How To Become A QUALIFIED Dog Trainer
“I want to be a dog trainer.” I hear this statement all the time by dog lovers around the world. The next statement usually goes something like, “How do I get started?”
First, let me just say I’m so thrilled that people out there have a love for dogs and want to better their lives. Second, I appreciate that they feel I might be able to guide them toward their goal. Let’s look at some of the things to consider, and talk about what qualifies someone to be a dog trainer. Big can of worms opening about now!
Question: Is your long-term goal to train dogs, or to train their human parents? The difference in this answer is huge when thinking of the best way to get your education. With either answer, your first step is to really learn dog training, dog behavior, and everything that goes along with that. If you want to teach people how to train their dogs, you will also need education on teaching people, communication skills, writing a good syllabus, how to evaluate a risky environment, and so much more.
Where to start: Get a job working with dogs daily. Yes, this means you might need to step down from your high-paying accounting position and take a big salary cut. It is unlikely that you will obtain a position as a dog trainer from an organization (if so, I personally would be very unlikely to recommend this organization for hiring someone with a lack of experience).
I am talking about a dog shelter, dog grooming salon, veterinarian office, doggie day care, but somewhere you will be working WITH other humans. Having mentors and learning first-hand on a daily basis from others who have experience dealing and working with various dogs in various situations is an invaluable learning experience. This will allow you to learn and grow under hopefully knowledgeable and seasoned professionals who have been in the dog field for some time.
While you are employed in some dog field, continue your education with dog training books, videos, seminars, and workshops. Focus on the science about how dogs learn, how to work with clients, dog body language, and how to teach dogs behaviors and tricks. You cannot overdo this, and you should be continuing with your education all through your career.
Volunteer at your local shelter walking dogs, interacting with dogs, and just observing their behavior. Using positive methods only, begin teaching those dogs manners, tricks, and how to play. You will need to get a ton of experience working and training various dogs in order even to be slightly qualified to become a dog training instructor.
Take your dog(s) through various dog training classes. When you have found a dog training school that you feel comfortable with, and you have taken several classes, see if they offer any kind of volunteer opportunities. Be upfront with them about your long term goals; you never know when they might have an opportunity for you. This could be your next learning experience if you can mentor with a qualified dog trainer. They may even offer apprenticeship opportunities. You should be willing to take on any kind of opportunities they offer, even if it’s taking photos or videos of their sessions with clients. Become invaluable to a good dog trainer; they can open doors for you.
Personally, I feel that an ideal situation is for a new dog trainer in the field is to work with another dog trainer and co-teach classes together. This allows the new trainer to continue to observe the seasoned trainer, and for the seasoned trainer to give regular feedback on good techniques and make suggestions for improvement.
What about dog training schools or dog training certificates? These are all fine and dandy, but do not alone qualify someone to train dogs and/or their dog parents. I consider these feathers in your education cap. They can be very beneficial, along the lines of seminars. So by all means, attend dog training schools to further your education.
New dog trainers will have reached their goals by a variety of paths. Personally, I started in a shelter environment, then volunteered at a service dog school before they hired me full time. During my three years training service dogs, I had 3-4 mentors I worked with every day. I trained dogs full time and assisted with foster dog training classes before co-teaching, then leading, the classes. After my stint training service dogs, I co-taught, then led, classes at an established dog training school while being mentored by their applied animal behaviorist on dog behavior issues. All this while reading books and going to workshops and seminars. I did not take on my first behavior case until I was 4 years in, and that was with the guidance of the applied animal behaviorist.
Working with dog parents and their dogs is not something to take lightly and not something that someone should just jump into. Lives are at stake, for both dogs and humans. Dog trainers must always consider public safety, and having to determine whether a dog is a risk to himself or to others is, unfortunately, something they must deal with on a regular basis. At the beginning of your dog training career, these cases should be referred to a more qualified professional. I am often scared for public safety when I see a new dog trainer taking these cases without the mentorship and experience I feel they should have.
I truly hope this did not discourage you, because this is a wonderful, although sometimes stressful, career. Hop on the internet, start looking for local dog businesses that are hiring for any position, and interview. Order a few Published Books dog training books and videos, and get going. Don’t forget to call your local animal shelter for volunteer opportunities. Good luck!
How old were you when you had your first family dog? Tell me in the comments.
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