The U.S. dog training industry grew from $17 billion in 1994 to $126 billion 2021, demonstrating exponential growth. And it’s still on the rise.
All these stats highlight a fact: people love dogs. Often called “man’s best friend,” these pets are part of the family, and their “parents” invest in keeping them safe, healthy, and happy. Some families even seek professional dog trainers’ support to help their canines get the best lessons and training.
Dog training is an excellent full- or part-time career option for animal lovers passionate about teaching humans and their pets to communicate effectively. And if you’re a pooch-lover, this rewarding career could be for you.
Here’s how to become a dog trainer and turn your enjoyment of working with animals into an income source.
Dog behavior and training niches
Becoming a dog trainer is like learning a second language. Trainers must understand that each dog is unique and learn to interpret animals’ cues to communicate with them effectively.
While all dogs have different behavioral tendencies and learning styles, several common, widely successful training models meet many animals’ needs. So the first thing an aspiring dog trainer should do is decide on the niche. Doing so will define the type of training program and certifications they’ll need and how they’ll run sessions. Here are some of the most prominent types of dog training:
- Positive reinforcement training: This training method –– also called reward-based, force-free, or R+ training –– relies on reward systems. Trainers use verbal cues or clicker tools to guide animals sonically and praise their excellent work with treats, affection, and playtime.
- Clicker training: This method falls under the positive reinforcement umbrella but deserves its own categorization. Entire schools (for trainers and dogs) revolve around this practice. In this training type, professionals use a device that emits a clicking sound to mark good behavior as a way of praising the dog or helping the animal make associations.
- Balance training: This model focuses on maintaining a healthy balance between rewards and aversive behavior’s consequences. This means the dog trainer not only praises the canine when it follows commands and demonstrates obedience but also makes sure the dog understands the outcome of its bad actions.
How to start your dog trainer career
Becoming a dog trainer is much more than teaching people’s canines to sit, stand, and roll on commands. And while some dogs are easily trainable, others need extra care and attention. For instance, a dog may experience separation anxiety as soon as it can’t see its owner, which could result in aggressive behavior, or a pup may feel unsafe around other pets –– and pacifying these animals takes meticulous groundwork and proper knowledge.
So here’s how to get started as a trainer:
- Familiarize yourself with all types of dogs: It’s one thing to cuddle with your dog; it’s another to train someone else’s. Before investing time and money in a training program, be sure you enjoy working with all types of dog breeds professionally and are comfortable with their sometimes rowdy behavior.
- Attend a dog training program: Register for a certified dog training program after researching the training type you’d like to perform. Some reputable programs include The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), the Karen Pryor Academy, the Animal Behavior College, and the CATCH Canine Trainers Academy.
- Gain hands-on experience: Begin work with a dog training center or assist a more experienced trainer. Training is hands-on work, so you must integrate classroom learning with field practice. Plus, since some schools and councils ask for certain “worked” hours to apply for certification, it’s best to get exposure. You can volunteer at an animal shelter, work as a dog walker, or shadow a professional trainer.
- Pursue a dog trainer certification: The dog training industry is unregulated, so clients may have trouble understanding which trainer is best qualified to work with their pet. Although certification isn’t mandatory, it’s always good to have. Earning a certificate helps you prove your skills and experience before potential clients. Some common, highly regarded certifications are those from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP), and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). Certain schools, like the Karen Pryor Academy, also offer certification.
- Go out on your own: Start your own dog training business. Since the work is hands-on, you’ll likely be limited to local clients, and word-of-mouth references are critical. Ask your first clients to refer you or offer a testimonial, which you can host on your professional site and social media accounts. Since your business isn’t virtual, these spaces are powerful assets for your advertising strategy because they give your company social proof and allow prospects to read up on your techniques, experience, and pricing at their own pace. Include multimedia content, like videos, of your training sessions on social media so potential clients can watch you in action.
- Keep learning: Stay up on the latest in your field by attending conferences and lectures. The APDT has a massive yearly event jam-packed with knowledgeable speakers and vendors demoing the best treats, toys, and training tools.
What’s the career outlook for a dog trainer?
We know the professional dog training industry is booming, but what share can you expect to take?
The average dog trainer's salary in the U.S. is roughly $33,000 annually, but your geographic area, expertise, and experience can significantly influence how much you earn. Self-employed dog trainers who set higher rates or offer a niche skill set may earn in the six-figure range.
Freelance trainers hoping to boost their earnings can consider the class model. Instead of working with one dog in a session, you can offer a themed class (like puppy manners) and invite several participants. Charge each pet parent a class rate to attend, multiply this rate by the number of people in the class, and you’ll find your earnings are higher than they would have been for a single one-on-one session.
Manage your dog training business with Practice
Dog training is rewarding but taxing work. You’ll commute to sessions, pick up supplies, stay physically active during classes, and get emotionally attached to your canine clients. At the end of the day, you deserve to kick your feet up instead of spending another few hours in front of the commuter administering your business.
Use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to streamline business processes and store sensitive client information. Practice’s Client Management Software, made with small business owners in mind, allows you to communicate with clients securely, send documents like your training contract, book sessions, and take payment –– all in one place. Try it today.