There are a number of ways you can gain the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to succeed professionally as a dog trainer. Today, we’ll talk about a few of those options. A combination of the following approaches will help you establish yourself as a behavior professional.
- Volunteering – volunteering is a great way to gain experience working with a wide variety of breeds and on a wide variety of behavior issues. Rescues and shelters generally welcome volunteers, and having someone on hand to teach a homeless dog how to sit, shake, and walk politely on a loose leash will make the dog imminently more adoptable. You will be more likely to get positions directly training the animals if you make an effort to educate yourself first.
- Independent study – take initiative! Books, videos, seminars, and conferences are your friends. Learn as much as you can about both traditional and modern training techniques, animal behavior in general and dog behavior in particular, and behavioral science.
- Practice! – make a list of behaviors you’d like to train your dog to do and get to work!
- Apprenticeship – having an experienced training mentor can be an invaluable resource to a new (and even an established) trainer. Many mentor trainers will require that you attend a number of classes (for which you will pay) as a student first with your own dog. Your mentor may also require that you attend classes without your dog simply to observe. Once you have trained your own dog to an advanced level, you may then be asked to assist in classes. After you have assisted in a number of classes, you may be offered the opportunity to teach your own basic level, and eventually advanced level, classes. Throughout your apprenticeship, you may be asked to help out with other business-related tasks including responding to phone calls or emails, running errands, cleaning the classroom, assisting in private lessons, or updating the calendar of events. Apprenticeship will take at least one year and sometimes multiple years.
- Vocational education – there are a number of schools specializing in educating dog trainers. Some schools focus on a particular technique (shock collar training, clicker training, etc.), others on a particular specialty (agility, training dogs for service work, etc.), and some offer education on a variety of methods or aspects of canine behavior modification. Some schools require an instructor oversee your direct work with animals and may require that you travel to a campus or facility and others are exclusively online. The Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior, Pat Miller’s program at Peaceable Paws, Companion Animal Sciences Institute and The Instructor Training Course from Dogs of Course are great vocational schools which specialize in educating trainers in modern, dog-friendly, and effective training methods.
- College or university – if you would like to specialize in work with a variety of species or animals with severe behavior problems, you may consider pursuing advanced degrees in behavioral sciences. Because dog training is an unregulated industry, anyone can call themselves a behaviorist, but most in the industry of animal behavior and training only recognize those with Master’s and/or Doctorate degrees in behavior to be behaviorists; these are the only individuals that can obtain the title of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB).