There really is not a better job in the world than getting to work and play with dogs every day. It might be one of the few jobs were you get paid to be around something that reduces stress, lengthens your lifespan, keeps you healthy, and doesn’t spread office gossip. But for many of us, the idea is just a pipe dream. If you have the guts to even tell your family, you are met with laughter, criticism and the “you can’t make a living doing that” lecture. Trust me, I understand, I have been there myself. However, not only is it possible to make a decent living as a dog trainer, it can open doors to other paths of income. For example, most dog trainers are also writers, authors, public speakers, animal rights advocates, and business owners.
The First Step
Once you have decided you want to be a dog trainer, you first need to decide what kind of training you want teach. While most people immediately think of an obedience trainer, dog trainers can teach and/or specialize in many different areas including:
- Basic Obedience
- Competition Obedience
- Performance Events (Agility, herding, lure coursing, nose work, etc.)
- Therapy Dog
- Service Dog
- Police or Military Dog
- Aggression/Behavior modification
- Canine Actors (dogs that appear in movies, commercials, etc)
- Physical Therapy/K9 Conditioning
Deciding your career goals early will help ensure you make the right choice as far as your education goes. For example, if you want to go into the military or the police force and work with a K9 unit, you are going to need a very different education then if you want to teach basic obedience to local families. Most likely throughout your career you will teach a variety of skills. Most trainers start out with basic obedience and then move into competition obedience, agility, behavior modification, physical therapy, or all of the above. Setting goals and keeping yourself on track will make sure you achieve your dreams.
There are many ways to become a dog trainer. Depending on your personal goals, your path will be uniquely yours.
One route is to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in Animal Behavior from a college. An Animal Behavior degree will give you a lot of insight into why dogs do what they do, and will help you “read” them better. It also show potential employers or clients that you are serious about your career choice. Remember, an accredited college will look a lot better on a resume than a non-accredited online college.
Here are a few choices:
- Tufts University
- Cornell University
- Hunter College
- University of Maryland
- University of Pennsylvania
- Auburn University
- Michigan State University
- Purdue University
- Texas A&M University
- Oregon State University
- University of California – Davis
- University of British Columbia
If you are short on funds, or do not want to invest in the time for a four-year degree, another option is to attend a trade school. Several options are:
These are some of the most popular certificates, though there are many more. Remember to check and make sure the program is going to teach you the knowledge you need for your goals. Most of these are for basic obedience and some behavior modification.
You can also get certified with or without going through an educational program. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) has one such certification, however they do require that you already have some dog training experience prior to taking the exam, which is $400. Once certified, you are expected to take classes, seminars, etc, in order to maintain your certification, and pay a renewal fee every 3 years (also $400). This is a general certification. There are other certifications, depending on what your career goals are. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) has a great list. Some of these require coursework.
Yet another route is to become an apprentice to a dog trainer. Doggy Daycares that are privately owned or dog trainers that work for themselves are often looking for apprentices to help them out. The catch is that you will most likely not get paid during your apprenticeship. But, you will gain priceless industry knowledge and hands-on experience you cannot get in a classroom.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to become a trainer. Most of us do a combination of the above. Some get an animal behavior degree, become an apprentice, get certified and then go out on their own. Others start as an apprentice, get certified and become partners with their mentor. The path you choose is up to you.
Remember that if you go to school, you will have student loans you will need to repay, which can be hard if you are working as an intern for a year or two.
So will I make Money as a Dog Trainer?
Regardless of your dream goals and path you have decided to take, at the end of the day you need to eat and pay your bills. Can you do that as a Dog Trainer? How much does a dog trainer really make?
Since Dog training is a service industry, a lot of it is going to depend on your market. If you live in Beverly Hills and train the stars’ dogs, you can charge a lot more than the trainer in rural Kansas. The United Stated Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2012 lists the mean annual wags as $30,340 (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes392011.htm). But I know trainers in my area that charge $100/hr for private lessons. If you have 10 clients a week, you will be making $52,000/year.
To be a true success as a dog trainer, keep in mind the old business adage: Location, Location, Location.
Also take into consideration the difference between working for someone and working for yourself. If you work at a doggy daycare, for example, you may only make $12/hour versus the $100 quoted above. But, you won’t have to drum up your own business, pay for gas to drive to and from clients, advertising, insurance (both health and liability), or worry how you will pay your bills if you can’t find clients.
Tips From the Pros
“Being a great dog trainer is not enough… to be able to get paid well as a dog trainer, you must first be a human trainer. Your first job is to create raving fans of your human clients.” – Andy Falco Jimenez, President, Falco K9 Academy
“What I look for when hiring is an ability to see through to the soul of a dog and understand it’s about changing behavior, not labeling the dog.” – Rachel Friedman, MSW, LISW A Better Pet LLC
“Get hands-on training working or interning for reputable dog trainers, or even at doggie daycares or groomers – since so much of dog training is based on physical technique rather than intellectual theory.” – Anthony Newman, Calm Energy Dog Training
“Must love dogs, but must like people, too. Dog training is a people business. Professional help is being sought by the owner, not the dog. Smug looks and eye-rolling while owners tell you about Fido’s fetishes won’t get you hired back again, and even the best trainers can’t do it all in one lesson.” – Amy Robinson, Amy Robinson Dog Training
About the Author
Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs.