What Does a Dog Trainer Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Dog training is a career that combines knowledge of animal behavior with practical teaching skills. Patience, consistency, and excellent communication skills (both verbal and nonverbal) help a trainer to effectively teach their canine and human clients.
The vast majority of dog trainers are self-employed, though some may work for a head trainer or as a part of a pet store’s obedience training program. Trainers may also be employed by animal shelters, veterinary clinics, or boarding kennels. Trainers may offer group lessons, private lessons, or home visits. Trainers may specialize in obedience, behavioral modification, aggression management, therapy or service dog training, agility, show dog handling, puppy training, trick training, and a variety of other areas. Specialization in working with specific breeds is also an option.
Dog Trainer Duties & Responsibilities
This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:
- Operant conditioning
- Positive reinforcement
- Clicker training
- Hand signals
- Voice commands
- Reward systems
Dog trainers use the above techniques to teach new or improved behavior. They will also examine the progress of the dog and advise owners on how best to reinforce these teaching methods at home. They may also need to provide the owner with additional exercises to be undertaken away from the dog training sessions. Dog trainers will need to be sensitive to the needs of the owner and be able to make them aware of the important role they play in the ongoing training of their dog.
Dog Trainer Salary
A dog trainer’s salary varies widely based on their level of experience, the area of expertise, education, and certifications.
- Median Annual Salary: $34,760 ($16.71/hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $56,000 ($26.92/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $19,610 ($9.43/hour)
Dog trainers must also factor in additional costs for their business such as insurance, travel, training facility use fees (if applicable) and various forms of advertising.
Education, Training, & Certification
No formal training or licensing is mandatory for dog trainers, but most pursue some form of education and certification. Some aspiring trainers learn through an apprenticeship with an experienced trainer. There are also a number of educational options—many of which offer certifications and provide additional in-depth training.
- Training School: A good training school will cover the evolution of dog training, behavior, learning techniques and how to design classes for your own clients after graduation. Coursework should include lectures, readings and practical training clinics. Students also will benefit from prior experience working with a variety of breeds in veterinary clinics and animal shelters, or from college coursework in animal behavior.
- Certifications from CCPDT: The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) was founded in 2001 and offers two different types of certification. The first is knowledge-based (KA), which requires at least 300 hours of dog training in three years, and a signed attestation from a veterinarian or another CCPDT certificate holder. The second is skills-based (KSA.) To qualify for this level, the applicant must already hold the CCPDT-KA credentials. The CCPDT also requires continuing education credits to maintain certification.
- Membership with APDT: The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) was founded in 1993. The APDT has a “Professional Member” classification available to those who achieve certification with the CCPDT or a few other animal behavior societies, in addition to full and associate memberships. There are over 5,000 members to date, making this the largest association of dog trainers.
Nearly 3,000 candidates have taken the certification knowledge test with 85% pass rate. As of March 2017, there were 3,088 CCPDT-KAs, and 173 CCPDT-KSAs as of May 2017 worldwide.
Dog Trainer Skills & Competencies
Not everyone is capable of being a dog trainer. There are certain qualities you need to have in order to have a successful career in this field:
- Patience: Dogs have a mind of their own and come with different behavioral traits, so it's important that you are patient and don't get frustrated. Dogs will often pick up on your attitude, even if it's not overtly visible.
- Confidence: The more confident you are, the more dogs will respond to you. Clients will notice and will likely refer you to others. While you don't want to brag about your skills, you do want to be able to market what you have. Be confident about what you bring to the table, and let new and prospective clients know you will get the job done.
- Not a neat freak: This may seem like an odd quality, but, if you've ever worked with dogs, you know it's a messy business. Sometimes you'll have to roll around in the mud, deal with wet and dirty paws, drool, and get your clothes dirty.
- Communication skills: This is a given. If you can't communicate with the animals and their owners, you won't do well in this career.
- Passion: Another no-brainer. If you don't have a passion for dogs, this isn't the path for you.
According to the National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of American families owned a pet in 2017. Of those, about 60 million owned a dog. And that number keeps rising. With this in mind, the outlook for job growth for dog trainers is expected to increase, as well. Job growth will be highest in major metropolitan areas in states such as California and New York, where larger numbers of dogs and dog owners are concentrated.
Dog trainers may work independently or in collaboration with other dog trainers. They may work from clinics, at their own their clients' home, or at a dog daycare center.
Dog trainers work flexible hours to suit their clients' needs, so they may work nights and weekends, or work regular hours if the job is based out of a dog daycare center.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in dog training also consider the following career paths. Here’s a list of similar jobs, along with the median annual salary:
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017