By Steve Appelbaum, Founder and President of Animal Behavior College
The idea that not only can cats be trained but that the parents of felines can call a professional cat trainer for assistance is a relatively new concept. When I started training dogs professionally in the early 1980s, there were no cat trainers, or at least none I had ever met. There was little information available on the topic during that time. I know this because many of my dog training clients also had cats, and some had questions about their behavior.
Can you help me with litter box training Fluffy?
How do I teach Fluffy not to scratch the furniture?
Is it a fantasy to want Fluffy to accept or at least not to try to kill my new puppy?
When I first started hearing these questions, I had no idea how to answer them. For those under 35, remember that there was no internet to search, so getting the answers to these and other cat training questions wasn’t that easy. Could cats be trained? Well, I had seen some trained cats on TV, so it seemed like the answer was yes. Plus, I had a cat when I was a kid, and my parents taught him to use the litter box, so clearly, training was possible. I remember asking my dad about this during these years, and he had zero recollection of how he and mom had taught our cat not to soil the living room. “Maybe luck, or he was afraid of your mom,” he joked. So, for a decade, I learned as much as I could about cat training, not only because enough of my clients’ wanted answers from me, but because the more I learned, the more interesting I found it. By the way, as a side note; I don’t think I have ever actually known a cat named Fluffy.
Fast forward twenty-plus years. I am the President of Animal Behavior College, and we are looking at other courses to offer animal lovers looking for animal careers. We already provided grooming, dog training, and veterinary assistant programs, so what would be next?
Any number of ideas were put on the table, but the one I wanted and ultimately saw created was a program on cat training.
Another 12 years have passed since the creation of our first cat training short-term program and 6 since its development into the complete core program it is today. Attitudes toward the trainability of cats have changed, and there are hundreds of cat trainers all across North America. This means working as a professional cat trainer today is possible like it never was before. If you think about it, this makes sense.
After all, depending on what statistics you look at, 31-38% of all American households keep a cat. Canadian numbers are about the same. This means tens of millions of cats are kept as pets in North America. THAT’s a lot of kitties which means a lot of opportunities for building a cat training business.
The big question is, how do you market for certified cat training and get noticed in a somewhat new industry?
First, network with pet professionals
Veterinary Hospitals and clinics are a great place to start. Dog trainers have built reciprocal referral relationships with veterinary facilities for decades. Cat trainers, not so much. Veterinarians and their staff don’t have the time and, in some cases, the knowledge to help their clients with cat behavior questions. That’s where you come in! Get to know hospitals servicing areas where you wish to practice. Find the most common feline behavior questions they get and supply them with simple answers. Believe it or not, printed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) still work. Of course, these FAQ materials will have your contact information on them. You can also offer to work with hospital staff if they have personal issues with their kitties. Work well with staff, and you can build loyalty that can last for years. The beauty of cat training is that there are far fewer cat trainers, which means terrific opportunities to do what dog trainers have successfully done without waiting at the end of a tremendous line.
The same principles can be used for all pet businesses that cater to cat parents. This includes independent pet stores, groomers that work with cats, and daycare or boarding kennels that handle felines. You can even work with dog trainers!
Why dog trainers? Remember the first part of this article. I started as a dog trainer and quickly discovered that some of my clients also had cats. I guarantee that a percentage of your cat clients will also have dogs. In addition, some of your cat clients may have dog behavior questions they want assistance with. While it would behoove you to consider learning to train dogs and expand your marketability to both species, not everyone who trains cats wants to train dogs. So, poof, now you have cat clients with dog training needs that you can refer to a dog trainer.
This works the same for a dog trainer who is asked cat questions but has no interest in working with cats. That trainer could refer the cat business to you. Reciprocal relationships can be fabulous for building business.
While this article will not cover the finer points of PPC, social media, or SEO marketing, there are some things I want to mention.
You are your brand. If you want to create an online presence as a cat trainer, figure out what your presence will look like and how you will present yourself. Generally, standing out is the goal but not in a bad way. Eclectic can work fine if it’s friendly, and you can pull it off. What’s your message? I find that using relevant information for cat parents can be a huge draw. Sure, people spend an embarrassing amount of time watching funny cat videos on social media, but will a percentage of these folks spend time listening to you give them tips on how to live more positive trouble-free lives with their cats? That depends on what you have to offer and how you present it.
This takes us to what I consider a fascinating place in marketing. A great many marketers are always looking for the next new thing to go viral. Some succeed as new ideas and ways to present old ideas often occur. However, and I’ve had long debates about this with marketing folks, I wouldn’t start trying to hit it out of the park with a brand-new idea. What would I do? I would research and figure out what currently works. What have people been watching and responding to for the last few years? It’s not one thing. It’s many. Figure out what those are. Then without stealing anyone’s content, which is completely unethical, look at the basic gist of their messaging and, in your own words, follow the basic formula. Again, it’s essential to understand what I am saying.
Stealing other people’s stuff
Bad. Never do it. Taking a concept and putting your own spin on it? It could be a winner. Regardless of whether my thoughts resonate with you here, all marketing experts will tell you one thing. Content is king. Want a high SEO ranking? Create relevant quality content. Want people to follow you on social media, create relevant quality content and if you do this consistently, people will follow, engage and share your message. Who knows, there may come a time when new cat trainers looking to create a niche for themselves look at what you have created, become inspired, and put out their unique perspective on something you originally said, which means things come full circle.