Updated: Jan 25, 2021
If you love dogs, love people, and have a lot of energy dog training could be the PERFECT career for you.
I brought a 10 year old with me on a recent appointment and at the end he looked at me wide eyed and said “You seriously get paid for this?” I won't lie. I love what I do so much I can hardly stand it. A lot of the work is REALLY fun. And the more fun you can make it, the more successful you’ll be. You can’t say that about every career!
Dog training offers a living wage, some flexibility and trainers are in high demand right now. Here are some things to consider and even do to prepare yourself!
Can you earn a living dog training? Yes. I am making sure both my children are raised knowing how to train dogs because then I know they will always have a way to support themselves. There are many people who train dogs full time and are the sole or primary supporter of themselves and/or family. It’s actually a good way to make it as an independent. It won’t be as much money or have as stable benefits and schedule as some other careers. But it can definitely be done.
Here are some things to consider:
Do you LOVE people?
The greatest myth of working with dogs is that you work, first and foremost with animals. Pet dogs don’t control their own destinies. They are lucky if they control their own bathroom schedule.
Your job is to teach their people to love them, understand them, communicate with them and provide for them. And there are usually some barriers to the person being able to do this. (If they already have all that covered, they aren’t going to call.)
So you have to have very strong emotional competence, social intelligence, and communication skills.
If you don’t like people or easily get frustrated with their shortcomings you are probably not going to enjoy dog training.
Humans fail their dogs constantly. You don’t have to be as forgiving as a dog. (I don’t even think that is possible). But you need the right balance of compassion and empathy and directness to really advocate for the dog, connect with the people, and not get burnt out.
Important note: Children are people. To an extent you can cultivate your market (one of the beauties of this field) but there will be no completely avoiding working with children. If you are good with children and enjoy them you will find it to be a big asset.
And the people loving doesn’t stop with clients. No one becomes a great dog trainer on their own. To be the greatest dog trainer you can be, and to realize your maximum business success you are going to need a community and a network. And this involves building and nurturing a lot of human relationships. And if you really like the people, it is going to build stronger relationships. Everyone wants to be liked. It is human nature.
If you don’t love people you can probably still be a dog trainer. But it is going to limit your business success and enjoyment of the job. And while it is a good living, if you can do it, you can do plenty of other things for comparable wages. So it isn’t worth doing if you don’t enjoy it.
Dog training is disgustingly ablest
Though sexism IME is not a big problem, diversity and inclusion in general IS a problem in this field. (You should enter the field being prepared to work hard to change that, but that’s another blog post entirely.) And the ablest foundations the industry is built on are a huge problem.
Having use of all 5 senses, a quick strong mind, and a strong body that can move quickly, kneel and get up readily, stand for long hours, and generally move how you want it to when you want it to is in the DNA of dog training.
This is not only a problem for dog trainers and a barrier to entry of the field. Many of your clients will have arthritis, varying body types, and other physical, mental, or financial limitations. And most of your training and experience isn’t going to prepare you for how to teach and support them. You are going to have to go into it with your eyes wide open to the problem and be ready to start coming up with solutions.
Buckle your seatbelt for a ride of constant, fast, and endless new learning!
If reading that sentence gave you a thrill, you might love dog training. If it gave you a sensation of stress and overwhelm, your personality type is probably right for something else.
One of my favorite things about this field is that there is always something new to learn about dog behavior and training. But it goes beyond that. You will have to be ready to adapt and learn new things in general. For instance, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, trainers had to quickly learn new technology and new teaching and business strategies. And it quickly became the expectation that trainers had online content for everything they taught in person. This required learning a lot of new technical skills among other things.
Where to begin?
If reading the above considerations made you more excited than ever to dive in, you should! You can, and almost have to, get started without committing to entering the industry.
Play and train your own dog with professional trainers and group classes:
Dog training tends to be a lifestyle as well as a profession. Many successful, skilled dog trainers started out as dog hobbyists. Taking a ton of group classes and private sessions with your own dogs is a big part of how you learn. And building friendships with other dog people who geek out on behavior, and stay current on all things dog is a big part of how you learn and grow.
There is A LOT to know and every dog is a little (or a lot) different so it takes a ton of practice and experience to get good at it. So, if you want to get into dog training, taking classes with your own dog is a great place to start. You’ll know pretty quickly if you’ve been bit by “the bug”.
In addition to academic education (degree or certification programs) you are going to need a good mentor and a lot of practical experience. This can be gained a lot of different ways. One common way is volunteering with professional trainers employed by a local animal shelter.
So have fun, dive in and get started. If nothing else you will build a great relationship with your own dog! And you may find yourself cruising down the road to being a dog trainer.