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.

Apprenticeship

Relatively few dog trainer programs are available, so finding qualified professionals to learn from is important. Look for a trainer willing to take you on as an apprentice. This is how most trainers learn the profession.

Apprentices watch their mentors teach classes, take notes, and gradually assist with larger and larger portions of class. This allows you to gradually learn the profession under the supervision of an experienced professional who can provide feedback and guidance throughout the process. Apprenticeships vary, but most last six months to a year or longer.

Apprenticeship at AHS

Our full-time trainers mentor apprentices in a 3-month apprentice program. At the end of the program, new trainers will have a solid foundation in using positive reinforcement to train basic obedience skills and experience with coaching people to train their dogs.

Our program schedule varies but consists mostly of night and weekend hours, with 12 hours per week. This commitment also requires traveling to each of our Golden Valley, Coon Rapids, South Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Woodbury locations. The apprenticeship is a paid position at $13 per hour. Applicants should have a serious interest in becoming an Animal Behavior and Training Specialist here at AHS. To apply for the apprenticeship, please visit our careers page. Apprentice openings are typically posted every 6 weeks. If you’re unable to find the listing, please 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 www.dogwise.com.

Avoid authors that downplay animal behavior science and claim to have learned by living with dogs only. 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

We recommend "So You Want to Become a Dog Trainer" and "It’s Not the Dogs, It’s the People" by Nicole Wilde, and "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.

Our Behavior & Training Volunteers are a vital part of helping our classes run smoothly. Becoming a volunteer is a great opportunity to learn more about training by assisting trainers in the classroom and providing excellent customer support to our students. Learn more about volunteering at AHS.

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 him in the class, even if he has 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