Originally from Toronto, Canada, Val Rutledge, owner of Training Ventures, moved to the Sunshine State in 1977 to work as a Registered Nurse at Miami Children's Hospital. During her time in Miami, Rutledge began teaching and volunteering at Miami Obedience Club. She also invested years of effort into learning the Volhard Motivational Method, an approach to dog training developed by Wendy and Jack Volhard, two highly regarded individuals in the industry. By 1984, Val had evolved her own style of training and so began Training Ventures.
"The dog club I was working with wasn't open to new ideas, so I started my own," she said. "The growth of the business was slow, but steady. In addition to still working as a nurse and running the new business, I was also involved in scuba diving instruction. My husband and I definitely stayed busy."
Rutledge started doing camps and private sessions with owners that preferred to receive training in their homes. Along the way, Val became certified in canine massage. This gave Rutledge a leg up. At the time, she was one of only a handful of trainers offering this service. After more than 20 years in Miami, Rutledge was ready for a change of pace.
After having made a few trips to Citrus County for scuba diving related business. Val became enamored with what citrus county had to offer. It’s very different than Miami, but that's what we were looking for."
When Rutledge moved her business, she had to start over with client acquisition and developing a reputation.
"It took some time," she said. "I had to gain people's trust and respect. I first approached a local vet and started teaching on his property, Dr KC Nayfield of Midway Animal Hospital. This was a great stepping stone for my training business.”
Rutledge continued, “I did some advertising in the Yellow Pages and the newspaper. I also put on community shows and exhibitions with my dogs. Today, most of our business comes through word-of-mouth or people finding us through Facebook or our website."
In business for 35 years, Rutledge offers canine agility training, canine massage, holistic therapies and seminars. She has travelled with AKC agility team members and agility members from the Canadian Kennel Club massaging their dogs for world championship events, in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Norway, Finland, Germany, and most recently, the Netherlands to name a few. Val is known by some to have "magical hands" and an innate ability with canines.
"Dogs seem to trust me immediately," she said. "I have a calming effect with them.
Looking ahead, Rutledge would like to maintain her practice spending much needed time with each client accordingly. Working on show dogs or simply a dog recovering from surgery, all dogs can benefit from therapeutic massage.
What advice does Rutledge have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Stay focused on your goal," she said. "Also, go with the flow. Throughout the years, I've kept myself grounded and have maintained an ability to accept whatever comes my way. I also don't mind change and I love to keep learning."