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.
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.
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.
Relatively few dog trainer programs are available, so finding qualified professionals to learn from is crucial. 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.