Becoming a dog trainer

A yellow lab attends a training class at AHS

Interested in pursuing dog training as a career, but aren't sure where to start? Here's our best advice for anyone thinking about a job in the field.

Personality requirements

Training dogs usually means teaching people to train their own dogs, so you should be a people person. You should also love learning, be patient, and be able to work with a variety of learning styles.

Education

At this time no federal or state certification is required to be a dog trainer, although certification is available. Contact the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers for additional information about the profession and eventual certification. Trainers who have received certification and hold the title CPDT are required to obtain continuing education credits on a regular basis in order to retain their title.

AHS apprenticeship program

We coach our apprentices to have a solid foundation in using science based methods to teach owners and their dogs. Apprentices watch their mentors teach classes, take notes, and gradually assist with larger portions of class. This allows you to gradually teach classes on your own under the supervision of an experienced professional who can provide feedback and guidance throughout the process. In addition, apprentices are expected to complete readings and coursework pertaining to general learning theory and animal behavior and husbandry. Assessments will be administered to evaluate comprehension and understanding of the material, and successful progression through the program.

AHS offers apprenticeship positions at our locations across the Twin Cities Metro area of Minnesota. The time commitment for our three-month program is 12 hours per week, the six-month program requires six hours per week, and the 12-month program requires five hours per week. All include the same content, but will be completed at different paces, depending on your availability. You will be scheduled for the same shift(s) each week (mostly evening and weekend hours) at the same location.

The Behavior and Training Apprenticeship is an unpaid position. We do charge a small fee to help cover the cost of the program. Completion of the program does not guarantee an offer of employment at Animal Humane Society. Apprentices who successfully complete the program are encouraged to apply for future openings within the department or organization.

At this time, we are full and not accepting applications. Check back soon! 

Read about animal behavior science

Read books about animal behavior science, particularly the science of animal learning. Some great resources for beginners include:

  • "Don’t Shoot the Dog!" by Karen Pryor
  • "Excel-erated Learning" by Pam Reid
  • "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, and anything authored by Ian Dunbar.

More titles can be found at dogwise.com.

Avoid authors that downplay animal behavior science and claim to have learned by living with dogs. Living with dogs doesn’t automatically provide the skills and insight necessary to safely train other people to handle their dogs.

Read about the profession

AHS trainer recommendations:

  • "So You Want to Become a Dog Trainer"
  • "It’s Not the Dogs, It’s the People" by Nicole Wilde
  • "Coaching People to Train Their Dogs" by Terry Ryan
Volunteer

Volunteer at a local shelter like Animal Humane Society to improve your dog-handling skills. Even if you have raised many dogs yourself, you will benefit from handling large numbers of unfamiliar dogs. It’s a very different experience than working with your own.

Visit dog training classes

Visit local dog training classes that use science-based positive reinforcement techniques. Watch how the trainer in each class teaches and how the dogs respond. If you own a dog, consider enrolling them in classes (even if they've had previous training). This will allow you the perspective of a student as well as a prospective trainer. 

Take behavior classes

Attend behavior classes and seminars available in your area.

Finding a job

After completing your apprenticeship, look for local training schools, shelters or small training businesses that are hiring trainers. Ask about their methods and training philosophy to determine whether or not their methods are consistent with your own.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline