Update: On Bringing My Husband On Board And Growing To $8K/Month

Published: November 13th, 2022
Mary Thompson
Happy Hound Unive...
from Elk Grove Village, IL, USA
started April 2014
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Hi! I’m Mary Thompson, and I own Happy Hound University LLC in Elk Grove Village, IL. I spoke with Starter Story last year, and I’m excited to update you all!

My main sources of income are group dog training classes and private in-home training. I work mostly with families who recently brought home a new puppy or rescue dog, and with people whose dogs are experiencing severe behavioral problems.

Today, Happy Hound University is making $8,000 a month on average, enough for me and my husband to live on comfortably!


Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

My group classes have grown A TON over the last year. My classes are now consistently full and I often have people sign up 6 weeks in advance for the next class. I also have a waitlist for private in-home training.

The thing I am most proud of is the fact that my husband was able to quit the job he was in and come work for the company; I am now in charge of all of the training and client facing time, but he has taken over a ton of my administrative responsibilities and has streamlined our client intake process.

I’ve also started offering what I call the “Continuing Education Club”, which is a punch card style class that keeps my best students coming back for “refresher courses” on the behaviors we worked on in classes and private lessons. This allows me to continue to work with some amazing dog guardians, and allows them to continue keeping up with their dog’s training!

I wasted a lot of time early on comparing myself and trying to keep up with other trainers when what I needed to do was respect my journey and just put in the work.

The marketing channels that are still working best for me are my rescue and shelter referral sources, joined by a few referring vets as well. By donating my time early on and showing the rescues that they could count on me, I built long-lasting relationships with folks who also have dogs’ best interests at heart and send their adopted pups my way!


What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

Not having another steady income to count on! When I first started my business, my husband was working for a big corporation and got a consistent and steady paycheck. His job made him miserable, though, so we both agreed that he should try to come and work for our business!

I have loved working with him, but it was a big leap of faith to leave that consistent paycheck behind! It has paid off though because it means I can run more classes and take more private training appointments each week!

My other big challenge has been sticking to my boundaries! When I first started this business, I would just take clients whenever it worked for them, but the truth is if you don’t set your schedule and STICK TO IT you will burn out FAST. So I needed to sit down and decide what I wanted my life to look like week by week!

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

That I can’t clone myself! I have a long, tired history of overbooking myself and working myself until I collapse and get sick. This year I tried to learn that I needed to break this cycle, and commit to better work/life boundaries, which is hard when you own your own business!

Systems like Acuity scheduling have helped a TON; I can send clients a link to my availability, and they can select the date and time that works for them, instead of always asking “what time works for you?”

Another hard lesson was deciding that a potentially lucrative service just wasn’t for our family. I had high hopes last year to start offering board and training for young puppies in our home, but one of my dogs was NOT happy about having a strange dog in her home.

We managed those few weeks, okay, but the extra stress of managing both our dogs and the boarding dog was NOT worth the mental stress! Was it a lucrative service? Yes. Is it for us? No, and that’s okay!

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

I am looking into how I can offer lower cost and online resources for dog owners. One of my greatest passions is keeping dogs in their current homes so they don’t end up in shelters in the first place, and I realize that customized training programs can be cost prohibitive for a lot of dog owning families. I’d love to build up an online library of webinars and handouts at a low cost so that dog guardians have some guidance, even if they can’t afford personalized coaching.

I’m also excited to continue growing my class programs. Currently, I am testing out some classes specifically designed for small breeds; I often get clients with small breed dogs to sign up for just one class, but I’m hoping that if I market some of my classes specifically to these smaller pups that they’ll stay in classes for longer.

My last big goal is to continue to develop my puppy social program. I have learned, since I started this business, that getting puppies into classes early and starting right from the beginning is critical to preventing future behavior problems, including aggression and fear. I LOVE helping already fearful dogs, but if we can PREVENT the fear from ever happening by getting folks into classes and training right away? That’s the best case scenario!


What’s the best thing you read in the last year?

I loved the book Laziness Does Not Exist by Dr. Devon Price. This book may not be popular among business owners, but it was just what I needed to realize that my entire identity was wrapped up in my work and that I wanted to be more than that. I also was suffering from some pretty gnarly anxiety, and this book gave me permission to not ALWAYS be working or thinking about working.


Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Number one: If you can afford it, pay professionals for their services from the start! Website creators, social media managers, and lawyers are all worth their weight in gold, and hiring a pro can take a lot off of your plate!

Number two: keep your head down, and worry about YOU and your business. The dog training industry, especially since the advent of social media, has become a truly toxic place to be! Lots of comparisons, public callouts and criticisms, and just all-around nasty, mean girl behavior. I wasted a lot of time early on comparing myself and trying to keep up with other trainers when what I needed to do was respect my journey and just put in the work!


Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!