How to Become a Dog Trainer

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A love of dogs and the joy they bring into our lives is all the motivation you need to become a dog trainer. You’ll be helping people manage their pets while teaching behaviors to dogs that lead to cooperation and obedience. That improves the lives of pet owners and their dogs.

German Shepherd standing next to dog trainer awaiting commands

Patience is an important skill, as all dogs learn at a different pace. You also need good communication skills – both with dogs and their owners. Often, you’ll be training individuals or groups of pet owners in how to train their dogs.

You’ll enjoy working with different dog breeds while delighting customers with the new skills their pets can perform. Working in your own business, you can also make a good living as a dog trainer.

Ready? Let’s get started on a new career as a dog trainer.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as a dog trainer
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for dog trainers
  • Finding clients
  • Plus helpful tips

How much money can you make?

Dog trainers average $14 an hour according to recent surveys by ZipRecruiter and GlassDoor, with trainers on the high end of the pay scale making a little over $25 an hour, which at that rate works out to about $48,000 annually. Depending on where you work, such as for a large retail pet store, you may be able to increase your income through commissions on the sale of pet products. With experience and the motivation to become an entrepreneur, you could earn even more by catering to clients with highly specific and training requirements or dog breeds that present special challenges.

You can focus on specialized training, such as teaching dogs to work as service animals, for example, seeing-eye dogs. Training dogs for K-9 work in law enforcement is another option where you can make more money in a highly demanding area of dog training.

Training and Certification

No formal license is required to be a dog trainer, but certification is necessary to show potential clients and employers that you are qualified for the work. The nature of dog training means that this is hands-on work, so you’ll need actual experience training dogs. One way to get started is to join a dog obedience club or get involved with a school that offers dog training. Volunteering at your local animal shelter or with a 4-H instructor can also help you learn and get experience with dogs and people. There are many online programs that offer supplemental training in theory and science-based techniques, although you’ll still need to demonstrate an ability to work successfully with dogs. Most programs will require 3-5 years of experience before awarding certification credentials.

Dog holding a stuffed animal in its mouth while sitting

Trainers who have received certification are also required to earn continuing education credits on a regular basis in order to retain their credentials.

Here are three of the top certification programs for dog trainers:

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers is one of the best-known programs for dog trainers and offers two certification levels: CPDT-KA (knowledge) and CPDT-KSA (knowledge and skills).

Each certification comes with specific requirements that must be met, including documentation of at least 300 hours of dog training within the last three years, passing a multiple-choice exam, submitting a reference from a CPDT member or veterinarian and signing the council’s code of ethics. The skills certification requires a CPDT-KA credential as well as submitting videos of your training work with different dogs engaged in different exercises.

Dog weaving through poles in a speed training course

The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals Certified Dog Trainer program requires 300 hours of professional training within the last five years, 30 hours of supervised skills development, proof of insurance, a successful score on a proficiency exam, and two references.

The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors is the oldest certification organization for dog trainers in the United States. Certification requires at least five years of experience in obedience training (with at least two years as a head instructor), experience working with at least 100 dogs, documenting time spent teaching groups for at least 104 hours or private lessons for at least 288 hours and passing a test. The association also offers specialty certification for Puppy, Novice, Open, Utility, Tracking, and Basic Agility.

Some of what you’ll learn in training:

  • Basic commands pet owners want their dogs to follow – and how to train dogs in meeting them
  • Understanding different breeds, learning abilities and temperaments in dogs
  • Use of a “Clicker” in dog training
  • Leash walking
  • Curbing aggression in dogs
  • Helping dogs overcome fear and anxiety
  • Training therapy and service dogs
  • Protection and defense in guard dogs
  • Dog sports (Frisbee catching, running obstacle courses, retrieval skills for hunting dogs, etc.)
  • Basic business skills relevant to running a dog training service
Dog trainer teaching German Shepherd to sit

Professional Groups to Join

Getting involved with professional organizations in your field is a great way to meet like-minded professionals, exchange tips and techniques, learn about job opportunities and remain engaged with your profession. Just as important, professional memberships show clients and potential employers that you are serious about your work and devoted to being the best you can be. Here are two of the most popular professional groups for dog trainers:

Joining The Association of Professional Dog Trainers entitles you to a listing on their online directory of trainers, which connects you with clients looking for a dog trainer in your area. Members also receive discounts on education programs offered through the association. A professional membership is $110 a year.

The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals was founded as a professional association and certifying body supporting a community of animal behavior technologists utilizing non-coercive methods in working with clients’ companion animals. Benefits include:

  • License to market your membership, (including use of the AABP Member logo
  • Access to a member’s forum for networking and discussion
  • Listing on the web site directory
  • Members may apply for AABP Certification
  • Certification: Emphasized listing on the web site
  • Certification: Official “AABP Certified,” which may be used for marketing purposes
  • Certification: Use of the “AABP Certified Member” logo

There are also dozens of informal groups for dog trainers that you can join online. Here’s an extensive list of networking groups for dog trainers, all free to join.

Dog trainer holding dog in her arms

You’ll find jobs for dog trainers at large veterinary practices, pet-store retail chains and private training companies. When applying, it’s helpful to make copies of your resume and professional credentials in advance so you’ll have them ready.

Don’t overlook online employment-search services like Indeed and ZipRecruiter. You can set up notifications on these sites to receive email alerts about job openings that match your interests and geographic location.

Finding Clients

Success as a dog trainer means attracting a steady stream of clients. Once a dog’s training needs have been met, you and the client will likely say farewell. So you’ll need more clients in the pipeline to stay busy.

Dog standing on an outdoor chair while panting

First, you’ll need printed business cards and a website for marketing your training services. Your website should include pictures of you working with different dogs, the services you provide, as well as business location and contact information, which must be clearly visible at the top of every page on your site. The upper right-hand corner is a good location, but wherever you display the information it should be in the same location on every page. Search engines scan this information to match your website geographically with people searching for dog trainers.

Other ways to drum up business:

Veterinarian Referrals

Contact local veterinarians and cultivate friendly business relationships with them. Dog owners routinely ask their vets about training, so you strive to be the trainer vets recommend to their clients.

Partner with Local Shelters or SPCA

This serves two purposes. First, it gets your business in front of people who are adopting dogs and second, it solves an immediate concern people often have with rescue dogs – can they be trained for obedience? Your partnership can be as simple as dropping off advertising flyers and business cards at the local shelter or SPCA. Volunteering for an hour or two each month can build goodwill.

Partner with Independent Pet Stores

Small business owners understand the value of collaborating with other professionals in the community. Focus especially on pet stores that sell organic pet food, specialty chew toys and other items that tend to attract more affluent customers.

Visit Local Businesses

Lots of small businesses now welcome pets and their owners. These include breweries, wineries and coffee shops. Identify area businesses that are pet friendly and approach the owners with your flyers and business cards. One angle would be to promote dog training in “coffee shop etiquette,” which is a win-win both for the dog owner, the coffee shop owner and other customers.

Good to know

Marketing a dog training business doesn’t need to consume a huge amount of time. Follow the steps above to be proactive in attracting clients, but also set up your online presence, which works for you around the clock, driving customers to your door. Consider these passive techniques for connecting with customers who need dog training services:

Dog trainer playing fetch with dog

Set up an Instagram page to showcase your dog training business. Instagram is the #1 online venue for professionals to showcase their work. A dedicated business page on Instagram is always working on your behalf.

Now create a Facebook page for your business. This is a great way to attract followers and provide tips to enhance their life with pets. You can run promotions and create teaser links to your business website by offering articles and news about dogs.

Next, build a Google My Business page. This Google service lets you display your hours of operation, photos and a map of your location. There’s also an area for people to leave reviews of your services, so you can encourage customers to post praise on your Google My Business page.

Setting up a business presence on each of these sites should take less than an hour. All of them are free and work 24/7 to promote your business. That frees up more of your time to focus on dog training.

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