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Dog Trainer Career Overview

A dog trainer uses their knowledge of canine behavior and training techniques to modify behavioral responses.

Duties

Dog trainers use a variety of training techniques to eliminate negative behaviors or to elicit a desired response to training cues.  Techniques commonly used by dog trainers include operant conditioning, desensitization techniques, hand signals, verbal cues, clicker training, reward based training, and other types of positive reinforcement.  Dog training requires extreme patience and persistence, as it can take many repetitions to establish the desired response.

It is important that dog trainers are effective communicators and work well with people, since they must teach their clients to reinforce the training methods with the dogs at home.  If owners do not follow up with the techniques at home it is unlikely that the newly established behaviors will be retained.

Dog trainers have the option of working an extremely flexible schedule without set “office hours” if desired.  Many dog trainers work longer hours on weekends or in the evening to accommodate the schedules of their clientele.  They may also choose to only work part-time and make dog training a side business while keeping their day job.

Employment Options

Most dog trainers are self employed and establish their own training operation.  A few find work as employees with pet store chains, large training schools, doggie daycares, boarding facilities, or animal shelters.  There are also a few franchise opportunities for dog trainers looking to become a part of an established chain (though this can be quite pricey).  Trainers may either operate out of their own facility or travel to visit clients at other locations.

Class options may include group training, private one-on-one lessons, and home visits.  There are many specialized types of classes a dog trainer can offer: behavior modification, service dog training, show dog handling, obedience, agility, herding, puppy training, movie/trick training, aggression management, police or military training, or breed-specific options.

Dog trainers can also create sideline sources of income by writing books, producing training videos, giving presentations to schools and community groups, creating informational websites, and selling pet products to their clients.  They can also open boarding kennel facilities that offer training while the dog stays on the property.

Education, Training, and Certification

Dog training is a career path that does not require any formal training, certification, or licensing.  Many aspiring dog trainers choose to attend educational courses, take certification exams, or complete apprenticeships with experienced industry veterans to demonstrate their qualifications.  Others have a background in dog showing, agility trials, or obedience work with their own dogs and transition this experience into a full time training career.  No matter their background, a dog trainer should have a strong knowledge of behavior and training techniques.

One well known certification option for dog trainers is offered by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT).  This certification program, established in 2001, offers two types of certification testing which lead to knowledge based (KA) and skills based (KSA) designations.  As of January 2016 there were 2,615 CPDT-KAs and 145 CPDT-KSAs worldwide.  The certification process gives a trainer a valuable credential that demonstrates their professional knowledge, and this can be featured in marketing materials to attract new clients.

The largest membership group for dog trainers is the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).  Founded in 1993, this group boasts over 5,200 members in 48 countries as of 2016.  The APDT offers several types of membership including professional, supporting, and affiliate.  They also offer member benefits such as online training seminars, searchable trainer listings on their website, and access to an annual educational conference and trade show.

Salary Range

A dog trainer’s income can vary greatly depending on their client volume, geographic location, professional background, and the type of training classes they offer.  Independent trainers tend to earn higher salaries than those employed by a pet chain or commercial training venture since they retain a greater percentage of their training fees.  Private classes tend to command a very high rate, while group classes are priced more affordably since many clients can be accommodated in one session.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics salary survey does not track the specific niche career of dog training, but it does include dog trainers in the more general category of animal trainers.  The mean hourly wage for animal trainers in the most recent survey results (2013) was $14.92, which equates to $31,030 annually.  Animal trainer salaries ranged from $17,570 for the lowest paid ten percent of workers in this category to more than $52,460 for the highest paid ten percent of workers in this category.

Job Prospects

The pet industry has been expanding rapidly in recent years, doubling in revenue from 2002 ($29.6 million) to 2015 ($60.28 million), according to statistical data from the American Pet Products Association.  The APPA also reported that in 2015 there were 77.8 million dogs being kept as pets in the United States alone.  The demand for dog training services is expected to continue to grow to accommodate the needs of the growing pet population.

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