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Become A Professional Dog Trainer


As of now, there is not a single nationally recognized title that declares a person an official professional dog trainer. Unfortunately, this means the path for those wishing to become trainers is a bit unclear. Nor does it give our prospective clients any way to distinguish between a trainer who has knowledge based on sound educational experience verses trainers who is simply calling themselves a dog trainer.

This causes a problem for those trainers who have invested a lot of time learning the scientific explanations behind operant conditioning, why it works and how they can use it to benefit dogs. It also causes a problem for the dogs that fall under the hands of trainers who don’t practice techniques that are geared towards the emotional and physical well-being of the dog. Hopefully this article will lead you in the direction where you can find such answers and become the best trainer you can!

By choosing the dog training field you are setting out for a rewarding career geared towards helping dogs and their humans. Because you will be working with live beings, being a professional dog trainer is also a big responsibility.

Dog training has evolved immensely in the past 30 years. With the direction that progressive trainers are moving, we are going to continue to build great lives for our dogs!

Remember, the dog’s emotional and physical health is your first priority. We encourage you to join organizations dedicated to furthering the well being of dog and progressive training techniques. By doing so hopefully you will become a savvy trainer, able to have intelligent discussions about dogs and make insightful decisions about their care and training.

In the hopes that people who are interested in becoming dog trainers will find information in this article to lead them in the direction of pursuing not only a career that they enjoy, but a career that will help keep dogs in their original homes and out of our already overcrowded animal shelters.

Go out there and gain the knowledge to do just that! I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors!

Please consider that I am presenting this with absolutely no scientific data to back it up, but it seems to me that for many people dog training is quite often their second career.

Just ask a dog trainer how they started off in the field and they will begin by telling you that they had previously been a journalist, a classical musician, a business professional, or a teacher. Along the way something happened that made them realize that they wanted something different so they switched careers.

Usually when people start looking into the option of becoming a dog trainer as a profession it is because they are looking for something more rewarding from their jobs.

A perfect example of this is supplied by Michelle, a professional dog trainer in Washington.

Michelle says,

“I’ve watched my owners tear up from happiness because they’ve been able to walk their dog in the park for the first time without trauma. My clients cry and hug me now. I never got that bonus in software development!”

Improving the quality of life can be extremely rewarding and can’t be said for many professions. Sometimes dog’s lives are even saved due to the fact that the dog trainer was able to help with a problem that may have otherwise caused the owner to relinquish the dog to a shelter. While most shelters are doing everything they can to get those animals adopted out, unfortunately there are just too many animals, including animals that are sick or not adoptable due to behavior such as aggression. Even if the successes aren't so extreme as life or death, your role as dog trainer often strengthens the bond between human and their dog by providing fun, quality time together through training. A dog trainer’s also often give people peace of mind about their dog’s behavior.

“When I come home from work at the end of the day I find that my dog has dug 100 holes in my backyard, is this normal?”

Yes, for some dogs it is normal to dig holes in your backyard if left out there all day, let’s figure out how we can change that perhaps by finding a way to bring you dog inside or give him other things to keep him busy? Maybe we can train him to dig in one designated location. Perhaps there is a local dog walk that can come over midday? There are a lot of solutions trainer’s can provide, therefore improving the quality of life for everyone involved.

Many enjoy the flexible and variable work hours and the satisfaction that come with having helped both dog and human. Through your interactions, you meet some fun and interesting dogs and humans. Your day is always different. Dog training requires movement and being on your feet. You are not glued to a desk, staring at a computer screen!

However, the one thing that differentiates dog training from other careers is that as of now, there is not a universal certification or diploma that licenses you as a knowledgeable dog trainer. Think about this compared a psychologist. To practice therapy, psychologists need to show a level of competence. They need to possess their degree in. After all, you wouldn’t want someone dispensing advice to you that wasn’t based on proven fact, would you?

The same is very true when it comes to dog training. If you are being hired to change behavior, you had better know what you are doing. Otherwise the effects on that living and breathing being could be detrimental.

Why Do You Want to Be a Dog Trainer?

At first this may seem like a ridiculous question to ask yourself. After all, if you are even contemplating entering the field of professional dog training the answer seems obvious:

It’s because you like dogs!

In fact, a lot of us out there like dogs. Statistics show that a majority of American homes have a pet dog. Many of us consider our dogs to be members of our family. They live in our houses, eat our food, listen to us when we need someone to talk to, are always up for anything and never complain about our music.

In turn, we really like them. So when we think about it, the ideal profession is to take a personal interest, such as dogs, and turn it into a career! Brilliant, don’t you think?

When asked why they became dog trainers, this is how a few professional trainers responded:

“My early years were spent volunteering and working for animal shelter. I saw countless animals being returned or given up due to a variety of behavior problems. My hope was that as a professional dog trainer, I could help dog owners understand and change their dog’s behavior, thus avoiding ultimately ending up in an animal shelter.”

- Jen, Professional Dog Trainer, Massachusetts. 

“I love working with animals, particularly dogs, and wanted to help dogs in both the shelter environment and in the home. I fell into the profession after taking in a stray and the trainer I worked with really impressed me. Using the techniques that she showed me, such as clicker training and classical conditioning, the improvement I saw in my dog was incredible.”

- Eden, Dog Trainer in Vermont. 

“The thing I enjoy most about my career is helping people and their dogs. It’s reinforcing for me to see the dog’s and owner’s lives improve.”

- Tess, Animal Trainer in Washington. 

Clearly there are many benefits to the career of professional dog training (other than spending time with our favorite furry companions).

Here is a list of some of advantages for being a dog trainer:

  • You get to meet great dogs and people
  • You help both dogs and people
  • You usually aren’t under the constraints of an 8 hour work day
  • Every day is a little bit different
  • Your job is mobile
  • You can potentially be your own boss

What better way to meet a ton of great dogs than by having a steady stream of them come through your door? The dog's humans are often interesting and fun as well.

Some people who sign up for your classes already have a great bond with their dog, which is nice for a trainer to see. Other people get really enthusiastic about training their dog and after realizing how much they enjoyed one class, they continue to sign up for others.

You will find that as a dog trainer, you do play a role in your client’s lives (at least probably more so than their cable company!) and that’s very rewarding.

There are many trainers who have had clients give them presents and cards at the end of class, telling them how much their dog will miss their dog trainer! Is their dog really going to miss the trainer? Probably not, but they probably have enjoyed coming to class!

For a dog who has had a positive experience in class (which is what we strive for!) the dog will show excited behavior when arriving. In fact, a lot of the time a client re-enrolls in a subsequent class not only because they are learning and making progress, but because their dog seems to enjoy being there. People dedicated to their dogs like their dogs to be happy. If you make their dog happy, they notice.

More important than meeting dogs and people that you like, and who will hopefully like you, is that being a professional dog trainer provides ample opportunities to help dogs and their humans by improving their quality of life. Imagine a person who has made a commitment to their dog, yet is constantly frustrated and upset by some of his or her behavior. Being able to give help to that person and dog greatly serves both of them.

Most people feel their dogs are an extension of themselves; therefore it’s often a comfort for clients to have someone to talk to about their dog. Especially if that someone can help explain or normalize the dog’s behavior! Imagine their relief at discovering someone to provide training instruction to help manage their dog’s unwanted behavior and improve the desired behavior. Occasionally, by the time a person seeks a professional trainer’s help, they have been dealing with a problem with their dog for a while and they are at their wit’s end. Perhaps you aren't even the first trainer from whom they have sought training. What a relief for them to find someone who understands and who can provide help. Truly helping someone like this is a reward not many professionals can claim to have in their careers. Dog trainers have the opportunity to make that kind of a difference.

Another benefit of being a professional dog trainer is that often they do not work the typical 8 hour work shift. When you think about it, most classes are offered on weekends or in the evenings, when the majority of people have the time to attend. However, many facilities or individual trainers have found that offering classes early morning or afternoon works well for those who are home during the day. You may need to try a variety of different options to find your optimal hours. For those who don't want to work full-time, perhaps because you want to stay home with kids or are semi-retired, the irregular hours work well.

The assortment of working hours come in handy if you are in the process of switching your career over to professional dog training. Working in the evening or weekends can allow you to begin to work as a dog trainer part-time. This is an excellent way to start gradually transitioning to the field, build up your clientele and your cash reserves, before giving up your day job.

Some people find that they enjoy not being stuck behind a desk all day (which is typical of many professions). For those people who don't want a regular routine, dog training fits that requirement. When working with live individuals, they are always going to surprise you! Each day new training cases will contact you, you will meet with your regular clients and see the progress they have made, and the interactions with the dogs and people guarantees for unique, unpredictable days all the time.

Being a dog trainer also travels well. If you find yourself wishing to relocate or having no choice but to relocate, training is a skill that travels! As long as you live someplace that has people who need help training their dogs, you have potential clients and income. Your training skills go where you go and don’t take up a lot of room! This makes it easy to create your own dog training center or work out of your home.

If you are looking for a career where you can be your own boss, becoming a professional dog trainer offers that as well. Since all you really need is a form of transportation, a telephone, and minimal training gear, you can travel to people's homes, or have them come to yours, and offer lessons there.

Being your own boss has a lot of perks, such as not having to report to anyone else but yourself, setting your schedule and choosing your own clients. There is a lot more that goes into setting up your own business and that will be discussed later on in the article.

As you probably realize, there are a lot of benefits to becoming a professional dog trainer. Since we are considering the career as a whole, it is prudent to not only think about the great aspects to this field, but to also be realistic and recognize that, while you hope it will be a job you like and believe in, it is still a job. Even dog trainers have days they don't want to go into the “office.”

Here is a sampling of some of the challenges that can occur in a dog training career:

  • Dogs and people can be challenging at times
  • Income can be unreliable
  • Dog training isn’t a desk job; there is also an emotional aspect involved

As trainer Shirley says,

“It’s not uncommon to get a dog that is bouncing off the walls, taking your fingers off when you offer treats and demanding attention. If I am the dog trainer and I am overwhelmed, just imagine what it is like for his people!”

An energetic dog is just the beginning of behavior that requires the patience mentioned earlier. Aggressive behavior can be scary, rude behavior can be annoying, and barking….need we say more? And that's just the dogs!

People can be late coming to class, or miss classes altogether. They come to class unprepared and they talk while you are talking. They dispense their own dog training advice to the person standing next to them. They don’t pay attention to what their dog is doing. They don’t follow your suggested training technique and despite what you have said about not shoving the dog’s rear to the ground they continue to do it anyway! Alas, this is where you need to have patience and figure out how to change things around so you can accomplish as much as possible for the dog, despite their human!

As trainer Jen so eloquently states,

“Being able to have empathy and compassion for the human side of the equation is key to being able to resolve the problems between dog and owner.”

In addition to the sometimes challenging aspects of working with dogs and people, there are other things to consider about being a dog trainer. Quite often you will find yourself working odd hours. Previously we mentioned this as a benefit, but for those who prefer a more regular or predictable schedule, working evenings and weekends can be problematic.

Sometimes you are faced with some tough decisions when you are working with people who are thinking about giving up their dog because of his or her challenging behavior, or when dealing with an aggressive dog. Ideally, keeping a dog in his or her original home with a good guardian is usually the best place for the dog.

Many professional dog trainers are concerned about the number of unwanted dogs found at our animal shelters and rescue groups. However, in some cases re-homing the dog may be the best thing for everyone involved. You have to be the advocate of the dog and your client’s quality of life. Sometimes this means advising on challenging situations.

Ultimately, becoming a dog trainer is a big responsibility. Claiming you have the skills to address a dog’s behavior can quite literally result in a life or death issue for the dog in question. A distressed client who comes to you with a dog that is on his/her last chance is counting on you. Despite your best intentions, passing out information that is not based on fact or experience can be detrimental to the dog.

Even if you have excellent behavior modification skills, the sad fact is that you will not be able to save all dogs. There are some dogs which are too dangerous, dogs whose humans can’t invest their time or money in them, or a variety of other reasons when euthanasia may be the best answer.

Losing a dog is a sad fact to being a professional dog trainer. This emotional toll is hard for a professional who is so dedicated to their clients. This is when it is important to have a support group, preferably formed of other trainers, who understand your situation. Other trainers can provide advice, assistance, and assure you that you are only human and did the best you could for the dog and client.

Finding a way to deal with this tough aspect of dog training is something to think about and come up with some ways to help yourself handle it. Remember to keep your focus and attention on all the dogs you have been able to help!

Now that we have covered a great deal about being a dog trainer, let’s go back to the original question: why do you want to be a dog trainer?

Most likely you have answers similar to the trainers we cited at the beginning of the section: you like dogs and you want to help them.

However, when you consider the investment of time, money and knowledge you are going to put into this career, and then imagine practicing it for years to come, it’s best to reflect on the many other aspects and requirements before jumping in head first.

Let’s start off by examining your initial interest: you like dogs.

You like Dogs

Yes, dogs are nice, aren’t they? They come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Dogs provide companionship, entertainment and support. They are fun to throw a tennis ball for in the park, cuddle with on a gloomy day and are always so excited to see us when we walk through the door.

There is a lot about dogs to like, but the question for you is, do you like dogs enough to work with them, sometimes a lot of them, on a daily basis? Do you mind being covered in dog hair? How about dog drool? Are you okay with finding dog cookie crumbs in all your pant pockets? How do you feel about being jumped on by unruly dogs? Muddy paw prints on all your clothes? Or ringing in your ears from all the barking?

If this all sounds ideal, then you may be on the right career track! However, before we go any further, now that we have established that you like dogs, do you like people? Believe it or not, dog training should really be called people training!

Do You like Working with People?

If it is called dog training, what does it have to do with people? Ultimately, the main goal of a dog trainer is to teach their human client how to train their own dog, therefore dog trainers are teachers to people as well.

Giving your clients the skills to train their own dog may seem counterproductive at first; after all, don’t you want people to seek your services? Yes, we do want people coming to us to help solve their doggie dilemmas, and we appreciate the business, but unless you want to move in with your clients for the rest of their dog’s life, you need to give them the skills to train their own dog. Don’t worry, there are plenty of dogs and people out there who need trainers and many different types of lessons you can offer clients to keep them coming back. Being able to solve your clients training issues means you are doing your job and doing it well. Success is the prize! Your clients will be pleased and word of mouth will help gain you more business.

When you think about dog training in this aspect you realize how much more interaction you have with the people rather than the dog. Ultimately, for every dog, there is at least one person attached (either metaphorically or physically)! After all, it's the person who calls you and sets up the appointment. The person is the one who drives the dog to the class and listens as you explain the lesson.

It’s the person you watch practice the training skills. It’s the person that you recognize and reward when they are doing well and then provide feedback for them to process. They, in turn, do this for their dog.

Do You Have Patience?

As any kindergarten teacher will tell you, when you work with living creatures, you will find that having an immense amount of patience is necessary. This is true of dog and people training as well.

A trainer has to have patience with the dog. Often dogs are excited about being in a new place, surrounded by other dogs or new people. They may not be able to give complete attention to the task at hand in such a stimulating environment. A trainer needs to work in some challenging situations, recognizing that it is entirely up to them to ensure that the dog doesn’t get confused or frustrated. If the dog does not understand what is being asked of them, then the trainer needs to take a look at what they need to change in order to set the dog up for success.

I would venture to guess that most trainers find that having patience with the dog is easy! However, they may say something different when it comes to having patience with their human clients! Often, clients don’t do the homework you give them to practice at home. These non-compliant clients can be frustrating. When clients show up late for class, constantly talk during lessons, drop their dogs leash and let them wander off…all these are examples of when having patience with people is necessary. Remember, for your clients this is not their job or necessarily where their strengths lie. They are squeezing this lesson in between picking up the kids from soccer and going to the grocery store. Go easy on them and remember that we are all only human.

Fortunately, because you are so skilled at modifying behavior, not only will you be able to help your clients with their dog’s behavior, but you will find ways to perhaps modify theirs as well. Often trainers find ways of rewarding their client’s good behavior such as asking them to demonstrate a particularly well executed behavior for the whole class to admire, or if you are doing private lessons, offering them 10 dollars off another lesson. Having your clients succeed is a win-win-win. It’s good for them, good for the dog and good for you!

Rah-Rah! Are You Enthusiastic?

You need to have enthusiasm to encourage interest in your clients and get them moving with their dogs. Your clients most likely have worked a full day before bringing their four legged friend to class. It’s understandable that they would like to sit and simply watch you train their puppy! But again, you are not the one going home with the pup, so they need to get up and get practicing!

Being active during class is important for the dogs as well. If given the opportunity, dogs will get distracted or bored. A fun way to mix things up is to create short games for the dogs and humans. It gives your clients a chance to unwind after an intense round of practice “sits” and further strengthens the bond with their dog! It seems that the dogs too respond better when things are upbeat and cheerful. So have a good time!

Training classes should be enjoyable for both human and dog. It always is a smart idea to point out all the great things your client and their dog are doing correctly. It will make them feel good and encourage them to keep practicing that target behavior.

A kind, cheerful, positive demeanor is necessary when you are working with your clients.

Another dog trainer Shirley, remembers a comment made to her by a student in one of her group classes.

“I can’t remember what triggered the comment, but my client looked at me with the most wondrous expression and said ‘Do you ever get upset?’ I remember being surprised by her comment and then I felt complimented. How wonderful to be thought of as someone who is always calm and cheerful!”

Do You Have Good Communication Skills?

Okay, when it comes to standing in front of a room and talking to a group of people about dog training, you are probably going to get a few blank looks. While we dog trainers try to make our subject matter as interesting as possible, there are some people who aren't going to get as enthused about Pavlov and Skinner as we would hope.

While we may not get people jumping out of their seats with excitement, we can hold their attention and help them learn by being a good communicator. You need to be comfortable speaking to people one-on-one or in front of a large audience. Your tone of voice, speaking rate and order in which you discuss things can make you a more interesting speaker.

Studies have shown that people learn in different ways. Some people are audio learners; therefore they need to listen to what they are supposed to be learning. Other people are more visual so they need to see what they are going to be doing. Yet other people need to actually practice the instruction themselves in order to learn.

Incorporating every kind of learning style into your training lessons ensures that everyone in your group is getting the message. It also never hurts to repeat yourself! The more times the message is heard the more times it has the opportunity to sink in! A few ways you can help draw your audience in is by making eye contact regularly with as many of your audience members as possible to help keep them engaged. Incorporating group participation is always a good way to keep people alert and involved (you just have to make sure you choose someone who is comfortable getting up in front of the group).

When it comes to dog training lessons, the public speaking that occurs is usually very casual. After all, how can you be formal with muddy dog prints on your shirt? Regardless, you want to be sure to avoid nervous habits such as shifting your weight from foot to foot or twirling your hair with your finger. Decrease your use of filler words such as “um” and “ah” that only detract from your message.

Videotaping yourself teaching a class in the very beginning is a painful, yet very clear way of looking for ways you can improve your communication. You will see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears things that you weren’t even aware that you do while speaking! As you progress, occasionally turn the camera back on yourself to marvel at your improvement and continue to make further progress. It will be a more enjoyable experience for your listeners if you communicate professionally and in a polished manner.

Are You Good At Multitasking?

When you are conducting a group lesson with many dogs and their guardians, there is a lot going on. Not only are you, as the trainer, observationally taking in what is going on with the individuals in your classroom, but you are outputting as well.

You are the teacher, so you are the one who should be making sure that everyone is successfully practicing the current behavior being taught, helping those with questions or problems, and then moving onto the next lesson so that dogs and people do not get bored. Whew! Sounds busy -and it is! Usually an hour in length, lessons can fly by because there is so much to do and so much going on!

It’s good to have a plan at the beginning of each class. Having an agenda with specific items on it helps ensure you will in fact get to those items rather than forget or getting distracted and never getting on track again. However, even the best plans are subject to change when working with live beings. Being as unpredictable as they are, having the ability to think quickly on your feet and to problem-solve, comes in handy.

Multitasking is especially relevant when you are running your own business. Quite often bosses find themselves being pulled in many different directions. A great example of multitasking in professional dog training is supplied by dog trainer Tess,

“Wearing so many hats has been a tremendous challenge for me. I’m owner, cook and chief bottle washer. I’m responsible for administrative, financial, marketing and continuing process improvement tasks in addition to seeing cases.”

When you are the boss of your own company, or working for a busy one that is small staffed you may find that in addition to having dog training skills, you need to have good phone skills, be a good cleaner, and shelf re-stocker as well! Like Christine said, wearing many hats is often part of the job!

Know Your Training Philosophy

Throughout this article you will hear the term “dog-friendly”. Usually it is in reference to training techniques, i.e. “The dog training center uses dog-friendly training methods“. If you read this literally, you would interpret this as training that is friendly towards dogs, and while that is an undefined definition, this is indeed what is meant.

Progressive trainers advocate training methods that are kind, fun and rewarding for dogs. Not only are these believed to be more effective, but is the best way to build a strong bond of trust and a relationship between the human guardian and the dog. By not using techniques that cause harm to the dog, either mentally or physically, a trainer does not need to worry about the repercussions that can occur with the use of force or dominance. Everyone would much rather learn something that was taught to them via enjoyable methods (involving perhaps chocolate, money, or anything else they find rewarding!) verses ways that are punishable (like physical pain, fear, or anything unpleasant to avoid).

That is why this article will only refer to, and encourage methods that are “dog-friendly“. We need to move away from traditional, old fashioned training methods. What better way that through new trainers? You are the next hope for dogs and clients out there.

Perhaps everything mentioned in this section is what you expected. Maybe you learned something new that will be a consideration as you decide whether or not becoming a professional dog trainer is a good career fit for you. Ultimately, the answer to “Why do you want to be a dog trainer?” should come back to the first answer. You like dogs. You like dogs and you want to help them. What a wonderful career to not only enjoy, but also make a positive contribution to the lives of dogs and their people! Continue to read further so you can start building your technical dog training skills.

What Types of Training Will Help Prepare You For A Career In Dog Training?

We just discussed a lot of the skills needed to be a professional dog trainer. However, before you even begin to worry about sharpening your public speaking skills, you need to learn some basic skills about dog handling and reading dog behavior.

“Dog handling” simply means being comfortable being around a dog, having them on leash, and using your body language and tone of voice to get them to follow, or pay attention, to you. This may sound simple, but add 70 pounds of dog, a six foot leash that gets tangled, a treat pouch to spill, and your own two feet and it’s not always so easy!

Next time you have the opportunity to shadow a trainer in a class, watch when they borrow a client’s dog for a demonstration. That trainer, who has never interacted with that dog before, easily moves that dog into a sit, even if the dog hasn’t learned that behavior yet.


It’s not because they are whispering magic words, it’s because they know how to communicate with a dog. They know what to look for, little ways of regaining attention, ways of using their body to help shape the dog’s behavior. And it comes only with practice.

Spend time watching how dogs act. Watch dogs when someone approaches them, watch dogs when other dogs approach, see what a dog does when there is accidentally a loud sound in the room and how it acts when they are anticipating a treat. You may begin to see similar actions and reactions that repeat themselves, even among different dogs.

Once you are a professional dog trainer, being able to read dog behavior, especially certain behaviors that occur during dog-dog play or when working on a problem behavior such a food bowl resource guarding, is crucial. The safety of the other dogs and people is always your first priority. Being able to read behavior maintains this and moves the training session in a positive direction.

Now you may be wondering, “Where can I go to get these skills?” Well, you head anywhere dogs can be found. Probably a lot of these places can be found locally in the form of animal shelters, rescue groups, training facilities and veterinary clinics.

Become a Volunteer

One of the best ways to get more familiar with dogs in is to volunteer. The wonderful thing about volunteering is that most places that have dogs can’t get enough free help!

Animal shelters and rescue groups usually need people to walk, pet, play, feed and even train their dogs. Often shelters have a training program for their volunteers that provide a baseline for understanding dog behavior and communication. They will outline a volunteer’s responsibilities, perhaps focusing on your particular skills or interest.

Quite often volunteers have the most interaction with the dogs and may discover behaviors the dog already knows or needs work on. If time is available and it is part of that shelter's program, sometimes training sessions will take place. Often if the dog knows a certain behavior like a “sit” they will be asked to do that to earn rewards, like going outside. This is a great way to maintain known behaviors and encourage polite behaviors. A dog who sits nicely when people approach his/her kennel may be more likely to get adopted than the one who is bouncing off the walls.

Many shelter volunteers find their main responsibility is walking the dogs. Getting comfortable juggling a leash, a treat pouch, keeping an eye on where you are going, in addition to any distractions such as cars, other dogs, or squirrels is a skill that can be fine-tuned with practice. As a professional trainer, it's essential that you be able to multitask, be aware of your surroundings and plan out how you are going to react to a situation before it occurs. Being comfortable handling (walking them on a leash, holding the leash, fitting collars, knowing when a dog’s attention has been caught by something and tips to bring their attention back to you) is one of the first skills to becoming a dog trainer.

If you volunteer at a facility that offers dog training classes you may be assigned to help one of the trainers. In the beginning, your contribution may be taking roll of students present for class, passing out handouts, and retrieving objects for the trainer. As your experience progresses the trainer may feel comfortable incorporating your help into other aspects of the class.

In addition to you gaining great hands-on and observational experience, you are also doing those animals a great deal of good. Many professional dog trainers dedicate a lot of their energy to helping shelter dogs.

As professional dog trainer Eden says,

“My work with shelter dogs is the most rewarding partly because it is just the dog and me, but mostly because I am helping make them more adoptable so they can find a great home.”

Trainer Shirley can relate, saying that the confusion and stress that dogs experience when they first arrive at a shelter is heartbreaking.

“One of the most interesting things I found when I would bring a shelter dog home with me for a night away from the shelter is that they would fall heavily asleep almost as soon as they entered my house. The reason was later explained to me. A shelter environment, no matter how nice -and there are some great shelters out there -are so overly stimulating with noise that they never actually get much sleep!”

Volunteer experience at a shelter is commonly found on professional dog trainer's resumes. Often shelters can offer other educational experiences to their volunteers in the form of guest lectures or conferences. This benefits the shelter hosting (because they can generate publicity and hopefully some revenue), but allows educational opportunities for dog trainers and volunteers.

Find a Mentor

One of the best ways to get an idea of what kinds of regular activities and responsibilities a career entails is to spend time shadowing someone in that exact profession.

Dog training is no different. By visiting places in your community, watching several training classes and talking to people in the field you may be lucky enough to find a mentor.

A mentor is someone with a wealth of experience that you find you understand and relate to well. This individual person is someone you admire in the profession and feel that with time spent observing them interacting with dogs and clients you could learn a lot and become a better trainer yourself.

By volunteering, you may find yourself exposed to different trainers, their training techniques and their client interaction skills.

This will provide a well-rounded base for you to start. You may find that you like the way one of them trains the “sit” behavior but prefer the technique of another trainer for the “stay” behavior. Notice the way they communicate with their body language and speaking ability.

One of the great things about trainers is that their techniques are somewhat tailored. One thing that is often said about training is that there are 10 different ways to train the same behavior. As you progress with your own training you will find that you develop your own methods. The one thing these methods should all have in common is that they are humane, clearly communicated, and effective.

As professional trainer Janet, a private animal behavior consultant says,

“I began by assisting my favorite trainer at a local facility – for free, as most of us do. After a year there was an opportunity for me to lead the puppy and adolescent obedience classes. I jumped at the chance!”

If you don’t have a starting block from which to seek a mentor, get out there and talk to trainers. More than likely, they will be willing to give you a little of their time. While trainers are busy people, most would be willing to answer questions to someone who is interested in the field. Approach them and find out what they are comfortable with letting you mentor. Can you attend any of their classes? Will they have time to sit down with you and discuss training? Are they willing to teach you what they know? If they are, perhaps a formal apprenticeship can be created.

Apprenticeship / Internship

Dog training is a slightly unique profession. The job itself is so rewarding that it’s actually sought after, therefore, it’s not known for being overly high paying. As with any field where you are “lucky to be there”, dog training apprenticeships or internships are usually non-paying. However, apprenticing or interning is a smart investment for a novice trainer who has the luxury of being able to dedicate that kind of time and get by without a steady paycheck for a while. It is a great investment in your training future as the payment is experience, knowledge, professional contacts, and real life experience in the field you hope to practice in someday soon.

Many different facilities offer apprenticeships. If you are interested in a particular shelter, rescue group, or training facility, contact them to find out more information. You may be able to find details online or by calling them by phone.

Most places do have requirements of their apprentices, so be prepared to present a resume or fill out a form explaining why you would be a good fit for this form of study.

Often once your apprenticeship is secured you will have other obligations to fulfill such as planning mock lessons, doing dog demonstrations for your mentor, taking tests and proving your new found knowledge.

Apprenticeships vary in time commitments from a few weeks to a few months. Some internship can be specialized in a particular area of study. If you are really interested in learning more about perhaps dog-dog interaction or about temperament testing, depending on the capabilities of the organization, you may be able to specialize in a particular area or you may get a more general experience.

Professional canine trainer Jen, increased her professional dog training experience in such a manner. Following her graduation from the Academy for Dog Trainers, Jill completed an internship at the SPCA.

Upon successfully completing an apprenticeship, be sure to put your experience on your resume. Anything that pertains to dog training is valuable and may help you get your first job as a trainer!

Get a Formal Degree

As of now, there is no “dog training” degree offered at any major university or college in the United States of America. Degrees that are relevant to professional dog training include, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Animal behavior
  • Animal psychology
  • Masters in psychology
  • Doctorate in psychology

The degrees above will give you classroom experience, will test your knowledge of the subject matter covered, and often require you to get practical experience as well. If you strive to get your master’s education, a thesis will be required to receive your degree. A thesis is a final project based on your studies testing what you believe and how you are going to prove it.

One interesting option for a slightly different type of formal education from a school is at Moorpark College located in Moorpark, California.

Moorpark College offers an “Exotic Animal Training and Management” program that was established in 1974. Often referred to as “America’s Teaching Zoo”, the animal collection is open to the public and is located on 5 acres facility on the college campus. When enrolled in this rigorous program, students are expected to work at the America’s Teaching Zoo most days and on the weekends.

In the education program at Moorpark College, students receive both classroom and hands-on experience. Thanks to the extensive collection of exotic animals, students graduate with actual animal handling skills. Due to the competitiveness of this demanding 2 year program, only a limited number of spaces are open to prospective students. With hundreds of different animals under their care, Moorpark College will give you experience with various kind of animals.

It has been mentioned that quite often dog trainers are individuals who have formerly worked in other professions. Some of these professions had nothing to do with the study of behavior or how an animal learns, but others actually do have some overlapping similarities. A few beneficial related fields:

  • Veterinarian medicine
  • Marine mammal training
  • Teaching
  • Theater

Certain fields, like the ones listed above, have some things in common with dog training. Obviously by working at a veterinarian's office you will gain a lot of exposure to animals. Again, just being comfortable around dogs and being able to read their body language is the first skill to obtain when starting off in the field. Marine mammal trainers use the same concepts training whales, dolphins, sea lions and other animals that dog trainers do. Teachers, perhaps unrecognized by the average public, are great observers of behavior and through their interactions with children have learned how to modify behavior. Parents too are often very familiar with the technique of rewarding good behavior! Theater experience gives you public speaking skills and the ability to keep smiling, even when things aren’t going according to the script!

Self Education

One way to self educate is to read as many training books as you can. There are many wonderful and interesting training books out there. In their quarterly newsletter, the Association of Pet Dog Trainer’s (APDT) has a section where they review recently published books. It is a great way to know what is out there! The only downfall to self educating by reading books is that you may have no one to discuss them with and therefore may miss out on exchanging ideas and opinions that can lead to further insight.

(Of course, hands-on experience with dogs needs to be gained in addition to reading books.)

Belonging to organizations such as the APDT allows you to know what is going on in the training world thanks to their website and their publication, the APDT Chronicle. Often upcoming conferences and new products are advertised, as well as interviews with other dog trainers.

One of the biggest assets that dog trainers have is their willingness to exchange ideas and encourage fellow trainers to be the best trainers they can be! A great source of collective information, reading these newsletters provides you insight into many other areas of the training society.

Another way to keep up with the field is to join an online dog training forum. Since a forum allows trainers to communicate with each other through posted messages, this may not be considered a true “self education” method. But it is a method that does allow you to learn without necessarily having to participate in the exchanges. That is one of the wonderful things about the Internet; even if you are the only professional dog trainer in a very rural area, you are still able to find other dog trainers to discuss your cases with via forums. The one thing we would caution about a dog trainer’s forum is that you be selective in which ones you join. Make sure you join one that fits your training style and as always, be respectful whenever you post a question or respond to someone else’s.

Attend a Dog Training School

Recently, in the effort to provide a more formalized and complete education to professional dog trainers, there have emerged a few different schools for dog trainers. These schools are found in different parts of the United States and are usually quite a time commitment in addition to a financial commitment.

The benefit of attending a school such as this is that it provides a well-rounded education in the real world of dog training. Schools are taught by experienced dog trainers who were selected for their excellent skills. They are your teachers for weeks. These classes are usually small which is nice because it allows you to get to know your instructors, ask them questions and get to know your fellow students as well. Because these schools are so intense, a small group is best because it allows everyone to get to know each other. The instructors need to be sure of your skills before they will graduate you with their certification. So they will test your dog handling skills with real live dogs, verbal tests, written tests, and practice group lessons that you need to get up in front of your peers and teach.

Remember that a certification simply means that particular facility has certified you. However, the schools listed in this article come with recommendation based on real life experiences and on the names associated with them. Many of the people who have formed these schools are well-known for their excellent training and teaching skills -both come in handy when you are helping create future trainers.

Keep Training Your Own Dog

This may seem like an obvious way to get experience and expand on what you already know, but many trainers will attest: often when you train for a living or as a volunteer, your training focus is on the other dogs, and soon you realize that your own dog hasn’t been taught a new behavior in a while!

The great thing about our own dogs is we have such a relationship built on quality time together, trust and other positive interactions, that training with them can be laid back and fun! You may spend your day training dogs to sit politely when people greet them. Maybe a way to switch it up for you and your own dog would be to train a “silly” behavior, like an army crawl along the ground and spinning in circles on cue. This not only continues to build the excellent bond you already have with your own dog, but it increases the dog’s physical and mental exercise.

Training your own dog builds and hones your advanced training skills. Thinking outside the box, brain-storming and coming up with multiple ways to train different behaviors will help keep your mind (and your dog’s mind!) in shape to keep learning!

Training Other Species

Once you are well-versed in the principles of training, you will find that using positive reinforcement works wonderfully on not only dogs, but on other species as well. This includes cats, horses, dolphins, spouses and children!

When you think about it, who wouldn’t want to learn something new by having someone tell them what they liked (rather than the usual way, where they focus on what you are doing wrong)? Wouldn’t every animal rather receive something they consider good (a reward) verses something they seek to avoid (a punishment)? Many people would say they would rather you give them chocolate when they hang up their coat instead of yelling at them when they drop it on the floor. If you give chocolate when the coat is properly hung up, you would see the behavior of being neat and tidy in the coatroom go up in frequency! The book “Whale Done!” by Ken Blanchard illustrates this point beautifully.

When you receive experience training other animals, those lessons will help drive home the points of operant and classical conditioning. It will also help you think outside the box because you need to consider what it is you would like the animal to do, the physical and biological factors of this new species, and how est to achieve your goal. More great brain and training exercises!

So, what do these ways of preparing for being a dog trainer mean for you? It means that you are going to have to do your research to decide which method is best for you to learn the profession. Perhaps all of them, maybe some of them. No matter which route you take, make the most out of your experience.

Remember the reason you got into dog training is because you want to help dogs and people. There are a lot of options out there where you can gain observational and technical experience to do just that!

Where Can You Get Your Dog Training Education

Earlier we discussed the ways you can gain experience with dogs on a practical, hands-on level. In this section, the following dog training education options listed are more structured. They are all-in-one places to go where you can learn skills to make you a better dog trainer.

These academies require knowledge of dog handling skills in order to be considered for admittance. They also consist of a substantial time commitment ranging from several weeks, to several months and possible relocation during the time of school attendance.

Additional costs are travel fees, accommodations costs, food costs and tuition fees -not to mention time off from work.

(Please keep in mind that such formal schooling is an optional step in pursuing your career in professional dog training.)

Dog training academies, where people go to study how to become professional dog trainers, are a fairly new concept.

The longest established academy on our list mentioned later below was founded in 1999. These schools were formed because the field of dog training did not have any formal education and people were searching for ways to enter the dog training field. By putting together a range of relevant programs, these academies intend to help you gain and strengthen the many skills needed to be a professional dog trainer.

When you consider attending a formal dog trainer’s school, make sure to do your research.

The three academies discussed in this section were chosen because of their connections to highly respected and reputable trainers. More importantly, these academies base their training methods on dog-friendly training techniques.

The courses at these schools cover several aspects of dog training including training techniques, creating training plans, keeping training records, developing client skills, some information about owning your own business, and of course practical hands-on dog training skills! They ensure their students have a certain level of knowledge before “graduating” with that particular academy’s certification or credential.

This knowledge is tested in the following forms:

  • Written tests
  • Quizzes
  • Homework assignments
  • Lesson plans
  • Assistance in classes
  • Dog training, interaction and demonstrations
  • Classroom conversation
  • Training plans
  • Lecture
  • Informative videos and PowerPoint presentations
  • Guest speakers

The following is a list of recommended facilities, should you seek to gain a professional dog trainer certification or credential:

The San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers

Located in California, this dog trainer’s academy works in conjunction with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The shelter and its programs are quite impressive and a testimony of how the people of San Francisco feel about providing for their homeless pets.

This intensive full-time (“full-time” meaning 6 days a week!) 6 week long academy was created in 1999 and is often referred to as the Harvard of dog training schools. Jean Donaldson is the director of the academy and author of several books about dog training including “Culture Clash” and “Dogs are from Neptune” (all recommended reads). Jean Donaldson is a leading voice in encouraging progression in dog training techniques and the academy faculty is committed to providing a well-rounded education to their students. Biographies of the faculty can be found on their website.

Trainers who attend this academy work directly with the shelter’s dogs. This has proven to be beneficial to both trainer and dog. Having shelter dogs participate in this program means there are plenty of dogs for students to train during their studies at the San Francisco SPCA. The training the dogs receive from the academy students helps them become more adoptable.

This academy requires applicants interested in attending to apply before being accepted. Once a student, your skills will be tested by training multiple behaviors to your assigned shelter dogs, creating lesson plans, taking quizzes and tests. Approximately 45% of your time will be spent in a classroom setting and the other 55% doing other course work. If you pass this intense course you will graduate with a Certification in Training and Counseling.

Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior

Founded by the Karen Pryor Clickertraining company, this academy was nationally launched in 2007. This academy has several locations across North America. The course typically takes 6 months to complete.

Notably, Karen Pryor started off as a dolphin trainer and is considered a pioneer in operant conditioning and force-free training techniques. Her academy is no different.

She has written several books including the must-read “Don’t Shoot the Dog”. To this day “Don’t Shoot the Dog” is considered a valued resource for new trainers to read and for seasoned trainers to reread.

Through Karen Pryor’s Academy, your education will take place in the form of distance learning online as well as meeting in person with a faculty member.

The benefit of the online feature is that you can learn and do your homework at your convenience. These online courses will prepare you for the hands-on workshops that will take place every few weeks. At this workshop you will travel to meet with the faculty teacher of your choosing. Biographies of the faculty can be found on their website. Each workshop last for 2 intense days. There are a total of 4 workshops, with ongoing staff support available between workshops.

Students will need access to a computer, high speed Internet, a dog, another species of animal (or a second dog) and the ability to travel (if you do not live near one of the workshop locations).

Karen Pryor’s Academy also offers an international edition for students living outside of the United States and Canada. Persons interested in either program, the United States or the international program, need to apply to the academy to be considered for acceptance. Upon a successful graduation, students are considered Karen Pryor Certified Training Partners.

Peaceable Paws

Peaceable Paws dog and puppy training center is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee on an 80 acre campus. Pat Miller is the owner and formed her facility in 2000. Pat Miller is the author of several books including “The Power of Positive Dog Training” (recommended reading).

Peaceable Paws dog and puppy training facility offers a series of educational opportunities in the form of apprenticeships and internships. The apprenticeship series currently consists of educational experiences ranging in levels from 1 to 3. The first level builds the basic foundation needed and then the details of your education progress depend on the successful completion of the previous class.

There are prerequisites for each level after level 1. The apprenticeship consists of a predetermined number of hours over several months.

The three internships currently listed on Peaceable Paw’s website have different goals, so students can sign up for the one that best suites their needs. They range from helping students become dog trainers to helping existing dog trainers’ hone certain skills.

The three academies listed above are not a full list of the dog training schools found in the United States and Canada, but they are the progressive, dog-friendly ones that are committed to ensuring their students are well equipped for a career in professional dog training.

There are many other schools out there, but it is recommended that when you are searching you do your research. It is encouraged that you find one that clearly states how they train you to train dogs and what their curriculum and requirements will be during the time you are enrolled. If the facility uses positive, dog-friendly training methods they will clearly say so and back up their claim by explaining their beliefs in detail.

Be extremely wary of an organization that doesn’t tell you anything about themselves, or asks anything about you! They should also be open with information about their instructors and their instructor’s credentials. There should be a wealth of information available to you about your expectations, their expectations and testimonials from previous students so you can make an informed decision.

The academy should ask for information about you since they want trainers who will best represent them out in the field. Your program will consist of a huge time commitment and a lot of hard work. While tests are difficult, they are the only way to ensure that you gradate with the knowledge the academy requires. Therefore, successfully passing tests and demonstrations should be included in the qualification of a certification. Academies should have limited enrollment so the instructors can have one-on-one time with the students, allowing for personalized observation, questioning and feedback. Post graduation, they should encourage keeping in touch with you and offer alumni support.

By going to the websites of the academies above, you can learn more details about each of the opportunities. There is a wealth of detailed information including the dates of upcoming classes, tuition fees, application procedures, faculty biographies, their training philosophy and much more! Some even offer the ability to apply online.

By exploring the websites, you will also find that the academies mentioned above also offer shorter mini-classes that focus on different dog training issues or subjects. Some of these classes are on-going, others only occur once. Contacting the facility directly is the best way to get the most up-to-date information. We will discuss more about these specialized classes in “Where to Continue Your Education Once in the Field of Dog Training”.

Anyone who mistakes enrolling in one of the above academies with a vacation will be in for a surprise. Students are expected to prove their knowledge, their training skills and their training philosophy. As was stated in the description of the San Francisco SPCA Dog Trainer’s Academy, students should expect to be at the shelter working with their dogs six days a week.

Karen Pryor’s Academy requires that you carefully manage your own time, ensuring that you get accomplished what you need to in order to meet the requirements.

All three of the academies require giving up a lot of your own free time. Signing up for one of these academy programs does not allow for time to sleep in, stay out late, or not show up for class while you are attending. A successful participant will be driven, dedicated to learning, dedicated to providing good training for dogs and learning as much as they can from their instructors.

Once you feel you have reached a satisfactory level of knowledge regarding dogs and how to train them, as well as 300 logged hours of training pet dogs, you will want to consider taking a test offered by the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT),

Until this organization was created in 2001, there was no national certification process for a dog trainer.

Now that it is created, the CCPDT test is administered 2 times a year at 700 locations in the United States.

There is a fee associated with taking the test. To better help you prepare for the test, you can download the handbook from the CCPDT website listed above.

Successfully passing this test allows a trainer to put the credential “CPDT certified” or “Certified Professional Dog Trainer” on their business cards and other business informational items. According to their mission statement, “The CCPDT's certification program is based on humane training practices and the latest scientific knowledge related to dog training. Competence and continued growth in training practices is promoted through the re-certification of qualified professionals.”

In order to maintain this certification, professionals must re-certify every 3 years. To re-certify, they need accumulate the required amount of “Continued Education Units” (CEU’s), submit 1 exam question and sign the CCPDT’s Code of Ethics. CEU’s are fun and fairly easy to come by if you are willing to make the investment. CEU’s are offered through some of the academies listed above, at dog training conferences and other continued education opportunities.

So as you can see, the academies in this section, the San Francisco SPCA, Karen Pryor’s Academy for Animal Training and Behavior, and the program through Peaceable Paws, offer great ways to gain a substantial amount of knowledge in one place.

The schools also focus on some aspects that are difficult to achieve without real life experience, such as practicing client interviews and writing up training plans. They have access to experts on a wide-range of subjects, such as learning to read dog behavior or starting your business. Of course, the other ways of gaining dog training experience listed in section 2, such as volunteering, finding a mentor, or gaining a degree from a university are other ways to gain hands-on experience and learn about the field. Once you have gained extensive knowledge about dogs and dog training and have trained them for 300 logged hours, you can take the CCPDT test.

Remember, there is no “Official Representative of Domestic Dogs” going around making sure everyone who calls themselves a dog trainer actually has any factual knowledge of dogs (although that would be a great job, wouldn’t it)? Gaining a certification from one of the above organizations simply states you have successfully proved your knowledge of their requirements. The above facilities’ courses contain pertinent information for professional dog trainers and many people find this helpful in their education. Remember, many people have taken different paths to becoming knowledgeable dog trainers. There are many options, so hopefully you can find the best one for you.

Types of Research and Studies You Will Need to Learn

Already many hands-on ways to gain exposure, experience and an education with dogs have been mention. We have suggested volunteering, doing apprenticeships and finding a mentor. We have discussed formal education, dog trainer academies and gaining as much training experience as you can, including other species if possible. But what specific academic studies are included in dog training?

It used to be that someone who was good with dogs was referred to as a “natural”. Without any real study, it seemed that certain people had the gift of working well with dogs. They couldn’t explain what they were doing or how they were doing it, but the results were a well trained dog.

We still have people who are naturals, as there certainly is an aspect of intuition involved with dog training. However, due to the changes in the field lately, if you are going to work with dogs as a professional and exchange ideas with fellow trainers, you need to understand what you are doing in addition to being good at it. Therefore a scientific aspect to dog training has emerged.

Dog training has progressed so much through the years. Today, dog trainers use their knowledge of learning theory and dog behavior to decide which principles of operant and classical conditioning they are going to use to modify a dog’s behavior. They should be able to tell you why they decided on the specific training plan they created, what step they are on and what result they are working towards.

All of this sounds detailed and complicated, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it be as simple as giving the dog a cookie when it sits?

On the surface, it is, but behind it is a science. Fortunately, with research and study, you will understand how and why all these big words and theories are relevant to the dog training field and therefore are relevant to you and your career. Some more detailed studies that are necessary for being a well-rounded professional dog trainer are:

Learn About Dogs

In addition to learning training skills, your clients are going to come to you with questions about their dogs. They are going to ask you what treats you recommend and why their dogs like to dig in the backyard. Overall, you will find that people like to talk about their dogs and their dog trainer is the perfect recipient! They have questions and a certain amount of answers are indeed expected of you.

Professional dog trainers should understand basic health information about dogs (remember when you are giving out advice about the physical side of dogs that you are not a veterinarian and always encourage a visit to the vet if you have health concerns about a dog). You should understand dog socialization, be familiar with different breed characteristics, how to prevent diseases and be good at reading dog body language. It will make you a better trainer (because you know your product!) and provide additional resources for your clients.

Knowing the history of dogs is helpful too. There are many different theories about dogs, their domestication and the role they played in early societies. Knowing about biological topics such as evolution, trainers can get a broader picture of dogs and why they are the way they are today. Becoming familiar in how the discoveries of psychologists B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov shed light on how dogs learn helps us understand the discoveries of operant and classical conditioning methods that are used by modern dog trainers. Reading about Keller and Marian Breland and how they applied these theories to other animal species will add further insight to the history of animal training. Knowing the history of dog training lets us know where we have been, and were we are going.

There are many opportunities to research and study these various aspects of domestic dogs. You can learn about these subjects by reading a book, listening to a lecture, or talking to an expert. Yet other education needs to be learned through real life observation.

Learn the Vocabulary

As with any trade, there is a distinct vocabulary that dog trainers use. When you attend conferences, read training books, or participate in a discussion on a forum, these terms will come up. Because your fellow dog trainers are using them you will need to be comfortable with them as well. You are going to need to know the definitions behind the terminology, be able to understand and even explain them.

Examples of such are: learning theory, behavior modification, classical and operant conditioning, positive vs. negative reinforcement and punishment… the terminology goes on and on!

With so many of them, the words and principles are difficult to keep straight. However, once meaning has been attached to them you may even find them fascinating!

While it may seem like overkill to maintain such technical language, being on the same page is essential for fellow trainers to understand each other. It certainly helps if we all talk the same talk! In the “Recommended Reading” section at the end of this article you will find some books that do a great job explaining these words and are excellent at explaining some of the tougher theories.

After learning training terminology and principles, the next skill you need to develop is seeing these practices in real life situations. Knowing a definition on paper and then being able to implement it in real life is necessary for having a well-rounded training education.

For those who are “naturals”, you may find that you knew what you were doing the whole time you have been training dogs, you just didn’t have a name to put on it. This is very common, but with the scientific approach trainers have recently taken, you will find it behooves you to learn the name and the reason behind your success. It will open a whole new world for you!

Explain to Your Clients, in Layman’s Terms

Learning the vocabulary and definitions in the trainer’s dictionary is one of the first steps to additional research and studies. Another challenge is explaining these complicated theories in simplified terms to your clients.

Trainer Shirley relates,

“In the beginning of my dog training career, because I was so excited about training, I wanted to delve deeper into it with my clients than necessary. While providing more information is great for a client who really ‘gets it’ and wants to become a more practiced trainer, the average client really only wants to see results.”

A successful instructor needs to break each skill or lesson into the smallest steps to make it easier for your clients and their dogs to achieve success.

It is important that our clients understand how rewarding good behavior increases the likelihood of their dog performing that behavior again, but make sure not to get too technical unless you have an audience that will appreciate it.

The more interesting and fun you can make training, the more likely your clients will practice your advice. The more progress they see with their dog, the more they will continue to work with him or her.

Know How to Run Classes

Being a good public speaker doesn’t happen naturally for most people. Getting up in front of a crowd and feeling comfortable takes study and practice. Public speakers need to be articulate, informative and interesting. Speakers who are not confident, who get distracted and lose their train of thought, or who do not speak clearly are going to be ineffective -even if they are excellent at training dogs. At many community centers, colleges, or universities a person can find public speaking classes. If you have hesitations about getting in front of a group and talking, or want to fine-tune your existing abilities, such a class may be helpful.

In addition to getting up in front of a class, a dog trainer also needs to be able to fluidly move the group or the individual client from one behavior to the next. They need to be the one to keep the lesson continuing in a progressive manner. Being able to keep clients mentally on track, as well as physically involved in the lesson, takes subtle leadership skills that comes with practice. As you become more practiced at teaching classes and speaking to strangers either in a group or one-on-one, you will find discover tips and develop helpful habits that will encourage your clients to listen to you and participate in class.

Instructors also need to be able to relate to many different kinds of people and address various learning styles. If the method of teaching you are using doesn’t seem to be working then you need to change your style and try other ways of reaching your audience. When you see a client doing a good job you need to be sure to recognize their progress. Reinforcing them will encourage them to repeat their good behavior too!

Continue to Learn

Continued education has been stressed throughout this article. Because this takes effort, trainers really have to make a point to buy the newest book, travel to attend that particular conference, or make arrangements to shadow the trainer that they admire.

Reading technical books is a great way to continue learning. Since dog trainers are so good at teaching people, several excellent trainers and behaviorists have written books that explain training terminologies, why they work and how they work, in an easy-to-read manner.

While the dog field may be considered small compared to other professions, there are plenty of books out there. Many of these books do a fine job of explaining different topics ranging from the benefits of positive reinforcement, to dog bites, to clicker training, to resource guarding.

Keeping your eyes and ears open for new research and studies in the field will increase your knowledge. Remember to be a critical consumer (and encourage your clients to be savvy consumers as well) and don’t believe everything you hear or read.

Continue to learn from people who know more than you do or know about specific subjects more extensively than you.

Spending time with other professionals helps you learn more about dogs and how to train them. Professional organizations are great about putting together conferences, seminars and workshops for experts to talk to groups. Usually there is the opportunity to ask questions or talk directly to the speaker during intermissions in lecture or lab.

Open Yourself Up To Feedback And Constructive Criticism

Other types of research and studies include continuing to get educational experience by getting observational and hands-on experience.

Even if you have been in the field for 30 years, you can still learn something from another trainer. That’s the beauty of exchanging ideas; it encourages us to change our behavior as well! It’s not uncommon to hear one trainer say to another, “Oh, I never thought of doing it like that! That’s a good idea, I may try that.”

As trainer Tess says,

“I see too many dog trainers who, despite investing in continuing education, don’t evolve because they don’t subject themselves to the scrutiny by another professional.”

It’s not easy to hear critiques about our own work.

In fact, sometimes it can make us cringe, but Christine is correct in that hearing what someone else has to say about the way you speak, move, train, or think, provides details for you to think about and may make you a better trainer.

In addition to opening yourself to the feedback of other trainers, occasionally videotape yourself working with a dog. What you intend to do may not always be what you actually do. Body language is a powerful way in which we communicate with dogs and that dogs communicate with us. Stepping outside the situation allows you to get a view of the bigger picture. We know it is sometimes painful, but as they say, we are our own toughest critic.

Learn to Take Detailed Records

Because professional dog trainers work with live beings, beings that are freethinking and unpredictable, trainers get very used to thinking quickly and going with the flow. A dog trainer must have the flexibility to adjust to the changes in the living beings (dogs and human clients) with which they work.

As mentioned earlier, one of the suggested skills to develop was to learn to multitask.

Usually dog trainers are watching three different students at once, thinking of three different things to say, all while passing out a handout to the rest of the class, making multitasking of supreme importance. Because there is so much going on, being prepared is a necessity.

Having a plan of what you would like to cover with your client is vital to have as a reference during class. When you lose track of what you were doing, you can simply glance at your list and pick right back up where you left off, guaranteeing smooth communication and effective classroom techniques.

If you have a specific or complex behavior you are working on, writing out your training plans is a great way of making sure that you stay on track with your training. It is important to progress accordingly, not to skip steps, or jump ahead too quickly. In order to do this, a written plan tells you what step you are at and where you are going next.

Because we are living beings, we -despite trying to repeat ourselves exactly -do sometimes make errors in consistency. Keeping detailed notes of your training sessions allows visual data to help you make your next decision. If the dog meets the 5 second goal for the “sit” behavior, write down how many times you are successful so you can see if it’s time to move to the next step, stay at the current step, or drop down in your criteria.

Some people are natural note, record, and data collectors. For others, keeping such detailed notes may have to be a learned behavior. Try out different formats to find which ones best suit your purposes. Records are important to have and help you keep track of where you are and where you are going with your training. You always want the dog and client to succeed, so if changing the plan helps do that, don’t be so committed that you can’t budge!

There are so many facets to dog training; you can never really know everything. We can only strive to do the best we can for the dogs, our clients and ourselves. Along your journey you may receive a wonderful piece of advice, or discover for yourself a bit of information that makes a tremendous difference in your career. Be sure to pass along your valuable knowledge to other professional dog trainers as you go!

Types of Training Services a Dog Trainer Can Provide

Within the field of dog training, there are various types of training a dog trainer can provide for their clients. How a trainer decides is based on their training strengths, their interests and what types of dog training services their community would seek.

Because many people experience similar issues when training their dogs, some dog trainers choose to conduct group classes. In group classes individuals sign up for the class that best suites their needs. The trainer works with several people and their dogs at once, as they all strive towards common goals. Group lessons can range from the more familiar classes that teach basic obedience, to classes geared towards other types of fun activities such as a tricks class or a trial walking class.

Group classes may not suite all dogs and people. This is when private classes are beneficial. Some dogs are nervous, or overexcited about being in a strange environment or around new dogs so they are overwhelmed in a group setting. Dogs that are aggressive towards other dogs or people cannot participate in group classes. In other situations, some clients simply prefer the one-on-one attention. In private classes the client receives a tailored and detailed training program. Many training facilities offer both group and individual classes in order to cater to every need.

Group Classes

When it comes to group classes, there are a wide variety of them out there. Common ones are: puppy socialization and training, basic obedience, intermediate, advanced classes; agility training; and Good Canine Citizen classes.

Training a Puppy

Oh, what could be more fun than a roomful of energetic, adorable, little fluff balls? But enrolling puppies in group classes is more than gathering humans together to admire puppies!

These classes are important because puppies are essentially blank slates (as far as their nurturing goes). Because of this, it is important to start proper socialization to people, dogs and other stimuli as soon as a puppy has had their required vaccinations and can safely attend classes.

Each facility has their own level of comfort regarding what age they will allow puppies to enroll. You can learn more by having a discussion with your veterinarian about the potential health risks to pups who haven’t completed their full round of shots. Most everyone will agree that socialization is best started early.

Trainer Shirley recalls the group puppy classes she taught.

“Puppy classes are so much fun because there is nothing cuter than a puppy! The nice thing about these classes is you can “ohhh’ and ‘awww’ over the puppies and then send them home! Because there is also nothing that tires you out more than a group of rowdy rascals! I always admire people who decide to raise a puppy!”

Puppy training can be challenging for your clients because their puppies have so much energy and can get into everything. Providing management techniques is often crucial to these clients.

Because most puppy classes focus so much on socialization, group play is often a component. Getting a group of puppies together to play can reinforce proper play behavior, teach clients what to look for in dog to dog behavior and does your clients the favor of sending them home with a tired puppy!

Aspects of training found in a puppy class:

  • Why training a puppy is important
  • The ways we train puppies: by associations and consequences (rewards)
  • Socialization with people and other dogs
  • Body handling and bite inhibition
  • House training, including eliminating in proper places, proper chewing outlets, crate training and learning to be alone
  • Desensitization to novel stimuli such as different types of flooring, moving objects such as bikes and skateboarders and loud sounds
  • Exercise for puppy/games for puppy
  • Food bowl exercises and toy exchanges
  • Once the above lessons are addressed basic manners will be introduced

Basic Manners

These classes are either the next level after puppy class, or the first class for a dog who has never attended a class before. Trainers who teach basic level group classes will start at the very beginning so these classes are ideal for dogs who don’t know the basic behaviors such as “sit, “stay” and “come“. Trainers provide simple lessons for dog guardians to practice in class and at home with their dog. The basic principle here, that good behavior gets good rewards, is one of the first taught to students in basic obedience classes.

Aspects of training found in a basic manners class:

  • Classical conditioning (in layman’s terms)
  • Reward based training (also in layman’s terms)
  • Why training your dog is important
  • The steps to training the basic behaviors of sit, stay, come, lay down
  • Continual reinforcement of other good behavior
  • Addressing problem behavior, such as barking or jumping

Intermediate Classes

This is the round of classes that follow basic obedience. Intermediate classes take the foundation of the basic class and continue to build on the knowledge and the skills gained from the previous class. Behaviors learned in basic class are practiced in more detail and with more repetition with the hopes of becoming more reliable. More complicated behaviors are explored.

Aspects of training found in an intermediate class:

  • More complex psychology behind the use of positive reinforcement and why it is so successful
  • Learning how to incorporate positive reinforcement to other behaviors the dog learns
  • More challenging behaviors such as heel, stay for duration, standing up from a down, leave it, look at me, loose leash walking and perhaps some “trick” behavior.
  • Continual reinforcement of other behaviors learned in previous classes

Advanced Classes

For the dog who already has everything. Or at least, who has had success with the previous classes!

In advanced classes, clients and their dogs will work on tougher training concepts. A trainer may explain some of the more technical aspects to training because by now their clients are fairly familiar with the training principles. Advanced classes are good preparation for the Good Canine Citizen test.

Aspects of training found in an advanced class:

  • Fine-tuning and advancing all behaviors learned in previous classes.

Asking for longer duration to behaviors and asking the dog to practice these behaviors in more challenging situations and locations.

Good Canine Citizen

Through this class your dog will prove by their skills that they are proficient in certain behaviors and have the temperament to be out and about in public.

Taking your dog through the Good Canine Citizen class is often required before you can enroll in volunteer opportunities such as taking your dog to a senior citizen home or a hospital to visit patients. There are ten specific tests a dog must pass in order to gain this recognition. Examples are walking loosely on a leash and being approached by a stranger. Good Canine Citizens are well-mannered and friendly.

Aspects of training found in a Good Canine Citizen class and test:

  • Dog accepting a friendly stranger
  • Sitting politely for meet and greets
  • The dog having a healthy appearance, demonstrated by the ability to easily groom the dog, touch the dog’s ears and feet.
  • The ability to walk on a loose leash
  • The ability to calmly walk through a public situation and pass closely to people
  • To do the behaviors of sit, down and stay on cue and remain until given the cue to end the behavior
  • Coming when called
  • Reaction to other dogs, to distractions and when separated from human guardian and left in the presence of a stranger


Agility is usually the class that turns the average dog guardian into the zealous dog enthusiast!

Agility is a high energy “obstacle course” that you and your dog travel through together in an attempt to complete it in the fastest time while still obeying all the rules of the sport. The course consists of tunnels, hoops, a-frames, weave poles and much more!

Agility is a great outlet for high energy dogs, but almost any dog can participate. Dogs must be able to focus on their human and be friendly with people and other dogs (because there a multiple teams using the course and during the run your dog is off leash).

Many teams of dogs and people enjoy agility so much they simply do it for fun! Others find they want to continue to sharpen their skills and enter in agility competitions.

Aspects learned in an agility class:

  • Getting dog used to different obstacles. Pair each step with treats and praise. Rate of progress depends on dog’s reaction to each item.
  • Once obstacles are familiar, work on dogs attention to trainer as they go through the course.
  • Continue to work on contact made at each obstacle (dog needs to touch certain areas of the item) and the speed with which the course in completed.

Because we want our clients to keep coming back for more and because we want to help people with different dog situations, more specialized classes may be offered. Examples of the many different classes you can offer to keep you clients interested in training and interacting with their dog and continuously return to your company are: a tricks class, flyball, a baby-on-the-way, trail walking, or reactive dog classes. Basically any class you think there is a need for, and you can logistically conduct, is fair game.

Private Classes

Behaviors that work best in private instruction can include: house-training issues, helping a family choose the right dog for them, helping a new dog adjust to a new home, helping a dog adjust to a new baby, specialized training, or problem behavior such as resource guarding, separation anxiety, or aggression.

House Training

Since dogs spend so much of their time in our homes, everyone would like to have a dog that is fully trained to go to the bathroom outside and who chews on its own toys (rather than your designer couch pillows)! Sometimes house training can be challenging because the dog has already developed an unwanted habit. This is where a trainer can give advice on how to manage and redirect that unwanted behavior.

Choosing the Right Dog

Sometimes clients come to trainers to help them choose the best dog for their family. There are many factors to consider when assisting in this task.

First, consider the family. Is it a family of adults or are there children? Will there be children someday? How active is the family? Do they want a dog to hike with or a dog to watch TV beside?

Once you know more about the way the family lives, you can guide them toward choosing a dog whose breed characteristics best fit the family. Once you have narrowed in on something such as a breed, then you need to consider the individual temperament of the dog.

Adjusting to a Change

Helping a new dog acclimate to new surroundings, such as a shelter dog who is adjusting to their new home, is a common need for many people.

Dog trainers want to encourage people to adopt puppies and dogs from an animal shelter or rescue group.

Helping the dog transition to their new home and helping the people understand their new dog, is a very rewarding lesson to teach. Usually house training and separation anxiety are two common issues for a dog adjusting to a new home.

Any big change in the dog’s life can be unsettling. This includes the arrival of a new baby. There are actually many things clients who are expecting can do in order to prepare their dog for all the commotion! Because we want to keep as many dogs as we can in their homes, preparing an existing dog for the arrival of a new baby is a great idea.

Specialized Training

You may have a client in a wheelchair, or with another specialized need, who wants help training their dog for certain tasks. Have their dog assist in picking up dropped objects, opening and closing doors, retrieving the telephone, or getting the person’s attention when the fire alarm is beeping, are just a few tasks a client may want to train their dog.

Private lessons seem to be most helpful for dogs who have complex behavioral issues such as resource, object or location guarding, aggression issues, or separation anxiety. Because of that, it is not uncommon for some trainers to create a niche, such as specializing in separation anxiety or aggression towards people

Both behaviors mentioned are considered a bit tricky to work on; therefore are knowledge and labor intensive. By completely focusing on certain issues, you can really become an expert. Because you have such a solid base of information and experience, you can offer clients the best in specialized service.

Just when you think you have seen it all, a case will come to you that will make you put your thinking cap on. In situations like that, it is important to assess your training skills.

There are many resources for trainers when they come across a case that they have not encountered previously. One of these resources is online training forums. There trainers can “pick each other’s brains”. Again, sharing our knowledge is the best way we can provide the best care for our clients.

If you come across a case that is not in your comfort zone or if you know of someone else in the area better qualified, refer the client. Not only will you feel better knowing the dog will be getting the best care, but referring among trainers fosters goodwill and you may find that they will do the same for you some time.

Professional trainer Jen suggests,

“Network with like-minded trainers! There is plenty of business to share. There is no need to isolate yourself. A huge portion of my business is referrals from other trainers”.

For the overall health of the dogs you work with, make sure to encourage your clients to work with their veterinarian. Urge your clients to maintain their regular appointments to ensure that their dog is in good general health.

If there is a problem behavior, be sure to consider any medical problem that could be the underlying cause. Professional dog trainers are not veterinarians so you can’t dispense medical advice, but you can urge your clients to visit one if you think there is a medical problem. In some cases, you may work with the veterinarian to collectively improve the situation for your shared client.

Other places a professional dog trainer may work:

In addition to offering dog training services at the expected places, such as a dog training facility or through your own home business, there are other places where a professional trainer may work.

Veterinarian Hospital

Working for a veterinarian is another place where a trainer can provide service. As mentioned above, when people have a concern about their dog, they take them to the veterinarian. Because a veterinarian’s primary job is the practice of animal medicine and not behavior, they may focus more on what is physically wrong with the animal, rather than behavior issues. However, these days, many animal hospitals now have on-site trainers, or trainers to whom they refer behavior problems once medical concerns have been ruled out. For some problems like anxiety and aggression, it’s not uncommon for a veterinarian and a trainer to work together towards the same goal of assisting their client.

Animal Shelter

Some dogs may be relinquished to animal shelters because of behavioral problems that their previous guardian was not able, or willing, to work on with the dog. In turn, it used to be quite difficult for these shelters to then adopt to the public animals with these certain behavioral issues. Shelters want to ensure that the dogs they place in a home will be successful and that the people will be safe.

In order to better understand what kind of temperament the dog may have, many shelters do temperament testing on their incoming dogs. They do this because they must have some level by which to judge how the dog reacts to certain situations. If a dog “fails” one of the categories of the test, such as resource guarding, they may not be considered adoptable.

Fortunately, some shelters have started programs where they look at the dogs that did not pass and consider what category they failed. If the training professional decides that the dog may be able to be rehabilitated with behavior modification training, they will then create a training program for that dog. They work with the dog, chart his or her progress and then judge if the dog can be safely placed in a home. If the dog passes, he or she will be put on the adoption floor. Most shelters offer the adopter of a dog that has gone through one of these shelter programs additional classes or training so that they are aware of their dog’s previous behavior and can maintain the training that has already taken place.

Such shelter programs allow dogs, who were previously automatically euthanized or permanently placed with an animal sanctuary because their behavior made them un-adoptable, the chance of a new and good home.

It’s important to understand the extremely difficult situation most shelters are in. They are overcrowded and under-funded, yet most try their best with the resources available to them to provide care for homeless animals.


Providing temporary housing and care for dogs is another place that a professional dog trainer could certainly use their knowledge of dog training and dog behavior.

When people go on vacations, they need places they feel comfortable leaving dear Fido. For most people, not just any place will do. They want to make sure that their beloved dog is in the best of hands. Having credentials that prove you are knowledgeable will certainly help them rest easier and therefore chose your boarding facility.

Boarding facilities have recently become more and more elaborate in the services they offer. Better referred to as doggie camp, or a doggie vacation, these facilities offer pools, spa treatments, story time, biscuit hour, and “kennel-free” sleeping. As a knowledgeable dog professional, you can decide how far you want to take this philosophy and how many of these services actually serve the dogs! But people sure do feel less guilty about heading to Jamaica when they think their dog is “having fun” too.

Some trainers even offer “board and train” for their clients. If you are willing to care for someone else’s dog, bring it into your house for an extended period of time, train it, and then pass the newly learned behaviors off to the guardians, that is another option.

Training Service Dogs

Paid positions at organizations that train service dogs are few and far between, but if you can secure one, great! If you can’t, volunteering to help train these amazing dogs is an eye-opening and learning experience.

For many years, people have recognized the assistance a dog can provide when living with a person with a physical disability, an emotional disability, or a condition such as seizures disorders.

Service dogs go through an extensive training process. They must pass specific exercises in order to be placed with a person who needs their help. This is for the safely of the person, the dog and the general public.

These amazing dogs are not only trained in a vast number of unique behaviors specific to the person they will be assigned to help, but they also must have the right temperament for the job.

Service dogs must be desensitized to every kind of stimuli a trainer/handler thinks they may encounter in their daily life. They must be used to different sounds, smells, sights, sensations, animals and people. They must to be able to ignore all that stimuli so they can concentrate exclusively on the task at hand, the task of helping.

Service dogs are wonderful, not only in the physical assistance they provide, but also in the companionship and emotional support a warm furry being always at your side can offer.

The role they serve in their human’s life is extraordinary.

Police / Search and Rescue

We have mentioned how amazing service dogs are. The behaviors dogs learn continues to baffle us. Dogs that assist in other manners, such as learning to detect the scent of narcotics, explosives, or a person, rank right up there with those amazing abilities!

Some police departments have hired and worked with professional dog trainers to help train their very important police dogs. For the departments that do not have their own search and rescue dogs, they may call on trained dogs and their dog handlers who live locally and have trained rigorously for such an event. In a larger scale catastrophic event, many teams of dogs and handlers are needed to help. Often these volunteers belong to search and rescue organizations.

Organizations provide training exercises, have access to smells the average person doesn’t, sets up realistic practice scenarios and keeps their members updated. A lot of time, money and energy go into training and maintaining a search and rescue dog.

These teams of dogs and people work tirelessly when on the search. Through their training time and the strong relationship between dog and human they work together beautifully. They communicate to each other without words, they encourage each other to keep going and they trust each other implicitly.

Dog Daycare

Because dogs are social creatures and are often as attached to their humans as we are to them, we feel bad about leaving them alone in the house for 8 hours while we go to work. To help eliminate our distress, dog day-cares have recently been popping up in our communities.

In addition to providing Fido with some doggie company during the day, dog daycare is also good for young, energetic dogs and dogs with separation anxiety who cannot be left home alone yet due to concern of emotional stress and physical injury.

Being familiar with dogs, their behavior, how to encourage good behavior and how to react to undesirable behavior, serves the employees of a dog daycare very well.

Outside the Box

Careers in which professional knowledge of dog training comes in handy are other types of animal care jobs such as working with marine mammals, horses, primates, even fish! Knowing the principles of operant conditioning and finding a desirable reward, opens up all kinds of possibilities, no matter what the species! If you are an expert in these principles, you can carry them over to many other fields. It is not uncommon to see cross over among professional animal trainers.

In recent years, there has been the creation of “dog shows” at a few well-known facilities that host a variety of other multiple species displays. The shows adopt dogs and cats from local shelters and provide a home, attention, food, mental and physical stimulation. The hosts of these shows (aka the trainers) are sure to mention that the amazing animals the audience has just seen were all found at animal shelters. They address how many animals out there need homes and encourage anyone in the audience who is considering getting a pet that they to go their local animal shelter.

Showing the incredible things the “average dog” is capable of may even encourage audience members to sign their dog up for a tricks class! Also noteworthy is that other animal species have been in these shows. One show even included a pig (who also is best trained through the use of positive reinforcement)! It’s amazing what good training can accomplish!

Clearly, there are many options for the types of dog training a professional trainer can provide. There are several routes you can pursue locally, as well as other paths that are more “outside the box”. Really, the sky is the limit for thinking of ways that you can use your skills to help dogs and other animals. You never know where you may end up unless you try!

Where to Continue Your Education Once in the Field of Dog Training

Professional dog trainers deserve much recognition for the time, energy and dedication they put into their continued education. As an entity, they offer a lot of options to individuals in the field. Individually, they each contribute to the grand spectrum of ideas. Trainers teach each other and then take what they learn home to their clients. Collectively, this makes for greater trainer skills and better care for our dogs.

Trainer Joanne is a great example of someone who has really pursued and continued her education in the dog training field.

Joanne started off attending smaller dog training and behavior workshops and conferences, along with reading many academic behavior books. From there, she attended week-long academy training camps. After that Joanne attended the Dog Trainers course at the SPCA and then completed multiple specialty internships. Since then, she has kept current with various training camps and conferences.

The field recognizes what an important aspect the exchange of ideas and sharing of new experiences and studies is to the constant progression of dog training.

Imagine if your doctor finished his or her medical education 30 years ago and then never learned anything new from then on. Think of all the changes in medicine that have occurred in the past 3 decades! New medical advances have changed the way medical personnel treat illness and disease. It is essential that your doctor be up-to-date, and the same goes for other fields as well -dog training included (especially considering the significant changes that have occurred in the past 20 years).

Continued education is one of the best parts of a dog trainer’s job! At conferences you are able to meet with fellow trainers to build relationships and exchange ideas. There are no secrets in this field. If a trainer finds something that is good for dogs and works, they are going to share it, for the benefit of all dogs!

Some forms of continued education are: conferences, seminars, workshops, guest lectures and spending time with other trainers. Some of these events last a few hours at a time, other events are multiple days long. Often there is so much information being exchanged that it is common for conferences, seminars and workshops to take place over a time span of several days.

Sometimes you are lucky enough to live where a conference is being held, but most likely you will need to travel in order to attend. You may even have to take off work if the conference spans work days (although usually organizations schedule part of the conference to be held over the weekend in an effort to eliminate the loss of work days).

In addition to registrations costs to attend the conference, there are other expenses that come along with attending a conference. Travel costs can include fuel for a car, a plane ticket, hotel accommodations, conference fees and possibly food (if it is not included in the conference price). The only downside to an educational and progressive conference is the cost. Unfortunately, education does not come cheap.

There are some ways to make these activities more affordable. Cost-cutting techniques to make the most out of your financial budget are sharing a hotel room with a co-worker or with another roommate, carpooling or sharing a rental car and bring your own food or snacks to eat.

If you run your own dog training business, attending conferences and other educational experiences are most likely a tax write-off. You may be able to deduct any costs that meet the government’s requirements from the overall amount you may owe in taxes at the end of a year (or get back what you have overpaid). Check with your professional tax consultant for more information.

If you are an employee who works for a dog training company, your organization may have educational opportunities factored into their financial budget. They may be able to pay for all or some of your registration fee, travel costs, hotel, food and time. It never hurts to approach your employer with your goal of attending an educational dog conference and see what options may be open to you. By encouraging continued education to their employees, dog training companies are then able to offer more dog training experience to their clients. Many companies like to have representation of their facility at a conference. If you are fortunate enough to attend a conference, it is a great qualification to put on your resume.

Signing up for conferences has become a breeze thanks to modern Internet technology. Traditionally, a trainer could sign-up for a conference by mailing in a form with their check payment, or calling by phone and making their reservation with a credit card. Both options are likely still available for many conferences, but recently conferences have created the option for participants to sign up online. When you visit a facility’s website, you can also gather additional information such as a list of hotels near the conference location, a roommate finder, typical weather for the season and even a detailed schedule of the conference speakers.

Ideally, a conference will only have one speaker scheduled to talk at a time. However, at a very large conference, there may be multiple speakers talking at the same time, in different rooms of the building. In this situation, attendees have to make the tough decision of choosing which lectures they are going to attend. This is never ideal to those who want to see ALL the speakers, but understandable when you consider the logistics of time that scheduling one speaker at a time would present. Because the schedules often list very detailed descriptions of the nature of the speaker’s topic, hopefully attendees will be able to make an informative decision as to which speaker most interests them or is most relevant to their needs or goals.

Now that you are aware that many professional dog trainers are committed to their education and that there are many wonderful options out there for continued education, where can you find notification and information about these educational avenues? One of the first starting points is the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).

APDT is an international professional organization for professional dog trainers. Committed to promoting education, dog friendly training techniques and support for their professional members, their mission statement is as follows:

Promoting caring relationships between dogs and people by educating trainers in canine behavior and emphasizing professionalism and reward-based training

When you visit APDT’s website at, you will find a wealth of information on their homepage. There are links accessible for members only (becoming a member is also something you can do on their website). The organization offers different levels of membership depending on your involvement in the dog training profession. Once you are a member, you can log-in and view all the options for their members, such as educational events, employment and news bulletins.

There are also links that pet owners can access. One section offers suggestions on what to look for when choosing a dog trainer. Another link provides a search for an APDT trainer within a certain number of miles of a zip code. Another advantage to being a member is that you can generate clients through this trainer search tool.

With an APDT membership, you will also receive their award-winning bimonthly newsletter, the APDT Chronicle of the Dog. Filled with current news from the dog training field, other organizations can advertise their upcoming educational events in the APDT newsletter. In an advertisement for a conference, workshop, or seminar, information listed will include the subject of the event, the host, the speaker(s), the calendar dates, the location, and where you can get more information on the event.

At APDT’s yearly conference, a collection of presenters from around the country come together to share their expertise, their interests and their own personal explorations that are sure to enhance any dog trainer’s wealth of knowledge. The APDT conferences have a large attendance and run for multiple days.

Because the APDT is such a strong and active voice in the professional dog training community, they were instrumental in the creation of the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) mentioned earlier in “Where You Can Get Your Dog Training Education”. Realizing that the profession of dog training would benefit from a consistent method of testing a dog trainer’s education, the APDT formed the CCPDT. The first test was given in 2001 at the yearly APDT conference. For those members who are ready to take the Certified Professional Dog Trainer test it is now offered twice yearly at various location around the country (

Another organization that is geared towards representing professionals in the field of animal behavior counseling is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). Not just geared towards pet dogs, this collection of members has diverse practices including those who work with cats, parrots, horses and working animals. Collectively, the association’s interests commonly work towards furthering the professional knowledge of their members, encouraging the relationship between pet animals and their human guardians, and ensuring that trained practitioners have the skills they need to meet the public’s needs.

If you go to IAABC’s website,, you will find information about their goals and objectives. With 3 different levels of membership, there is a level that matches almost anyone’s interest. Like many professional organizations, membership needs to be applied for, before being accepted.

In addition to hosting a yearly conference, dog trainers will find that the IAABC offers thought-provoking and technical insight into the profession of working and caring for animals. The IAABC also publishes a journal 3 times a year.

Another excellent place to find educational opportunities is at Karen Pryor’s Clickerexpos. These multi-day conferences consist of a collection of progressive, leading trainers in the professional dog training field.

Founded by Karen Pryor, information about Clickerexpo seminars and labs can be found at As a pioneer of operant conditioning, Karen Pryor is a well-known promoter of using a conditioned sound tool called a “clicker” to mark desired behavior.

The sound of the clicker is believed to be more precise and more consistent than a verbal marker, such as the word “good”. Karen Pryor’s organization, which is dedicated to sharing the benefits of using clickers in dog training, hosts a collection of knowledgeable trainers at their bi-annual Clickerexpos. Interesting to note, not only do dog trainers use clickers to mark their animal’s good behavior. Other types of animal trainers, such as dolphin trainers and horse trainers, attend Clickerexpos to increase their overall knowledge of the way animals learn.

Specialty courses during the year are also hosted by Clickerexpos. A full list of the available specialty courses can be found on the website under the link “Specialty Courses”. These classes fall under the categories of agility, obedience, freestyle, behavioral, service/guide/search and rescue and teaching others.

Many tools that are helpful with clicker training can be found at Products such as videos, books and training tools are available. Many professional trainers enjoy using clickers because of the accuracy of marking a behavior. Clients seem to enjoy using clickers as well because they are novel and make funny sounds!

The organization Raising Canine offers interesting and easy ways to expand your education. Raising Canine’s mission statement is “Raising Canine is dedicated to providing quality, science-based education to companion animal professionals and owners; and, providing quality business services to animal professionals, so they are able to dedicate their time to enhancing the owner-animal relationship”. By going to their website,, you will find that they offer a wide variety of classes. Subject matter ranges from aggressiveness towards strangers to ways to build your business.

The great thing about Raising Canine classes is that you attend classes via “Telecourse”, courses that you listen to via your telephone – which means you don’t have to travel! All you have to do is pay for the cost of registering for the course and for the phone call (you may want to sign up unlimited long distance with your phone company.

Remember, if you have a separate line for your business or buy a calling card it may be tax write-off because it is for business. Check with your professional tax consultant). Any necessary information you need prior to the course is sent to you via email. Raising Canine also has audiotapes of their previous courses, so courses that you were not able to listen to “live” are still accessible. Check their website frequently to learn about the latest subjects available.

Many of shelters and training centers will bring in their own guest speakers. For example, visiting the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers website ( will show a number of classes currently being held at their facility.

A dog trainer can learn about a particular shelter’s or training center’s options either through direct involvement with that organization, by being on their mailing/email lists, or through advertisements. We have mentioned that many conference advertisements are seen on APDT’s website or their member newsletter, but training forums and other connections are also ways of hearing what is happening in the world of continued education.

Hosting a conference, seminar, or workshop is a great way for a dog training facility or shelter to generate interest in their organization. This is also a way to increase the knowledge of trainers in the geographical area of the hosting facility or shelter.

When a company decides to put together an educational opportunity there is a lot of work involved. Attendees find their most enjoyable conference experiences meet the following criteria: they are held in a space that has comfortable seats (since most of the time you are sitting, listening to the speaker), a good sound system so guests can hear the speaker, good visibility to the speaker and any visual aids they may use during their presentation, the option of breaks and access to food/beverages and enough room for people to comfortably move around (rather than being packed in like sardines)!

Often trainers find themselves invigorated after attending a seminar. It is a place to gather with like-minded peers. Conferences not only address new training techniques and theories, but also feature new dog related products as well. Just like a kid in a candy shop, trainers love to see what new toys, treats, leashes and collars are on the market for dogs.

At these conferences, dog trainers may discover some great products that they will want to sell to their clients. For example, a common dog guardian’s complaint is that their dog pulls when walked on a leash. This makes the walk uncomfortable for the person, who is trying to remain on their feet, and for the dog, who is just so excited about the next smell that they pull forward, choking themselves. Imagine being able to have a solution to offer your client in the form of a Gentle Leader, a dog halter that helps prevent pulling without the use of discomfort or force?

Or what about your client who says their dog destroys the couch pillows? Perhaps having a bunch of fun food-dispensing toys to keep the dog busy will help redirect his energy? Another perk of attending conferences is that sometimes samples treats or little goodie bags are given away. So there is no need for you to return home empty-handed to your own Fido!

Professional dog trainers should strive to be the best trainers they can be because they care about the welfare of the dogs and people they work with.

Being up to date on the latest events and discoveries in dog training helps you do just that. However, on a professional level, maintaining your education also serves you well. It shows potential clients that you have invested in yourself and in their dog. Clients want to spend their time and money on the best service they can get. Aside from wanting to personally and professionally expand your knowledge, if you have earned your certification from the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers you are required to maintain that credential by attending a certain amount of continued education courses each year.

Conferences are essential to maintaining your enthusiasm, building contacts, learning new techniques, new products and new advancements in the profession. We are discovering more and more about dogs all the time thanks to each individual trainer who shares the passion, enthusiasm and knowledge for dogs.

How to Start Your Dog Training Business

Before you start your own dog training business, you need to first decide if running your own business is a realistic goal for you. Becoming a business owner is a big decision; therefore, there are many factors to consider before rushing right into it.

First, you have to reflect on what about running your own business appeals to you. The first appeal probably is that you get to be your own boss. Being the boss means you get to make the decisions. You decide how your time is spent and where your money goes. The attraction may be that you decide what hours and days you do or do not work. Some of the appeal may be that, as a business owner, you will be able to do some work from the comfort of your own home. You do not have to report to anyone else regarding why you made a certain work related decision. You can create your own logo, business cards and uniforms. The décor of your training center is entirely up to you. You can create your own business mission statement. You decide how much you will charge and what kind of dog cases you take for business. You may make more financially.

Because there are so many reasons why you want to start your own business, you may find it helpful to make a list on paper of the benefits that appeal to you. In addition to the common reasons mentioned above, you may have more personal reasons as to why being a business owner would benefit you. By seeing this list on paper you can mull over your reasons and examine each one for its realism and compatibility with the way you work and live.

While there are many benefits to starting your own dog training business, there are also some drawbacks. When you are the owner it means that you have full responsibility. This is great when things are good, but difficult when times are tough. Starting a new business is very challenging mentally, physically and financially.

When you are the owner, you are the one who has to worry about paying the electric bill, ensuring all your clients have received their upcoming class information and ordering more soap for the restroom. Even if you have a business partner or reliable employees, ultimately, if the long list of daily tasks doesn’t get done, it is your responsibility.

Physically, starting your own business is draining. Often people find they work much more in the beginning when they start their own business than they did when they were employed by someone else. Remember when you worked for someone else you got to pack up and leave at the end of the day, possibly not ever giving work a second thought? When you are the owner, those days are most likely gone. You will always have something to do, even if it is the tiniest detail to attend to, such as printing more flyers or changing the outgoing message on your answering machine.

New business owners would be wise to warn family and friends that they may not be seeing a lot of each other during the start-up period. Even once your business is established, you may have more clients than you had ever dreamed of!

This is the case for Janet, an animal behavior consultant in Virginia. Janet finds there simply isn’t enough time in a day and that fitting it all in can be a challenge. As she says,

“I’m not good at saying ‘No’ and I accept more assignments than I can fit into my schedule.”

But because of this, she feels she has learned and grown in the dog training profession. Despite the busy schedule, Janet can also rave that she has always loved teaching and loved animals. When the two came together, her enthusiasm for work grew exponentially! Isn’t that what most professionals are dreaming of in their career?

Starting your own business can be mentally stressful as well. Not only are you physically moving a lot, but your brain is working non-stop as well! There are many sacrifices to make such as not buying that new pair of expensive shoes, or not having time to go to the movie with friends. You may worry about the papers that need to be signed and the loans you are taking out.

One of the biggest tolls of starting your own business is the financial start-up costs and then the ability to continuously meet (although ultimately and ideally the goal is to surpass) your expenditure needs. As the owner, unless you have a business partner(s) or investors, you will have to come up with the money to pay for the many things that go into starting a business. Whether you decide to open your own dog training center, or work out of your own home, largely impacts how much you are going to financially spend to start up your business.

If you are going to open your own dog training center where you will most likely conduct group classes, private instruction, workshops, set up an agility course and allow dogs to run around and socialize, then you are going to need a fair amount of space!

In this situation possible expenditures to be considered are: rent, utility bills, logo creation, advertising costs, construction costs, prop objects such as agility equipment, visual barriers, floor coverings, merchandise for sale, forms and other paperwork, computers, telephones, creation of a website, possible lawyer fees and uniforms.

Those are just some of the decisions you may have to make before your doors even open!

As a professional working out of your own home, you will most likely do private instruction at your client’s houses. Your financial list will still have similar items above with the exception of rent, construction costs and large props.

Ultimately, your decision of the type of dog training business to run depends on where you want to go with your career and what resources are within your means at the time of the start-up of you business. All of these considerations can be quite overwhelming, but the good news is that, with preparation, the above aspects mentioned can make the transition smoother.

Some professional dog trainers may be fortunate to be free of any other jobs or time commitments. However, many trainers need to keep their paying job while starting their new business on the side. Working allows you to build up your cash reserves. You need to put food on your table, start up your business, and set some money aside to carry you through non-profitable times.

Starting your business gradually also allows you to build up your clientele. Trainer Tess did that before starting her dog training school and company. Tess built up her referral sources and gained experience with clients before she went full time with her company.

Besides the physical and mental work that goes into starting your own business, obtaining the financial start-up cost is a big factor to consider. Possible places to get money for your business are: personal savings, city or county economic or community loan programs, a small business loan, credit cards, home mortgage loans, car loans, or friends and family. Before you sign any document, carefully consider each option and perhaps consult a professional. Many of these options come with considerable risk to your personal assets if you are unable to make the payment on the loan.

As you make the transition from part-time trainer to full-time trainer, you can begin gathering clients and networking. Most of your clients are going to find you either through your advertising, a trainer search, or word of mouth.

You can start brainstorming business logos and uniforms. You can research what type of flooring you would like installed in your training center. You can set up a separate telephone line in your home for your business and start assembling the many forms needed for starting your own organization. There are many things you can do along side of your full-time job, but remember, it is going to take a lot of time, perseverance and energy.

Recruiting family and friends is a great way to not only spend time with them, give them insight into what your business is about, but also get some free help!

When you think about your family and friends you will likely realize that many of them have skills that would be helpful to you and your business. Maybe your cousin is an excellent artist and could come up with a creative logo for your business cards? Perhaps your best friend is skilled with a hammer and would be willing to assemble some space partitions for your training space? Remember, you don’t want to make your friends and family feel like they have started their own business, but asking for an easy favor now and then, and then thanking them profusely for their time and talents, is a way of gathering the precious help you need during this business start-up time.

Depending on the professional history and aptitude of the trainer, when it comes to opening their own business, they may be venturing into somewhat uncharted territory. While dog trainers have knowledge and skills that are suited to help clients and dogs, they may not yet have much business experience. However, the great thing about dog trainers is that they understand how to learn. This means they are good at seeking out information to help them make the most educated small business decisions during this endeavor.

As a professional dog trainer, Janet stated, the toughest part she encountered during her career was the marketing aspect of business. Seeing the need for dog training resources in her own community is what prompted Janet to turn her passion into a profession in the first place. She knew she needed to find the best niche for the area in which she lived and the clientele she was going to cater to. Today she finds reward in seeing her clients go from tears of frustration to tears of joy.

Today Janet and her dog training company offers group lessons, workshops and private classes in their large, clean, built-for-dogs training studio.

After all the thought you have put into starting your own business and once you have decided to take the plunge, the next step requires even more in-depth research and questioning. Take a look at your local community and consider what services it needs and how your skills match up with that need.

  • Are there companies in your community like the business you intend to start?
  • What will set your company apart from the others?
  • How are you going to price your product to be competitive?
  • Do you have a specialty you can emphasize?
  • Have you test-marketed your product enough (have you had enough experience and built up enough clientele?)
  • What changes do you need to make to better increase the odds of your success?
  • Have you thought of all the ways you can advertise?
  • Do you understand the basics of accounting so you can accurately keep track of your business finances and budget?

Once serious thought has been given to all the above questions and any other related questions you come up with on your own, you can then start formulating your business plan. A business plan is a collection of all of your important thoughts and data, and compiling them into a smart, logical and profitable plan.

A small business plan is what investors or banks expect to see before agreeing to loan you money. A business plan also ensures that you have all bases covered when it comes to starting your own business. You don’t want to realize until the very end that you forgot to include a marketing strategy!

A business plan follows a fairly basic format. The first section describes the business. In an abbreviated version, a business plan should cover the description of your business, the product or service, the market, the location, the competition, the management and the personnel.

The second section of the business plan addresses the sources of funding, a business equipment list, a balance sheet of liquidity and personal equity, income statement and cash flow statement and history.

The third section of the business plan is for supporting documentation which will include any additional materials relevant to this business.

As you are starting to see, starting your own business is a lot of work. For help with the many aspects of this, contact your small business community resources for information about starting a small business.

These organizations offer professional help in creating your business plan and giving guidance in understanding loans and legal issues.

Many of these organizations offer information classes to first time small business owners that provide helpful tips on writing a business proposal, gaining advice from retired professionals, other support groups and ways to advertise.

Trainer Jen, advises,

“If you are just starting out, realize that you can’t be an expert in everything. Zero in on what really drives you to become a dog trainer. This could be a concentrated effort in group obedience classes or in-home behavioral help. Get ready for a lot of paper work if you want to run your own business”.

One of the organizations in the United States that is geared towards helping new businesses is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The commerce’s mission is to “Advance human progress through an economic, political and social system based on individual freedom, incentive, initiative, opportunity and responsibility”.

When you become a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce they will help you build, manage and expand your business in addition to offering tips, business tools and other information for small businesses.

Another resource is the United States Small Business Administration (SBA). By visiting their website, you will find a multitude of helpful links dedicated to those who are seeking information about forming a small business.

The SBA also has a branch called Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). Formed in 1964, SCORE is a collection of working or retired volunteers who are willing to lend their expertise to individuals seeking advice and training. SCORE volunteers are business owners, executives and corporate leaders who provide workshops on subjects such as going into business, creating a business plan, coming up with a marketing plan, financing your business, the do’s and don’t of hiring employees and other professional advice. Visit SCORE’s website, for online mentoring or the option to find in-person mentoring by entering your zip code.

Other resources for a small business owner are community education classes offered through your town or city’s community center.

All of the details that go into forming your own business are hard to keep track of by yourself. Fortunately, there is additional help out there to assist you when opening your own business. Such assistance comes in the form of a company called dogTEC,

DogTEC was established because the founders of the company, professionals working in the dog training field themselves, recognized the need for all the services a professional dog trainer requires these days. The best thing about dogTEC is that they have gathered all these services in one place so you can easily find them! dogTEC’s intention is to give professional dog trainers guidance in the exciting, yet complicated, process of owning their own business by providing expert business advice. Specializing in such services for dog trainers is nothing short of genius and much appreciated by those seeking such help! dogTEC’s services also extend to professional dog walkers, pet sitters, dog boarding, and dog daycare.

The company dogTEC offers business start-up, client services and support packages. These services appeal to trainers just starting their new business or existing businesses that are looking for ways to reach more clients, be more effective in advertising, or add new curriculum to their classes. With dogTEC’s services, you can get templates for client instructions, flowcharts, liability waivers and client contracts. dogTEC can help you design your company logo, business cards, web design and business stationary. dogTEC helps customers with some of the more difficult aspects such as their limited liability company incorporation, business license and service marking.

By promoting and maintaining a strong community for dog trainers, dogTEC helps trainers recognize that they are not alone and that there is help out there.

In addition to business service support, dogTEC also offers curriculum that will help improve your public classes, personalized case consults to help you with that tough training case, a newsletter service, as well as continuing education classes. Visit their website to see the most up-to-date services and information they are providing to professional dog trainers.

Some business aspects to consider are: getting financing, learning bookkeeping, figuring out your financial status and tax obligations, how to recruit and hire employees, protecting your assents, marketing and sales.

Because some of the legal aspects of running a small business can be complicated, consulting and retaining a lawyer may be an option to consider. There are legal issues with licenses and permits, protecting your personal assets, hiring employees, filing for taxes and making sure you are covered by your insurance. Protecting yourself, those on your property, employees who work for you and the clients who you counsel, are all very good reasons for having insurance and understanding your rights and liabilities.

Another type of insurance to consider is Dog Trainer Insurance. Some of the resources mentioned in this article are great places to learn more about this necessity for professional dog trainers. Dog trainers insurance will pay a certain amount for occurrences to you, property, pets and injury. There is also insurance that will protect you as an owner of a business from employee theft.

The first step in successful advertising is catching the eye of your customer. They should see your advertisement and be inclined to look at it more closely. Perhaps they were intentionally looking for a dog trainer or perhaps your advertisement reminded them that they would benefit from hiring one.

Once you have grabbed your audience’s attention, the next thing you want is have your client be able to reach you. When you print flyers, brochures, or pamphlets, make sure your contact number is one of the first things a potential client sees. In order to ensure that people knowingly understand the physical, mental and financial investment that goes into starting their own business, many of the complicated business aspects of it have been discussed in this section.

To be your own boss you need to have a fair amount of self-discipline. In fact, many people find that setting work days and hours gives them stick to more of a structured work schedule. Many people will attest that working for one’s self is a scary and challenging ambition that requires more work rather than less. Taking unscheduled time off means you miss clients calling, have a decrease in pay and word of mouth. Having a set schedule ensures that your clients can reliably contact you to schedule appointments. It also ensures that you have office time to get other work done such as returning phone calls, email inquiries, paying bills and doing paperwork.

Even an exciting prospect like starting your own business can get bogged down in nitty-gritty details. It’s important during all the hard work that you don’t lose sight of your purpose. You are starting this business because it will offer wonderful training options to your clients, to dogs and a preferred professional and personal lifestyle for yourself. When it seems too daunting a task, remind yourself of why you are striving for this goal. Write your reasons down on a piece of paper to remind yourself when you are feeling frustrated. Find little ways to reward yourself with every little step that you accomplish. Surround yourself with friends and family who believe in you and support your goal. Take comfort in that you are not the first one to tackle this tough task. Others have gone down this path and have succeeded.

Essential Equipment Needed to Start a Business

Now that you have addressed some of the technical, legal and financial aspects to starting your own business, you can proceed to make a list of essential equipment you physically need to start bringing in clients.

Making a list of the essential equipment needed is the fun part of opening a new business (as long as you don’t look at the price tag that comes with it)!

Ultimately, what type of equipment you need will depend on what type of dog training services you are going to offer to the public.

If you are going to rent or buy space to create your own training center, then you are going to have a few more steps and equipment needed than someone who decides to launch their business from an office in their home and consult at their clients’ homes.

A Training Center Business

The big difference between a training center and a home office is the amount of space involved. A training center is going to be drastically larger than a home office and its intention and purpose is different. The goal of having a large space is to fill it with dogs – lots of dogs!

In order to do that, you have to create dog-friendly space. You want to have a floor that is safe for doggie feet and other materials that are non-destructible, nontoxic and easy to clean.

While having a large amount of space is desirable, you may want to consider having some movable partitions. Having partitions allows the ability to section larger spaces into smaller spaces. This is helpful if you want to run multiple classes at once or if you want to keep the classroom quieter, calmer and more private. Barriers are useful if you are going to hold a reactive dog class or if you have a slightly reactive dog or a shy dog in one of your group classes.

A safe and functional space is the first priority, aesthetics are secondary. It is quite hard to “decorate” a large, cavernous space. Perhaps you have some clever decorating ideas or maybe you just want to stick with the minimalist approach. Either way, keep in mind that you are decorating for the humans; the dogs are there for a good time!

Because people obviously need to enter your building, how dogs and people enter the facility is something else to consider.

Doorways are always a potential place for dog anxiety to rise. If two anxious dogs meet in a tight space, a quarrel could result. Take a look at your space and figure out if there is a way to get your clients and their dogs in and out of your facility without too much congestion.

When you have your clients gathered together, either coming in the door for class or in class itself, establish “etiquette rules”. Remind your clients of these rules frequently. Make sure that your clients don’t gather around entrances where their dogs can jump on the next newbie dog that comes through the door. If you can, set up your classroom environment to naturally discourage dogs from meeting unintentionally.

Many training centers, in an effort to give their human clients a break from holding on to a leash -and a way to ensure that the dogs don’t have access to each other or wander off -have installed rings directly into their walls. These secure rings have clips that the client can then attach their dog’s leash to, giving them a hand-free moment. This can be helpful for novice dog handlers that aren’t used to having to juggle a leash, a treat bag and their dog all at once. Check the rings frequently to make sure they are maintaining their stability in the wall.

Other pieces of equipment that are needed for a classroom setting are chairs. Chairs that are sturdy and easy to clean are the best choice. Your clients will have some moments when they would prefer to sit down, watch and listen to the instructions rather than stand.

Some instructors of group classes ask their clients not to bring their dogs to the very first class, therefore allowing the humans full concentration on what is being said. Having a comfortable place to sit for classes, workshops, or educational experiences is appreciated by tired people who have been working all day!

If you can, have a front desk that is easily accessible when a client walks in through the door. Having a front desk gives people something they associate with a place to begin. Essentially, they are conditioned to go there for information! Make sure you have an upcoming class list for prospective clients to consider and any other information they may be looking for to answer their questions. Ideally, someone should be at the front desk to greet clients and answer the telephone. The front desk is where you can have clients fill out class registration forms and sign waivers. If you sell merchandise, this is also an obvious place for people to pay for their toys, treats and food.

Selling merchandise is a good way to supplement your income, as well as encouraging your clients to buy the products that you feel are the best suited for dogs.

One of the most popular brands of dog toys is a Kong. Ever the classic and must-have for any dog, Kongs bounce, are tough and can be filled with yummy foods. Kong even came out with a recipe booklet so humans could prepare various types of Kong delicacies for their dog. One of the best suggestions is to freeze a tasty treat in a Kong and then give it to Fido to keep him occupied when you are busy or leaving the house for a long duration.

Another great creator of dog toys is a company called Premire. Premire offers an assortment of toys that are tough and can be filled with dog food or other yummies. Toys that are safe and keep the dog busy are usually highly recommended. Selling dog crates encourages clients with new puppies to crate train (most likely you will be giving your clients crate training tips in the puppy classes you teach at your center anyway). Any products that you incorporate into your classes, such as clickers, should be offered for sale to your clients.

Despite your reminders at the time of class sign-up and any other information you have sent out to registered clients, someone is bound to show up at your class with their dog on a choke or prong collar. Since dog-friendly trainers do not promote the use of such collars, kindly explain why you do not encourage the use of choke collars and have flat collars available for use during class (or have some for sale to replace the choke collar permanently)! Having extra Gentle Leader halters or harnesses around is a great idea for the dogs who are used to them, but whose guardians forgot them on the way out the door as they headed to class.

If you are going to be teaching agility classes you are going to need agility equipment. With a little research, you will find companies who sell agility equipment. It is an expensive initial investment, but considering how many classes you conduct, you will likely pay for the a-frame and weave poles many times over.

If you have a lot of space in your training center you may be fortunate enough to be able to leave the equipment set up all the time. Agility equipment is bulky, so if you don’t have a lot of room finding storage for it can be an issue. Be sure to inspect the equipment regularly for the safety of the dogs who use it.

If you are going to hold puppy classes, you may want to invest in some props for the purpose of desensitizing the young dogs to new and usual objects. Props such as bicycle helmets, umbrellas, long coats, walking sticks, or anything that you think the puppy may eventually see in his or her life.

Many owners are surprised when the puppy they got in the summer starts barking at them when they walk in the house months later in their big winter jacket and hat. The puppy isn’t used to recognizing their people in that form, so they may be nervous or afraid. Having your clients use these props and pair them with treats will hopefully teach the puppies that new things aren’t scary. If you don’t want to have a whole costume closet at your dog training center you can also ask your clients to bring props in with them.

In the office of your dog training center, you are going to need the usual office support items such as a telephone to conduct business matters and reach clients, as well as an answering machine for the calls you miss. You will need a computer with Internet access so you can check your business email and computer programs that will allow you to create various documents, such as lesson handouts.

Health and safety doesn’t often come to mind but is a very important part of having dogs and people come into your building. You will need cleaning products and a first aid kit. Since a dog training center is a place where multiple live animals gather together, you are subject to strict government guidelines. This means standards of cleanliness and health. Not only do you want to adhere to the rules, but you want the very best environment for the dogs and humans that enter your building.

Home Business

If you are going to be conducting business out of your home and going to your clients’ houses for dog training lessons, your collection of equipment will need to be smaller and portable. Nonetheless, there are some essentials for the traveling trainer as well.

You will be going into the lessons knowing something about the dog and clients you are working with for that lesson. Thanks to the preliminary information you gathered over the phone, you will have a basic outline of what behavior the client desires from their dog, such as “I want Fido to stop pulling on his leash when I walk him”.

In a situation like this, you may want to show up at the lesson with various sizes of Gentle Leaders. You can fit the dog with the correct size they need and then sell the product to the client. This will help your client manage the undesirable behavior as well as be beneficial to your ongoing training plan.

If you are going to carry a particular product that you are offering for sale for your clients, you can often call the company and set up a business account. By buying products in bulk you will save money and then can sell products to your client, encouraging them to use the items you think are best for their dog and situation.

Gentle Leader halters or harnesses are one example of such an item, as are toys made by companies such as Kong and Premier. Both companies create different toys that dispense food and treats as the dog plays with and manipulates them.

Toys like this require the dog to work on them for a while, therefore helping to keep them busy!

Being knowledgeable about products benefits the dog and reinforces your professionalism with your client.

Other ways of looking professional are through a neat appearance. A shirt with a logo is always a good visual reminder for people. When your client’s neighbor asks them which dog trainer they are using, your client will think of your logo and likely not forget your company name. Word of mouth is a great way to increase your business, so you want people to know who to call.

It is nice to have a logo that can transfer to any advertising products you use. You should have a business card to pass out to clients and business contacts. Depending on how far you want to go, you can invest in putting your logo on pens, handouts and clickers.

When working with a dog, you want to be dressed comfortably. Dog training involves being on your feet, so a good pair of shoes is a must! It also involves moving around, sometimes kneeling or squatting, so comfortable pants are a good option. Pants are nice because they protect you from jumping dogs and their nails. Long sleeves on a shirt also offer the same protection. Remember, anything you wear is going to get “doggie”. Muddy feet, slobbery mouths, and hotdog hands are going to be smeared all over. That's just the nature of the job.

Being organized and prepared with your paperwork shows that you have put thought into your business. On any handouts you leave with your clients make sure they have access to your contact information, such as a business telephone number, and email address. With the increase in Internet usage in recent years, many clients find it is easier to send an email message to their trainer. Since clients are going to be contacting you, you should check your phone and email messages frequently when you are working.

People learn in different ways; leaving a handout with your client after a lesson gives them something to refer back to if they have questions or need a lesson refresher. You want to encourage clients to practice the exercises that you showed them with their dog even when you aren’t there. As trainers we can help them (and help ourselves) by encouraging our clients to practice. Rehearsing the desired behavior helps them, your clients and their dogs, become really good at it!

Back at your home you will need a computer that has Internet access and the ability to create many different types of documents. You will also need someplace to make copies of the paperwork you need multiples of, or use frequently, as well as a telephone with an answering machine or service.


For your traveling toolbox: Waivers, handouts, contact information, clickers, toys, Gentle Leaders (things you can sell to help your clients).

Waivers: Ask your clients to sign a legal waiver saying they will not hold you legally responsible.

Handouts: When you leave their house or when clients leave your facility, you want to give them something to refer to if they have questions and you are not there. Handouts provide helpful reminders and tips. They can even include graphics that may help remind your clients of the steps you practiced with them.

Contact information: Ensuring your clients always have a phone number and email address in case they have any questions that crop up between lessons.

Clickers: If you choose to incorporate clicker training in your lessons, have clickers ready to give to clients. You can put your business name and logo on them for further advertising and reminder of who you are!

Toys: If you have clients who have puppies, or a dog who has a lot of energy, is left at home alone, or needs mental stimulation, you may want to consider selling certain toys that help. Toys that engage the pooch, encouraging them to chew, toss, and roll are ideal (for all dogs, not just the ones listed above)!

Gentle Leaders: Many trainers find that using a Gentle Leader gives clients a management tool to help them walk their dog in a more enjoyable manner. It also discourages the use of less effective and harmful collars, such as choke or prong collars.

This section has covered equipment needed to start your own business. A list of needed equipment can really be as long or as short as you feel suits your individual business needs. Everyone has the “must haves” and the “can live without” items and those vary from trainer to trainer. Remember, if you are starting out, you can always get the essentials and then add to your collection as your business grows.

Potential Locations to Conduct Your Dog Training Business

You have the dog-training skills, you have the idea for the business, now you just need a place where you can bring them all together under one roof!

When it comes to the physical place where you can conduct your dog training business, there are multiple locations to consider. Your decision will depend on what kind of training you are going to offer to your clients.

Are you going to offer group training classes or focus only private in-home training? Either way, potential locations to search for and consider are: a rental space, purchasing a building for sale, a home business, a local pet supply store, a veterinarian hospital, a community center, or outside, such as a park.

When some professional dog trainers decide to start their own business, they dream of a huge space where they can run many different kinds of dog training lessons and sports. Other trainers envision themselves in a smaller, personal setting. Once you have some dog training experience, you will probably know what type of ideal location you seek.

Buying or Renting a Business Space

If you are looking for a large space that you can turn into the ultimate dog training center, you will probably want to spend some time looking at commercial realty properties either on your own or with the guidance of a realtor.

If you can find a realtor who is familiar with your area, they will likely be an excellent source to find a large building that suits your needs. With a realtor you can explain where you are looking to locate a business, what your needs are for this business, what type of building you want, specify square footage requirements and other structural needs. Many realty websites allow you to search their listed properties online by entering specifications. By using Internet tools you can possibly save time by quickly selecting the properties that meet your requirements and ruling out those that do not.

This means you will need to be familiar with the area that you are looking to set up your dog business, especially if you have recently relocated to that community. Become familiar with what types of businesses in the area already cater to your potential clientele. Know which streets most businesses are found on, or are most convenient for your clients. Check on local zoning laws, because not all areas will allow a dog business.

Other factors to consider are:

  • Is this location easy to find?
  • Will clients go out of their way to find me?
  • What kind of parking can I offer them?
  • How will they access the entrance?
  • What is the first impression of my business based upon the appearance of the building I am considering?
  • What changes will I have to make?
  • How much will those changes cost me?
  • And ultimately, do I want to buy or rent?

This last question depends on your financial situation, your business prospective and your personal preference. There are pluses and minuses to either buying a place for business or renting a space from an owner.

The benefit of buying a property is that the building is then yours (or the banks)! It is an investment that will hopefully grow in profit. You can be secure that there will not be a landlord who may raise the rent or sell the property themselves, requiring you to have to find a new place and start all over. On the flip-side, if your dog training company unfortunately isn’t a success, you owning a building that you either need to sell, lease, or use for another purpose.

When you are a renter, the benefit is that you are not responsible for making payments on the location other than what your lease agreement states. You will only be obligated to pay that amount for the length of your lease. You avoid the complications of financing a purchasing loan and completing all the paperwork. On the flip-side, if the owner of the property you are renting decides to do something else with their building, you would be left without a location to hold your classes.

Whether you buy or lease a property may ultimately be decided on the availability of the property you really want. When you consider a property, pay attention to how easy it is to find from the road.

  • Is there a place for signage?
  • Is the address posted?
  • Where can your clients park their cars?
  • Can dogs and people easily cross the parking lot and make it safely to the entry of the building?
  • Is the door easily found?
  • Is the outside of the building maintained?
  • How is the condition of the roof and the siding?
  • How about the sidewalks?

Ideally you want a location that is easily accessible to your public, including those with physical challenges. You want someone who is in a wheelchair to be able to get in your door so they can take dog training lessons with their dog.

Upon entering the potential business location, notice the layout of the room or rooms.

  • Is there space for an office?
  • Is there a restroom?
  • How about a place to put merchandise for sale?
  • Are there windows?
  • How much do they open?
  • Is the building drafty?
  • Will you be cold in the winter?
  • Warm in the summer?
  • Who pays for the utilities such as electricity and trash and recycling


You want to be sure you have a place that looks nice inside, that is big enough for all the people and dogs you plan on hosting in lessons and is safe for your purposes. You may find that a “blank canvas” is the best type of building to start off with. It also helps to have a bit of an open mind and a creative outlook. You will bring to the table your own thoughts and ideas, but it never hurts to seek out the views and opinions of someone else whose input you respect and would consider. You never know what someone else may come up with!

Before signing any legal paperwork, make sure that you and the seller/renter of the building you are buying or renting from have a clear idea of each other’s expectations. Be upfront about your intentions for the building because there is no way dogs can be hidden. Dogs come and go, they bark and they run. Because of this, some owners of buildings won’t allow individuals with the intention of creating a dog training business to rent their space. They may be worried about destruction to their property, or conflicts with nearby businesses.

Be upfront about any possible changes you would like to make to the building. When you are the owner of the building, you can most likely make those changes (as long as you follow local laws and get any necessary permits). However, if you are renter, you are going to need to get permission from the owner of the building and some owners are reluctant to have major changes done to their property.

If there are things that need to be fixed, like a broken window or air conditioning that isn’t working prior to a rental agreement being formally reached, you can see if you can get the owner to fix certain items and have them listed on your contract. As it stands, when you are a renter, you can have expectations of your landlord that they need to fulfill. Be sure you know what his or her responsibilities are and what yours are.

Some changes you may have to make inside are changes to the flooring. Because you are going to have high traffic areas, you are going to likely put in flooring that feels good on doggie paws and cleans up well. You may want to repaint the walls to give the space a clean, fresh appearance. Keep in mind, since you will be serving the public, there are likely local laws and building codes that the fire department and public health and safety require.

In addition to looking nice, you want to ensure that any training location is safe for both dog and people. Anywhere you hold classes must be cleaned thoroughly and regularly to prevent the spread of canine illnesses. It is recommended to research health recommendations from professionals; talk to a veterinarian to learn what they recommend for cleaning procedures and schedule of vaccines.

Home Business

Running a business from your home is the alternative if you want to work on a smaller level or avoid having to buy or lease a commercial property. Setting a room aside in your own personal house or apartment as an office and then conducting business from there is another potential location.

There are many benefits to working out of your own house. The first one that usually pops to mind is that you can go to work in your pajamas. While this is true, there are a few other benefits.

The cost associated with starting your own home business is significantly lower than buying or leasing a separate location. You will not have another payment or rental cost other than the one you are already paying for your own accommodations. Answering phone inquires, checking email and creating worksheets from home also allows you some time to be with your own dog! When you work from home you may be fortunate enough to avoid a car commute. Because you will be working with individual clients separately and meeting with them either at your house or theirs, you will get to know the dogs and people better than you would in group classes.

The downside to working from home is that unless you can walk to your clients' houses, you will have to either take public transportation or drive your car. This means wear and tear on your automobile, the cost of fuel, getting lost, spending time in traffic and spending time in strangers' homes. It may be harder to separate business from personal time if your office is located down the hall from your living room, but if you are able to close the office door when your work hours are over, you will be able to hopefully maintain the distinction. You will want to create a portable toolbox to take with you when you go to visit clients and you may want to consider have training products for sale. Other costs such as a computer and telephone were discussed in Essential Equipment to Starting a Business.

Other Possible Locations for Business

Pet supply stores are another option for a location to conduct dog training lessons. Many national chains already host a variety of group and private lessons. Local, independent pet stores also have this option. If you have a pet store in your community that would be an appropriate place to run your lessons out of, talk to the owner. The benefit for you is that it is a location already in existence where you can easily meet with your clients.

It is quite simple to set up a temporary training area that separates your class from other customers shopping in the store. The benefit for the owner of the pet supply store is that dog training classes encourage people to come into their store and as the trainer, you can recommend products that you like that are for sale. Who wouldn’t pick up a few things for their dog while they are already there for dog training lessons? Many people make decisions based on ease and convenience.

Veterinary clinics are also starting to offer dog training lessons in their buildings. Pet guardians often bring their dogs in for regular medical exams and when they have a training question they often approach their dog’s medical caregiver. Because veterinarians receive so many questions about behavior, their offices are starting to offer classes. They like to be able to provide their clients with the “complete package” at their business. Clients may like this all-in-one place approach as well. Some veterinary clinics are creating centers for dog training, others offer it after hours.

If you have a veterinarian clinic that you think would be a good fit for your dog training services, you may want to see if they would consider setting up a business meeting to discuss the matter. Perhaps a business situation can be worked out, similar to running your business from a pet supply store.

Many community centers, or locations where community education is conducted, are also an option. Community education offers classes affordable classes to the interested public. Similar to all other group classes, when you get a number of puppies or dogs together, you are going to require proof of vaccinations. When you are interested in teaching through a community center, you will apply through the organization to teach. Most likely you will have to state why you are qualified and what information will be covered in the classes you will teach.

Outside parks are another place where clients and their dogs can gather. Make sure you are familiar with the parks rules regarding dogs and public usage. Get permission when necessary. Parks are both a great place to hold classes but also a challenging place. Because parks are outside, naturally there are a lot of other competing stimuli. Smells, trees, birds, other animals, joggers all can be found in a park. A park may not be the ideal place to host a basic obedience class for novice dogs and handlers, but would be great for a specialized class such as an “out and about” class. Dogs who have become fluid in their basic behaviors such as “sit” and “watch” can practice these behaviors in a more challenging environment. Getting real world experience and being able to implement it is what most dog guardians seek.

When you are able to work out of someone else’s business, you are able to cut down on some costs, such as rent. You may want to invest in some props, such as a board to write on, chairs, handouts and other miscellaneous materials.

Remember, to budget in insurance to protect you legally regardless of whether you have a large training center or are working with individual clients. You are dealing with dogs who always have the potential to harm people (and we live in a litigation-happy society).

Once you have established where you are going to be running your business, you need to make sure that your clients know where to find you. If you are a brand new facility, gather clients by hosting an “opening day” party. At this party you can give out goodies such as discounts on the first class, free treats for all and a tour of the new facility. Generate interest by advertising as effectively as you can. This means thinking of places that your potential clients can be found. Reach out to the public by advertising in your local paper, putting out pamphlets at the pet supply store, the dog groomer, the veterinarian’s office, or the cork-board at the grocery store. You are going to find that there are some advertising techniques that surprisingly don’t bring in clients for you and others that are very effective. Make sure you keep track of what is working and what isn’t so you can reach as many people as possible with your advertising.

The location of your business really represents what your business is about and where it is going in the future. Ensure that you represent yourself in the manner that is best for you at this point in your career. Investing in a property either by buying, leasing, or reaching a business agreement with another facility, is an exciting and pivotal point in your career.

Business Calls

This is what you have been waiting for! Your phone is ringing and clients are coming through your door! This is your opportunity to reel them in with your extensive dog training knowledge and pleasant and professional ability to work with them and their dog.

Most likely you have attracted a potential client through effective advertising. Another way of attracting clients is through a recommendation via word of mouth.

With a recommendation you already are a step ahead of the game. People like to use services that have already been tested or experienced by someone they know.

The next thing you have to do is hope that your advertising, your recommendations, or your future interactions with the client will convince them that you are the best trainer for their dog. This task will be easier for you if you too believe in yourself. After all, you have spent time and money investing in your education. You have studied hard and invested a lot into your career. Clearly you are ready to start your own business and now you have to interact with your very own clients.

Remember, first impressions can help set the stage for a successful relationship between trainer and client. Your first interaction with a client may be when they call to get more information about your services or when they call to schedule an appointment. The number on all your advertising products should go directly to your office, either at your training center building or in your own home.

If you are working from your house, having a separate line for your business allows you to know that when it rings it will be some form of business calling. If you are not available to answer the phone have a professional answering machine recording ready to greet your clients.

In your recording, ask the caller to leave certain information about their dog (be specific). Also let them know when they can expect a returned phone call. When people finally make the call for a dog trainer, they are eager to have contact made. Be sure to return messages within the time you say you will. You want people to know that you are reliable. Being reliable means you prove to the client that you are able to follow through and maintain communication with them.

If you are able to answer the telephone, have a pleasant greeting prepared. The name of your company should be said so the caller knows they have reached a dog training business. Find out why the caller is looking for training for their dog. Some information to collect is what kind of behavior the owner is seeking from their dog and what the dog is doing at that time. You will want to know what type of dog it is, if it is male or female, if they are spayed or neutered, if they are healthy, and any other relevant information. This way when you meet in person you can have an idea of what to expect from the dog and client and what steps you may initially take to help them. More discussion about making the training appointment with your client will be addressed later.

Once you have a basic outline of the dog and the client, repeat your appointment time and state any other information the client needs to know prior to meeting. If the appointment is made a few weeks in advance a reminder phone call, email, or mailing to remind them may be prudent. You don’t want to show up to teach a class and only have half your students present because the rest forgot, or to show up at someone’s front door and have no one home.

With most group lessons, the participants usually sign up and pay prior to attending, so most likely you have payment, whether they end up attending the session or not.

For private lessons, the client is either billed or pays after the lesson is completed (although some trainers find clients will pre-purchase a series of lessons, especially if there is a discount involved). If a client fails to show for a private scheduled lesson, you may want to think of how you are going to handle that situation. Perhaps the first time you will simply reschedule, but the second time you may need to decide if this client is productive to your business or if there is a way to compensate for your wasted time, such as charging a missed class fee.

If your prospective client decides to come into your training center in person to check out your facility and the classes you offer you want to be prepared to tell them about the classes and get them enrolled. When they come through your door they may be looking for direction. Greet them and initiate the conversation, asking them what kind of training they are looking for. Once you gather a little more information you may be able to offer suggestions for classes and training gear.

It has already been discussed that starting a new business is a time intensive project. When you open a brand new training center, you may find yourself practically living at the office. When you have a business that is run out of your home, you may be tempted to run and answer the phone even after hours. While it is recognized that a new business needs to be nurtured and tended to (and it is commendable that you are dedicated to your clients and their dogs), you also need to allow yourself some time away from the job.

It is encouraged that you have some scheduled time off. Everyone needs a break from work and dog trainers, because of the emotional tolls the job can take, are even more susceptible to burn out. Burn out is when the toll of dealing with tough cases and working too hard causes you to lose your motivation and energy for the job. Too many great dog trainers have been lost from the field because of this reason. Trainers who are more susceptible to burn out are trainers who deal with cases where they see euthanasia, or other difficult decisions, being made.

Naturally, trainers want to help all dogs but that just isn’t physically possible.

Protect yourself when you have to, either by taking a vacation, referring some clients to other local trainers for a while, or seeking help from your support system (either from other professional trainers or people who will listen and bring you comfort).

When it comes time for face-to-face interaction with your new client, remember to wear a smile. This is age old advice, but truly a great way to make your client feel welcomed and reassured. People want to be around other people who are happy, upbeat, have a positive nature and are kind. In some sense, working with clients is like being on a theater stage. It is important to project a certain external poise. This demeanor is not meant to be mistaken for pretending or acting. Instead, smiling and being pleasant is more of a desired and appreciated skill that is necessary in a customer service profession such as professional dog training.

As you interact with your clients, you will discover that people have many different personalities. Some are extroverts and don’t mind meeting new people and talking to strangers. Others are introverts and prefer to keep more to themselves. Being respectful of different personalities and preferences in participation is part of dealing with clients. Read the body language of the people in your classes and then accommodate them. Make sure that you never put a client in an uncomfortable situation and always ask permission of a student to demonstrate a behavior with their dog in front of the class, even if they are doing the lesson perfectly and you would love for everyone else to be doing the exact same thing!

Always have patience with your clients and their dogs. Remind your clients that every dog is different and not to be frustrated with their dog’s progress or abilities. It is up to you, as the trainer, to encourage them to focus on the things their dog does well. If a client is having a difficult time grasping the lesson, work with them individually. Give them tips to help them succeed. Be aware of all the possibilities as to why the dog or trainer may be having difficulties. Perhaps it is the way the lesson was taught, perhaps they were not able to hear, or perhaps there is a medical reason that prevents the ability to practice the behavior. A trainer needs to always keep an open mind, think of ways to problem-solve and make clients feel comfortable.

When you are hired to help a client, you hope they are extremely committed to the welfare of their dog. Chances are, since they are seeking your dog training services, they are committed on some level to the mental and physical care of their dog. However, people do vary in what degree they care for their dog’s well-being. Some people may not handle or interact with their dog exactly as you would recommend. If you are hired to counsel on cases that concern you regarding the care of the dog, you need to decide how you are going to handle these situations. This is tricky business, because you are going to have to figure out how you are going to deal with a client that you do not agree with. Hopefully with your teachings you will be able to shape your client’s actions towards their dog into more desirable behavior. Sometimes you will just have to work with as much as the client is willing to give to you and their dog. Regardless, you need to adhere to your own code of ethics (what you believe and feel is correct) as well as the law.

If you are going to teach private classes where you find yourself going to clients’ private homes you need to consider your own physical safety. Be sure to let someone know where you are going, what time you are meeting with the clients and how long the appointment will last. This ensures that someone knows where to find you should you need to be contacted or you are late in returning. Carrying a cell phone makes it easy for you to make phone calls when need be, and allows others to get in touch with you if necessary. Always trust your instinct if you feel a situation is unsafe.

When it comes to dealing with a disgruntled client, remember that the best technique is to be professional, patient and listen. If the client really has a legitimate reason for being dissatisfied, do your best to make them happier with your services. If the client has been unreasonably hard to please the whole time, agree that they may be happier seeking someone else’s services and be confident in your decision (or at least act that way).

If you have employees working for you, make sure they have the customer service qualities and philosophy that you want representing your business. Ensure that they too are familiar with your customer service policy and then be the one to lead by example. The client who walks through your business door will not always be interacting with you, so you want your employees to make the same impression that you would. Instruct employees in ways of handling certain situations, such as a question the employee doesn’t know the answer to, a class registration form that has been lost, a scheduling mis-communication, or other issues.

Lastly, always keep paperwork. Set up an organized filing system in your office so you can quickly and easily access particular items. This filing system should contain client information; make sure that when you make entries or changes to a client’s information that you date the entry. If you have employees who have access to the client files and may be making changes to them make sure they initial after additional information is added or deleted. It’s always easier to have a trail that leads you back to a source, just in case questions ever come up. Set aside a place in your office where you can store your clients’ files so they can be referenced and updated. If you are running your own business you are also going to have bills, incoming and outgoing. Being organized will help your business transactions run smoother, help you keep track of crucial paperwork and give you peace of mind.

If you approach all client interactions by being prompt, prepared, professional, understanding and courteous, you will set yourself up for success and respect. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get clients, so people who are pleased with your services will pass their satisfaction along to their acquaintances. The more time you spend in this business, the more comfortable you will be interacting with your paying customers.

Making the Appointment

When a client brings their dog to dog training class, it is rarely an impromptu activity (although some facilities do offer drop-in classes and daycare). Most likely a client has given some thought to enrolling in a dog training class before signing up or making an appointment. They may have done their research as to what type of facility and classes are in their community prior to making any calls or visits to trainers. They may even know exactly what type of class they are looking for and which particular dates work with their schedule. By the time they contact you, the client is ready to make the appointment.

The way a client makes an appointment depends on the type of training lessons you offer:

If You Work For a Commercial Business

If you work at a training facility or a pet store that offers group or individual lessons, clients may make an appointment for training classes in 2 different manners. The first method may be physically walking into your place of business and asking to sign up for a class. This gives you, the dog trainer, the opportunity to talk to them in person to make sure they are signing up for the class that best suits their needs and their dog’s current abilities. When the client signs up in person, they can pay for the class at that time, show proof of vaccinations, sign any paperwork and get additional information. It is helpful to send a newly registered client home with information they can refer back to, especially for a class that may not be starting within the next few days or week.

The second way a person may sign up for a class is by making arrangements over the telephone. This way you can also get the necessary information, such as name, address, type of dog, if the dog is spayed or neutered and if the dog has ever bitten or acted aggressively towards anyone (if the answer is yes, you will want to recommend private instruction or refer to another trainer who you know takes those type of cases).

If you have the capabilities, the client can even pay for the class over the telephone by providing a credit card number. Remember to give the client necessary information such the name of the class, the location of class, the time it meets, the dates and any other further instructions.

These instructions often include a reminder of what class they signed up for, what time the class starts, where the class will meet and what type of information or equipment to bring. One of the requirements for a dog to attend classes is proof that they are current on their vaccinations. Often it is suggested that people not feed their dog before class and to bring food or treats along to class. A flat leash of no more than 6 feet is recommended and dog trainers who use positive reinforcement training techniques do not allow dogs to come to class wearing anything other than a flat collar and/or a Gentle Leader halter or harness.

Sometimes at the first class people are asked not bring their dog since the instruction is geared towards people. People can more easily concentrate what the dog trainer is saying if they don’t have their dogs there to distract them! Again, all of this is up to the trainer or the facility that they work for and you will find difference between all dog training businesses. Create a sign-up protocol that works for you and your clients.

Signing up for group classes is a fairly easy procedure. Because group classes have a pre-arranged schedule and list of objectives, the trainer will give everyone the same information. When you offer private classes, the sign up procedure is very similar, but because of the more tailored approach, you may want to gather a little more information before meeting with them and their dog for the first time. This includes what types of behavior the client seeks to address. Even after the initial gathering of information about the dog, a consultation appointment will occur before training takes place. During this consultation (for which you charge a fee) you get more in-depth information about the dog. You can meet the dog in person and get a feel for his or her personality and other baseline behavior. From there, you can begin brainstorming the detailed behavior plan(s) you will create for this individual client. After that first meeting, your appointments will most likely be training in action. Often private instruction appointments are made during times that are convenient for the trainer and client so times may often vary. Perhaps a set hour and day of week can be agreed upon and maintained during the entire relationship.

If You Work From Home

If you work for yourself out of your home or for a small private operation, in order to make “The Appointment”, you will need to make yourself easily accessible. Make sure that your phone number, email address and website can be easily found on your advertisement products. You may either have “office hours” or keep a cell phone on you so you don't miss a potential appointment call.

When the phone does ring, have a list of your essential questions printed up and waiting within easy reach. Since some trainers have niches or specialized areas, you probably want to screen clients to make sure you are a good fit for their issues. To do this, have a checklist of questions that will help you understand the situation. Often people are so eager to talk about their dog that sometimes they get sidetracked. These questions will help you direct them back on track. Keep your questions to the minimum amount needed to assess the situation. Try to get certain basic information over the phone. This basic information is a list of prepared questions that will help you get the most helpful information out of the caller. As trainer Jen recommends, “Have a good initial client telephone interview form and be realistic on what you think you can handle and if you have the experience to take on more complicated or difficult cases”.

Once you feel the dog has a behavioral issue within your training capabilities, encourage the client to make an appointment to meet with you.

You want to be upfront with the client and explain your training philosophy, what services they can expect when they hire you to train their dog and how much your fees are for the services you recommend.

Try to get an appointment set before continuing much further into the conversation. Your time is valuable too. Make sure you don't get “trapped” on the phone with a caller, giving out free advice. It is our inclination to help distressed dog guardians and it would be easy to dispense information over the phone with the hope of helping. But this action can have some consequences.

One, you are giving out free advice, advice that you should be getting paid for dispensing.

Two, your time is valuable; there are other things you could be doing rather than spending an hour on the phone and possibly missing other incoming phone calls from potential clients.

Three, without actually seeing the dog, what it is doing and what the situation is, you may not be able to correctly diagnose the problem(s) taking place or insure that the client is practicing the techniques correctly.

Once you have gathered essential information, you can decide if you would be a good fit for them and suggest meeting. You will need to have an up-to-date schedule in front of you so you can suggest meeting times. Make the appointment for the day and time that works for both of you. Make suggestions such as if you want the dog fed before you get there or if you intend to have the dog receive its food during your lesson. Do you want other family members present when going over the information covered during the initial visit or is one representative enough?

Remember to keep in mind your own personal safety when you meet clients for private lessons. Make sure to let someone (your co-workers, a friend, a neighbor, or a spouse) know where you will be and for how long. It never hurts to leave behind the address of the location where you will be doing the private lesson.

Types of information to gather before meeting with a client for a private lesson:

  • Date and time of call
  • Permission to ask more questions
  • Dogs name, age, breed, sex, spayed or neutered
  • The dog’s health
  • Behaviors client would like to work on
  • Has the dog ever bitten another dog, person, or acted aggressively

The types of information to gather when meeting with the client in person are more in-depth and may include:

  • Date and time of meeting
  • Permission to ask more questions
  • What are the client’s concerns
  • What is the dog’s background
  • Who else is in the household
  • How often does the problem behavior occur/when did it start
  • What techniques/management the client has tried so far
  • What are the client’s goals
  • What will the client do if his or her goals are not achieved
  • What is the dog’s daily routine
  • When was the dog’s last veterinarian visit

These questions will most likely lead to other questions. Finding out as much information about the dog’s behavior, situation and background will help you create a treatment program. Keep in mind, however, that you may not always be able to get additional information. Trainers who work on behavior modification on dogs bought into their shelter know little to nothing about the dog they are working with. All they know is that the dog exhibited resource guarding while eating, for example, during its temperament test. A trainer can still take that information and work with the dog on that behavior.

By being prepared, organized and knowledgeable, you will be able to make many dog training appointments! Be sure to answer and return business calls during your working hours so you don’t miss any potential appointments. Once you have a client on the phone, get the basic information about them, their dog, and the situation (so you are not spending all your time on the phone) and then, if the situation requires additional information, such as a private lesson, that can be gained during a consultation in person (or over the phone if that is what works best for you and/or the client). Be sure to keep your appointment book handy for quick reference so you know when you are available to meet with a client.

Class Considerations Such as Types, Sizes and Fees

Now that you are really ready to open your business doors, it is time to think about the dog training lessons you are going to conduct. Some factors to consider are what types of classes you want to offer to clients, how many dogs you will accept in each group class and how much you are going to charge for your training services. Group classes are a time to get people together, guide them in how to teach their dogs, while having fun at the same time! Private classes are a time to work one-on-one with a dog, create personalized behavior plans and get to know the dog and client.

Types of Classes

The types of classes you offer depend on what kind of training space you are working with and what resources you have access to. You probably do not want to offer group lessons if you do not have the space for multiple people and their dogs to congregate. Of course you certainly can’t offer agility classes if you do not have agility equipment. And you can’t offer an outdoor trail walking class if you don’t have access to trails. Logically, you need to focus on the types of classes you can physically offer and which ones you have the expertise to teach. Remember, you can always add more classes as your experience and clientele grow.

How many classes you develop and how often you run them depends on how much time you have in the day to work! It also depends on whether you have employees who you feel comfortable with running classes under your business name. It is common for the owner of a dog training company to hire trainers who have skills that they do not, such as experience with agility competition. With the intention of giving clients the best experience they can, owners should make an effort to find the very best trainers as well.

When you consider how many people and dogs you are going to allow to enroll in a group class, one of the first rules is not taking on more clients than you can handle. Usually 6 dogs is the most one trainer would want to take on when they are conducting a class on their own. Trainers encourage all people involved in the life and training of the dog to attend class, so you may find that a person brings their spouse, roommate, or children.

The presence of children in your classes creates some new and challenging circumstances. Again, you want all people involved with the dog to learn and take part in the dog’s training. This includes the children of the household. The thing to consider about having children in a class is that they often have a lot of energy. They run, they squeal, they can unknowingly be rough with dogs and they don’t have the motor control to execute the lessons with the order and timing a trainer usually focuses on. There are also other dogs in the group who may not have had any exposure to children, so safety is a factor to consider.

With children attending classes, you need to keep an eye on them and their interaction with all the dogs. Be sure to cover rules at the beginning of each class.

Encourage participation of everyone in the class, but make sure that children do not approach any of the other dogs unless they have permission from the guardian and you see the dog giving signs that he or she enjoys children. Having children present in class allows you to go over proper dog etiquette – something everyone, especially children, should know. Teach children how to react if a strange dog approaches them. Tell them to always ask permission to pet a dog and then show them how to gently pat the dog. Teach children to avoid pulling on tails, ears, or touching feet and to never put their faces near the dog’s. Tell children not to approach a dog who is sleeping, who is eating food, or has a chewie, or a toy.

In addition to children in your class, you will likely have someone in your class who needs extra special attention. Unfortunately, these people cannot monopolize all your time because then you will be shortchanging the others. At the same time, you want every client to get as much as they can from your classes. If you are not able to give everyone the attention they are paying for, encourage the client who would benefit from more one-on-one attention, to take a private class from you. Emphasis to the client the benefits of individual attention, tailored lesson plans and more flexible appointment times.

Class Sizes

As you start conducting group lessons, you will quickly recognize how many dogs and their people you feel comfortable having in your class. Sometimes having an extra pair of hands helps. This is where the assistance of another dog trainer, a volunteer, or an apprentice would help in greeting the students as they come to class, helping with any problems that come up, passing out handouts and possibly guiding students in the practicing behaviors. Some trainers, with the help of another knowledgeable person, feel comfortable extending the number of participants in their classes under those circumstances.

If you are going to allow the dogs to interact with each other at some point in the class, make sure the dogs are appropriately paired. For example, do not put big dogs with toy dogs or energetic puppies with geriatric dogs. Not only is appropriate mixing essential for dog and people safety, but it will allow the dogs to get the most positive experience out of their socialization with each other.

Keep an eye out for the shy dog or the bully. If you suspect a dog may not play well with others, avoid socialization in that class all together, or have an assistant take those dogs’ aside and work on something else while the other dogs socialize. Keep in mind that everyone is a paying customer and you can’t leave them out just because their dog doesn’t fit in well with the others. The fact is that not all dogs want to, or should, socialize with other dogs. Normalizing this for your client is the first step and giving them exercises to work on this behavior is the second.

Dogs you can not have in class are dogs who are aggressive towards people or other dogs. Other dogs you don’t want to have in your class are dogs who are so stressed out by being there that you are worried about their well-being. Not all dogs fit into the requirements of group classes, so quietly take the client aside and offer the option of private lessons to help them with their specific issues. What a relief for people to know that someone can help them with their dog’s behavior!

If the dog is aggressive towards other dogs there are many different management tools and counter conditioning exercises you can work on with this client. With a shy or nervous dog, you can work on building their confidence with positive desensitization work and counter conditioning exercises as well. This is the great thing about being a professional dog trainer! You are a problem-solver! If you are not comfortable helping these individual clients with their dog’s issues, be sure to find a local trainer who is, so you can refer them.

Normalizing dog behavior is one of a trainer’s priorities in class, no matter what class it is. For many people, their relationship with their dog is so close that when their dog acts like a dog in public, they get embarrassed. Dog classes a place for people to go where their dogs can be dogs. The help your clients further understand dog behavior, pointing out a dog who stiffens when another dog approaches, or the play bow given from one dog to another.

If you find there is a need for specialized classes, by all means create them! Presenting more options for clients after they have completed the basic classes keeps them coming back. Having fun classes available to people who don’t feel their dog needs the usual obedience class but would love to take a “walk with your dog in the woods” class is another great way to generate interest. Consider anything that there is a need for in your community.

Fees For Your Classes

Price your classes competitively with the going price of similar classes offered at other businesses. When you have an open relationship with fellow trainers, you can easily inquire as to what they are charging in their area. Keep in mind that what a trainer who lives and works in Manhattan, New York, charges could vary greatly from what a trainer in rural Kansas charges, for the same service. This is based on a cost of living index. So you want to make sure you don’t out price your clients, at the same time making sure you are getting what you are worth.

If you are new to the field, you may want to give yourself some time to gain more experience before upping your prices. If you have been in the field for years, believe in the quality of your product and price appropriately.

The financial benefit of group classes is that you can get a number of people paying for a class you will most likely conduct once a week for 6-8 weeks. This is very time and cost effective. Usually people pay for group classes before or at the very first class in the series. This way the training business has been paid for the classes whether the clients attend only 1 class or all of them. We would really like them to attend all of classes, because after all, we want to be financially successful, but we want our clients and dogs to learn as much as possible too, since they are paying!

On the other hand, when you teach private classes, because of the individual training, lessons will be priced significantly higher than a single group lesson. Private lessons take more time, but the increased price should compensate for the labor involved.

Trainers who develop a niche, such as specializing in aggression or separation anxiety, will most likely charge the highest prices for their private lessons. The reasons for this are because of the intense work and time that go into a lesson with such complex behavior issues.

Teaching classes is what a dog trainer does most. The involvement with the dogs and people can be very enjoyable and rewarding. As professional trainer Eden says,

“One of my favorite things about teaching dogs is seeing the ‘light bulb’ moment for dogs and people, and seeing a wagging tail and a happy face”.

Classes are a time for people to have fun with their dogs. Be sure to always be complimentary of the dogs, giving the human guardian guidance to look for the positive. Sometimes people are embarrassed about their dog’s behavior or worried that their dog isn’t going to keep up with the other dogs in the group. Reassure all individuals that all dogs are different and we simply can’t compare them.

Similarly, professional trainer Jen says,

“Seeing the joy and excitement in an owner’s eyes as they discover they can change their dog’s behavior, and change it in a way that is fun and fulfilling for both owner and dog.”

After all, this is what we, as trainers, set out to accomplish. We strive for happy, healthy dogs and satisfied, dedicated human guardians. By reaching all those clients in your classes, you are helping achieve this goal for the many who come through your doors!


An interesting observation about people who decide to become professional dog trainers is that quite often for most of them it is a career change. Many times they started out as bank managers, software designers, or business professionals. In fact, some may have spent half their professional life invested in another form of work -perhaps doing something completely on the other side of the dog training spectrum.

But then something happens and somewhere along their journey they decide that there must be something more out there in a career. They are perhaps looking for something that feels more alive, something that brings them more joy, some thing less predictable and something more rewarding. Somehow, that search leads them to professional dog training.

As trainer Tess says,

“I’ve watched as my clients have become pregnant or adopted while I’ve helped them and their dog get ready for the addition to the family. I’ve watched marriages improve because the couple is no longer fighting over the dog. I’ve watched my owners tear up from happiness because they’ve been able to walk their dog in the park for the first time without trauma. My clients cry and huge me now. I never got that bonus in software development!”

As has been highlighted numerous times in this article, there is a lot of appeal to making your living training dogs. So much of our time is spent working, that if we can indeed make money by spending time with one of our favorite creatures -the dog, meeting new people everyday and moving around so we get physical exercise (rather than being stuck permanently behind a desk!) then maybe we will enjoy “work” a bit more. Finding purpose and personal reward in what we do is certainly important to most of us.

Despite the number of dogs out there in our communities, at first glance there doesn’t seem to be many resources for those who are interested in pursuing a career as a professional dog trainer. But just like a loose thread on a sweater, one tug and the whole thing unravels. One bit of information about dog training will most likely lead to another. Once you know where to look for information you will find that the professional dog training community is strong and the good news is that there is a wealth of information out there to help guide you in your career endeavor. Conveniently, most of this information and experience can be found locally in your community, in your own house practicing with your own dog, at shelters and rescue groups (places that need our help anyway!), professional trainer organizations, continued education opportunities, the Internet and other reading resources.

The best way to decide which route is best for you personally is to do your research. Some routes to learning more about dogs will be easily within your means, others may not be possible. When you are considering spending money for your education, be a critical consumer. The same goes for what training philosophy you, as a new trainer, decide to embrace. Be selective in what methods you practice and routes you want to personally take. Remember that your first priority will always be the well-being of the dogs and their people. Because their future may depend on your training abilities, you want to make sure your knowledge, experience and resources match their needs.

It is the hope that people who are interested in becoming professional dog trainers find the information in this article will lead them in the direction of learning more about this wonderful and rewarding career! Because gaining experience and knowledge is only something that can be pursued first hand, we encourage you to use the information in this article as a starting block. Get out there and gain the knowledge that you seek.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors!

Recommended Resources

Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT): This membership organization is omitted to professionalism, reward-based training, and encouraging the bond between dog and person. Every year the APDT hosts a multi-day educational training conference, has a website full of information and resources for dog trainers, and publishes regular informational newsletters. Learn more at

Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT): The organization from which experienced trainers can take a test and earn the title of Certified Professional Dog Trainer. After successful test completion, certification must be maintained by meeting the yearly requirements by participating in approved continued education and signing the CCPDT Code of Ethics. For more information visit

Clickerexpo: The organization formed by operant conditioning pioneer, Karen Pryor, hosts twice yearly conferences for professional dog trainers and other animal trainers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the way animals learn. Learn more at Another extension of Karen Pryor’s business, this website discusses what clicker training is, the benefits of clicker training and offers many training tools and products for purchase that will help your training. Find out more at

dogTEC: This business is practically a one-stop-shop for trainers looking for professional help and guidance in setting up their business. dogTEC assists with almost all aspects of business creation and maintenance. Their services are excellently outlined at

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC): This membership organization for animal behavior consultants is committed to furthering the education of their members and fostering the relationship between people and the animals in their care. IAABC hosts a yearly conference and publishes a journal. Learn more at

Karen Pryor Academy: This academy offers a dog training program for animal behavior and training. The course is several months long and requires a time commitment, the ability to travel with your dog, and the ability to study hard to pass the rigorous tests. Successfully completing the course will earn you a certification as a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. Karen Pryor’s Academy also offers other types of educational experiences for those in the profession. All opportunities and information can be found at

Moorpark College: This college in Moorpark, California, offers a degree in Exotic Animal Training and Management. It is an intense program that requires classroom time as well much practical, hands-on time with the animals found at the college’s Learning Zoo. More on this program can be found at

Peaceable Paws: Founded by Pat Miller, this extensive dog and puppy training center is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Peaceable Paws has been host to different camps and academies. All the learning opportunities presented through this organization are found at

Raising Canine: Is an organization that provides quality, science-based education for professionals in the animal training field. Descriptions of courses and how to sign up for their convenient “tele-courses” can be found on their website

San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Academy for Dog Trainers: Located in San Francisco, California, this academy for dog trainers is associated with the progressive San Francisco SPCA. Students who sign up for this intense, 6 days a week (including evenings!), 6 week program, will gain experience with dogs, training, client interaction, problem solving and business information. Also offered frequently are various other classes and courses that address other aspect of professional dog training. To learn more visit

Recommended Reading

Before & After Getting Your Puppy, by Dr. Ian Dunbar

Cautious Canine, by Patricia McConnell

Clicker Training for Dogs, by Karen Pryor

Dogs Are From Neptune, by Jean Donaldson

Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous, by Janis Bradley

Don’t Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor

Excel-Erated Learning, by Pamela J. Reid

Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash Aggressive Dog, by Patricia McConnell and Karen London

FIGHT! A Practical Guide to the Treatment of Dog-Dog Aggression, by Jean Donaldson

How Dogs Learn, by Mary R. Burch, Ph.D. and Jon S. Bailey, Ph.D.

How to Run Your Dog Training Business, by Veronica Boutelle

How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks, by Dr. Ian Dunbar

Mine - A Guide to Resource Guarding, by Jean Donaldson

Oh, Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker, by Jean Donaldson

One on One -A Dog Trainer’s Guide to Private Training, by Nicole Wilde

Play With Your Dog, by Pat Miller

Stress in Dogs -Learn How Dogs Show Stress and What You Can Do to Help, by Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt

The Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson

The Dog Trainer’s Resource: A collection of 80 APDT newsletter articles, edited by Mychelle E. Blake.

The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.

The Power of Positive Dog Training, by Pat Miller

Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships, by Ken Blanchard, Thad Lacinak, Chuck Tompkins and Jim Ballard

When Pigs Fly - Training Success with Impossible Dogs, by Jane Killion

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