how to become a dog trainer

How to Become a Dog Trainer: The Steps Explained

With flexible employment hours and an average hourly salary of over $15, a dog training career is an attractive prospect for many animal lovers.

Maybe stories of dog trainers working for Hollywood stars inspire you. Perhaps you grew up in a home full of pups and innately understand the canine mind. However, becoming a professional dog trainer is a lot more work than watching bad quality reruns of the Dog Whisperer on YouTube.

If you’re wondering how to become a dog trainer, read on for a step-by-step guide designed to help you reach your goal.

Start With Your Dog

When it comes to getting started on training your dog, the Canine Good Citizen program by the American Kennel Club (AKC) is a great place to start. This program goes so much further than just sit, stay, and rollover. There are more in-depth courses for CGC graduates, too.

Teaching dogs things like appropriate barking, sticking to boundaries, and a myriad of other desirable behaviors is an essential skill for a dog trainer. If your dog proves talented, you could even consider entering dog shows or agility competitions.

Is a cheerful canine yet to bless you with their company? Talk with your family to see if they’d be willing to take on a shelter pup in need of a home. Just remember, a dog (or any pet for that matter) is a decades-long commitment.

Learn How to Train Dogs You Don’t Know

Once you feel confident training your dog, it’s time to get outside your comfort zone. Training dogs you’ve never met before is a must-have skill for dog handlers.

But where can you find these strange-to-you dogs?

Offer to walk your neighbor’s dog. Put an advertisement on Facebook asking for pet-sitting opportunities. You can ask the owners if they would like some free training or advice on discipline at the same time.

Another option is to volunteer at a dog shelter. Organizations like The Humane Society are always on the lookout for reliable volunteers. You could do anything from animal rescue to veterinary technician work.

Whether you’re volunteering or helping out a friend, be sure to let people know that you don’t have any formal education in animal training. If you’re lucky, a trainer at the shelter might take you under their wing!

How to Become a Dog Trainer: Courses

Dog trainers do not need formal certification to practice as professionals. However, clients are likely to seek trainers who can back up their practical experience with high-quality coursework. If you still want to make a career out of creating capable canines, it’s time to look at courses. 

There are two dog training school options available to you: online and in-person.

You can take an online course anywhere, complete it at your own pace and in your own time, and it’s often cheaper than an in-person course. Once you buy the class, you can access the material over and over again. Often there is an online community you can connect with to ask questions and share knowledge.

You might take an in-person dog training course one-on-one with a qualified trainer or you might join a class. Benefits of a physical course include hands-on experience with different dogs, a classroom environment, field trips, and professional assessments.

Ideally, take a course held at a location near your home or work. Search “dog training school near me” online to find local trainers.

Get Certified

If you want to get the best dog training jobs, take things a step further. Become a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). 

Administered by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) under the jurisdiction of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), this is the most widely recognized professional dog training certification in the USA.

To add those coveted letters “CPDT” behind your name, you’ll need to complete a range of tasks.

CCPDT certification requirements include:

  • Complete over 300 hours of dog training experience
  • Provide letters of recommendation from a CCPDT-recognized professional
  • Pass a standardized 180-question multiple-choice exam
  • Agree to follow the CCPDT’s code of ethics and practice standards

Everything from health conditions and nutrition to the environment a dog grew up in can influence a dog’s behavior. The certificate assessors will put your understanding of basic teaching methodology, canine learning theory and ethology, and dog first aid and care under the microscope.

Go Out and Land Those Clients

In 2019, pet owners in the USA spent over $10 billion on pet services, including dog training.

You’ve done the courses. You’ve got certified. Now all you need to start your dog training career is to book some of those canine customers.

You may not have a television show like celebrity trainers Cesar Milan or Victoria Stillwell. You can (and should) take advantage of the power of the internet to build your business locally.

A website is cheap to set up and easy to update. Include information about your experience and certifications and optimize it for SEO, targeting your local area. Create social media accounts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram that link back to your website.

Once you have some customers, treat them well. Despite advances in digital technology, word-of-mouth marketing is still the most trusted way to promote your business.

Career Advancement

Has a chance encounter with a Guide Dog puppy got you wondering how to become a service dog trainer? Did your time working toward your dog training certification inspire you to explore further study in animal behavior?

Whatever your ambitions may be, the sky’s the limit when it comes to how much you can improve on your dog training experience.

It might be as simple as specializing in one area–such as training dogs for TV work or agility competitions–to bring in the bigger dollars. You might want to pursue an undergraduate degree in animal behavior, veterinary medicine, or animal shelter management.

You could even end up training “spy dogs” for the CIA!

Transform Your Hobby Into a Business

If you’re even considering dog training jobs then it’s almost a given that you are passionate about puppers. Get started with these steps on how to become a dog trainer. You’ll be well on your way to turning that passion into profit.

Looking for more advice on the best ways to care for your dog. Browse the other articles in our Pets section.

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