Dog training is a fun and rewarding career — and it’s on the rise. Since dog adoptions skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, more dog trainers have been on call for correcting behavior, easing separation anxiety and acclimating to other new home situations. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, animal care and service workers can expect a healthy job outlook for the next several years.
Interested in becoming a dog trainer? You’ll need plenty of patience and the ability to teach owners with different learning styles along with their canines. In this article, we explain how to become a dog trainer, the necessary qualifications and helpful tips, including answers to common questions about this career.
What does a dog trainer do?
A dog trainer shows owners how to teach their dogs to obey commands. Trainers can also help owners stop unwanted pet behaviors such as jumping on furniture, making noise late at night or urinating in inappropriate places. They often work with dogs that are hyperactive, fearful or anxious when away from their owners. Some dog trainers only work with specific dog breeds, while others only work on obedience versus behavior modification.
Dog trainers’ success can depend on a variety of factors, including how quickly and easily owners learn and practice new training techniques. Dog trainers can also provide instruction for hunting, law enforcement, search and rescue, dog sports, herding livestock, therapy, protection, entertainment and more.
Some dog trainers teach classes to a group of owners and their dogs, while others offer private lessons. These professionals can use a variety of methods, including the Koehler method, dominance-based training, clicker training, relationship-based training and positive reinforcement.
Read more: What Does a Dog Trainer Do?
How to become a dog trainer
The following steps will help you learn the skills you need to become a professional dog trainer, in addition to demonstrating to employers that you work well with dogs and their owners.
1. Learn more about dog training
Dog training requires knowing animal behavior. Learn as much as possible about dog behavior and training methods by reading books, attending seminars and workshops or taking behavior and obedience classes. If you own a dog, work on training them first.
2. Gain experience
Once you have completed your own training, you’ll need to gain experience. Even if you have trained your own dog, you will need experience teaching other owners how to train their dogs. Consider volunteering with a local animal shelter or rescue, or participating in an apprenticeship with a local dog trainer.
Many apprenticeships last from six months to a year and will provide you with hands-on experience. As you learn different methods of training and become more skilled, you can begin to interact more with clients and their pets under limited or no supervision.
3. Acquire a dog training certification
While you don’t need federal or state certifications to become a dog trainer, getting certified by an independent organization can demonstrate your knowledge and skill to employers and clients.
Many training programs offer certification programs to those who want to strengthen their credentials, including the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and the National Association of Dog Obedience Trainers (NADOI). Many dog trainers also are certified in common programs that demonstrate obedience and optimal dog behavior, such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program.
4. Join a professional organization
Joining a reputable dog training organization, such as the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), is an ideal way to expand your professional network and learn new skills. Many organizations host seminars and other events where dog trainers can learn new methods for training and share their own knowledge.
5. Write an effective dog trainer resume
When you have completed your training and gained experience training dogs and their owners, you can begin to apply for dog training jobs. If you want to capture the attention of employers and set yourself apart from other candidates, make sure you write an effective resume that demonstrates your knowledge, skills and credentials.
For example, in your objective or summary, you can say: "I am a caring and competent dog trainer with three years of experience. I specialize in training large dogs but can train a variety of breeds. I am also an IACP-certified dog trainer."
Read more: How To Write a Resume Employers Will Notice
Dog trainer skills and job duties
Some of the essential skills a successful dog trainer should have include:
- Excellent communication skills with dogs and people
- A calm, nurturing and confident attitude
- A strong understanding of dog behavior and human body language
- Knowledge of proper dog training methods and techniques
- Patience when working with dogs and people who may learn at different paces
The following are some of the daily job expectations of dog trainers:
- Creating a training plan for dogs and owners
- Teaching commands to dogs and owners
- Helping owners teach their dogs to behave well in a variety of situations, including interacting with other animals, going on walks in public places, riding in vehicles and meeting new people
- Teaching owners to recognize signs of pain or health problems in their pets
Becoming a dog trainer: FAQs
The following are answers to common questions about becoming a dog trainer:
How long does it take to become a dog trainer?
The time it takes to become a dog trainer varies depending on the type of training and any specialty areas you choose. Some training programs can take a few weeks to a month to complete, while many certification programs require dog trainers to complete a minimum number of hours of training with clients.
How much does it cost to become a dog trainer?
The cost to become a dog trainer can also depend on your training and certification programs. For many dog trainers who choose to enroll in an accredited training program, the in-depth knowledge and skills they obtain are often worth the investment.
How much money does a dog trainer make?
The common salary for a dog trainer in the United States is $58,247 per year. A dog trainer’s earnings usually depend on their level of education and years of experience, and can vary by geographic location. Other factors include their number of dog training certifications and specializations, opinions of former customers and references from past employers.
Should I own a dog training business or work for a company?
Owning your own dog training business or working for a company that offers this service to clients both have their advantages. If you operate your own dog training business, you will be responsible for not just training dogs and teaching their owners, but all aspects of the business, including advertising, finding clients and managing your schedule.
With your own business, you can potentially make more money than you would working for another company, but you may also need to work longer hours. When you work for another company, you can focus on dog training while your employer handles obtaining new clients, scheduling and other tasks. Working for another company also allows you to learn from more experienced coworkers, grow your professional network and receive a regular paycheck.