One on One
You might be thinking, What is there to scheduling a session? You just set it wherever you have an opening! Actually, there are a few things to consider. The following considerations are aimed at making scheduling efficient and sessions run smoothly.
Must the whole family be present?
In a case that involves any type of aggression, the entire family should be present (with the possible exception of very young children), as it is crucial to get as much information as possible about the situation. Sometimes the person who did not think it necessary to be there is the one who provides the key piece of information that helps to solve the problem. You might discover that Sparky’s lunging at people on walks is exacerbated by the way Mom tightens up on the leash as people approach; or that Bruno’s aggression toward the kids stems from the overly rough way they play with him. Having the children present is also helpful because kids often blurt out information that parents might have withheld. (Kids really do say the darndest things—and trainers love it!)
In a case that does not involve serious behavior issues, it is not necessary to have every family member present. Sure, it would be nice to have all parties hear the information first-hand from you. But nowadays with work schedules and the social obligations of adults and children, it can be difficult to find a time when everyone is at home. If you work evenings and weekends, finding client “family time” might be easier. If you must do your appointment with only one family member present, be sure she takes notes, masters the exercises during the session and is left with handouts to share with the rest of the family.
Won’t kids be a distraction?
Whether children should be in attendance depends on their ages and on the nature of the dog’s issues. If the kids are seven and nine years old and the problem involves the dog nipping and knocking them down, those kids should be present. Besides, it is often helpful for children to hear advice directly from “the teacher” rather than second-hand from parents. Teaching kids directly also eliminates the potential problem of misinterpreted or erroneous information being passed down the line.
Having kids present also affords the opportunity to give feedback and reinforcement. For example, if you wanted a child to “be a tree” when the dog chases her, you would model the behavior first and then ask her to try it. If she did not tuck her hands under folded arms, you would modify her position and then praise her for doing it correctly. Asking her mother to pass the information along might not yield the same results.
I do not have to tell those of you with kids that young children have a hard time sitting still for long periods. Do not expect that your client’s four-year-old is going to sit patiently as you review ninety minutes of material, whether it includes actual training or not. Try to set your initial appointment at a time when very young children are napping or in school. Subsequent appointments, which are of shorter duration and involve more actual training, can be scheduled either with kids at home but occupied or, if appropriate, with the kids involved in the training. (See It’s Not the Dogs, It’s the People! for ways to involve children in training.)
Is the time of day important?
Depending on the behavior you plan to focus on, time of day could be a consideration. For example, if you plan to work on recalls, you’ll want the dog active and alert. Knowing that most dogs have energy peaks in the morning and early evening and are more lethargic mid-afternoon, you would plan your session during the more active hours. On the other hand, if it is your first appointment with a young pup and there is to be more conversation and less training, scheduling the session during the pup’s nap-time would work in your favor.
Take into account too the time of day you are most alert. Are you a morning person? I am—much to my husband’s chagrin! So I try to schedule sessions that require my intellect and energy to be in top form, for the mornings. I will not schedule a complicated behavior appointment in the late afternoon, following three other sessions. Doing so would risk my being less than effective and possibly even careless. On the other hand, squeezing in a “new puppy” appointment after a few others would not pose a problem. Try not to schedule challenging appointments for those times you are not likely to be at your best. Assess your own physical and mental peaks and valleys and schedule accordingly.
What about the weather?
Temperature can definitely be a consideration. In the area in which I live, summers can be brutal. It is not unusual to have temperatures soar over 100 degrees by midday. I would not, therefore, schedule an appointment involving leash work at noon, but would aim for early morning or late afternoon. Not only am I heat-sensitive, but I would not want a dog burning paw-pads on asphalt, or a dog or client becoming overheated. Every climate has its own challenges. Some northwestern states have rain much of the year. You might not think twice about training in a downpour, but will your client or her dog mind? What about heat, cold or snow? If necessary, ask in advance whether your clients mind mildly challenging weather, and make sure their dogs can handle it as well. These precautions will lessen the chance of last-minute cancellations due to weather conditions. Know your climate and plan accordingly.
Each time you enter an appointment on your calendar, note the area in which the client lives. When scheduling other appointments, try to group them together by area in order to minimize travel time and gas expenditure.
If a client purchases a package of sessions, ask whether she would like to schedule the next few sessions in advance. If you wait until the next appointment to schedule the following one, the desired date might be unavailable—especially if you tend to get booked a week or two in advance. Scheduling ahead can prevent a loss of momentum in training and a loss of client commitment to working with the dog between sessions.
When scheduling an appointment after a client’s work day, try to leave at least a thirty-minute window before your arrival. If you are scheduled to train just as the client arrives home from work, things can go awry. First, the client could be delayed because of work or traffic. Second, no one wants to jump right into training when she is feeling rushed or stressed. And third, the dog might be too wound up from being home alone all day to focus. By giving dogs and clients at least thirty minutes to settle in, you will set everyone up to succeed.
Do not over-extend yourself by scheduling more sessions in a day than you can physically, mentally and emotionally handle. Years ago, I taught two Saturday morning group classes back to back, followed by private appointments—sometimes four in a row. It was great financially, but I was exhausted. There is a tendency when building your business to be so overjoyed to have clients that you cram in as many as possible, and bend over backward to accommodate their schedules. You will take appointments on days you normally spend with your family, and squeeze in a 7:00 p.m. appointment even though you have three sessions before that and evenings are not your best time of day.
While it is normal to be more flexible at first because you do not want to chance losing clients, establish good habits from the beginning. Know your limitations and stick to them. I know trainers who are perfectly happy doing five or even six hour-long training sessions in a day. Four is my personal limit, particularly if a few are new clients and therefore longer appointments. If there are serious behavior issues involved, I will schedule only three appointments that day. Respecting your limitations will help to prevent burnout.
Leave yourself enough time between sessions so you are not constantly rushed. That might seem like common sense, but it took me a long time to get that one right. I would do three or four appointments in a row with only travel time in-between. I neglected to leave myself enough time to grab a quick lunch, put gas in the car or simply sit and organize my thoughts before the next session. Give yourself an extra fifteen-minute buffer between appointments. That way, should you get stuck in traffic or some other unforeseen delay occur, your remaining appointments will not be backed up and you will not be stressed out. On heavily scheduled days, try to leave yourself at least one longer break between sessions so you can rest, eat and regroup.
You might be thinking, That’s an awful lot of things to think about when setting an appointment! Taking these considerations into account will soon become second-nature. Developing good scheduling habits now will serve you well as your business grows.