The duo behind this paid membership site is guiding over 7,800 passionate dog owners on how to train their pets
Featured in this Story of Awesome: Canine Performance
Launched March 2020
Canine Performance is a paid membership site for pet parents who want to master the core tenets of dog training from home in a way that’s efficient and affordable.
The Spark: After running a successful in-person dog training business in North Carolina, Natalie Dobkins started looking for ways to share her expertise with a wider set of passionate dog owners.
Natalie’s Mighty Moment: “Starting something like this can be a daunting task. But at the end of the day, we’re dedicated to putting out a good product and making it better and better.”
For thousands of years, dogs have been man’s best friend. Unfortunately, for the last decade, there’s been little progress made in the dog training industry.
But Natalie Dobkins was set on changing that:
“I’ve been professionally training dogs for a number of years. And I really wanted to fill this space that was missing in the dog training industry: making it accessible, affordable, and time-efficient to train your dog from home.”
She started her own dog training company, Canine Performance, in July 2019 alongside partner Matt Hubbard. But after a few months, Natalie started thinking about how she could reach people beyond her base in North Carolina. She dreamed big: Was there a way for her to establish a digital educational space for dog owners around the world?
Without hesitating, Natalie began building out content for online courses and researching potential online course platforms.
But nothing felt like a good fit. Every platform was missing a community component. And for Natalie, that was a deal breaker:
“Having a community feature was really, really important to me. But it felt like the only option was to go, ‘Oh I’ll make a Facebook Group, and then I’ll have courses somewhere else.’ But Facebook is so distracting. It didn’t feel quite right.”
Meanwhile, Matt kept his eye out for leads. As it turned out, the solution was right in front of him.
He had been taking an investment course with Financial University, a Mighty Network that focuses on money management and investing. As he dug deeper, Matt realized that Mighty Networks could be the key to bringing Canine Performance online:
“The platform was really awesome, and it all just made so much sense. We would be able to host all of this knowledge and information. And we would be able to build a community.”
Their eyes on the prize, Natalie and Matt prepared for launch.
It started with a “challenge”
Canine Performance already had a built-in following on Instagram that Natalie had been nurturing since she launched in-person training. Naturally, she and Matt decided to use this to their advantage for the launch of their online training platform.
They set up a 30-day competition on Instagram, the Pillar 5 Challenge. Because the challenge focused on the five core things pet owners need to understand when it comes to training their dogs, it would be the perfect introduction to their new venture:
“For 30 days, we challenged our followers to walk their dog twice a day, do a training session with them, and practice things like impulse control and boundaries. And if they wanted to dive deeper, we had all the specifics of the challenge within a course on our Mighty Network.”
To make it super easy for people to try out their Mighty Network, Natalie and Matt set up a 30-day free trial to coincide with the challenge. If participants wanted to explore the five pillars more—or if they had questions about them—they had to join the community:
“We wanted to remove the barrier to entry and say, ‘Hey, join, it’s totally free. If you hate it by the time this challenge is over, no harm, no foul. You got a bunch of free information. Hopefully you’ll come back in the future.’”
They also offered a prize for the winner, who they chose from the participants who shared their progress over the 30 days and completed the challenge: Big-ticket training equipment that would be costly for a non-professional. In the end, the challenge paid off for Natalie and Matt too:
“Thousands of people participated. And the conversion to Mighty Networks was hundreds of people. That formed the basis of our membership. And a lot of those people are still there.”
A community that essentially runs itself
Today, the Canine Performance community has over 400* members and counting. And Natalie partly credits the pandemic with their relatively quick level of success:
“We were lucky in the sense that we were already looking to tool our services to a digital space. There’s so much value to having your content available to anyone around the world, and I think this pandemic is making that even more clear.”
The Canine Performance community offers its content via three membership tiers:
Premium Membership – $9.99 per month
The Premium Membership is Canine Performance’s basic tier, and includes about 30% of all members. It includes access to the community and two evergreen foundational courses: Foundations and Basics. Members can also access giveaways and member discounts.
VIP Membership – $19.99 per month
About 60% of members are in the VIP Membership. In addition to the perks of the Premium Membership, VIP members get access to two live webinars each month (typically a live lesson taught by Natalie or a Q&A session), and 24/7 chat support from professional dog trainers.
It’s also the only tier with a free trial:
“After the challenge, we did away with the 30-day free trial. But because the VIP tier provides the most value, we created a 7-day free trial to encourage people to get in there.”
Mastermind Membership – $97.99 per month
Roughly 10% of members are in the Canine Performance’s highest tier. The Mastermind Membership is for pet owners who want to work with a dog trainer one-on-one and get access to advanced training courses. Mastermind members get a 30-minute 1-on-1 virtual session each month, direct chat support, and access to the Advanced course (lower tier members can also access the Advanced course for $59.99).
To further differentiate their community with what they’re doing on social media, the pair make the members inside of their community their first priority:
“When members ask questions, that goes to the top of our list. It gets answered before the comments or questions on Instagram, or YouTube, or all the other areas that we’re maintaining as we grow as a brand.”
The pair also rely heavily on their members’ feedback to improve their existing offerings and experiment with new ones. Natalie often tweaks her existing lessons based on questions members ask in the comments, and they’ve shifted their onboarding process based on member feedback too.
Thanks to their hard work, their community basically runs itself:
“I don’t have to be inside of the community as much as I am at this point. Members answer each other’s questions, they create their own connections—they’re even setting up pack walks amongst themselves in their own cities!
But I still am in there as much as possible, because I do want to make people feel like I see them, and I hear them. A lot of these people came to the platform because of me, so I’ll go in and reinforce concepts as the trainer, as the person with expertise.”
From passion to Pro
It’s only been about six months, but Natalie and Matt already have huge plans for the future.
There are some small things in the works, like experimenting with pricing and introducing a freemium model. But they also want to experiment with adding even more value with an eye toward moving up to Mighty Pro:
“Our goal is to white label our Mighty Network and use it for all that we can do. We want to grow the membership and stack that value inside of it so that we have members for years and years to come.”
And as Canine Performance grows—both inside of the community and with the pair’s main business— Natalie and Matt are determined to keep helping people who are as passionate about their pups as they are:
“Starting something like this can be a daunting task. But at the end of the day, we’re dedicated to putting out a good product and making it better and better.”
Update: As of September 2021, Canine Performance is now known as Dogpro, a Mighty Pro Network with over 7,800 members.
3 key takeaways from Canine Performance’s Story of Awesome
- Try new things. The results may surprise you. Natalie and Matt have built their community with an eye towards experimentation and trying new things. It’s one of the best ways to figure out what’s going to work for you and your members.
- With the right structure, your community can basically run itself. Create a framework for your community and keep an ear out for feedback from your members.
- Don’t be afraid to dream big. Because Natalie and Matt were clear about who their community was for (super passionate dog owners), their numbers have grown quickly. Give yourself the chance to succeed by focusing on who needs you the most.