Startup Stories: Cultured Canines

Calgarian Beth O’Connor started a dog training business out of a desire to improve the safety of her four-legged friends.

After five years of running the business, she has found success through creating a brand.

“I approach it business owner first, dog trainer second,” says O’Connor, founder of Cultured Canines.

O’Connor’s first dog died after running onto a street and getting struck by a car.

To make sure her next dog, Jake, would not get into harm’s way, she took a dog training course at the age of 19.

Now, O’Connor 24, shares this story to her clients as a reminder that it could happen to any dog.

“It makes it really real for people,” she says.

Cultured Canines uses a no-treat methodology and all the classes are outdoors, even in the winter.

To set herself apart from her competition, O’Connor prices her classes below other training schools.

Like most small businesses, the financial side was a challenge at the beginning.

“If I wasn’t living at home, I wouldn’t have had the money.”

Through word of mouth, O’Connor grew a client base and she started Cultured Canines three years ago to improve her marketing with a clear brand.

Beth O'Connor is the founder of Cultured Canines, a Calgary dog training company. O'Connor has two dogs: Jake (left) and Leia (right). (Photo by Jeff Wiehler/The Weal)

Beth O’Connor is the founder of Cultured Canines, a Calgary dog training company. O’Connor has two dogs: Jake (left) and Leia (right). (Photo by Jeff Wiehler/The Weal)

“It took me a long time to learn that word of mouth isn’t everything,” says O’Connor, who came up with the name and logo idea, and had the help of friends to design the logo and website.

O’Connor estimates she spends only a tenth of her time actually teaching and the rest of the time is spent marketing.

Not only does it take time, but also marketing—through branded dog accessories to booths at expos—is her most substantial expense.

O’Connor has been focusing on Cultured Canines fulltime since September 2014.

Professionalism and clear branding are key for small businesses, O’Connor says. Even nicer business cards can go a long way.

“Especially since I am so young, professionalism has been the most important part of my business.”

She says it is necessary to not only get the respect of the dogs she trains, but it is even more important to get the respect of the dog owners.

O’Connor recommends people starting a business to find partnerships with individuals or businesses within the industry.

Cultured Canines works closely with a local dog daycare to offer behaviour and obedience training. O’Connor also emphasizes the importance of knowing when to ask for help, whether from friends or external services.

“Entrepreneurs try to be good at everything when they’re good at one thing.”

Cultured Canines now has six trainers, all of whom trained their dogs through O’Connor.

She explains it is beneficial because the “training method is more of a community than a job.”

As the business grows, O’Connor is hesitant giving up personally training dogs.

“It is hard to give up a little bit of control,” she says.

“I love teaching my classes.”

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