How To Become A Dog Trainer

Interested in becoming a dog trainer? It’s a great option for animal lovers who want to help dog owners and their pets live happier, more comfortable lives together. While it’s challenging at times, it’s a fulfilling career path with plenty of job opportunities.

There are a lot of factors to consider when planning your career as a dog trainer. This guide will help you navigate all of those factors and help you make the most educated decision. Here’s what you need to know before becoming a dog trainer.

Golden retriever practicing sit with its professional dog trainer

What Does a Dog Trainer Do?

In most positions, a dog trainer is in charge of meeting with clients, addressing their needs and concerns, and working with them and their dog to meet their training goals. Sometimes, you’ll work alone with the dog. Other times, you’ll work with the client to show them how to handle their dog. Most positions involve a combination of the two.

Typically, a dog trainer can expect to perform two types of training:

Skills or “Obedience” Training

This is what most people think of when they think of dog training. You’ll teach dogs to perform certain actions or skills in response to a cue (think sit, stay, drop it, etc.). This is the proactive approach to training and socializing dogs versus behavior modification which is a more reactive approach.

Behavior Modification

This type of training involves changing a dog’s unwanted behaviors. Often, pet owners seek trainers because their dog pulls at the leash, jumps on guests, or barks at the door. Most dog trainers can manage these everyday unwanted behaviors, and experienced dog trainers might even assist with more severe behavior problems, like fear or reactivity.

In addition to hands-on training, you’ll most likely also be in charge of handling client communication, booking appointments, and selling training packages.

Dog Trainer Requirements & Qualifications

There are very few legal requirements for dog trainers, but as a trainer, you are responsible for the safety of the dog and handler under your supervision. Because of this, it’s best to learn as much as you can about dog behavior and training as you start your career.


Dog Trainer Education

While no state in the U.S. currently requires a formal education for dog trainers, these educational options can help you gain the foundational knowledge and experience you need to do the job well.

Hands-On School (2-5 Months)

There are several dog training schools across the country that offer a blend of classroom education and hands-on experience. Many require that you bring your own dog to work with, while others partner with local training businesses and shelters. Because dog training is such a hands-on career, these schools are the best option for someone looking for a truly comprehensive education. Many schools also offer a certification when you complete their program, which could help you attract clients or land a job after you graduate.

Of course, each school is different, as are their training methods. Research the different types of dog training, and make sure to pick a school that aligns with your values and vision for your career.

Unfortunately, hands-on schools are usually more expensive and time-consuming than other options. Still, for those who have access to a hands-on school, there is no better option. A solid education gives you the tools you need to seek higher-paying jobs within the industry, meaning your initial investment will pay off in the long run.

Mentorship (Timeline Varies)

Not everyone is able to attend school full-time. The next best option is to find a mentor within the industry and learn from them. Sometimes, you’ll work under your mentor as a paid employee who assists with training sessions, handles administrative tasks, or manages the dogs in their care. Other times, you’ll work for free in exchange for education. This arrangement is entirely up to you and your mentor.

There is currently no network for dog trainers seeking mentees, so you will need to find a trainer who is willing to teach you. As with schools, different trainers use different methodology. Research the different types of dog training, and seek a mentor whose values align with yours. Also, when working with a mentor, there are no guarantees as to the quality of your education. Be sure to choose someone whose expertise you trust.

Online School (6-12 Months)

Many prospective dog trainers opt for online schooling. Not only is it more affordable, but you can also learn from anywhere at your own pace. There are plenty of online schools that offer dog training programs, and many award their graduates with certifications.

The convenience and affordability of online schooling comes at a cost, though. Dog training is a very hands-on career, but online schools offer no practical training with actual dogs. Still, online schools are a great option for brand new dog trainers who want to learn the science and theory of dog training and plan to seek hands-on experience elsewhere.

Self Education (Timeline Varies)

If these other options aren’t available to you, you can always become a self-educated dog trainer. There are plenty of great resources out there for prospective trainers, like books, seminars, and videos. Even dog trainers who receive a formal education should take advantage of these resources and continue to educate themselves for the duration of their careers.

While self-education is most popular among hobbyists, it’s still an option for someone who’s truly dedicated to becoming a skilled dog trainer. It just might take a while longer to reach the level of experience and confidence required to do it professionally.


Dog Trainer Certification

While no state currently requires dog trainers to be certified, there are a few that can greatly impact your career and improve your standing within the dog training industry.

The Certified Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) offers two kinds of certification:

  1. Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA®)
  2. Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge and Skills Assessed (CPDT-KSA®)
  3. Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA®)

The CPDT-KA® certification is for professional dog trainers who wish to be certified for their knowledge of dog training. The CPDT-KSA® certification also requires that you be tested on the practical application of your dog training skills. The CBCC-KA® certification is specifically for advanced dog trainers who want to teach behavior modification. When you get certified through the CCPDT, you also appear in their nationwide database of dog trainers. This is a great way to get your name in front of potential clients.

Many online and hands-on schools also offer certifications for their graduates. These certifications serve as proof of your knowledge and experience, and they can help you find and land a job in the field.


Dog Trainer License

Currently, no states require licensing for dog trainers.


Personal Skills

Many dog lovers turn to training as a career so they can earn a living working with animals. While it is a great career for pet lovers, working with dogs also means working with their people. You’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with pet owners, teach them how to practice skills with their dogs, and address their training and behavior concerns. Some dog owners only reach out to trainers when they’ve encountered a major issue with their pet, and emotions often run high during training sessions. As a dog trainer, you’ll need to be able to show empathy and understanding for humans as well.

In addition to people skills, dog trainers should be able to…

  • Work on their feet for most of the day.
  • Handle both large and small dogs.
  • Keep their composure during stressful situations, such as with a reactive dog.
  • Practice critical thinking to troubleshoot training challenges and come up with unique solutions.
  • Work well with clients and practice strong communication skills.
  • Keep an upbeat personality with clients and their dogs.
  • Read and react appropriately to dog body language.

If you want to work with animals but you’re unsure if dog training is the right path for you, click here to explore other career options.

Finding a Job As a Dog Trainer

Once you complete your education, it’s time to move onto the next phase of your career. There are plenty of opportunities for dog trainers both in and out of the pet care field.


How much do dog trainers make?

Dog trainer salaries vary greatly based on position, company, and the type of training provided. The average salary for US-based dog trainers is $35,451 per year, but leadership roles in the industry can pay anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 per year. Self-employed dog trainers can make a similar amount depending on their experience and marketing skills.


Jobs for Dog Trainers

Most dog trainers, especially those just starting out, find jobs working for larger pet care companies. These might be boarding or daycare facilities, pet stores, or board-and-train facilities. These jobs are great for newer trainers looking to start their career in a stable work environment where they can get plenty of experience. Shelters and rescues also employ dog trainers to rehabilitate reactive or fearful dogs and to prepare pets for adoption.

There are also opportunities outside the pet care industry. Some dog trainers go on to work for zoos, law enforcement, scent detection, and even television and film. The basics of learning theory apply to most animals, so it’s possible to apply your dog training education to other species as well.


Starting a Dog Training Business

Of course, you can also start your own dog training business. Many trainers see success working independently because they’re able to travel to their clients’ homes and manage their own schedules.

To become a self-employed trainer, you also need business skills. You’ll need to learn how to manage your client base, your finances, and your marketing. It’s a major commitment, but it’s very common in the industry.

Want to become a dog trainer? Take the first step today!

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