In the beginning, it was just an idea. But it proved that it is possible to train our four-legged friends with a positive attitude. Klára Groulíková was only seventeen when she started her business. By the age of twenty-three, she managed to turn her online dog school into a million-dollar business. In an interview for LP-Life.com, the girl talked not only about her unassuming beginnings, but also about how to turn one’s dog into the most obedient creature ever.
I first thought of it in grammar school, when I was still a student and we had two puppies at home that needed to be trained. We went to the training ground for dogs, but the approach was not quite what we had expected. They put a lot of pressure on dogs, used punishments, the dogs didn't even enjoy listening to their orders and learning new things, so we started looking for something else. We wanted to see if one could train dogs in a different, friendlier way. And we found a positive method and a trainer who guided us through it. We found it awesome. It only took one lesson for us to see how quickly the dogs began to obey. The puppies were having great fun, and their level of obedience improved practically within minutes. You could see they were interested and attentive, and I felt it was a great pity that people here in the Czech Republic didn’t know about it. It was more widespread abroad. That is why the idea of the Online Dog School was born. We wanted to enable people to learn about positive training methods and spread them further into the world.
It wasn't such a huge project at first, it developed rather inconspicuously and gradually. I started learning the positive training method, which I then wanted to pass on to other people, but I had no idea that it would turn into such a huge business and that there would be so much interest in it. In the beginning, it was just a modest project.
Sure, but the budget wasn't that big in this case. It was more about buying a website, for example, an invoicing system, an email system, but the starting costs weren’t huge.
I don't really remember who the first client was. I actually had an e-book out that was free to download, so that absolutely everyone would have access to it. There were a lot of people who immediately downloaded the book, and I really don't know who among them was the first.
It's been about seven years now. And we've grown a lot. The team of people who are connected not only to the dog school is large. We have expanded to three countries, we currently operate in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, and we’re planning to expand even more, so there is still a lot of room to grow.
What’s it like to run such a huge business at the age of twenty-three? Did you have to learn any new skills? After all, you are active in three countries…
Yes, definitely, I had to pick up a lot of things as I went. I learned practically everything by doing, but that's why I’m not alone in it, and each of us is focused on something else, all of us are doing what we’re good at and what we’re passionate about. So it's great that we work as a team, thanks to which our business can expand like this. If I was alone, the capacity naturally wouldn’t be there.
Nowadays I'm more in the background of the whole project. I'm in charge of our website, communication with customers and trainers, and I bring them together. As for the dog training, we have trainers who work with them on a daily basis, they have extensive experience in this field and offer quality advice.
Primarily, yes, because in order to maintain such a large scope, of course, we have to stick to the online form. The time capacities of the trainers are very limited, we mainly offer online courses focused on various issues that can arise and on various obedience problems. But if you have a dog that’s problematic in some way, has negative experiences, acts in an aggressive manner or shows any other form of undesirable behaviour, it’s better to work with him in person, too. So our trainers do offer personal training sessions for these specific cases.
We’ve talked about aggressivity in dogs. In Fast Confession, you said that when they’re aggressive, it might mean they feel scared. How many cases of such aggressive dogs have you dealt with?
There are a lot of such dogs. One of our trainers, Zdenka Koldová, specializes in this, and she is currently working with several people who are solving this problem. These dogs often come from a shelter or from a breeder, and have experienced bad treatment from their owner. Due to that, they are actually afraid, which drives them to act aggressively or display other kinds of improper behaviour towards their owner or people around them, towards other dogs and so on.
Having your own business has some negative sides, too. Has it ever happened to you that a customer was, for example, dissatisfied? That they said you’d failed to teach their dog a single thing?
There are definitely people like that and we’ve noticed it’s mostly because some people think that we will raise their dog for them. A lot of people would prefer to simply leave their dog somewhere for a month or a fortnight, let someone else train him and pick up a well-behaved animal. But that's not how it works. Some people, when they find out that they actually have to work on making their dog listen to them, ask for a refund or are dissatisfied with the course or with our service.
We offer a 14-day money-back guarantee, if they request it within those two weeks, we refund them the full amount. After this period, we usually do not give refunds, it is no longer required by law. But they do have 14 days to get their money back.
Anyone can ask for a refund within those fourteen days, that’s stipulated by law. Where online products are concerned, I believe the 14-day guarantee is mandatory. I'm not a law expert, but I think that's the case, so that's how we offer it. And when someone asks for a refund, we usually don't look into it. When someone wants their money back a month or two later, then we ask them why, of course. If there is a serious reason, for example, if the dog died, so they couldn’t really attend the course, couldn’t use it, then we refund them even after that period.
Numerically, it’s millions in turnovers a year, and I would say that was already interesting for Forbes. But, of course, there’s still room to grow, and we would like to expand to other countries and keep spreading positive training.
If you achieve something of this magnitude at such a young age, how does it affect a person, how does it affect one’s personality?
Maybe you should rather ask the people around me how I have changed as a person. But I think that, since I grew up in a village, I'm still a normal, modest girl that doesn't need much to be happy. I’m grateful for the little things in life - that we’re healthy, that I have a healthy daughter. That's much more important to me than money and things you can buy.
Since you have such big turnovers and your company is doing well, aren’t you considering other projects, such as opening a dog shelter or some other activity of public benefit?
We weren’t really thinking of opening a shelter at all, but we do give part of our profit to a charity related to dogs. We help various shelters or organizations, we always pick one we like and contribute in this way.
The Czechs are a nation of dog owners, I think dogs have great lives here. People love them and treat them like family members. Here, dogs have it good even when compared with some other European countries. They have great lives in the Czech Republic.
You know, I’m always terribly shocked when I see reports about breeding facilities on the news, or videos of people who don’t treat their dogs right. How does it make you feel when you see something like that? Or do people come to you to inform you about it?
Of course, cases like that exist and likely always will, it probably happens in all countries, somewhere more, somewhere less. In the Czech Republic, I would say, the awareness about breeding facilities and inappropriate treatment of dogs is becoming more and more widespread. And that’s the most important thing we can do against it. Inform people and make sure they know not to buy dogs from breeding facilities. And that they treat them right. So that's one thing. And as for the people who are in charge of those breeding facilities, I don't really get them. Of course, it puts money in their pockets, but it's only a matter of time, in my opinion, before it gets even more limited… before the laws start regulating it even more. People keep reporting it and the relevant authorities are becoming interested in it.
Make sure to consider carefully whether you have enough time and energy for it. Whether you can give it the attention it needs. It often happens to me that I get a phone call from someone saying that they bought a dog and that the dog is very demanding, that it destroys everything in their house and so on. And I ask them: how much time do you spend with it, what do you do with it, how do you train him? And they go like: Well, we don't really have time for it, we go to work. So that's something people should be aware of. Naturally, owning a dog will give you joy, but we have to count with the fact that you’ll have to take care of it, give it enough attention. And according to that, choose a breed that will suit you - some dogs need more movement, others less - in short, choose a dog that’s a good match and that you’ll see eye to eye with.