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How to Become a Dog Trainer

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Although no specific education is required to become a dog trainer, completing a short program at a vocational school can help you learn proven skills to effectively teach dogs and their owners. Plus, online program options make it easy and convenient to learn. Earning the right credentials and certification assures dog owners that you follow industry-recognized standards and guidelines. This can lead to diverse opportunities and the potential to make good money by working for yourself.

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Education & Training

Most dog training programs can be completed in a short timeframe. You can find a variety of program options, both on-campus and online. And the skills you develop can significantly boost your marketability and prepare you for widely recognized professional certification.

Length of Training

Many dog training programs can be completed in under a year. Some programs are as short as eight weeks.**

Most Common Length of School**
(range in months)

  • Dog walker
    None
  • Animal caretaker
    None
  • Dog trainer
    2-12
  • Veterinary technician
    24-48
  • Animal control officer
    48

Program Options

Most programs that can teach you to become a certified dog trainer lead to a certificate. (Keep in mind that a certificate is awarded by an educational institution and shows that you've completed a set of course requirements. That's different than certification, which is awarded by a professional organization and demonstrates you've acquired certain skills in your field.)

You may be able to find dog training schools near you, and online program options are also available. Many programs include apprenticeships, in which you get to work in person with an experienced trainer. This is a great way to see the training techniques that you've studied in action. After all, nothing beats working closely with real dogs.

You won't find many bachelor's degree programs specifically in dog training. But some related programs can give you valuable insight into dogs and help advance your career. Helpful bachelor's degree programs include:

  • Animal behavior
  • Animal science
  • Psychology (including both animal and human psychology since trainers must also be skilled at working with dogs' owners)


Typical Courses

Classes often cover topics such as:

  • History of the career
  • How animals learn
  • Canine behavior
  • Animal nutrition and caregiving
  • Curriculum development and instructional skills
  • Working with humans
  • Business development
  • Ethical considerations
  • Dog first aid

Skills You Can Learn

Woman kneeling down in a park and holding her index finger up to a yellow Labrador Retriever that has one paw on her kneeWhile learning how to become a professional dog trainer, you'll work on skills like:

  • Teaching dogs how to respond to commands
  • Assessing a dog's mood and learning style
  • Helping dogs learn how to support people who have disabilities
  • Training dogs (and their owners) for dog shows and competitions
  • Helping dog owners develop good relationships with their pets
  • Finding clients and running a successful business
  • Helping dogs socialize safely with other dogs

Plus, if you're interested in a specialization that helps people with disabilities, vocational schools can provide you with the foundation to become a service dog trainer. Or if you have an interest in law enforcement, you could potentially learn how to become a police dog trainer and contribute to the safety and efficacy of some of our most vital first responders.

Certification

Certification is not required to work as a dog trainer. But the process of becoming a certified dog trainer can:

  • Help you learn more about dog training.
  • Ensure that you are up to date on the latest theories and techniques.
  • Help you market your dog training services (since potential clients like to know that a dog trainer has met certain industry-recognized standards).
  • Show dog owners that you are a professional committed to providing the best classes possible and that your training follows established ethical guidelines.

Plus, if you want to advance in your career, it's important to stay on top of your continuing education. Becoming certified connects you to resources and networks that can keep you up to date.

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) is the most recognized certifying organization. To become certified through the CCPDT, you must first qualify to take a certification exam. For the first level of certification, you need to have at least 300 hours of dog training experience.

Education & Training FAQs

How long does it take to become a certified dog trainer?

Smiling man in jeans and a blue T-shirt kneeling down and petting a Bulldog on an outdoor walking pathIt will depend on which type of certification you choose to pursue. For example, to earn the lowest level of CCPDT certification, you need to acquire at least 300 hours of cumulative experience within three years and pass a multiple-choice exam. To become certified at the expert level, you'll need to earn the basic certification and take an additional exam that lasts about three weeks.

Do I need to complete an apprenticeship?

No, an apprenticeship is not required to become a dog trainer. However, for specialized dog training in vocational areas like law enforcement, search and rescue, and service/therapy, an apprenticeship or certain amount of work experience is often required. During that time, you can learn the fascinating specifics of the area you're training in, and practice key techniques for the job.


Penn Foster College


Online & Distance Learning
  • Dog Obedience Trainer/Instructor

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Ashworth College

  • Online
  • Dog Obedience Trainer

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Career Information

Dog trainers teach dogs how to become obedient and well-behaved members of their families and communities. Training dogs is a job that can range from working with a family to teach a new puppy basic rules of behavior, to teaching a dog to become a working companion for a person with a disability, to preparing a dog and her owner for an agility competition.

Career Snapshot

Career Outlook*
13% growth from 2018 to 2028

Median Hourly Wage
Animal Trainers

Job Openings*
Average Yearly Openings

Length of Training
Most Common Length

Work Settings

Specializations

Special needs, law enforcement, behavioral issues, coaching

  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Dog Trainer Earnings

According to the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, animal trainers (including dog trainers) earn a median hourly wage of $14.63. The top earners in this occupation make more than $59,110 per year.

Keep in mind that many dog trainers are self-employed. So they can set their own rates based on market demand for their services. In fact, some dog trainers charge up to $400 for a private class. But you need to have an excellent reputation and plenty of experience to work up to those rates.

Median Hourly Wage Comparison

Job Openings & Outlook

Jobs for animal trainers (a category that includes dog trainers) are predicted to increase in number by 13 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Based on projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 590 new jobs are expected to be created each year during this time. Roughly 2,700 job openings will be due to retirements. And another 4,300 openings will come about because of people changing occupations. In total, an average of nearly 7,600 job openings could become available for animal trainers each year.

What's behind the rise in job openings? One factor is that more people are getting a dog. According to a 2019-2020 survey by the American Pet Products Association, more than 63 million households own a dog. That's up from 60 million households just one year before.

Key Benefits

  1. The chance to be your own boss: About 43 percent of animal trainers are self-employed.
  2. Opportunities to stay physically active: Dog training is a good career for anyone who doesn't want to sit at a desk all day.
  3. Having the best co-workers (dogs!): You can't beat the day-to-day companionship of puppies and adult dogs who are always happy to see you.

What a Dog Trainer Does

Two bowls of dog food next to chewy, squeaky, and other kinds of dog toys Depending on his or her focus, a dog training professional typically:

  • Teaches dogs obedience training
  • Works to improve dogs' behavior
  • Organizes classes for either individuals or groups of dogs and their owners
  • Teaches owners how to work with their dogs
  • Advertises classes and manages the business end (if self-employed)
  • Trains dogs in special areas, such as:
    • Agility
    • Tricks
    • Competition behavior
    • Service, such as how to become a "working dog" for a person with a disability

Work Settings

Dog trainers can work in a variety of settings, depending on their employer and specialization. As a dog trainer, you could teach lessons at:

  • Training facilities
  • Parks
  • Dog kennels
  • Animal shelters
  • Clients' homes

Specializations

A leashed German Shepherd with its tongue hanging out wearing a police badge on its collarDog trainers can pursue a few different specializations, including:

  • Special needs: Teaching guide dogs how to support people who are blind or have disabilities that affect their mobility.
  • Law enforcement: Training police dogs as a K9 handler. (If you want to work within a law enforcement agency, you may also be required to become a police officer. But it's often possible for civilians to train police dogs.)
  • Behavioral issues: The difference between a dog trainer and a canine behaviorist is that a behaviorist focuses exclusively on correcting problem behaviors.
  • Coaching: Training dogs for competitions and shows, as well as teaching owners how to handle their dogs at these events.

Career FAQs

Can I work as a dog trainer without going to school?

You don't need a license to train dogs, and certification isn't required. So it's definitely possible to become a trainer without completing a formal training program. However, dog owners want to make sure they are making a smart investment when they sign their dogs up for training. So having solid credentials and recognized certifications can help you attract clients or find a job.

Formal programs can also help you learn how to work with diverse dog breeds and temperaments. You may have done an excellent job of training your own dogs, but as a professional trainer, you need to be able to adapt to all kinds of different breeds and personalities. A dog training program can help you do just that.

Can dog trainers train other animals?

Most animal trainers focus on one species. Dog trainers are the most common type of animal trainer, but other trainers focus on horses, marine mammals, or even exotic animals like tigers. (To become an exotic animal trainer, you generally need a bachelor's degree in a subject like animal science or animal psychology.)


* Employment growth and job opening numbers are based on BLS projections for animal trainers, a broader category that includes dog trainers.

** Length of training information is based on a combination of information from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Department of Education, and a wide sampling of relevant program lengths from about 30 individual school websites. They are a mix of public, private non-profit, and private for-profit institutions.