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So You’d Like to Be a Dog Trainer?

August 05, 2013

dog trainer 150x150Dog training is one of those careers that draws people.  It’s challenging. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying.  I often get people asking me about what is the best way to get started in the business, so I thought I’d lay out a few potential options for those of you brave enough to get your feet wet in the “wild west” that we call the Training Industry.  Let me be the first to tell you that it’s not as easy as it looks.  You have to be self-motivated, and, for the most part, willing to self-educate.  If you aren’t willing to attend every seminar, buy every book, and watch every DVD you can get your hands on then you’ll be left in the dust pretty darn fast.  Part of being truly successful in this business means staying current.  So don’t get too comfortable and be prepared to always feel like you know far too little!  That being said, there are a few really fabulous programs out there that should get you well on your way to making something of yourself in this business.

1) Apprenticeship.

kill bill 300x300While a formal apprenticeship can be hard to find, they can be a really effective way to get lots of hands-on classroom experience.  It comes down to doing your research.  Find a school that fits your philosophies (ie: non-punitive, science-based etc),  then contact them! Even if a school isn’t officially taking on new students, it’s a good thing to make connections and get your name out there.  Trainers want to see that you’re actually committed to this idea.  If I speak to a person that’s already spent a couple of years volunteering in a shelter, or has been getting experience working with dogs through dog walking, or as a vet tech, it shows me that they’re not just attracted to the “idea” of working with dogs, but that they know what it’s actually like.

2) Online Schooling.

online class 150x150There are some really amazing schools out there that offer a solid foundation of theory, with some practical modules demonstrating handling skills built in.  Some of the best trainers I know have been through these schools, and believe me, they can be quite rigorous.  Be sure you’re doing lots of research on this one! If you’re in doubt as to whether or not you’ve found a good school, email a trainer and ask their opinion! Most will be more than happy to weigh in on the value of a particular education and may even be willing to direct you toward a good one!


Here are some schools that my colleagues speak highly of:

Karen Pryor Academy

Pat Miller Certified Trainers through Peaceable Paws

Jean Donaldson Academy for Dog Trainers

If you’ve completed one of these course or you happen to know of any other reputable schools send me an email and I’d be happy to add it to the list! While these options can be a little expensive, they’re more than worth it.  It’s important to have a good solid grounding in science rather than just picking up what you can through youtube or popular television shows.

3) Self-Educate!

learning from books 300x300A whole lot of really great trainers out there are tireless about their quest for knowledge.  They’re at every conference, webinar, seminar, telecast, and podcast and they still can’t get enough! Think of the money spent on these resources as an informal tuition cost. While it can get very expensive, it really is the only way to stay current and competitive.  If you aren’t fortunate enough to have the money to take a formal program, this will at least get you on the right track.

Here are some resources for quality training:



Bowwow Flix (Cheap Rentals!)

APDT (Members get Cheap Webinars!)

Karen Pryor Clicking Training

4) Get Certified!

cpdt certified 150x150I should preface this by saying that some of the best trainers I know are NOT certified.  While it’s not mandatory, it certainly helps in terms of credibility with the general public.  The trainers that are fortunate enough to be successful despite a lack of certification are the ones that are so darn good that their colleagues refer them.  It takes years to develop that kind of a reputation (and so it should).  Being certified means that you as a trainer are required to attend a certain number of conferences, and have a certain number of recorded hours working in the industry.  Not all certifications are equal, so look for one that is governed by a respected faction of the dog training community, and is widely recognized.

Here are some reputable Certifications:

Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA/SA)

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP)

Pat Miller Certified Trainer (PMCT)

International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (IAABC)

While I wish I could direct all the hopefuls down a ready-made trainer conveyor belt, I just can’t.  There are a lot of ways to get where you want to be in this industry.  If it’s something you really want, then believe me, you can have it.  Don’t be afraid to reach out, make phone calls, and never stop learning!

Written By

Danielle Hodges, CPDT-KA


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