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Kerry Sheldrick from Howl: School for Dogs

Deputy Headteacher turned dog trainer, Kerry, is passionate about training dogs using positive reinforcement behaviour techniques.

4 min read

Tell us a little bit about your business and your motivations behind it…

My mission is to stop the suffering of dogs worldwide – that’s my plan. I train dogs around Hackney using positive reinforcement, working with both the owner and their dog. 

I work with all dogs, with bought dogs it’s more preventative work to ensure they build good behaviours whereas working with rescues requires a different approach. If there is anyone that is experiencing economic hardship, I've put together a sliding scale of prices so that my services are accessible to everyone.

The work I do ensures that dogs are well trained and happy so they don’t end up in a shelter. But I also focus on rehabilitating dogs in shelters so they get their chance to find a home. 

It’s dog training but with the wider ambition to help the lives of rescues and reduce the amount of dogs in shelters.

What was your journey to starting your own business?

I used to be Deputy Headteacher of a school, but I found myself disagreeing with a lot of the education system and realised the job wasn't for me. I temporarily got a job in a pub and due to my drop in income I decided to quit smoking – I promise this will make sense – and in order to stop smoking, I had to completely rethink my lifestyle. 

The same habits I had, couldn’t continue. I had to think of something else I loved to do to occupy my time. That’s when I struck on dogs and dog walking. I originally signed up to BorrowMyDoggy and I realised I was good at handling not just my own dog but strangers dogs as well.  

It was a natural move for me to transfer those positive reinforcement skills that I’d practised for years with children to dogs and their owners. Rather than punishing them, it was about helping them put things right and focus on rewarding the things that were great about them.

To be totally honest, I do prefer dogs to kids – not to say I don’t like children – I always wanted the kids I worked with to do well, but I really love dogs. When I decided I didn’t want to work in education anymore, I took those skills and applied them to working with dogs. 

In reality, it doesn’t even apply to the dogs, the work I do is training the adults on how to work with their dogs and behave around them. I’m still teaching people, they’re just older than before. 

The training isn’t simply leaving the dog with me and going on your jolly way, it’s a group session with me, you and your dog to learn how to get the best from each other. 

Howl: School for Dogs logo

How do you find the dogs that need that extra support?

The main way I find clients is by meeting people out and about. I take my own rescue dog out to the parks and she does the marketing for me because she’s such a great example of my training. 

She’s my Debbie McGee, my glamorous assistant. People want to know about her story and are often surprised to hear she was a rescue and hadn’t been outside for years before I got her. Now she’s simply brilliant, and when seeing her in person, people want to learn how to do that with their own dogs.

I also advertise using Google Adwords and other digital marketing tools but to be honest, the majority of my clients end up coming from word of mouth and meeting them around the parks I walk. 

What have been the biggest challenges with starting your business? 

Two things, the first is the laborious admin that has to be done. It’s definitely something that I find really time consuming and challenging as a freelancer. 

The second is the people side of things, having always had the safety net of working in an institution, this is a new thing for me. I can spend hours on potential clients, getting in touch, chatting with them, discussing and figuring out their needs and then they disappear. 

It can be really disheartening knowing the sheer amount of time I put into them was wasted, occasionally they’ll even come back a few weeks later looking for the same slot and I almost have to start over again because by then I might have moved on to someone else and the session won’t be available anymore. 

There are definitely challenges but it’s good and I’m starting to get used to it all now. 

Kerry with her clients' dogs

What would you say you’re most proud of?

There are hundreds of dogs around where I live in Hackney and when I take my dog out there’s quite a few I’ve already worked with. It is so rewarding seeing those dogs out with their owners who aren’t shouting at them, and instead they’re practising all these positive reinforcement actions that I taught them. 

As a practising Buddhist to be able to see essentially peace in action, albeit on a small scale in my local park, is still amazing. The owners look more relaxed, the dogs look happier so it is incredibly rewarding to see the results of my work. I love bumping into them and being able to say to myself ‘I’ve done a good job there’. 

It’s even more incentive for me to get it right, I can’t hide behind a computer. I have to go out and see these people because I walk my dog in the same park and I want to be recommended to their friends and neighbours. 

What do you love most about running your own business?

With my business, I get to be completely authentic as my own boss. I don’t have time to mess anyone around, I can be open and honest about how I work. Having worked at an institution before I don’t miss the systems, the processes or the 'corporate pseudo speak'.

Another major perk is that I can manage my own time. If I decide I want to have a relaxed week and not earn as much, I can. On the other hand, if I want to work myself to the bone – clients allowing of course – then I could do that too.

On a beach with a client's dog

Has your business been affected due to Covid? 

I only launched during Covid and I’ve been operating for about five months now. I think I timed it well as I completed my training over the last couple of years and now there are dogs everywhere. 

There will be a lot of dogs suffering too because of separation anxiety and whatnot as people start to go back to their offices and aren’t home as much as they were over lockdowns. 

So weirdly enough, Covid has been quite good for me and the beginning of my business. 

What lies ahead and where do you see your business going?

I’ve completed the equivalent of a Foundation Degree in dog training and now I’m continuing up to degree level so that I can work as a clinical behaviourist with more traumatised dogs.

My longer-term dream is to obtain charitable status. I'd find somewhere to live that could also be a sanctuary for older rescue dogs who aren’t likely to be adopted. I could earn an income via behaviour consultations but unfortunately, I don’t have the time or skills at the minute to figure out how that would work. One day, that’s the plan.

I understand that for a lot of people spending money on a dog trainer is a luxury, I want to be able to help those that might not be able to afford it too. At the moment I ask people to get in touch on my website if they’re on a lower income as I can offer reduced rates. 

I don’t want dog training to be something reserved for the elite, I want everyone to be able to look after and properly train their dog. In the future, I’d love to be able to do workshops with young people so they know how to look after their animals.

You can find out more details about Howl: School for Dogs on its website or Instagram page.

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