When I was making my 2-3 hour roundtrip commute back in my Chicago days in 1999, I would daydream about what I would rather do for a living.  I was “Dilbert” working as a product manager in a cubical for the phone company at the time.  But I dreamed of testing out other careers:  Tour guide…wine sales/marketing….and….dog training.

I gave dog training a try by creating my own dog training mentorship while still living in Chicago in late 2001.  It was the first-ever VocationVacation in a sense.  I love dogs and have to say that if it weren’t for my love of VocationVacations and working with my clients with Brian Kurth + Company, I probably would let my career go to the dogs and become a dog trainer.  And I sure will have some great mentors to help me become a dog trainer if I were to ever go down that path.  One is our newest mentor, Niki Trudge, of The DogSmith in Bonifay, Florida, located between Pensacola and Panama City.

Niki Tudge grew up in England and went on to pursue a career in the hospitality industry.   For 15 years, she  managed hotels in exotic and exciting locations.   But while she was building her career, Niki was looking for opportunities to follow her passion for animals.  “Since I traveled so much in my job, I couldn’t have my own pet, so I looked for other opportunities to get involved with animals,” says Niki.

Wherever Niki worked, she always became active rehabilitating abandoned and abused animals. Then, while in Africa, she began developing her skills as a family pet dog trainer working with the local police K9 unit.  When her job took her to Hawaii, Niki decided to earn her certification as a dog behaviorist, pet dog trainer, veterinarian assistant and pet groomer.  Although her position as manager of a five-star hotel was demanding, Niki found the time to follow her passion and, with a partner, opened Hawaii Dog Training Academy which thrived for two years until another move took her to Florida.

This move caused Niki to really evaluate what it was she wanted to do.  “I was tired of working in the corporate life,” she explains.  She had spent her career managing hotel staff and had gained valuable experience in business and training. Now it was time to take that experience and apply it to a new career – time to follow her passion to establish a dog training and pet care company that would completely redefine people’s relationship with their dogs.

Niki and her husband Rick Ingram bought a farm in Bonifay, Florida, and founded The DogSmith in 2004.  Initially, they provided dog training with a mantra of “do no harm” based on scientific learning principles and positive reinforcement.  “We began working with the local Humane Society and became part of the community helping to alleviate the pressure on the rescue organization,” shares Niki.

Their innovative training program was well received, and soon clients started asking about other services for their dogs.  Niki and Rick decided to go beyond training and provide a holistic approach to helping clients care for their dogs by adding dog walking and sitting services.” We have become a one-stop shop for taking care of your dog,” Niki says.

Their business model has been successful, and they now offer franchises.  “We have a very strict screening process for potential franchisees.  Their philosophies have to align with our efforts on behalf of dogs and their owners,” Niki explains.  Franchise owners also have to commit to being involved in canine rescue efforts by contributing eight hours a month providing workshops and educational seminars. Today, with three franchises in Florida, one in Illinois and one in Pennsylvania, The DogSmith stands alone as the only national franchise that offers both positive, learning-theory based dog training services coupled with professional pet-sitting and dog-walking services.

Niki’s initial advice for someone wanting to get into the business of dog training/walking, sitting? “Do your research on training philosophies; recognize that this is a business like any business and requires attention to marketing, business operations and finances; understand that good personal service and building good customer relationships is the key to success.” And, of course, you have to love dogs.

Niki and her staff are committed to providing quality, competent, affordable services that benefit the dog and its owner.  Seven million pets a year are euthanized because their owners don’t know how to take care of them and respond to their needs.  The DogSmith is doing everything it can to reduce that number.

Ready to make a career change and become a Dog Trainer and/or Pet Sitter like Niki?  Learn more about this great new VocationVacation.

I’ll be back in coming days with some great new career transition stories.  I love seeing and hearing the amazing career transition success that people have made — EVEN in this troubling economy.

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