BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Become A Dog Trainer: Institutions, Activities & Certifications

How to Become A Dog Trainer
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Dog training is a rewarding career which enables animal lovers to combine their love of furry friends with earning a living. How to become a dog trainer is the topic that we’re going to go through in this article. If you want to train animals for a living there is a lot you need to know and different trainers are required various skill sets and qualifications.

We’re going to take a look at what professional institutions and certifications are available for dog trainers as well as some university degrees that can help along the way.

There are plenty of ways to get started, as with any career it’s important that you do your research and learn as much as you possibly can. We’re going to go through a few things you may like to consider in this article, including certifications and qualifications, internships and other ways to get exposure to the job of professional dog training.

Dog trainer with a dog

Before we jump into the nitty gritty of it all, there is one extremely important qualification that anyone who wants to be a dog trainer needs to satisfy. If you don’t love animals (especially dogs) then you’re looking at the wrong career move! If you’re an animal lover who wants to break free from your cubicle and do something truly satisfying with your life then dog training is absolutely for you.

Where to get started

The first step in any major career move is to make sure you’re as educated as you possibly can be on the subject. That means spending plenty of time reading articles like this one, reading books and accessing other forms of media to make sure you’re fully loaded before you start the process of training, certification and getting your first job.

There is loads of information available on the Internet from the various certification authorities – we will go through a few of them further down this piece. There are also some extremely good books on animal behavior that we think make a great starting place for anyone considering entering the industry. Here are four books that the Humane Society recommends reading:

Once you’ve gotten through that lot you’ll have a much better idea about the industry in general and whether or not it is going to be a good fit for you.

For internet research about your new career you can start searching for things like animal behaviorist blogs and reading the websites of your local shelters. The various branches of the Humane Society are also great resources for an aspiring trainer.

Certifications for dog trainers

There is no required qualification to be a dog trainer and people in the industry have vastly different levels of education. Many trainers undertake a lengthy apprenticeship with someone more experienced in the industry while others will go to the length of getting a graduate degree in animal behavior. When referring to themselves professionally it is generally accepted that someone going by the title of Animal Behaviorist is a graduate with an applicable bachelor’s degree.

Certification of dog trainer

The fact that the industry is so poorly regulated makes it a relatively easy one to transition into but that also comes with some downsides. If you’re not properly certified and qualified then you’re going to find yourself in a very competitive industry with no real unique selling proposition. It is certainly a good idea to get a piece of paper or two to support your talents.

Certifications and qualifications mean that trainers are able to fetch higher prices for their services and also are useful tools for potential clients to use to have confidence in the abilities of their chosen trainer. Different organizations offer different qualifications. Here are some of the better known options:

The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals:

The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (AABP) was founded as a professional association for animal behavior specialists and those in the industry as well as a body to certify animal behaviorists. Here is their list of certifications:

  • AABP-CDT: Certified Dog Trainer
  • AABP-CABC: Certified Animal Behavior Consultant
  • AABP-CDBC: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
  • AABP-CPBC: Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant
  • AABP-CCBC: Certified Cat Behavior Consultant

The Companion Animal Sciences Institute:

The Companion Animal Sciences Institute (CASI) is an educator focused on a scientifically based academic approach to pet care. They have a wide range of different certificates available in everything from herbalism to behavior science, here are a few certificates they provide:

  • Cert AAH: Applied Animal Herbalism Certificate
  • Cert ACN: Advanced Canine Nutrition Certificate
  • Cert CBST: Canine Behavior Sciences and Technology Certificate
  • Cert CF: Canine Fitness Certificate
  • Cert CN: Canine Nutrition Certificate
  • Cert DDC: Dog Daycare Certificate
  • Cert DT: Dog Training Certificate
  • Cert FBST: Feline Behavior Sciences and Technology Certificate
  • Cert PBST: Parrot Behavior Sciences and Technology Certificate
  • Cert PDTST: Professional Dog Training Science and Technology Certificate
  • Cert SRW: Shelter and Rescue Work Certificate

Various Universities

There are several schools at universities around the world that specifically offer programs and courses in the area of canine studies and dog behavior. Here are a few educators you might want to further investigate if you’re really serious about fast-tracking your career in dog training:

  • The Bergin University of Canine Studies in Northern California
  • The Cambridge Institute of Dog Behavior and Training in the United Kingdom
  • The Duke University Canine Cognition Center in North Carolina

When it comes to certification you’ve got a wide range of options and the fact that there is no specific qualification that is required to practice means you can really choose which path you want to take and go for it. As you can see from the lists above the number of different areas you can branch into as a dog trainer is extremely broad.

While it is possible to enter the industry with little or no certification or qualification, it’s not recommended. Even though it’s a pretty tight niche as industries go there is still a lot of competition and if you’re going up against qualified competition then you’re going to have a lot more luck if you are also holding an appropriate qualification.

Membership of a professional organization

These lists are by no means exhaustive and there are many other courses, many offered online, that prospective pooch trainers can take. No matter what pathway one takes to become a dog trainer membership of one of these organizations in your area is a great way to increase your exposure. These organizations also provide training and certifications for their members so it’s also a great way to upskill and keep on top of new techniques.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers is an international organization.  Membership of the APDT has huge benefits for trainers.

Benefits of membership

  • Education opportunities to upskill and certify.
  • Online searchable database of members.
  • Regular newsletters and other publications
  • Being linked to the association demonstrates you are a professional dog trainer.

The big thing about membership of an organization like this (depending on where you are there may be a more appropriate one than the global APDT) is the networking and exposure opportunities. For many people searching for a professional dog trainer they are going to go little further than a database search on an industry website. That means that if you’re not a member you won’t get the opportunity to have chances at new jobs coming straight to you.

Networking within your own industry is also a great way to get yourself “dug in” in any career. The professional organizations give you the opportunity to do that far more easily than trying to work it out on your own. You can expect to have chances to join committees, working groups and attend conferences.

All of these are great chances to extend your network and put yourself out there. Many organizations are also active in animal advocacy and legislative change; that means that depending on which one you join you might have a real opportunity to make a difference in the industry.

Doing an internship

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a local shelter or trainer who is prepared to offer an internship then this is probably your fastest way to get started. Of course if you plan to be taken seriously as a professional dog trainer you’ll also need to get some certifications and join an industry association but the most valuable thing you can do is get some real experience.

As long as you’ve got access to the Internet it isn’t difficult to find more information about what internships are available in your area. Another good place to start is to reach out to the local branch of the SPCA or Human Society in your area. These organizations do amazing work in the community and often appreciate any help they can get to do that. If you explain that you want to work as a dog trainer they may be able to take you on board as a volunteer and equip you with some of the necessary skills.

You’re not going to earn all that much while you undergo your internship but you will get loads of experience that is pretty much impossible to come by any other way. There are plenty of professional dog trainers who didn’t get any formal training outside of spending time with someone who has been doing it for a while.

Raising guide dogs

Another great community initiative that involves the training of animals is getting involved in raising guide dogs. Guide dogs for the blind loves people who help them out with raising puppies.  It’s also a great cause and a feather in your cap for when you’re a professional dog trainer down the track. Obedience training is one of the most important parts of raising a guide dog puppy. If you decide to get involved in the program you can expect to commit to the animal for about 12 months.

Dog training agility and obedience

While raising guide dogs is hugely rewarding and a whole lot of fun it is important to remember that it is not your dog and you’re going to have to part ways one day. As a dog lover it’s impossible not to form a bond with a pet over a year of watching it grow up, but when the time comes pup has a job to do.

It’s also important to remember that raising guide dogs takes a lot of your time; you need to be proactive with training them and make sure that they get exposure to a wide range of different situations from an early age.  Daily walks are not going to be enough. Our piece on how to train a service dog will provide you with insight, so do read it.

The people problem

Most people want to become dog trainers because they love animals, the problem with dog training is that animals have owners.  Pet psychology is not going to be the most important part of your day, you’re also going to have to deal with the owners of the pets themselves. Generally a dog trainer’s job is to teach people to train their own pets so if you’re not a people person then you may have to consider other options for your career.

We’re not suggesting that everyone is going to be a nightmare in the classroom but when you get large groups of people and animals in one place you do occasionally get fireworks. Dog owners can be difficult, often more difficult than the pets that you’re actually supposed to be training. It’s very important for a prospective dog trainer to be aware of this and to be prepared for conflict in the classroom.

Participate in classes

Before you really fully understand what is going to be expected of you in your new career it’s an extremely good idea to sign up with a local training school and take your dog through the obedience program. If you don’t really want to participate then if you ask politely the facilitator may not mind if sit in on a few classes so you can get a feel for things. This type of participation will also give you the opportunity to “interview” someone who is already involved in the industry and get an understanding of what a typical day is like.

Dog training classes

Talking to a local school or training center is also a fantastic way to get in with a shot at an internship. Most businesses will be happy to take on a free assistant for a few weeks and show you the ropes.  That means that you will get the opportunity to really understand what goes on behind the scenes and get some good ideas for your own future.

Ask for help from friends

Once you’ve read up on what is required, researched the relevant certifications and done a bit of time at a local institution learning the ropes of how to run an obedience class it is a really good idea to reach out in your local community. Ask your friends and neighbors if they’d mind coming over on a Saturday afternoon with their dogs so you can run a simulated class. The more experience you can get early on the more prepared you will be when it comes time to go out on your own.

As a part of this process of moving into the career it’s also going to be important that you are comfortable dealing with groups of dogs of varying breeds, temperaments and sizes. Why not offer to walk a few dogs for your friends and neighbors once a week? You can even begin a dog walking career on the side, and our article on that subject is very rewarding.

A career in dog training

Dog training is a hugely rewarding career and it is one that can take you a long way if you do it right (just ask Ceasar Milan). Deciding if it is for you is not an easy decision, as with any career change you’ll likely find yourself starting at the bottom of the ladder. There are many people who have hugely fulfilling and enjoyable (not necessarily financially successful) careers in animal behavior but if you are an animal lover who is looking more for job satisfaction than you are for the big bucks it can be a great choice.

Dog training private lessions

As with any career choice, one you’re properly qualified the next thing you need to do is set yourself apart. Get to work on learning the ins and outs of every facet of the industry and become the best you can be within it. You can read on our topic on personal protection dog training to give you more options on  your career. Dog training is an area that is ever changing as new techniques, products and approaches are field tested and proven. So don’t think that the learning stops just because you’re in. To make a career out of this you’re going to have to be constantly learning.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Natalie Barton

    I wanted to be an animal trainer when I was very young. In retrospect, I’d have spent more time petting the animals than training them! Well this was a pretty informative read on my once-prospective career nonetheless.

    • John Walton

      You are very welcome, Natalie. Rekindling an old-time passion is not a bad thing to do! This can be a very productive and worthwhile career for you.

  • Betsy Johnson

    My nephew just graduated from High School and would love to become a professional dog trainer. He’s a good kid and loves animals. Would he need an undergrad in Animal Behavior? My vet once told me that aside from a good degree, there should be lots of hands-on training involved. You must also be a good teacher/trainer not only to the dogs but to the owners as well.

    I think more than anything, dog owners have a lot of behavioral issues that must be addressed. You’re not just training the dog, if you know what I mean. An excellent dog trainer must also show owners that their cooperation is needed — and yes, it takes a lot of hard work!

    • John Walton

      He already got the foundation that he loves animals. He can hone this passion into something more productive and worthwhile by immersing himself into trainings and courses that can help him develop this skill to teach dogs and educate pet parents.

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