When it comes to dog training, we often hear that the competition in the industry is fierce. In virtually every town or city in America – and increasingly, around the globe – there is a growing demand for all kinds of dog training services, from basic obedience, all the way through to specialist training like search and rescue or service dog training. To meet the demand, there is no shortage of dog trainers who are stepping up to the plate and providing a wide array of services.
Perhaps you are considering a career in dog training, and wondering to yourself – is it worth it? If there are already six dog trainers in my local area, does it really need a seventh? How will I make a successful career as a dog trainer with all this competition?
If you’re asking those questions, we have good news for you. Yes, there may be an abundance of dog trainers – but there is a shortage of good dog trainers.
In this article, we’re going to explore what separates an average dog trainer from an exceptional one, and outline how you can position yourself to forge a successful career training man’s best friend.
The demand for dog training
Dogs have always been a loyal and faithful household pet for many families in the United States. Although there is no definitive figure on the number of households owning dogs across the nation, estimates place it somewhere between 50 million and 65 million. That’s around the region of 50% of American households owning a dog, and between 80 million and 90 million dogs in total.
In addition to the number of dogs in U.S. households, it is an unfortunate reality that another three million dogs enter animal shelters across the nation each year. Many situations where owners surrender their dogs to a shelter – for example, due to behavioral issues – could be avoided if sufficient and proper training is offered. These dogs can also be trained within the shelter environment to ensure they are adoptable for a new family.
To further demonstrate the increasing demand for dog trainers, we can see from Google Trends data that demand for ‘near me’ searches (i.e. implying that dog owners are looking for a dog trainer in their local area) is increasing rapidly across the United States, with the only drop occurring at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020.
With Americans spending upward of $100 billion annually on pet products (the figure is projected to hit $109.6 billion in 2021), dog owners are clearly willing to invest in the health, wellbeing and happiness of their four-legged friends.
Is dog training a worthwhile career option?
Many prospective dog trainers wonder if a career in the field is a realistic proposition. There are several reasons why pursuing a career as a dog trainer is an option to consider.
- It is rewarding. As a dog trainer, you have the power to improve the lives of dogs and their owners. You can make a difference! Whether it is resolving a frustrating behavioral issue in a family’s home, or training a service dog to help an individual with a disability, there’s little doubt that dog training really is a pursuit that has a positive impact on society.
- It is challenging. Although the fundamentals remain the same, no two dogs are exactly alike. Their genetics, lived experiences, home environment and other factors will all play a part in influencing their behavior. As a dog trainer, your job is to crack the code and solve the problem to ensure your training achieves the end goal for your client. With experience, you’ll come to appreciate the unique challenges you face with each dog.
- It allows you to pursue your passion. If you have always had a desire to work with animals – or simply like the idea of making a significant difference to people’s lives – dog training is the ideal fit. If you have grown up around animals and have a natural affinity for dogs, this is an ideal way to use that to your advantage and do a job you will actually enjoy!
- It is potentially lucrative. Depending on the geographic location and services you offer, dog training can be a great option financially – as we saw earlier in this article, dog owners are willing to spend money if it improves the quality of life for their pet. Whether you decide to work for yourself or through an established training facility, you have the potential to earn a comfortable living from training dogs. Our Dog Trainer survey found that the average salary for a dog trainer was in excess of $60k, and even the hourly rate (including part-time trainers) was over $50/hr.
How to position yourself to be a successful dog trainer
There is an important distinction between being just a dog trainer and being a good dog trainer. The problem, particularly in a market that is growing quickly, is that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. But what will actually distinguish you from your competition? How do you become a good dog trainer?
Here are a few pointers we think will help to separate you from your competition.
- Get your education. This should be your first step. Heart surgeons don’t just walk into the operating theater without undertaking a course of study first. Similarly, as a dog trainer, you need to have a fundamental understanding of behavioral theory and how dogs actually learn before you start working as a professional.
In addition, data indicates that trainers who have a formal qualification in the field of dog training earn, on average, 40% more than their counterparts who do not have any education. At the School for Dog Trainers, we offer a range of exciting, engaging dog trainer programs covering a number of disciplines.
- What is your dog training specialization? Dog training covers a very broad array of topics. It is important to work out what precisely you would like to offer. For example, you could focus on offering puppy obedience; you might specialize in behavioral modification; you may even have a more specialist focus such as search and rescue, service dog training or detection work. Some trainers will also offer a mix of these services.
To determine your specialization, it requires you to think about a few things. What do you enjoy teaching? What are you passionate about? What is the demand for services in your area? Each of these factors will contribute to the type of dog training services you wish to provide. A common mistake made by some is to offer every service you can think of right out of the gate. It is better for you – and your clients – if you can provide high-quality training in a couple of dog training disciplines, as opposed to spreading yourself too thin across a myriad of them.
- Decide on your career path. With your education completed, combined with a knowledge of the areas of dog training you want to offer, you then need to decide on a career path. Will you set up your own business, or will you work through an established training facility? What are your career aspirations over the next three to five years?
Starting your own business may seem daunting, but if you are organized and diligent, you can make it work. Setting up your initial marketing plan will be pivotal to get your business off the ground, which is why we make it a priority to offer students at the School for Dog Trainers a detailed look at the business side of dog training, in addition to practical hands-on application.
- Be professional – be the best. If you have aspirations of making a full-time career from dog training, then one thing is clear – you have to take it seriously. This extends to every part of your work. We’re not just talking about the act of dog training itself, but we are also talking about general principles of good professional behavior, such as how you present yourself, how you interact with your clients, and the message that sends to them.
Professionalism is all-encompassing, but it is the little things that matter. Keep to the timing of your appointments (making a client wait = unprofessional). Dress appropriately (nobody expects you to turn up to a dog training appointment in formalwear, but sweatpants and an old t-shirt = unprofessional). Proofread the copy on your website/social media (spelling/grammar errors = unprofessional).
The list could go on, but in summary, make sure that you are putting your best out there! By being the best that you can be – in every aspect of your work – you are giving yourself (and your clients) the greatest chance of success.
In a crowded field, it can be easy to think that you might simply blend in with the countless other dog trainers who are competing for business.
In our experience, we know that there is enough business for good dog trainers to carve out a successful and rewarding career in this industry. The key is knowing what will distinguish you from your competition – and by following the steps in this article, you have a blueprint for how to achieve this.