How to Become a Dog Trainer

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Recently, more and more people get interested in becoming dog trainers. Some try dog training as a hobby, some want to shape their dogs’ behaviors, and some look for a way to make a career out of their passion for dogs.

Dog training as a hobby and learning how to train your dog is relatively easy. On the other hand, becoming a professional dog trainer requires significant effort and time, as well as specific necessary skills.

Being a professional dog trainer sounds like a dream job – you get to spend your day surrounded with amazing dogs and puppies, and on top of that, you get well paid for doing so.

However, the dog training business can often be frustrating, frightening, devastating and dangerous. To be honest, it can also be quite dirty and smelly. In spite of everything, if you love dogs, all disadvantages can be quickly put aside.

Regardless of whether you want to train dogs as a hobby or as a professional and certified dog trainer you need to familiarize with the necessary steps for becoming a dog trainer.

Ask yourself whether your personality type is compatible with the job’s requirements

Since dog training involves dogs, it is only logical to assume that you need to be a dog person. However, you also need to be a people person because the training process almost always involves teaching owners how to handle their dogs.

The skills needed for becoming a dog trainer can be divided into two categories:

  • Interpersonal skills (cannot be learned, you either have them or not)
  • Dog training skills (can be acquired through proper education).

The vital interpersonal skills include excellent active listening, problem-solving and communication skills. Additionally, you need to be compassionate and have physical stamina.

You need terrific coaching skills to be able to motivate your client through both tough and easy times. You also need empathy, to be able to put yourself in your client’s shoes.

Last but not least, you need to be aware that animal care workers are at higher risk of being injured on the job. When frightened or in distress, all animals can be unpredictable.

Gain knowledge about the profession

Generally speaking, dog trainers assist owners in teaching their puppies or adult dogs how to behave appropriately and act obediently.

However, there are many types of trainers and specializations. Aside from basic obedience training, as a dog trainer, you can consider training dogs for:

  • Competition obedience – skills and behaviors required when attending dog shows and competitions.
  • Performance events – skills like agility, herding, nose work, lure coursing.
  • Medical purposes – psychiatric service dogs, guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs, autism support dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, seizure response dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, allergies detecting dogs.
  • Police or military purposes – protection dogs, attack dogs, dogs for locating evidence, dogs for locating bombs, dogs for finding narcotics, dogs for finding cadavers, tracking dogs.
  • Hunting purposes – dogs for hunting different types of prey.
  • Show business purposes – dogs for movies, commercials and TV shows
  • Aggression and behavior modification.

With so many options it is natural to take some time, explore the possible career paths and decide which one is most appealing to you.

If in doubt, look for a dog trainer in your area and talk to him. You can even ask him to spend the day with together so you can watch what he does. Once you get familiar with the profession, you will be prepared to make an educated decision.

Spend time with dogs and learn about dog psychology

If you want to become a fantastic dog trainer, you need to understand how the dog’s mind works. The most effective ways of learning about dog behavior are by:

  • Reading and researching – read materials written by reputable authors that analyze and explain how dogs behave in certain situations and why they behave that way.
  • Spending time with dogs – this is perhaps the most entertaining way of learning.

If you own a dog, you can always start by carefully observing its behavior. It is useful to take notes of different habits and moods and keep a journal of your observations.

Talking to your dog’s vet is also beneficial. The vet can give you points on which books to look for or refer you to someone more experienced.

Even if you are well-experienced in working with your dog, as a trainer you will have to be natural and comfortable around other people’s dogs. Excellent opportunities for spending time with other dogs include:

  • Volunteer at dog training schools – some schools let volunteers assist in the training process.
  • Volunteering at dog shelters – allows you to work with dogs of all breeds, sizes, and temperaments. Additionally, most shelters have trainers or behaviorists you can learn from.
  • Volunteering at veterinarians
  • Getting in touch with local breed clubs
  • Attending dog obedience classes and clubs
  • Becoming a foster home for dogs in need – taking care of dogs while they are between shelters and permanent homes, gives you the opportunity to learn and interact with many different dogs in a short period.

All in all, finding a volunteering opportunity is a great way to gain more experience. Volunteering helps you decide that this is the right career choice for you.

Additionally, since most of the dogs you will meet when volunteering suffer from specific behavioral issues, volunteering gives you a good idea of what to expect when working on your own.

When learning the dog psychology it is important to understand several common behaviors such as aggression, food guarding, destructive chewing, excessive barking, howling, nipping and whining.

Do your homework and research some helpful tips and tricks on how to understand and address these issues.

Get a degree or certificate

In dog training, there are few degree programs. Most of these degree programs are focused on cynology (studying canines as a species), rather than on dog training. Nevertheless, earning a degree in cynology is still helpful in dog training.

Dog training certification, except for training law enforcement K9 units, is voluntary. Anyway, if you are serious about becoming a professional dog trainer, getting a certificate broadens your knowledge and increases your recognition and employment options.

You need to realize that obtaining a certificate is just receiving a piece of paper that claims you have completed numerous training courses. Many dog training schools will be more than happy to charge you a fee.

What matters is what those schools have to offer. Most dog training schools employ more or less, “self-educated” teachers.

This means that the teachers have read extensively on both, dog ethology and behavior modification, attended conventions and seminars, participated in workshops and mentored by other trainers.

Before choosing the school, you want to attend, research the teacher’s background, inquire about the training methods the school uses and investigate the program to see whether it fits your needs.

Usually, a good dog training program should cover the following subjects:

  • History of dog training – an extensive review of the dog training history, starting from late 19th century to present times. It should also include a comparison and contrast of dog training with other animal training professionals.
  • Animal learning – the basics of animal learning, as well as the efficiency and usage of specific techniques. The subject includes classical and operant conditioning, positive and negative punishment, positive and negative reinforcement, conditioned reinforcement, motivation, overshadowing and blocking, generalization, discrimination, habituation, desensitization, operations establishing and conditioned emotional responses. The subject also includes comparisons of dog learning to human learning.
  • Dog behavior – dog development and dog ethology, the genetics of behavior, fixed action patterns, body language, social signals, social development, critical periods, hormonal influences, breed associated characteristics, age-associated characteristics, sex-related characteristics.
  • Organizing and designing classes – these subjects teach you how to modify your courses and instruction materials once you graduate, how to counsel, educate and motivate handlers and owners, how to screen and steer clients. As a part of this subject, you will probably have to volunteer in shelters and local rescue groups.

If interested, you can attend a four-year college or university that offers a certain degree in Animal Behavior. Several colleges and trade schools provide dog training related educational programs.

This form of education provides the most profound foundation in animal psychology. Additionally, it shows potential employers and clients that you have invested a lot of time, effort and money into learning the necessary skills to become a dog trainer.

If you cannot afford a college, you can always decide to attend a trade school. However, it should be noted that trade school programs are not accredited the same way colleges are.

If you want to get a true national certification, we recommend you to contact the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

Regardless of which school you choose or training program you wish, keep in mind that your curriculum and education should include lectures, reading assignments and practical, hands-on working with a plethora of dogs from different breeds.

The educational process should go on for weeks or months, not days. The educational process does not end when you complete the program. The education continues throughout your entire career.

Bottom line, you can get certified with or without completing coursework and going through educational programs.

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) is authorized to issue certificates, but this Council requires some form of dog training experience before taking the exam.

The exam itself costs $400. Once certified, to maintain your certification, the CCPDT obligates you to participate in continuing education and pay a renewal fee every three years.

The renewal fee also costs $400 and the continuing education includes taking certain classes and participating in seminars each year. The CCPDT offers a general certification.

Depending on your goals, The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) offer different specialized training programs. Most of those specialized programs require previous coursework.

Find an apprenticeship

No matter how well-educated and trained you are, you can always benefit from working closely with an older and more experienced dog trainer.

Some training programs include apprenticeships and are obliged to set you up with a mentor. If your school did not add this option or you did not attend classes, find a mentor on your own.

Many large dog training businesses offer internships. Keep in mind that internships and apprenticeships are either paid very little or not paid at all. However, at this phase, you are not seeking for a salary but rather for professional guidance. The industry knowledge and hands-on experience you will gain are priceless.

Join an organization

An excellent way of finding educational opportunities for dog trainers is to join professional organizations focused on dog training.

These organizations either host or advertise different national and international seminars and conferences, interactive workshops, and hands-on internships.

What is more, these organizations are the perfect place to connect and network with other professional dog trainers and dog training enthusiasts. Joining organizations helps you continue your education after receiving your certificate.

Learn about the business

Once you learned how to be a professional dog trainer, if you want to start a business on your own you will need some business experience.

Courses in sales, marketing, and small business management will help you maximize the potential of your business.

All in all, dog training is a motor skill. And the only way to develop motor skills is by practicing them, not reading about them.

Reading adds to your professional development, but it is not enough. So…roll up your sleeves, get a dog and start training.

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