me, that was going on before COVID, it’s going on during, it’ll happen after, unless we all, as a community, come together and really do something about it. But the more people we empower, the more people they can empower, and hopefully we’ll butterfly effect this thing real soon. Then we’ll be out of jobs and we’ll need something else to do. But that’ll be awesome.
I doubt that. I sincerely doubt that. I’m going to say Jeff, it is really incredibly easy to talk to you. You have such a charismatic nature about you, which makes it really accessible and fun to interact with you and to learn from you. What has the PocketSuite experience been like for you? How has it impacted your business?
Oh, my gosh. So out the gate, it gave us a professional look and feel that I did not have. So being able to send clients a link to book with me back then, we’re talking in 2016, that was sort of cutting edge. So that kind of propelled my business a lot further, faster, in the perception of our clients’ minds. They went, “You know what? We can trust this person to do business with them.” Then the fact we could accept credit cards. Because we were trying to do the Square payment stuff and carry the little adapters to the phone. That was really fun and awesome. NOT. Being able to do it this way was huge. Then having the ability to use the business number for our team to correspond with was also really awesome. Then as more and more functions started to drip out, it just kept getting better and better and better and better.
Honestly, we haven’t even used some of the coolest features yet because we haven’t had to, just because we’re busy training dogs and doing our thing. I have enough clients to not really be stressed on, “Oh, let’s watch this tutorial and figure…” I mean, it’s fun. I want to. We just haven’t yet. I really appreciate all of the feedback and support. We can message the PocketSuite team and hear back from them, which is awesome. So if we find a bug or if there’s something, a feature we’re interested in, they actually listen to us, which is really cool. Typically, we’ll see PocketSuite be right on top of the changes in the marketplace. So as things were becoming more photo heavy, it’s like, “Oh, you guys can now send photos to each other.” We’re like, “What? Thank you, PocketSuite.”
Then, not that we’ve done it a ton, but being able to even get a little something back in the referring of PocketSuite is pretty cool too. To have your own referral code. That’s just nice. All in all, I love having everything in one spot. I love that it links with my Google calendars and my Yahoo calendar and all that jazz, which I need to link up again. Been a little lazy there. But it does have these features where you can do some pretty incredible stuff. Now, I’m not sure about this one, but I remember there was a time it gave us the ability to let a client know if we were running late with an auto text. I’m like, that’s a game changer too. Because who wants to be trying to communicate while trying to drive, navigating to uncharted territory. So I just love everything about it. Really, it’s intuitive as well. So it’s not like you need to have a computer science degree to open it up and figure it out.