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Meet Michael O’Donnell of Sit Means Sit Dog Training Apex and Charlotte

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael O’Donnell.

Hi Michael, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
My entire life, I have always been a “Dog Person.” As a child, I truly enjoyed training our family dogs and was always that person that dogs gravitated to. However, it wasn’t until I had graduated from college and started a career in building material sales that I unexpectedly found my way into dog training. It was 2012, and I was living with my girlfriend, Melissa, now my wife, and our two dogs; my wife’s 4-year-old hound mix, Bruschi, and our anxious 2-year-old Blue Heeler mix, Taylor; we were at a family cookout, and all the kids were playing in the backyard when Taylor was cornered by my 5-year-old niece and nipped at her. The bite wasn’t serious, more like a herding nip, however, I knew this had crossed a line, and we needed to do something about it.

A few weeks later, Melissa and I learned about a dog training company named “Sit Means Sit” while at a local parade. We took their business card while at the parade and called them the following Monday to see if they would be able to help us with Taylor’s anxiety. The owner of Sit Means Sit Raleigh, Colby Self, came to our home for a training consultation and ultimately began helping us with Taylor’s training. Colby saw how quickly I could pick things up, along with the noticeable improvements Taylor had made, and offered me a part-time job as their sales consultant and trainer while still working full-time in building material sales.

For the next two years, I learned everything I could because I had now realized that dog training was my passion, and I wanted to learn how I could make a career out of it. Finally, after discussing the jump with my boss, Colby, and feeling that I was ready to take the jump into owning and running my Sit Means Sit, my very supportive and 7 months pregnant wife said, “do what makes you happy, and I’ll support you 100%”! So I resigned from my Sales job, took out the small amount of money I had in my 401k, spent a month training out in Las Vegas, and then officially opened Sit Means Sit Apex 3 days after my beautiful daughter was born in December of 2015.

We began as a small mobile operation based out of our home in Fuquay Varina, N.C., where I was the only employee (Receptionist, Salesman, and Trainer). At the same time, my wife, who had a full-time career in marketing, did our advertising on nights and weekends. Over 7 years, our model has changed from driving to people’s homes to train their dogs daily to hiring two trainers that helped train clients’ dogs out of local doggy daycare. We now operate a 5,000 sq ft training facility in Apex, N.C. with 12 employees and have a new location in Charlotte with a 6,000 sq ft training facility and 7 employees on staff!

We are also proud and humbled to have won numerous local awards and been featured in several local media outlets. Our dog, Ripken, is the official Bat Dog for the AAA Minor League Durham Bulls Baseball team, the Bat Dog for the Holly Springs Salamanders (college summer team), and the Bat Dog for N.C. State Baseball, and the kicking tee Retriever for N.C. State Football. Ripken has been featured on local media outlets such as WRAL, WTVD, and Spectrum News; national media outlets like ESPN, Inside Edition, Fox News, Golf Digest, The Dodo, and Internationally with an article in The Independent based out of the U.K.! Having Ripken perform on these high-profile platforms has also gained a lot of local, national, and international attention!

I could have never imagined the growth we have seen over the past 7 years. I believe that part of our growth is due to our ability to let go, take risks, and pivot when needed. We have always been open to change, understanding that you sometimes need to adapt to improve. However, none of this growth would have been possible without the unbelievable team we have built around us that has allowed us to take those risks. Everyone on our team is dedicated and passionate about helping dogs build better relationships with their families. They are motivated daily by the transformations they help create in the dogs we train.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I would say that the biggest challenge to getting where we are today has been learning as we go. From negotiating contracts to HR, to payroll, to inventory, to consistently maintaining a happy client base, we learn something new daily! The only experience my wife and I had was my wife’s 8 years in Sales/Marketing for a local broadcast media company and my 4 years in Sales in the building material industry. Neither of us went to school for business; I have a degree in Psychology with a background in coaching, and my wife has a degree in Communications with a background in Public Relations and Marketing. So, every time we made a mistake, we had to learn from it.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
At Sit Means Sit Dog Training in Apex and Charlotte, we strive to teach people how to build better relationships with their dogs, starting with training. We work with dogs of all ages and breeds and specialize in issues ranging from aggression, anxiety, and other behavioral issues, to basic obedience for rambunctious pups. Our training uses attention-based methods coupled with reward-based reinforcement that allow you to communicate with your dog effectively. At the same time, they learn to listen and respect your boundaries.

Additionally, we take extreme pride in the level of professionalism that we exhibit to our clients. Trusting someone with your pup, a family member, is nerve-racking, which is why we try to make the experience as seamless as possible. We start with a free consultation at our training facility, where dog owners can tour our facility, meet our trainers and watch training sessions in progress. We then discuss the behavioral issues clients face with their pups and programs that would be the best fit to help work on them. We offer several programs, including weekly puppy classes, private one-on-one lessons, Day Training, and Board & Train programs ranging from 5-21 days. We run weekly group classes where our clients and pups can come for their pup life to continue to grow and learn as their dogs get older. Clients are also provided with outlines and clear-cut weekly goals we want them to strive for, and there is always a follow-up email at the end of every lesson, so our clients never feel lost.

I want your readers to know that we care about every dog as if they were our own. Our team is extremely passionate about what they do. It comes into work every day excited to see these pups learn and grow with the ultimate goal of helping clients and their dogs build better relationships so we can keep as many dogs as possible in their homes and out of shelters.

What’s next?
In the future, we are looking to open a second training facility in southern Wake county and a second training facility servicing the north side of Charlotte. Having additional training facilities in each market will allow us to expand our service area and help as many dogs as possible. Additionally, I am looking to grow as a Professional Dog Trainer by getting into different training verticals. I truly enjoy training retrievers and hope to focus more on that in the future.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Bob Karp Victoria Vasilyeva Photography Brayden Holt – NC State (@brayyphotos) Andrew Green – Durham Bulls

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