Being a professional dog trainer is amazing. You might already know that the dog training industry is unregulated in North America. This means that anyone can print business cards and make the claim that they’re a professional dog trainer. I’m not sure how I feel about the industry being unregulated. On one side, it makes it easy for people to get into dog training. On the other side, it makes it easier for people to train dogs who really shouldn’t be working with dogs. There are dozens of paths to becoming a professional dog trainer. Let’s discuss a few avenues for getting more knowledge before taking the step into the role of a professional. Let’s examine the two most popular ways that people choose when becoming a dog trainer.
1: You can go to school to learn how to become a professional dog trainer.
Force free methods:
Jean Donaldson Academy for Dog Trainers- USA
Karen Pryor Academy- USA
Tom Rose School for Dog Trainers- USA
The Michael Ellis School for Dog Trainers- USA
Starmark Academy- USA
Tarheel Canine- USA
National K9- USA
That’s My Dog- USA
Canada West Canine Center- Canada
Dog training schools are a great benefit to the aspiring dog trainer because they allow for a combination of theory-based learning and practical experience. While any of these schools would be a great option, please keep in mind that most dog training schools are not great at providing students with two of the most important skills you’ll need to be successful as a self-employed dog trainer. Dog training schools are not diligent at teaching students the business of dog training and how to work successfully with clients. If you attend any of these schools, please be earnest in your efforts to learn client coaching skills and how to sell your dog training service.
The self-taught model is a luxury that most industries don’t have and it’s the model that I used when entering into the industry. If you want to be a medical doctor, get ready for med-school because it’s your only option. Dog trainers have the great benefit of being able to learn over time, on their own time.
Here’s how I did it. When flirting with the idea of becoming a dog trainer, I already had years of experience training my own dogs, as well as dogs who belonged to friends of mine. I was eating and breathing dog training at the time. At the time, drug detection and personal protection were my two favorite things to fool around with. After doing some research, I came to the conclusion that there was essentially no market for clients who wanted to invest in training such things, so I switched gears towards the pet dog market.
It was clear to me that I needed much more experience with different breeds and behavioral issues before I could confidently ask people to pay me. That was fine with me as I began to train dogs for free. Meeting people in the park, I would often have people comment on my dogs’ good behavior and focus. This prompted me to ask them if they wanted help with their own dogs for free and most people were enthused by the proposition. So that’s what I did. I trained dogs for free for about a year, asking only for a testimonial in return. After training many dogs for free, I had testimonials to aid me as I prepared to pick a business name and make a website for my business.
The next thing I did was invest in a correspondence course. The course structure was great; they sent me books and training manuals in the mail. Students were to film themselves training dogs and send in the video footage for critique. When I felt I had a good grasp on the science behind dog training and some practical skills, I started attending dog training seminars to develop a more inclusive perspective on the different tools and techniques available. Armed with dog training experience, testimonials and the theory of training, I was ready to build a website and print business cards so that I could go to the market.
There are dozens of different ways you can make the transition; feel free to be creative and never underestimate the power of finding a great mentor which was something I did early in my business and thank God for that. For the first year and a half, I was completely on my own, and it wasn’t until I was struggling that I linked up with my business mentor. My training skills were great, I was great with the dogs and owners, but I couldn’t figure out a way to make a sustainable business out of what I had created.
If you find yourself feeling inadequate as a trainer in the first few years, that’s okay. Even trainers who go to an extensive dog training school will have moments of feeling inadequate. About a decade later, I still get dogs that I find hard to figure out, so don’t sweat it. Time and repetition will help, and be open to learning from others.
If you don’t feel ready, you can train more dogs for free, or train at a fee but extend a full money back guarantee if the client is not 100% happy with the results or service. Part of dog training is learned on the job, and that’s okay, just make sure that people are happy with the way things are progressing and that they know you don’t have hundreds or thousands of dogs trained yet. Honesty is critical.
Best of luck on your journey to become a professional dog trainer.
If you want know more about how to make this big life transition, check out my book Thriving Dog Trainers. Available for Kindle, Paperback or Audible. Don't forget to give the book an honest review!