Dog Trainer Job Description

Dog looks at owner during training class
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If you love being with dogs, you may want to consider a future as a dog trainer. It can be a rewarding career, not only because you're helping animals, but you're also helping their owners. And consider the increasing number of people taking pets into their homes, the future of dog trainers is pretty bright.

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.

Duties

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.

Career Options

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 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.

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 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 CPDT-KA credentials.

The CCPDT also requires continuing education credits to maintain certification. Nearly 3,000 candidates have taken the certification knowledge test with 85% pass rate. As of March 2017, there were 3,088 CPDT-KAs, and 173 CPDT-KSAs as of May 2017 worldwide.

One thing to keep in mind: 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.

Traits of Every Dog Trainer

Not everyone is capable of being a dog trainer. And it's not as simple or easy as it looks on TV. 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.

Salary

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 2017 Occupational Outlook Handbook as $13.88 per hour ($28,880 yearly), though this figure includes all animal training professions — not just canine. The highest 10% of animal trainers earned more than $56,000 ($26.92 per hour) according to the BLS. The lowest 10% earned $19,610 per year or $9.43 per hour.

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 $11.58 per hour. SimplyHired.com quoted an average dog trainer salary of $28,000 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.

Job Outlook

The prospects for dog trainers continues to rise. Although there is no data about the industry from the BLS, data on pet ownership from other sources shows promise. 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.