Dog Trainer Job Description
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.
A dog trainer is responsible for using a variety of learning techniques to effect behavioral changes. Such learning techniques may include a combination of desensitization, operant conditioning, positive reinforcement, clicker training, hand signals, verbal cues, and reward systems.
Dog trainers must also communicate with owners who take classes with their pets and are responsible for reinforcing teaching methods at home. A good trainer can clearly convey training methods and plans with the owner to increase their effectiveness. Trainers may also assign “homework” exercises for the dog and owner to work on between classes. Trainers must have patience as it may take a number of classes for the dog to learn the desired behavior.
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.
Education, Training, and Certification
No formal training or licensing is mandatory for dog trainers, but most pursue some degree 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.
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.
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) was founded in 2001 and offers knowledge (-KA) and skills based (-KSA) assessments for trainer certification. The CCPDT also requires continuing education credits to maintain certification. Nearly three thousand candidates have taken the certification knowledge test with 85% pass rate. In April 2011, there were 2,044 CPDT-KAs. Certification is an assessment process designed to test a trainer’s knowledge and is not an educational program.
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.
A dog trainer’s salary varies widely based on their level of experience, the area of expertise, education, and certifications. Trainers that own their own business tend to earn more than those employed by other trainers or pet businesses. Salary may also be affected by the type of classes offered, as specialty classes or private lessons will generate higher fees per hour.
The median rate for animal trainers is listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook as $12.78 per hour ($26,580 yearly), though this figure includes all animal training professions (not just canine). The highest 10% of animal trainers earned more than $53,580 ($25.76 per hour) according to the BLS.
While salary data specifically for dog trainers is not readily available from the BLS, several online sites offer dog trainer salary information. PayScale.com cited an average earning rate for dog trainers around $44,000 per year. SimplyHired.com quoted an average dog trainer salary of $38,000 per year.
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.
There are more than 77.5 million dogs in the United States alone and that number continues to grow each year. Demand for dog training services is expected to increase over the next ten years. 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.