Working as a professional dog trainer – it sounds like a dream job, doesn’t it? Spending your time improving the lives of dogs and their owners, day after day, week after week, and month after month. With almost 77 million dogs kept as household pets in the United States – not to mention the vast number of dogs trained as service dogs or Police K9s – there will always be a need for quality dog trainers in almost every part of the nation.
However, becoming a good dog trainer isn’t as straightforward as just reading a couple of training articles online, buying a few pieces of equipment, and then trying to sell yourself to potential clients. As a professional dog trainer, you have a responsibility to the dogs and the owners you are working with. With this responsibility in mind, it is important to take a step back and evaluate the skillset you will need, in addition to deciding the best routes you can take to make it as a success in this increasingly competitive industry.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the personal qualities you will need to become a dog trainer. We’ll also analyze how you can gain experience in the industry and help you to understand why gaining a dog training certification not only boosts your knowledge, but also improves your earning potential.
The personal qualities you need to be a dog trainer
At this point, it is a pretty well-worn cliche that dog trainers only get into the industry because they can’t tolerate working with humans. However, this cliche couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whilst training a dog obviously involves working with the animal itself, a large part of being a great dog trainer is having the ability to train humans, too. Helping an owner to understand why their dog behaves in a certain manner – and how this behavior can be rectified – is a key component of being a good dog trainer.
Even before having the knowledge to actually train a dog, there are a few personal qualities and traits which will contribute to your success as a dog trainer:
Empathy – A dog owner is contacting you for a reason. Perhaps they have a new puppy requiring obedience, or maybe they are looking to resolve a problematic behavioral issue. No matter the reason, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the owner you are working with – this will allow you to understand their training goals and how you can work to make their life easier.
Perception – When diagnosing a dog’s behavior, you need to recognize the factors in play. Does the dog’s behavior change in certain environments or around specific people? Are there triggers for undesirable behaviors? Is the owner’s demeanor or attitude having an effect on the dog? By observing these subtle cues, you can pinpoint the issues and make recommendations for change.
Patience – Dog training isn’t always an easy road from point A to point B. It may take time to improve the dog’s behavior. Additionally, it might take some time to convey this to the dog’s owners. Maintaining your composure and keeping calm, even when it would become easy to express your frustration, is key to keeping a good relationship with your clients and achieving the best results for the dog.
Assertive – Ultimately, to achieve results with a dog you are training, you have to be a good communicator – with both the owner and the dog. Occasionally, owners may be unwittingly contributing to their dog’s issues by reinforcing undesirable behaviors. Being assertive doesn’t mean being aggressive, but it does mean that your messaging needs to be clear and easy to understand, in order for your client to achieve their dog training goals.
Getting started as a professional dog trainer
As with any industry, a mixture of education and experience is vital to having a successful career. Attending a dog trainer program is the best way to get the foundational knowledge to understand how dogs interact with the world around them, why they exhibit certain behaviors, and how to diagnose behavioral problems.
In addition, data shows that education boosts your earning potential as a dog trainer. Our recent dog trainer survey indicates that, on average, trainers with formal education in dog training earn 40% more than their counterparts without education.
As someone looking to break into the dog training industry, what should you look for when choosing a dog training certification? With so many programs, there are several things to consider:
- What are the credentials of the staff at the educational establishment you will be studying at? What have they achieved in the industry?
- Which aspects of dog training will be covered by the course?
- What is the mixture of classroom theory and hands-on training in the program?
- For the hands-on portion of the program, will you be working with a variety of dog breeds?
- What have previous graduates of the program gone on to achieve?
At the School for Dog Trainers, we offer a variety of dog trainer programs at our Main Campus (located in North Carolina) and Southeast Campus (located in Alabama). With an experienced faculty team at both locations, students have access to some of the most accomplished trainers in the industry. Many of our graduates have embarked on successful careers as dog trainers, whether working for an established company or setting up their own dog training business.
Options after getting your dog trainer certification
After completing your dog trainer education, you will have the knowledge you need to help dog owners to improve the life they lead with their four-legged companions. The next step? Gaining experience to put that knowledge into practice.
Firstly, you may wish to start by making sure you can train your own dog(s), or those of your close family and friends. This will allow you to apply your knowledge to real-life situations, but without the added pressure of having to deliver for a paying customer. Seeing results in these dogs will help improve your confidence for when you start providing services to clients.
To gain additional experience, you could also start working as an intern or apprentice underneath an established trainer. This will not only allow you to learn from the trainer and see how they interact with their clients, but you may also understand the business practicalities of being a dog trainer.
Your career path as a dog trainer
You’ve got your dog trainer certification. You’re accumulating experience, either with your own dogs, or by shadowing an experienced trainer. What’s next?
As a professional dog trainer, you have several options.
A common entry point for new dog trainers is to work for an established dog training company. This allows you to continue developing your dog training skills and gain valuable experience. If you have no desire to run your own business – or if you want to have a stepping stone before you take such a huge step – working for a company is a great option. As with every workplace, you should do as much research as possible to check that the company is a good fit for you, both personally and professionally.
Alternatively, you may decide to be self-employed. Working for yourself can be extremely rewarding and brings many benefits – you can set your own schedule, choose which clients you work with, and decide which services you want to offer. It can also be very challenging, particularly as a newcomer to the industry. Not only will you need to be a great dog trainer, but you’ll need to be able to market yourself and promote your business.
Depending on your interests, you might want to focus on one specific area of dog training. For example, you may wish to specialize in training service dogs or police K9s. You can pursue these options as an employee of an established company or as a self-employed individual.
Finally, there are numerous non-profits and animal shelters who can benefit from the services of a professional dog trainer. Although this isn’t the most financially lucrative option, this provides numerous benefits for the local community and significantly reduces the number of animals who are euthanized. If you have the time, you can even do this voluntarily alongside your paid work.
This list of options for your career path is not exhaustive! The great thing about being a professional dog trainer is that there isn’t just one path to success.
Depending on your ambition, your professional goals, your life circumstances, your location, and other number of factors, you can choose the career path that suits you best. Building a solid foundation of education and experience will provide you with options to have an enjoyable, fulfilled and successful career as a professional dog trainer.