Complete Guide on Becoming a Professional Dog Trainer

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If you are a dog lover, becoming a professional trainer is a great career opportunity. First of all, it is a rewarding path. And secondly, you’ll get to work surrounded by dogs, which is a dream. 

But before you make up your mind and start to look for service dog trainer jobs, it is important to know what this job entails. 

What Does a Dog Trainer Do? 

To put it simply, a trainer works with dogs and their owners to assist them in teaching and learning commands and behaviors. So you’ll be communicating not only with pets but with people a lot. Trainers help people and their four-legged friends live together in harmony. 

Often the case, people turn to professionals when they already have a particular problem. So the job won’t be easy all the time. One might deal with reactive dogs or pets with separation anxiety to assist them in overcoming these issues. 

The typical duties include: 

  • Meeting dogs and owners to see the current behavioral patterns and evaluate the potential problems; 
  • Creating a personal training plan with specific goals – stop unwanted behaviors or learn new commands; 
  • Teaching commands to dogs and owners; 
  • Instructing owners on how to manage certain pet behaviors at home; 
  • Explaining basic signals and behaviors to owners;
  • Managing social pet groups.

As for the work environment, trainers have decent flexibility. One can work individually or as a member of a training organization. One can also train pets separately or in a group. 

Besides the basic commands and needs, professional trainers might focus on specific roles, such as: 

  • Law enforcement dogs; 
  • Search and rescue; 
  • Assistance for special needs;
  • Pet sports; 
  • Therapy pets; 
  • Protection; 
  • On-camera behaviors; 
  • Herding livestock. 

The specialization requires further education and deep expertise in methods and techniques. 

How to become the dog trainer 

Step 1. Learn about the dogs

There are no formal educational requirements when it comes to becoming a trainer. But to be a professional, one needs to have a deep knowledge of animal behaviors. 

There is a variety of ways to do so: 

  • Follow designated courses; 
  • Read books; 
  • Watch online tutorials; 
  • Join workshops; 
  • Apply for relevant college programs. 

Step 2. Train your Dog

To gain experience and a better understanding of methods, start with your own pet. If you do not have one now, find a friend or family member with a dog who is willing to participate in this routine. 

It is easy to start with basics like “sit” or “down”. But do not stop on that – try to teach advanced skills like distance and distractions. 

A good reference point is the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. You may also participate with your pet in dog sports to gain more insights. As a trainer, you might encounter all types of issues and it is good to know how to handle them. 

Step 3. Gain Experience

What works with one dog might not be useful with another. Every pet is unique so the more methods and techniques you know, the better it is. The theory is necessary but nothing prepares one more for the job than varied and wide experience. 

That’s why the next step is to work with as many different pets as possible. Working with pets that are not your own is another type of task. It is also a valuable way to practice your interpersonal skills with people. 

Some professionals say that they do not in fact train animals, they train owners. One of the parts of your job is to instruct people on how to communicate with their pets and manage specific behaviors at home. 

Where can one find opportunities to gain experience? Start with asking friends, relatives, and acquaintances whether they want help. Also, you can reach out to local shelters or rescue organizations. Applying for jobs like dog walkers or daycare attendants is another valuable opportunity. 

Step 4. Apply for Apprenticeship 

This is another perfect way to gain experience and learn from professionals. It is pretty common among trainers that work with assistance pets to take apprenticeships. 

You will be working under the supervision of an experienced trainer. And it is possible to combine with courses or lessons on the matter. Usually, such a program takes about 6 months but the details may vary. 

Step 5. Earn Certifications

Professional certifications are often optional but having one is always a benefit. If you wish to work for an organization or company, they might require it as well. 

Overall, having such credentials is good for establishing expertise and reputation. And it is an opportunity to learn more about the field. 

Such programs last up to several weeks and include theory, practice, and a test. You can find such courses at: 

  • Local academies; 
  • Workshop centers;
  • Online platforms; 
  • Professional organizations like the Association of Professional Dog trainers. 

Joining a professional organization is a valuable career path. It shows your motivation to develop skills. Also, it will be easier to find courses and keep up with the advancements in the field. And you will be added to a local database, so potential clients can find you. 

Step 6. Apply for Jobs

You can either start working individually or apply for a position at one of the specialized organizations. Those could be dog training companies, law enforcement agencies, or kennels. 

Prepare a strong resume with skills, credentials, and experience. Some of the essential skills include communication, patience, animal behavior knowledge, and expertise in training practices and methods. 

As for career prospects, the average annual salary of an animal trainer is $31,280 according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics. But the rates depend on location, experience, and specialization. For instance, a professional in the New York area earns about $32.24 per hour but in Atlanta city, the medium rate will be $15.90.

In Summary 

A dog trainer is an exciting career for those who love pets and communication. It offers flexibility in terms of employment and working hours. And there is always an opportunity to learn more and grow as an expert. 

About the Author:

Ellen Waters is a professional copywriter and dog lover. She writes about the job market, employment trends, and personal professional development. It is always exciting to explore new opportunities in the ever-changing labor market.  

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