So You Want to be a Dog Trainer!
The Association of Professional Dog Trainers, APDT, is a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to becoming better trainers through education. The APDT offers individual pet dog trainers a respected and concerted voice in the dog world. We continue to promote professional trainers in the veterinary profession and to increase public awareness of dog-friendly training techniques.
Dog training is a tremendously rewarding career. One should remember first of all that, for the most part, training is a “service” profession and that one is usually working with people who happen to have dogs. In other words, you are working with animals but you are primarily working with people.
We’ve prepared these answers to frequently-asked questions to help you prepare for a career in dog training. WATCH A FREE WEBINAR: “How To Become A Professional Dog Trainer”
Do I have to have a certification?
One should realize that a “certificate” from a particular training school is simply that: A certificate for completing one of the numerous training courses available. Many individual businesses will also be happy to charge you a fee and “certify” you. If you choose to attend a “dog training school,” do your homework. Investigate the program and how it fits with your needs. If you’re interested in a true national certification, please contact the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.
Are there schools for dog trainers?
In general, those individuals employed as dog trainers are largely “self educated”. This means they have read extensively on behavior modification and dog ethology, attended seminars, workshops and conventions, and perhaps mentored with other trainers. There are some “dog training schools”. As a matter of policy, at this time the APDT cannot endorse any of the selected training programs that are available around the country. When you investigate a school, be sure to inquire about methods used.
A good training program will cover the following subjects:
- History of Dog Training. A complete history of dog training from late 19th century to present. Comparison and contrast of dog training with other animal training endeavors.
- Animal Learning. Classical and operant conditioning, positive and negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment, conditioned reinforcers, discrimination, generalization, habituation, sensitization and desensitization, blocking and overshadowing, motivation, establishing operations, conditioned emotional responses. Comparisons of dog learning to human learning.
- Dog Behavior. Dog development and ethology, genetics of behavior, fixed action patterns, social signals, body language, social development, critical periods, hormonal influences, breed characteristics.
- Designing Classes. How to design your courses/instruction materials once you graduate. How to counsel individuals, motivate handlers/owners, how to screen and steer clients.
Volunteering with shelters and local rescue groups is also extremely helpful to introduce you to a range of canine personalities, breeds etc.
Your curriculum and education at the training school should include lectures, reading assignments and practical hands-on experience working with a large number and variety of dogs and/or other animals. The instruction should go on for weeks, not days. Remember, your education will continue throughout your career.
The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, has information on animal care and service workers available in their Occupational Outlook Handbook.
What about college?
Presently we are not aware of any degrees offered in “dog training” at any major universities across the country. Undoubtedly, a formal education in behavioral psychology/ethology/veterinary sciences is very useful for an individual interested in professional training.
There is a college that offers a program in animal training and management: Moorpark College. The emphasis at Moorpark’s Training Zoo is exotic animals, so there is not an intense focus on domestic dogs.
The University of North Texas in Denton’s Department of Behavior Analysis is offering graduate and undergraduate courses on behavior modification through positive reinforcement shaping. Students do their hands-on research at zoos and animal shelters and at home. Training a pet is a course requirement for graduates and undergraduates alike. To learn more about this and other university programs that involve modern animal training, visit the Department of Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas.
Do I have to apprentice with an established trainer?
There is no formal apprenticeship system in dog training, but opportunities to work with other experienced trainers and a large variety of dogs is essential to your education. Volunteering with shelters and local rescue groups is also extremely helpful to introduce you to a range of canine personalities, breeds etc. When you look for a trainer to mentor with, make sure the that trainer is committed to furthering his or her own education, is open to learning about a variety of methods, and is devoted to humane training methods.
Who hires dog trainers?
Many dog trainers are self-employed, or work for a small business, often owned by a head trainer. Sometimes other pet-related businesses hire dog trainers, such as vets, shelters, groomers, and pet stores. Sometimes trainers are hired by local city or county recreation departments, 4H clubs, or other community groups.
How do I prepare to be a dog trainer?
One excellent first step you can take is to join the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. The APDT is the largest professional association of dog trainers in the world. The APDT offers many benefits, including the largest and most informative seminars on dog training/behavior available, an outstanding bimonthly newsletter, Internet e-mail lists where trainers share training tips and information, and numerous opportunities to network with other training professionals.
Do my own dogs need to pass a test?
Since there are no formal requirements for dog trainers, no. However, you should have the experience of training a dog to the level that you expect your clients to achieve.
Where can I learn more about this field?
The Association of Professional Dog Trainers is the premier pet dog education organization. Our conferences, newsletters, and e-mail discussion lists are among the best resources for learning more about dog training. Below is a list of recommended books or contact us at 1-800-545-0483.
So You Want to be a Dog Trainer (2nd Edition) by Nicole Wilde
Step-by-step advice from a professional, for any aspiring dog trainer! What it’s really like to work with dogs – and their owners; can you make a living training dogs? How to get an education; building your confidence; setting up your business; advertising; group classes; in-home sessions; phone tips; safety tips; trainer etiquette; products and tools you should be aware of, and MUCH more. Shop here.
Employment Opportunities / Employment Wanted
Please submit job openings via our Employment section. Listings are currently free. Ads are posted in the Members Area of the APDT website.