How to train a dog to be your ring bearer? “We have to recreate those distractions” found in a typical wedding, said Kelley Rosequist, CEO of Dog Training Elite. “It’s one thing to get the dog to do it in someone’s living room.”
So trainers at the one-year-old franchise hold “really fun group classes” at local parks, inviting other clients to bring their pets and stage a mock wedding. It costs $1,800 all in. “So far we haven’t had any wedding snafus. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time,” Rosequist said. “We tell people, dogs will be dogs. You can only control so much.”
The company has been operating for 40 years, out of Utah, and began franchising in 2020. Her father, John Mestas, started it as Arrow Kennels, and originally focused on high-level training for hunting dogs. “He was coaching people through these competitions, and competing himself. He would lead hunting expeditions and take people out on goose hunts. It was very specialized,” she said.
Mestas noticed a gap in the market for everyday obedience training. Rosequist now uses her social work background to develop new training modules for Dog Training Elite: including service dog training for PTSD, psychiatric support, mobility support, as well as diabetes and autism support.
“Particularly the autism support program, that was my baby, that was a program I built out and I do get to use a lot of my clinical knowledge,” she said. Training for service work takes six months to two years; personal protection the same. Those packages range from $3,000 to $7,000.
“We’ve worked really, really hard to make sure that’s always affordable. On average service dogs cost $40,000 to $60,000, we want to make sure it’s within reach for everyone,” she said.
Standard obedience packages take two months to four months and cost from $600 to $2,000. As Dog Training Elite, now with 11 franchisees with 34 territories, expands to new markets, she will pivot quickly to meet new demand, like for those weddings wanted in Austin, Texas.
Bert and Sarah Ballard are former communications professors in California who now operate a Dog Training Elite franchise in Denver. “We were looking for the opportunity to go into business for ourselves,” said Sarah Ballard.
Their daughter Adria, age 19, is the training director, so she manages all of the trainers and stays on top of social media and inventory as well.
“About three years ago, my health took a downhill turn. I was in a dark place,” Adria said, and she began researching service dogs. “I found one dog from a private party, and once this dog was in my arms I knew I wasn’t leaving without her. Her name is Snickerdoodle. She genuinely saved my life.”
Cost of investment for a Dog Training Elite franchise ranges from $120,000 to $150,000. “They gave us a great deal because we invested in such a high number of territories,” Bert Ballard said. They bought five territories with the right of refusal for all of Colorado’s Front Range. “We are in year three of our five-year plan, and we are nine months into this, and this is during COVID.”
Adria states their goal enthusiastically: “We’re going to take over Colorado!”
Rosequist said she’s excited about making dog training accessible throughout the U.S., “and more importantly seeing people across the country having access to the service dogs they desperately need, so making the world a better place for dogs and their people.”
As to this question, she has a quick answer: Is it more about training the dog or training the human? “Absolutely training the human.”