CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a dog trainer.
Is becoming a dog trainer right for me?
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Experience with dogs
One of the best ways to learn about dogs is to own one. The experience exposes aspiring trainers to canine behaviors and to the responsibilities that come with having a dog.
Here are some other ways to get hands-on experience with dogs:
• Volunteer at an animal shelter or with a veterinarian
• Visit local breed clubs
• Take your own dog to obedience classes
The education track for most dog trainers starts with reading books about dog behavior. Here is a list of publications by some of the most respected authors in the field:
The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs
by Patricia B. McConnell
Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training
by Karen Pryor
The Power of Positive Dog Training
by Pat Miller
Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide
by Brenda Aloff
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Positive Dog Training
by Pamela Dennison
Coaching People to Train Their Dogs
by Terry Ryan
For more titles, click here.
Some prospective dog trainers opt for formal education at a dog trainer school, a community college, or online. Reputable training programs cover the following subjects:
History of Dog Training
• A history of dog training from the late 19th Century to present
• Comparison and contrast of dog training with other animal training
• Positive and negative reinforcement
• Positive and negative punishment
• Sensitization and desensitization
• Motivation and conditioned emotional responses
• Comparison of dog learning to human learning
• Dog development and ethology
• Genetics of behavior
• Fixed action patterns
• Social signals
• Body language
• Social Development
• Critical periods
• Hormonal influences
• Breed characteristics
• How to design courses and instruction materials
• How to counsel and motivate owners and handlers
• How to screen and steer clients
The following professional organizations are dedicated to providing practising and aspiring dog trainers with education resources, certification and diploma options, and networking opportunities.
Employment or Self-Employment
While employment opportunities exist with dog training schools and shelter/rescue centers, many dog trainers choose to operate an independent business. Below are some resources designed specifically for the entrepreneurs in the dog training field.
Author and Canine Behavior Specialist Nicole Wilde offers a Dog Trainer’s Business Kit on her website. The kit includes customizable handouts, contracts, client questionnaires, and more.
Nicole has also written two books that are dedicated to the business aspect of dog training:
So You Want to Become a Dog Trainer
by Nicole Wilde
It’s Not the Dogs, It’s the People
by Nicole Wilde
Former director of the San Francisco SPCA Behavior and Training Department Veronica Boutell is the author of How to Run a Dog Business: Putting Your Career Where Your Heart Is. She is also the co-founder of dogbiz, which provides consulting services to dog professionals.
How to become a Dog Trainer
No formal education is required to become a dog trainer. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates. Aspiring dog trainers are largely self-educated. Much of their learning occurs through extensive reading on canine breeds and personalities and the science of ethology or animal behavior. In addition, they may volunteer with shelters and local rescue groups; attend seminars, workshops, and conventions; and may seek out mentorships with practising trainers.
While independent study is the norm for individuals entering this field, dog trainer schools do exist. As a matter of policy, though, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) cannot endorse or accredit any specific training programs. For this reason, it is especially important to investigate a school’s philosophy, curriculum and methods before committing to any particular course of study. Most programs explore the history of dog training and the principles of animal learning. Curricula commonly include lectures, assignments, and practical experience working with a variety of dogs.
As the largest professional association of dog trainers in the world, the APDT itself offers a wide range of informative seminars on dog behavior and training, as well as information sharing and networking opportunities.