I had been operating with canine behavior for years before I really
started my business. So, I knew exactly what to do on the dog training side of the business
Setting up your business as an LLC
Consider putting in your business as a financial obligation company (LLC), rather than operating as a sole proprietor. An LLC is relatively easy and inexpensive to set up, so even if you consult with an attorney, your legal fees should not be excessive. When you set up an LLC, you form a new entity, separate from yourself, through which to conduct business. This protects your personal assets. When all of your transactions are between the LLC and your vendors or customers, anything that goes wrong is done in the name of the LLC. Therefore, you are personally protected against people piercing the corporate veil and suing you personally. You are no longer the “owner” of the business. You are only working as an administrator of the business. Transactions and contracts are between the organization and the customer.
Forming an LLC can help you protect your non-business assets such as your house, car, even your pension plan. You don’t want to lose any of that because of an accident or a mistake. (And humans always make mistakes. Adding a canine business partner into the mix increases the odds of such a mistake.) Since an LLC owns the assets, not you, it’s hard for a lawyer to take anything away from you.
There are also tax benefits to operating through an LLC. Instead of paying the tax rate that traditional corporations do, you get to pass the earnings on to your personal tax return at what is usually a lower rate. And operating through an LLC allows you to reduce your taxes in another way because it enables you to reduce the self-employment taxes that sole proprietors pay on every dollar of profit.
Tracking your expenses and write-offs
While keeping track of business expenses and logging receipts is generally not a dog trainer’s idea of a fun afternoon, there are good reasons to do it. For starters, being organized helps you know what money is going in and what’s going out. But you should also be tracking because, if you are smart about writing off expenses, it could save you money during tax time. Write-offs work by reducing the amount of taxable income you have. For example, if you bring in $100,000 a year from your dog training services and show $25,000 in write-offs, you would be taxed on only $75,000 in income. In some cases, tax write-offs can lower your federal income tax bracket, reducing the percentage of your taxable income you must pay. Ask your accountant what kinds of expenses you can write off. Note that when you bring a teaching dog into the picture, many of the expenses you incur to care for that dog can be written off.
How is this possible?
Being a dog trainer is a skilled trade that can be likened to being a carpenter, an electrician or a hairdresser. The more you see, and the more you work in the field, the more proficient you will be. Your clients will have plenty of questions about dog behavior throughout the canine life cycles. So it is imperative that you live your work—raising and training a dog in order to be an expert in your field.
While reading books and watching seminars is great, much of your education and training is based on your experience working hands on with dogs. And for many of us, our own dogs serve as our guinea pigs for teaching new training techniques, proofing cues and handling at seminars.
Since practicing with your dogs and using them in lessons is imperative, costs associated with having your own demo dog are most certainly a write-off! Some of the things that can be written off by having your own demo dog include:
- Food and treats
- Veterinarian bills
- Collars, leashes and harnesses
- Pet insurance
- Crates, carriers and restraint systems
- Grooming supplies or appointments
- Continuing education classes taken with your demo dog
- Fees for seminars and trials that your dog is working in
While you aren’t required to submit receipts when you file your tax returns, you must be prepared to document your write-offs if you are ever audited. This means saving receipts, bills or bank statements and keeping a log of the miles you drive. For safety, these records must be maintained for at least seven years after you file your taxes.
Waivers and liability
All small business owners should have an attorney they can consult with or have on call should something arise that requires attention. The right business attorney will help you file and draft all legal contracts according to exactly what you need, set you up so that you can legally do business in your city and state of residence, and guide you should an issue arise.
When you bring your dog to a lesson or class, either as a demo dog or to socialize another dog, you should protect yourself.
If you are teaching a private lesson in someone’s home, the homeowner should always understand exactly what your intentions are for bringing the dog. Ideally, they should put in writing that:
They know your dog is coming to their home
They consent to the activities that will be taking place
They understand that you, the trainer, have judged your dog’s demeanor to be stable and friendly, but…
They understand that accidents can happen
Additionally, if there are children in the home, you should always ask that those children do not attend the training session or interact with the teaching dog.
Any time you opt to bring a dog with you as your helper for a lesson, it is a good idea to give your client a booklet with your policies, procedures and a general idea of what to expect ahead of time. Each recipient of the booklet should sign the booklet and return a “receipt” page, acknowledging that they read and received the manual and are aware of the trainer’s tactics, techniques and so on.
This is of course different if you are a dog trainer who owns your own facility or space (and even different still if you rent the space). If you own the training space, you can do what you choose, however you should again ensure that all attendees of your class are aware that you will be using a dog in the lesson who is not owned by the client. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. If you rent space, it would depend on the terms of your lease, because landlords can also be liable for incidents when things go awry.
Will a waiver help?
Waivers are good for certain circumstances, but not all. It is recommended that every dog trainer have a client agreement that is prepared professionally by a lawyer with experience in drafting contracts. You should present this agreement to each of your clients.
The agreement, coupled with the aforementioned “what to expect” booklet, should be signed and kept on file by the trainer. While not a specific “waiver,” the agreement should include language that is tailored to protect the dog trainer and his/her business and staff.
Waivers (or, as stated above, client agreements) will usually hold up in court so long as (1) they were drafted clearly and unambiguously (which is why a lawyer should prepare it for you as opposed to your downloading one from the Internet); and (2) they were signed by all parties involved. It is difficult for a victim to say she did not understand that she could be bitten by a dog during training if she signed an agreement stating otherwise.
It is also noteworthy that each state has its own acceptable provisions that will hold up in court.
In the end, you never know what a judge or jury could decide, which is why it is important for each business owner to have a good client agreement in place, and be bonded, licensed and insured. And to have a great relationship with a business attorney.