Why the Business Model “Club” Hurts Protection Dog Sports

In the last 20+ years I have watched as the majority of protection sport training groups have transitioned from a club, into a business.  Or even worse in my opinion, into a business that masquerades as club.

While any opportunity to train can be viewed as a positive, it is my opinion that the business model or business/club model is limiting the growth of dog sports, for the following reasons:

First, the business "club" tends to charge higher training fees, because someone, or multiple people, is making a portion of their livelihood off the business while still also having the expenses a club would incur.  The goal is to make a profit, and not just have a club bank account that can pay for seminars, trials, equipment, etc.  This prices the cost of training out of the reach of many people, especially in today’s economy.  It especially prices the cost of training out of the reach of younger people, who tend to not have as much disposable income as people further along in their careers, whose kids have grown, etc.  But the youth are the future of the sport.  If we lose them now, we may never get them back.

Take a look at the sports in the US which are the biggest; obedience, agility, conformation.  Then take a look at which ones are the smallest, the protection sports. Also look at the membership numbers in the sports, I believe over the last 15-20 years the numbers have dropped in almost all the sports. And the number of businesses has grown.

In my area, I can take an 8 week obedience or agility class for $65-85.00. I don't do conformation, but the people I know are paying about the same for an 8 week class, or $5-10 per drop in session. And there are classes all over the place, most people drive 30 minutes at most for a class.  They arrive, the class lasts 1 hour, and then they can go home.  Compare this to the business model protection sport groups. $35-100.00 per session, plus in some cases there are field fees on top of this. That's $280-800 for 8 sessions, just for the training fees.  Then you have to figure in travel time and gas, since most of the people I know throughout the country are traveling an hour or more for training, and it ends up easily being $400-$1000 a month to train.  There is also the time expense.  Most of the business model protection sport groups aren’t running as a “show up, stay for one hour, train your dog and leave” situation.  Instead, you show up, stay for 4-6 hours, then leave.  Finally figuring in the cost of the dog, equipment, trials, etc. and this protection sport hobby can easily cost 10's of thousands of dollars of the life of a single dog.  It’s hard for people to justify that type of expense for a hobby.  The number one reason I hear from people who are leaving protection sports, other than "I'm sick of the politics" is "I just can't afford it anymore".

The other major issue I see with the business model is there isn't any emphasis on growth past a certain point. In the club model, when a club gets too big to be able to train all the dogs in a reasonable time frame, the logical choice is to split into two clubs, who are now able to accept even more people/dogs.  As the new clubs grow, split, etc. the sport grows.  Training and trial opportunities increase, and soon an area is a “hot bed” of activity for that sport.  In addition, when the split is done amicably, which is much more likely when it doesn’t involve someone’s livelihood, the clubs tend to work together in the future supporting each other’s events, holding mock trials, etc.  In the business model there is no reason to grow past a certain point.  Once the person being paid has reached the maximum number of dogs they can work with in the allowed time frame, they just start turning people away. It doesn't make sense for them to create other training opportunities for those people with other trainers, since then they are creating their own competition, and potentially losing money as the people they turn away, begin recommending the trainer they ended up working with instead of the initial trainer.  When these groups do split, or individuals leave them, there is general hard feelings because it effects someone’s bottom line, and their ability to feed their family.  This in turn negatively impacts whether the groups will work together in the future, supporting each other’s events, creating further training opportunities, etc. 

Do I believe the business model is only negative?  No.  It does give people a place to train, and possibly trial.  And someone running a business is more likely to accept any client that comes along, as long as they keep paying the bill.  So that 5 year FRI or 5 year SchI dog which a club may not have welcomed is just as welcome to the business owner as the super star.  This gets people hooked on the sport who might otherwise have gone to do agility, and their next dog may be better suited for the protection sports.  But I don't think it's as positive for the sports overall as the true club model. And if a club is being replaced by a business, then yes, I do think the business is actually a negative.

One thought on “Why the Business Model “Club” Hurts Protection Dog Sports

  1. Nancy Pritz

    Thank you for your post.  I found it very interesting.  I would love to continue in the sport but have not continued mainly due to the cost ($28 for a few minutes with a helper) and the time commitment (5 hours every Sunday).  I have found that agility offers many more opportuntities to train and trial with much less effort.  Life is busy and choosing a sport with greater opportunity at less cost makes sense.  I would love to go back if the right opportunity opened up.

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