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Sit. Stay. Learn

If only staff (and self) training were so easy. Here are 10 proven training methods for your business.




SCHOOL REMAINS in session at independent pet businesses. Owners train their employees, who in turn educate customers. The result when successful: an A+ in service and in sales. We asked the PETS+ Brain Squad which methods and programs they use to send their staff to the top of the class. These 10 stood out. If they aren’t already part of your training curriculum, consider them for the reasons your peers point out. After all, knowledgeable employees create loyal customers who choose to shop your indie instead of big box or online. Now, let’s ring that school bell and begin class!


BowMeow Regency in Sheffield, MA, is an American Kennel Club S.A.F.E. (Safety, Assurance, Fundamentals, Education) Certified Salon. Grooming staff are AKC S.A.F.E. Certified Groomers.

In addition to teaching her staff best practices and safety for handling animals and managing facilities, Honor Blume appreciates the marketing aspect of the training and certification.

“People recognize the AKC brand and feel it is trustworthy. I use the logo on all my ads and have the safety logo on my door as well.”
AKC S.A.F.E. Training and certifications are available through AKC Canine College and range from $149.99 to $349.99.


Jennifer Larsen loves checklists. They are an integral part of employee education at Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, WA.

“We have a new-hire checklist,” she says. “It’s approximately six pages and helps management ensure that important points are covered, and it documents by whom in case it needs follow-up, or maybe the trainer needs to be retrained. It also helps ensure that the trainers are not forgetting anything, and that no matter who trains, they don’t stray too far from what we want covered.

“It helps the new employee, so we aren’t holding them accountable to something they didn’t even know about. It sets them up for success from the start, versus throwing them into the fire. It gives them time with a mentor in the first couple weeks so they have people they feel comfortable reaching out to for help.”


Paula Gorman makes manufacturers an essential part of staff product education — both in-store visits from reps and online — at Pet Supplies ‘N’ More in Muskego, WI.

“Because then it’s not just me telling my employees about the foods and products. They hear different opinions,” she says. “It helps them feel more knowledgeable and confident to speak with customers.”

Primal, Steve’s Real Food, Nulo and Nature’s Logic are among the manufacturers that Gorman has invited for training, and her employees use online portals from Primal and others, as well.


New employees at Lucky Dogs in Skaneateles, NY, get extensive hands-on training with owner Amy Schiek and existing staff. She also uses online platform FetchFind.

“When we hire employees, they can join us with varying backgrounds and levels of education. FetchFind has made it easier to increase our team’s knowledge and ensure that everyone is getting the same information about animal behavior, pet care, customer service and pet health. FetchFind adds new content regularly so there’s always something new to learn or brush up on.”

From there, she assigns refresher training as needed and flags new content on the platform.
Founded by Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA, FetchFind helps pet care providers train, retain and engage staff. Four subscriptions levels are available: Feline Fundamentals ($199), Dog Walking & Pet Sitting ($499 per year/location), Daycare & Boarding ($799 per year/location) and All Access ($999 per year/location). Behavior fundamentals and first aid/CPR modules are available separately for $50 per individual.


Paula Jaffe’s career as a schoolteacher inspired her to incorporate scavenger hunts into employee training at Cool Dog Gear, the store she owns with wife Sue Hepner.

“Teaching someone through hands-on learning is a very effective way to ensure that information stays in their knowledge base for much longer,” Jaffe says. “I like to use this activity after we, as owners, have gone over enough information to make their head spin! We will partner the new employee with a seasoned employee. At first, the trainee is on their own, looking for answers and finding clues. When they get stuck, they can ask their partner for hints. At the end, the two go over the answers and talk about them.

“This is also a great way for the seasoned employee to have a refresher course! And this pairing helps to build relationships between the employees. The next day either Sue or I look over the answers and review it with both employees.

“We have several versions of scavenger hunts — a few of them were actually created by the employees themselves, giving them ownership of the whole training process.”


Paul Lewis requires all employees to take the American Federation of Aviculture’s Fundamentals of Aviculture Level I online course, and many take Level II on their own.

‘“I don’t know’ is not an option as an answer for my staff. Someone here can tell you incubation parameters of cockatiels eggs or how to help a bird with splayed legs,” he says, referring to the type of information covered. “There is not another pet store that I know of in my area that does this. It sets us apart.

“It’s not just selling as much as you can. It’s educating the customer to do the best job they can. When customers find out the staff has taken these courses, I hope they understand that we are more dedicated than just pushing birds out the door.”

Lewis pays all fees associated with this training. 
These courses are open to members and non-members of AFA, and participants get continuing education credits. See their website for pricing.


Dogs Paw in Park Rapids, MN, offers boarding, grooming and behavioral training. New hires learn from The Dog Gurus as part of their onboarding.

“We use The Dog Gurus program as a visual aid for our new employees to learn everything from dog breeds to group play behaviors,” general manager Stephanie Keranen says. “The videos do a great job of breaking down visual behavioral cues and how to approach various behavioral situations. Learning how to safely handle different behavioral situations is essential when we care for so many dogs with a multitude of personalities.”

Advanced courses help staff keep play fun and safe.

“It is very important that our employees know how to make playgroups according to size, breed and temperament. These factors are discussed throughout the videos as are visual cues to rude and appropriate play behaviors. These factors are essential for making an effective, safe playgroup.” 
Founders Robin Bennett, CPDT-KA, and Susan Briggs, CPACO, provide pet care business training and consulting, plus a variety of downloadable resources. See their website for pricing.


Nancy and Chris Guinn, owners of Dog Krazy stores in Virginia, understand that education starts at the top. Nancy purchased the Whizbang! Retail Mastery Kit — an 11-module retail skills course — for herself a few years ago.

“I listen to it when I’m driving or when I’m feeling burned out,” she says.

They also attended this year’s Whizbang! Retail Success Summit.

“It’s a great refresher for business owners. It reminds us of why we are doing what we do. It’s a great reminder of how to provide excellent customer service. Without our customers, we don’t have a business. The one thing I will always remember is ‘You’re never going to be successful in business if you’re not in business.’ That is something a lot of business owners need to remember when having a rough day.”
Finally, they purchased the Whizbang! Retail Sales Academy program for all of their stores.
See their website for current pricing.


Mark Vitt of Mutts & Co. stores in Ohio makes training fun for his staff. Earlier this year, he held a session — complete with food, drink and product information — at a video arcade bar. His use of online collaboration software Slack, with its social elements, fits right into this approach.

“We use Slack to communicate summaries and sales tips to support new product launches, instructions on in-store promotions and sales, even safety protocols,” he says, adding that it also works for loss prevention. “We used Slack to reinforce how to address potential attempts to steal merchandise, including an image of a known scammer from our security camera.”
Pet industry news also gets shared.

The obvious and most relevant example is DCM — there is so much information and misinformation regarding this huge topic that it’s difficult for our team members to stay on top of it all. So we post new info every day, which is delivered to managers, stores and individuals. And since our team members work in many stores around town during various shifts (and often have other jobs or school), Slack allows them to review this content on their schedule rather than collecting everyone for a group meeting, which requires extra payroll and logistics. It’s critical to have a consistent message, so we can share links or documents as well as include our company perspective on key topics like DCM.” 
Monthly subscriptions range from free to $15 per user per month.


At Just Fur Pets in Springfield, VA, Marcia Cram uses PetStorePro to educate her staff members on the basics.
“Not all have dogs in their household or have worked with dogs. The PetStorePro training program has a large chapter on dog breeds, to include photos and basic information about each breed. It also has chapters on animal nutrition, to include ingredients found in dog food. This information helps my retail staff understand food and treats so they can help our customers make informed decisions.”
Developed by the Pet Industry Distributors Association and funded by Global Pet Expo revenue, this free online training resource has dozens of courses for associates and managers, ranging from Pet Nutrition and Customer Satisfaction to Social Media Marketing and Understanding Gross Margins.



We couldn’t do a story on training without bragging a bit about PETS+. Readers regularly tell us how we educate and inspire not only them, but also their staff as the magazine, email bulletins and webinars make the rounds at their businesses. On our team are three contributors to every issue who are also business coaches:

CANDACE D’AGNOLO Under the umbrella of Pet Boss Nation, she provides business coaching through her Pet Boss Club, Inner Circle and Camp Pet Boss. D’Agnolo also offers inventory planning as a Management One consultant, and she is a Whizbang! Certified Coach. Be sure to check out and join her 2,000-member strong Pet Boss Nation Facebook group.

NANCY HASSEL Through her American Pet Professionals, she provides networking and educational opportunities — among them in-person events, online courses, Facebook lives and webinars — for members of the pet industry.

SHAWNA SCHUH In addition to her role as president of Women in the Pet Industry Network, Schuh is a leadership coach and leads the Ultimate Leadership Adventure.

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.



P.L.A.Y. Media Spotlight

At P.L.A.Y. — Pet Lifestyle & You — toy design is definitely a team effort! Watch PETS+ interviewer Chloe DiVita and P.L.A.Y.’s Director of Sales Lisa Hisamune as they talk about the toy design process, the fine-tuning that makes each toy so special and why every P.L.A.Y. collection is made with independent retailers top of mind.

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