Dog Blog - January 3, 2023

Following My Dreams and Creating an Accidental Franchise

By Elissa Weimer, Founder and Owner of Paw & Order

Paw & Order owner, owner, on the beach with 3 of her dogs

During college, I heard about a German Shepherd caged 24 hours a day in a dark basement. Dogs weren’t allowed, but I snuck her into campus housing anyway. Callie came to me with severe separation anxiety. While I was in class, she broke out of her crate and destroyed my apartment. It wasn’t long before I was in trouble with my roommates and the students living below us. I made the heart-rending decision to find Callie another home. I couldn’t even be in the room to watch, so I left Callie’s food and blankets and told someone to come and pick her up. After that, I vowed I would never go through a heartbreak like that again. Committed to learning everything I could, I worked to create Paw & Order Dog Training and continue to strive to become one of the most knowledgeable dog trainers in the country.

Follow your heart to find your passion

Training dogs wasn’t my first career path. I served six years with the Army National Guard as a combat police officer. During that time, I attended college and worked two paid internships: One with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and another with the Philadelphia FBI’s Violent Drug and Gang Task Force. I interviewed with the FBI during my third year of college, and they decided to keep me on at the Pittsburgh branch through graduation. After college, the FBI selected me to go through the hiring process as an agent.

While I enjoyed the camaraderie of my FBI team, I came to realize my heart wasn’t in that work. My aversion to conflict didn’t mix with law enforcement. I wanted people to be excited when I showed up at their doors. That doesn’t happen when you’re an FBI agent. I could do the job and do it well, but I grew more and more convinced that wasn’t the work I was meant to do.

This realization was a difficult one. My family expressed extreme disappointment over my decision to leave law enforcement. In their opinion, I was wasting my college degree.

Despite my family’s objections and plenty of my own fears, I followed my heart. Looking back, I can see how necessary that change was for my life.

You’ll know when your passion is leading you in the right direction

I started training dogs in 2013. One of my early customers, Steve, called me to find help for his Shiba Inu. At six months old, Duke was already manifesting aggression toward people and other dogs. Steve discovered my price during that first call and went with a cheaper dog trainer instead. He met with that trainer one time for a consultation and realized you get what you pay for. He called back and set up a consultation.

After our final training session, I had to undergo surgery on both of my eyes. Steve sent me a text afterward to check on my recovery, which led to a deep conversation and a flurry of Shiba Inu memes. After that first night’s exchange, he asked me out on a date, and we were engaged shortly after.

What better confirmation could there be that following my heart had set me on the right path than to meet the love of my life through my new career?

Paw & Order owner, owner, on the beach with 3 of her dogs
Paw & Order owner, Elissa with lots of dogs
Veteran Owned Business

Rebranding and franchising Paw & Order

In 2016, I was forced to make another difficult decision. I had to choose between paying a lot of money to keep my website and company name or rebranding the entire business. I had spent nearly four years building up my company brand, so changing it would be risky, but we decided it was the best choice. Steve left his marketing corporate job, created our logo, and built our website:

After the re-launch, I was worried things would slow down, but the opposite happened – demand actually increased. Then in 2017, we were approached by a franchising company who suggested that our small business would make for a great franchise. At the time, we thought it was an interesting idea to pursue, but we were simply too busy with our local market to think about expanding. We thanked them, but said we were not ready to take on such an endeavor. So, we carried on and continued to grow and bring on additional trainers to help with the overwhelming demand for our dog training services.

Fast forward to 2019, when the same company reached back out. While we were still extremely busy, we had a solid group of trainers we knew we could rely on and decided to franchise our business and spread Paw & Order nationwide. In 2020, right before the pandemic hit, we officially announced our franchise opportunity to the nation.

And it begins

It didn’t take long to sign our first franchise just north of our Pittsburgh territory, however, due to lock-down restrictions and other unforeseen complications, it took some time before it could begin operating. That location, referred to as Paw & Order Harmony, is now serving a large portion of Beaver, Butler, and Lawrence counties in Western Pennsylvania – from Cranberry Township up to New Castle. The owner of Paw & Order Harmony, Tia Ybarra, was the perfect person to lead that territory because she spent years working as an in-home dog trainer for the original Pittsburgh Pack. Ever since she started working for us in 2018, she knew she would love to operate her own Paw & Order someday, and that was before we knew we would eventually franchise! Tia relocated north of Pittsburgh and is loving it: “I always loved the saying ‘happiness is a well-trained dog.’ I don’t know where I heard that, maybe from a coffee mug, but nothing rings truer to me!”

Our next three franchises were acquired by one man, Bill Parker.

I met Bill in 2016 at a K9 narcotics detection school and we quickly formed a friendship and business relationship. Me and my award winning K9, Zera, work with Bill and his company, American K9 Detection Services, to search for narcotics in correctional facilities, halfway houses, and residential treatment centers in Bill’s home state of Ohio.

After selling his nationally recognized company, American Court Services, in 2020, Bill decided he wanted to work with dogs, but not just in narcotic detection. He’s not one who can sit still for long, so retirement wasn’t an option! He lives in Lancaster, OH, so he told me he was considering buying a franchise in Central Ohio to serve the Greater Columbus area. Then he asked, why not open one in Southwest Florida, where he spends his winters? He moved forward with purchasing the two franchises and hiring head trainers to manage each territory. Soon after they graduated from the Paw & Order Dog Training Academy, a new opportunity presented itself in the Houston/Galveston, TX market, so what’s one more franchise to manage? Bill now operates 3 locations and has head trainers leading each one. Bill better be careful! We started off with one dog, which quickly turned into 3, and then before we knew it, we had 8!

Bill’s Central Ohio location is led by Olivia Deemer, and serves most of Columbus, Canal Winshester, Pickerington, Lithopolis, Grove City, Baltimare, Reynoldsburg, Lancaster, and all the towns in between. His SWFL location is led by Shawn Humphreys, and serves the areas from Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, down to Naples. Charli lives in Texas City, TX and serves the area from Galveston to Houston.

Not done in Western PA

In early 2021, we had two more people show interest in territories in Western Pennsylvania. Christie Kelly had been volunteering her time with Paw & Order since 2016. She loved the idea of working with dogs for a living and hoped to someday make that a reality. She finally reached out to me and said, “I’m ready to run my own Paw & Order!” Christie decided to operate her franchise in Washington, PA, just south of our territory in Pittsburgh.

Sabrina Lane rounds out our 3rd Western PA location, operating in Northeastern PA, from Meadville to Erie. Sabrina learned about Paw & Order years ago while researching dog trainers for her Doberman puppy clients (she was building her career as a Doberman Breeder). Her clients raved about the results, and she decided to expand into training.

Building new relationships

When we decided to franchise, we really had no idea what to expect. We would be asked, “how many franchises do you think you’ll sign?” We didn’t know how to answer that. What we did know is that we wanted to be picky and only bring on people that we trusted. To this point, we had some type of relationship with every franchisee. We were content with the number of franchises we had, and we weren’t doing any form of advertising to recruit new ones.

In late 2021, we received an online inquiry from Drew Brashier. Drew wanted to make a career change and began looking into dog training businesses. He was searching online for dog training franchises and found our website. He loved that we were a family-owned business and decided to join us. In February 2022, Drew opened his business in Upstate South Carolina, serving Simpsonville, Greer, Anderson, Spartanburg, Greenville, and all the towns in between.

In the summer of 2022, Josh Jones found us through Google and sent us an online inquiry about starting his own Paw & Order in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantry rifleman. Josh decided he wanted to pursue his passion for working with and training dogs. He launched his business in the fall of 2022 and services Corpus Christi, Alice, Port Aransas, Kingsville, Rockport, and all the towns in between.

In the business of helping people

We are not just dog trainers – we are people trainers. I encounter daily opportunities to help people. I love giving hope to those that feel hopelessly trapped by their dogs’ behavior issues. Our training strategies aim for good behavior rather than simple commands. We focus on making dogs more enjoyable to be around, which makes for happier and healthier pets.

At Paw & Order Dog Training, we work with all types of dogs. There isn’t a breed or size we won’t train. We prefer starting with young puppies, but most owners wait until issues arise before training. At that point, we have our work cut out for us in re-training the owner’s natural habits, but the transformation of an unruly dog into a treasured member of the family is always worth the investment.

When I started this business, I was simply looking for the opportunity to make a living in something that allowed me to follow my passion and be myself. I never imagined that listening to my heart could lead to the life I have today. Through my business, I’ve met wonderful friends—even my husband—and those relationships will always be the most valuable things I take from creating Paw & Order.