Humans of the Pet Professions Part 1 - People

Humans of the Pet Professions Part 1 - People

We all have a different picture in our heads of what success looks like. When we look at others we respect we tend to put them on a pedestal. We only see the parts we admire and we tend to remove the human elements. In doing that we remove the most remarkable and applicable elements. 

Over the past few months I have collaborated with a number of respected pet professionals as well as a few individuals who's humanity is to be admired. These individuals have learned how to take the good with the bad and create systems that nurture not just their businesses or causes but also their lives. 

Today I am featuring Brian Burton. He is Co-Founder of Instinct Dog Behavior & Training LLC, which is the largest dog training company in NYC. Brian has worked with thousands of owners and dogs with aggression, fear, and anxiety issues. His primary role with Instinct is Behavior Consulting. Brian is currently working toward his MA in Animal Behavior & Conservation at Hunter College. Brian grew up fearful of dogs but overcame his fear and found a lifelong passion through shelter and rescue group volunteer work. He owns a 2 rat terrier mixes (Jacky and Joey) and 3 bully breeds (Buster, Mo and Will) with his wife and business partner Sarah Fraser. Brian's previous rat terrier mix, Sammy, CD, CGC, RAE2 finished as the top-ranking mixed breed in the 2013 and 2014 AKC Rally National Championships.

M: Hi Brian! How are you involved in the pet industry and how long have you been doing what you do?
B: I am Co-Owner (along with Sarah Fraser) of Instinct Dog Behavior & Training LLC in Manhattan. We own and operate the largest dog training company in NYC. We have 4 full time behavior consultants/trainers, 2 part time trainers and 7 full time Canine Care team members. We offer board & train, private lessons and group classes with a heavy focus on behavior modification. We opened Instinct in 2009 but have been in the shelter/training world for 10+ years.

M: Wow! That is a very impressive business Brian. You mention in your bio that you focus on behavior. Is that your niche?
B: Instinct's primary focus is on behavior modification programs within a LIMA framework. There aren't many R+ board & train options for people, and we are proud to be one of the only companies in the NYC area to offer this service. We also pride ourselves on being non-judgmental and meeting owners where they are currently at on their training journey. We've learned over the years that people seeking trainers love their dogs and are just looking for help - and helping owners is what we love to do!

M:  Being non-judgmental is such a great point. That is something not very talked about in the training industry. With behavior and a very humanistic approach to business, what what was your approach to building your business?
B: We get asked this frequently, and while we do some marketing, I think the most powerful way to build a brand and a business is by doing a great job and having patience. Over time, client-focused delivery and attention to detail has a snowballing effect. Nothing happens overnight, and it's the day-to-day commitment that is the most important, in my opinion.

M: Sounds like humans play a huge part in your business, be it the owners who hire you or speak highly of you. Where else do you find inspiration?
B: Two areas; clients and our team. Seeing clients overcome challenging behavior issues and to see them and their dog thrive is incredibly rewarding. In terms of our team, everyone here works so hard to ensure a dogs and owners have a great experience. It's not an easy thing to do, and we wouldn't be where we are at without the great people on the Instinct team.

M: Such deep and helpful insight Brian. Let's delve a little into your personal practices for success. What do you do to get back on track when you’re in a funk?
B: Over the years, I've learned that there are two reasons why things get challenging; one is not taking enough time off (I still struggle with this since it was 1.5 years ago since I last took vacation) and the other is identifying areas that are causing challenging issues, and tackling those so that they are no longer a problem or simply more manageable. For example, we do over 1,800 lessons/consults and 6,000 nights of boarding in a year. As our business grew, managing logistics became tough. As a result we implemented new systems that allowed clients to schedule, reschedule and cancel sessions and boarding on their own. This one change gave us (lots!) of time back to focus on other things. This is an example of time off not always being the answer. Sometimes you need to figure out the root cause of why you are feeling a certain way, and zero in on those and make things better.

M: I'll have to pick your brain about CRM someday but for now I'll sick with personal practices. Without taking a vacation, how do you take care of yourself? How do you practice self care?
B: Making sure we have a weekend where we don't respond to clients (we are lucky to have a team who can field emails and calls when we are out). And also making sure to have hobbies. I love playing Ice Hockey and play about twice a week. It's a great way to completely disconnect from the business for a few hours each week and think about nothing else.

M: Ice hockey huh, so exercise, - you run too don't you? And hobbies, and scheduled time off. Sounds like an excellent balance. Do you have a routine or schedule that you follow?
B: Yes, we have set work days and set days off. On days off, we will monitor emails but will not schedule any calls or lessons on those days. It gives us a couple of days to usually focus on other business related issues and look after personal items.

M: Most professionals say they can't take a day off because - what if. But clearly you do. What kind of boundaries do you set for yourself and your clients/work?
B: All client communication must be through business email and our business phone line. Clients don't have my cell number and things were much more manageable after this shift. I also try really hard to not schedule phone calls on my days off. 

M: Clearly those boundaries have not created any determent to your business and have helped you thrive personally. Yet we're human and eventually things get to us. Have you ever experienced burnout or compassion fatigue?
B: I don't think you've been in this field too long if you haven't felt this. When I suddenly lost one of my dogs a while back (in a tragic way), it was really tough to help people with challenging behavior issues while going through a major loss like that. It took time, and eventually things felt "normal" again. But it was certainly challenging.

M: Thank you for sharing your personal experience. I think you're right, we all go through it at some point. It is documented that practicing resilience try exercises helps. Do you practice gratitude, personal wins, or any other form of positivity?
B: Yes! When having a bad day, one of my favorite things to do is to review a small business that I love. Writing a positive Yelp or Facebook review always makes me feel better. In fact, I refrain from writing bad reviews since I think anything good rarely comes from that activity. We also make sure to share client success stories by printing them off and hanging them in our team room for all team members to see. Our results here aren't form one person, but from a team of great people and sharing that gratitude from clients is always uplifting. 

In addition, I try to make an effort to surround myself with professionals who are good people, can recognize their own flaws, and realize that not everyone is going to see things the way they do. Our profession has a major bullying problem, and I've learned over the years to stay away from that as much as possible. I choose to hang out with other professionals who are open minded and friendly (even if we strongly disagree on certain things) as it's a great way to recharge and realize that as a group, we are helping a lot of people and dogs even if we wouldn't approach things the same way.

M: That's huge Brian. Both how you treat others, how you build up your team, and how you choose to surround yourself. That says a lot. Speaking for bullying, have you ever been bullied by other professionals?
B: Yes, and unfortunately mostly by people in the R+ community who follow strict ideology. However, I'm lucky to have round a great group of R+ professionals who work to help each other and lead with compassion and respect. Basically, I surround myself with people that I want to emulate in some way. The vast majority of people in this industry are doing this to help dogs and owners, and there is too little time and too much to do to allow such negativity into our daily lives. 

M: So true. I have to say I have experienced the same. How do you handle people who don’t agree with you or bully you?
B: Extinction lol - just beware the extinction burst :)

M: Ha great warning and good advice. So with that in mind and with all the people you know and work with, what challenges do you think the industry faces in the next few years?
B: I think regulation is a big one and something we should be moving towards. Standardizing training and behavior consulting would be a huge benefit for dogs and owners. I strongly hope that the training industry can come together to hash this out in a productive way.

M: Brian you have given such wonderful advice and I am deeply grateful for your perspective. You're very inspiring and certainly someone I look up to. What advice would you give someone who has been inspired to follow in your footsteps?
B: Don't worry about what other people are doing or saying. Find your passion and your way of doing things. Focus on what your clients need and work 110% at helping them achieve their goals, without judgement. Have patience, keep putting in hard work and use your mental and physical energy to do good in this world, instead of worrying about others. Oh - and know when to ask for help!

Thank you for your time to answer my questions Brian. Clearly the human element is very important in all of your work and in your personal self care as well. I hope your example helps other trainers and professionals. I hope all who read this take from it that our behavior towards others plays a huge part in our success. This is easily forgotten when we have such a passion for animals.

I hope you enjoyed this interview. There are many more to come. If you would like to suggest someone to share their experiences on success and personal/professional self care, please email me at

Looking to make a change in your life? Email me for coaching or check out one of my events.

Humans of the Pet Professions Part 2 - Vision

Humans of the Pet Professions Part 2 - Vision

 Want to Improve Animal Care and Rescue?  - End Bullying

Want to Improve Animal Care and Rescue? - End Bullying