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.
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 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)
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
While 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 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?
It 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.
Dog Training Schools
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.
Dog Trainer Earnings
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), animal trainers (including dog trainers) earn a median hourly wage of $15.04.** The top earners in this occupation make more than $58,790 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.
Job Openings & Outlook
Jobs for animal trainers (a category that includes dog trainers) are predicted to increase in number by 27 percent from 2021 to 2031.**
Based on projections from the OOH, 80,900 job openings are expected to be created each year during this time for animal care and service workers (including animal trainers).**
What's behind the rise in job openings? One factor is that more people are getting a dog. According to a 2023-2024 survey by the American Pet Products Association, more than 65 million households own a dog. That's up from 63 million households just three years before.
- The chance to be your own boss: About 36 percent of animal trainers are self-employed.**
- Opportunities to stay physically active: Dog training is a good career for anyone who doesn't want to sit at a desk all day.
- 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
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:
- Competition behavior
- Service, such as how to become a "working dog" for a person with a disability
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
- Dog kennels
- Animal shelters
- Clients' homes
Dog 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.
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.)
* Length of training information is based on July 2020 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.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook (visited July 19, 2023).