The Lounge Q+A: Sara Miles, Dog Trainer
Everything that I've needed has been in the PocketSuite app.
I love PocketSuite because it’s so easy to access the team. Everything that I’ve needed has been in the app. Even when I wasn’t really sure what I needed, I was able to find it, and it helped me build my business. I’ve used it since the beginning.
PocketSuite Dog Trainer Pro
Pet Pro, Sarah Miles, is a Positive Reinforcement Dog Trainer in Arizona. Her experience training dogs virtually and in-person makes her a great asset to the PocketSuite Pro community. Sara talks to CEO, Chinwe Onyeagoro, on how to build long-term client relationships and why ‘Do what works’ is her motto.
Hey, Sara, how are you?
Hello. I’m good. How are you?
Doing very well. Thanks so much. I’m excited to have you on The Lounge.
I’m excited to be here.
Sara, can we start off just by telling us a little bit about you and how you got started in dog training? just a little snippet on how you got the name ‘Smile’.
Absolutely. I actually got my start at the San Diego Humane Society roughly 10 years ago. I had switched careers, from working in an office setting to working at an animal shelter. It was always my passion, and so I worked there for quite awhile, got a lot of experience, and really learned what I wanted to do. Then I ended up moving to Phoenix. I decided instead of continuing with sheltering to start my own business and help dogs before they ended up in the shelter. So, I started Smiles Dog Training. Smiles is my first name, Sara, just the initial, with my last name, Miles.
Your name is a gift. Let me ask you this because we often talk to entrepreneurs at all sorts of different stages of life. I think there’s this perception that people just wake up and they want to become entrepreneurs – and they’re going to do everything they can. We got a wake up call from some of the dog trainers in our community. They shared, “Look, some of us are actually a reluctant entrepreneurs.”
“If there were companies out there that would have hired me to do what I’m doing, I would have worked for them. But there aren’t large companies that provide dog training services.” Which camp are you in? Are you like, “I was born to be an entrepreneur,” or, “Actually, I have a passion and have to follow it.”
Yeah. I would say I was an entrepreneur in hiding.
I love that.
My mom had her own business, so I knew what that kind of life was like. I wasn’t very sure that I wanted to do that when I started out. I worked for quite a few other people, and I really got to a point where I was like, “I think I could do this better. I’m going to do it myself.” So, I did. But I kind of fell into it, because when I moved to Phoenix, I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick with sheltering or even just dog training in general. I started doing some classes on web development and trying a different path. Then I kept having people say, “Oh, you know about dogs. Can you help me?” So, I sort of just stumbled back into it, because, yes, I can help you, and yes, I want to, I love it.
They got you out of hiding.
You know, we often talk to people who are early in their development as entrepreneurs in the pet professional industry, and we see and hear time and time again that the shelter community is actually a great place to start.
Can you say a little bit about how that early part of your career prepared you for what you do now?
Absolutely. I think in a shelter setting you see a variety of behavioral challenges that people weren’t able to help their dogs with. You’re there working with the dogs. You have no history most of the time. You have no owner that has a relationship with this dog. You have to figure out how to build that relationship and find the right answers. I think it’s a really great way to learn all the different things that you need to be thinking about when you’re training dogs. Sometimes you can have just the best owner-dog relationship and your job is done for you. But when you have to do work in that shelter setting, it really builds your skills.
Okay, people are always super jealous of pet professionals because they think, “You get to do that all day while I’m in an office over here?” Can you share what a typical day for you is like?
Yeah. I don’t really have a typical day because every day is a little different. I’m sure every entrepreneur can agree to that. But I really try to be intentional about how I set my day up. I’ve done so many different versions of it. I usually start out in the morning, I’m drinking my coffee and checking my emails and writing up training plans and going over notes, checking in with clients. Depending on the season in Phoenix, sometimes I’m out the door by seven to get to an appointment before the heat really takes over.
But then in the winter, obviously we have beautiful days in the winter, so I can work all day. It kind of depends on the time of year as to what my day looks like. But I’ll get out, get some training in, and then usually in the afternoons, especially since the pandemic, I have a lot of Zoom sessions with clients. I use my afternoons for the Zoom sessions to either check in on how training is going or do consultations. Then end of day wrap up, then I try to make sure that I have my evenings free for the most part so that I can spend time with my family.
Awesome. We’ve talked to other folks who are doing virtual training. I think depending on the industry, if you are life coaching, that seems seamless, if you’re doing training for dogs, that seems harder.
What’s your sense of virtual versus in person? What do you lose and what do you gain?
What I love about virtual is that it can sometimes take the dog out of it, because sometimes we need to just focus on, “Okay, how are we setting up our house? How are we setting up our scenarios?” We really want to make sure that we are having that human-to-human discussion. So, I tend to do a lot of that in my Zoom calls. Especially with basic manners, or when we’re working on muscle training or any of those kinds of things, coaching folks through those initial steps, it’s pretty simple to do in the Zoom sessions. as we go along, if we need to tweak, we do those in the in-person sessions. I love it. It will always be hybrid from here on out, because I think you just get so much out of both versions. If you really can structure that to optimize it, it’s really, really nice.
Well, that sounds cool. I was a pet parent at some point before I became a person parent.
One of the things that really got me is the level of training that humans need to get pet parenting right?
To be able to make this relationship work. I think about fitness training, and I compare it to dog training, where you have a goal, right? In terms of fitness training, on any given day, you may not feel like it. “I don’t want to do the push ups or sit ups or follow this training plan.” How do you motivate pet parents to do the right thing, to model that behavior, to stay on track with where they’re trying to go with the relationship with their dog?
I tend to have a lot of conversations about, “Okay, what are our goals? What are we really able to do in your life and your routine in the amount of time you have?” I’m constantly checking in on that, right? Because sometimes we might say, “We’re going to spend the next week doing this,” and then the refrigerator breaks and somebody’s got to go to a sports game and all this stuff comes up. Right? I’m very forgiving when clients have one of those weeks. If it’s getting into, okay, it’s that way every week, we need to look at the goals and see if those are the right goals for us. It is very much like fitness training. That’s a really good analogy.
You’ve been in a position where you have to recalibrate.
And you’re going to work with a client to set a different goal, because we just can’t get there right now.
I’ve always envisioned, and we see a lot of dog trainers where it’s like, “Hey, three months and we’re done,” “Six months and we’re done.” Do you ever have situations where it’s like every three months we might come back and keep working on the next milestone, the next goal, so it’s more of a longer-term relationship?
Absolutely. I have families that I’m getting to go through their lives with their dogs. They lose one and they add one, or something new comes up and they’re calling me back to help them out. I love those relationships. I have some clients who I have only a couple of sessions with, and we’ve gotten to where they want to be, and I don’t ever see them again. I am welcoming to all of those relationships. I’m happy to be a part of a family and just be an extra support for them, and I’m happy to give you what you need and send you on your way.
Something for everyone.
Well, I noticed on your site, you do a lot more than I’ve seen before with tools for pet parents. How did you get into the content/creative ? Is that an ancillary part of your business? Is that part of your marketing to raise the visibility? How do you think about that part of your business and then how do pet parents engage?
That’s a great question. I will say, a lot of it came up during the pandemic. I had more time on my hands, so I was able to invest in creating some online courses. Even just doing work with folks over the internet and learning, “Okay, this could make a really good online resource for folks.” Now, right, we’re getting back to normal, sort of.
I love the idea of these hybrid resources, right? We have a little bit of everything, because everybody learns differently. Some people need that hands-on experience, some people will want to be able to revisit things over and over again and take different pieces out of it. The more I can complement my services and have the in-person and the virtual sessions and online courses to put everything together for you when I’m not present, it’s working out wonderfully. I’m really excited for everything that I’m building.
Wow. Two more questions, then we’re going to go into the lightning round. As you look forward and think about your business, what can we expect?
I’m really excited to continue to build the community of positive reinforcement trainers. I’ve been involved in that a lot more over the last couple of years, and especially once Zoom became such a common meeting place. Instagram Live, Zoom, all of those things, that virtual access. I’m really excited to build up the community. It’s a newer community focusing on “How do we help our dogs, help the humans, help everybody have a better experience with each other and build those relationships?”. That’s where I’m focusing a lot of my time now. But also, I love giving pet parents resources. I’m going to continue to build those online courses and the blogs and the Instagram Reels and all of those fun things.
We’ll be watching.
How did you find out about PocketSuite? What’s your experience been?
I stumbled upon PocketSuite in a dog trainer Facebook group, somebody recommended it. I looked at a couple of other things I had when I had a brick and mortar shop. We used a couple of other formats for processing payments and clients. I love PocketSuite because, one, it’s so easy to access the team and two, everything that I’ve needed has been in the app. Even when I wasn’t really sure what I needed, I was able to find it, and it helped me build my business. I’ve used it since the beginning.
We love that. Sure. Actually, I’m going to cheat and ask one more question just about the industry at large.
We had skyrocketing adoptions of dogs during COVID and there was a lot of fear that when people have to go back to work, there’s going to be a massive drop off of dogs at shelters.
What are you seeing happening? Is that fear still a factor? Any advice for folks who are finding themselves with a changed situation that might impact their dogs?
Yes. I definitely have been seeing that. Right. Everybody’s going back to work. It’s a different situation. That’s something that a lot of my colleagues and I were trying to build resources for helping your dog know how to stay home alone. I have plenty of colleagues who specialize solely in separation anxiety, so great resources out there for folks who want to help their dogs. But overall, I think being aware of what a challenge this was for the humans that are involved. Thinking about how much they did need a dog companion in such a crazy time and being able to open space for that as we are trying to get back to normal life. If people need to take a little bit of time, or need to reach out for those resources, we are being supportive of that. It’s okay that your dog isn’t perfect right now. We can help you get your dog to a place that works for you, so don’t be afraid to reach out, get a professional involved, and work on it. If you can’t, coming from a shelter background, I do say that shelter workers are amazing. We want to help you with your dog. Reach out to the shelter, because there are a lot of resources shelters provide as well to help owners who maybe aren’t feeling like they can keep a dog. It’s really something that actually the shelter might have a program for.
Oh, that’s awesome.
Lightning round, we want to know more about you personally.
What are you currently streaming, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, anywhere? What are you currently watching that we should keep an eye on?
Oh my gosh. Okay. I was just talking about this. I just discovered What We Do in the Shadows, That’s something I’m binge watching.
I have not heard of it. It’s on my list now.
Favorite place to travel in the world.
Oh, man. Okay. Spain, Barcelona.
Love it. Love it, Anthony Gaudi right?
What’s your favorite motto or quote that you live by as you think about your life as an entrepreneur?
Oh, man. I can only think of dog-related mottos.
Yeah, let’s do it.
Dogs do what works. Set your dog up for success, set yourself up for success. That’s probably my motto.
That works for humans too, for sure.
What next big thing is happening for you or your business that we should keep an eye out for, and where can we find it? Where can we join and like, and do all that fun stuff?
Absolutely, on Instagram @smilesdogtraining. I’m starting to dive into the Reels and use those more for tips and training stuff. I would say follow me here on Instagram and help me by watching those reels.
Awesome. Will do. Sara, it’s been a joy talking to you. Happy Friday.
Thank you so much for having me on.