Dog Training as a career
So, you love dogs so much that you want to be professional dog trainer?
Then you might be interested in dog training as a career.
Being a dog trainer can be very rewarding (especially if you're a massive dog lover!)
Basically, you get to spend you life around dogs, get to play with them and basically build a life around these loving animals.
However, it also has it's downsides - so it's not all peachy as it seems.
For example - a lack of a 'standardized' sort of certification across the board. This means that it's quite an arbitrary process.
Another downside is that it doesn't net you a very high salary - though that can change if you're in demand and have your own dog training practice and fame.
But not to worry, there's a lot more to being a successful dog trainer than mere certifications, paper theories low salaries.
So in this article, we'll be exploring it all - the good, the bad and the in-betweens of a dog training career.
TLDR: Consider dog training as a career if you really love dogs, and don't mind working really hard for a few years to gain recognition and fame.
Dog Trainer Duties
Because of the fluidity of dog training and the varying methodologies of different trainers, it can be quite hard to start, since everyone is saying to start on different things.
What we're trying to do here is to 'codify' the bare minimum of dog training - i.e. what you should train, what your day-to-day activities would generally involve, and the like.
Of course, once you're acquainted with the basics of dog training, you're free to explore in any direction you wish, as long as you ultimately reach the dog trainer goals that you want.
First up, one of the job responsibilities of a dog trainer is of course, to teach dogs the basic commands and skills they need to behave, be polite and function in any societal setting.
Your job basically can range from simple house training techniques and basic voice commands like 'sit' or 'stay', all the way to training service or therapy dogs.
We have a few articles on that already, so be sure to check out the basics of training your puppy, along with the recommended tools to train your puppies with!
Of course, once you've some experience in teaching these basic commands, you also branch out to the more specialized fields, like training a service dog, dog agility training, or even training military working dogs (if you have the contacts and skill).
So the end result here is really up to you - dependent on whether you choose to specialize, or remain a general dog trainer.
Another job responsibility of a dog trainer is to train their humans - to ensure that their owners are comfortable and capable of providing their dogs with the leadership skills needed to ensure successful dog training.
You heard that right - you'll need to advise and work with dogs AND their owners to ensure that their dogs leave your program fully equipped to go into the world.
To recap, these are the overview of your dog trainer duties:
- Working with dogs on basic commands, with hands or voice
- Teaching using positive reinforcement and keeping the session fun and educational
- Understanding the temperament of the dog you're training (breed, characteristics, behavior) and adjusting trainings accordingly
- Disciplining dogs when they misbehave
- Provide a framework or tutorials to owners for their own learning and growth as a dog owner
- Teaching their owners to be confident and comfortable with how to handle and command their dogs
Dog trainer salary
As mentioned above, a professional dog trainer can be extremely rewarding - you'll be able to touch many dog lives, as well as their owners. You'll also have a great deal of fun - there's obviously very little office work involved (compared to actual office jobs anyway).
To answer the most important question: "How much do dog trainers make?"
Not a whole lot.
If you're thinking of making a lot of money being a dog trainer, it's possible (see Cesar Milan) but that requires a whole different bunch of skill sets that we will not be discussing here.
According to the US Bureau of Labor, dog trainers (classed as "animal trainers") earn an estimated salary of $31,520, as of May 2020, with the upper 75th percentile being about $43,370 [Source]
Also, depending on the state you're in, you'll receive varying amounts for annual wages, with the top paying state being New York at $59,970 and California at $45,590 [Source]
The point in making these statements are simple - if you're not in these states, the annual wage of dog trainers is likely to be around the median of $31,520.
The national average American wage (median) in 2019 is $34,248.45. [Source]
For those outside the USA, I would imagine that the statistics would not be too far off as well - with larger, more affluent cities willing to pay more for dog trainers.
The pay rates should also be quite similar in your country across the board, as well as the annual wage for dog trainers.
However, take all this information with a grain of salt - these are the averages, and you can certainly do better by marketing yourself, specializing into different skillsets to teach dogs etc.
Its just that this is the reality of a professional dog trainer salary, and if you do want to get into the dog training market, your WHY must really be solid, or else you won't really gain a whole lot from picking dog training as a career.
How to become a dog trainer
How to become a dog trainer is relatively simple, there are only 4 steps.
Take time to learn dog behavior and gain experience
The most fundamental would be to actually learn and know how dogs behave - either with people, other dogs, or other animals in general.
If you don't know even how they behave, let's just say you'll have problems progressing through your career as a dog trainer.
Consider reading book about animal behavior, joining up at a local shelter and learning on the go.
This step is relatively simple for those who already have dogs at home. It's pretty simple to observe their behavior and see what kind of dogs they are.
If you don't have a dog, you could also offer to volunteer (or intern!) at a local shelter or vet clinic. That way, you'll also gain hands on knowledge and experience.
You could also take courses to train dogs, such as the Online Dog Trainer course that teaches you all you need to know about basic dog behavior and commands.
Continuously improve your skills an experience
As you further your knowledge about dog behavior and commands from books, courses and reading online, you'll also want to start being more active in your local dog communities.
This can be dog shelters, local pet grooming shops and the like. Start observing dogs in different settings - no dog is alike, and their behaviors are all good points to learn from (especially the problem ones).
Once you feel you've learned a decent amount of theory and some practical skills, try to intern with a dog trainer, and see how they conduct their trainings.
This can also help you if you're intending to create your own methodologies in the future, or open your own dog training institute.
As you continue to gain more industry experience, consider taking some certification or proof that you're capable of handling yourself in this field without a problem.
Break into the industry
When you're ready to open your own services, make sure you make it well known:
- Have a website ready
- Have your marketing materials ready
- Let people you know, know about it.
You could also partner someone already in the industry (whether a big company or other dog trainers) to also help you gain traction.
If you're planning to offer specialized training, like service dog training, make sure you have all the documentation as proof of your eligibility.
Get specialist certifications and work toward professional memberships
The truth is, since the world of dog training is so varied, there is very little in the way of standard procedure and a diploma once you're done.
But that said, being certified is infinitely more helpful to you, as it can help display your competence in the subject (both theory and practical).
This will also help people verify you as someone who is knowledgeable and picking you is a great choice.
It will also help your case if you join professional memberships, such as the Association of Professional Dog Trainers to both get more clout, and increase your networking for future work.
As mentioned earlier, there's no 'formal' education to be a dog trainer, and there's also no regulations regarding it.
While this means that literally anyone can be a dog trainer, the truth is that if you don't have the passion for it, you'll likely not get far with this.
You'll need passion, hard work and a LOT of persistence to make it in this field - the lower salary often deters those who are in it purely for the money anyway.
That said, if you really do want to succeed as a professional dog trainer, you'll need to be proactive and take your own education into your own hands.
Firstly, you should contact the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and similar organizations for info on what courses and classes you should take.
You can also ask them on how to gain experience to become a professional dog trainer.
Next up, consider going either to the libraries or purchasing a few good books on dog behavior and training - you'll get to test them on your own dog if you have!
You could also take online dog training courses like the Doggie Dan course, which is highly reviewed by many dog owners all over the world.
Basically, as long as you continuously receive new certifications, titles and continue your education, you'll more likely end up being far more successful than the average dog trainer who only goes to take the basic accreditations.
If it's going to be your career, it's more worthwhile to go all out for it, right?
Types of Dog Training
There are quite a few types of specialist dog training in the market today, but we'll cover these types in separate articles.
But for now, these are currently the possible branches you can specialize in:
Service Dog Training
Service dogs are dogs that are trained to assist people who have disabilities, where the tasks they perform must directly related to the person's disability. [ADA definition]
While it is a surprise that there are no legally mandated laws to certify trainers, there are other certifications that the dog can hold that deems it a 'service support animal' (Although the ADA also does not require a service dog to be certified)
The good news is that that is always demand for service dogs, but to train and certify them takes quite a fair amount of time and cost involved.
However, if you're planning to go via this route, it could not only be profitable for you, but it could also benefit many people who have disabilities and require the assistance of a service dog.
Therapy Dog Training
Therapy dogs, also known as emotional support dogs are dogs that provide comfort and relief to an emotionally distressed person.
These days, they're often found around running around hospitals and nursing homes, providing relief to anguished people.
Therapy dogs have a bit more of a strict definition, and require passing certain certifications to become an official therapy dog.
For example, many organizations require dogs to pass the AKC's Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test for obedience, as well as a suite of other tests.
The dogs also need to be adults to begin training them as therapy dogs.
Also, depending on where you live, they might need to pass other certifications too.
Do note that Therapy Dogs are NOT CONSIDERED AS SERVICE DOGS.
Military Dog training
Military and K9 dog training probably constitute one of the hardest training courses for dogs.
And it should be - they will be trained to do dangerous work, often putting themselves on the line for their handlers and partners.
There are a ton of things that they'll need to learn from a competent dog trainer, such as:
- Drug detection
- Contraband detection
- Search and Rescue
- Criminal takedown and apprehension
- Explosives detection
- Early warning Detection
A competent, professional dog trainer is required to teach such dogs the basics.
However, to truly become a military dog trainer (or k9 dog trainer), you'll be required to actually work in law enforcement, or be in the military to train them.
Either that, or you'll need to take private certifications and learn from former military dog trainers to set your foot into this world (Hence why networking is so important)
But there'll always be demand for competent, highly professional military dog trainers - if trained well, they can, and will save lives.
Other honorable mentions:
Is it possible for anybody to become a dog trainer?
Well, if you are interested in pursuing a career in dog training, you simply need to be familiar with dogs. Any person who had ever owned dogs is overqualified to become a trainer.
A dog trainer is also required to teach the owner(s) of the dog to training their pets. This simply means that you need to be a people person.
Well, that is not all. Above all, you have to be very patient since you are required to cope with different styles of learning.
Patience is the name of the game. You have to be patient with a flair for learning.
Now you can decide for yourself whether you are qualified enough to take up a dog training career.
I already have a job that I like, but I want to learn how to be a dog trainer too.
If you already own a dog you might have had it trained or attended a dog training program.
This makes you half-a-trainer. It has not affected your current job. So you are not looking for a dog trainer's salary due to the other career.
You can attend a weekend training session or even opt for an online dog training certification.
You can always train dogs part time on the weekends, or come to an arrangement with your current company of your aspirations and goals in life.
What are the minimum qualifications required to become a dog trainer?
But, while there are no mandated certifications for being a dog trainer, having completed industry-standard courses is a great boon for you.
Many dog training programs offer certifications to those who have completed the course successfully.
There are no government stipulations or state certifications to become a dog trainer.
Many avenues are open for continuing education which you can take up if desired.
While this list isn't exhaustive on the types of dog training you can do, it does cover the more important ones in the market today.
You could also opt for hybrid training - meaning you're able to train dogs in multiple types of training, improving your versatility as a professional dog trainer.
Everyone starts from the basics, and if you're looking for basic dog training skills to learn, look no further than The Online Dog Trainer, run by Dan, a man who has been teaching dog training internationally for well over a decade now.
You can have a look at the review I posted on his course here as well.