How to Become a Dog Trainer: From Certification to Apprenticeship

Updated on July 2, 2019
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James Livingood has been a dog sitter for several years. He has written numerous articles and a book about the topic because he loves dogs.

Dog waiting for command
Dog waiting for command

Becoming a Dog Trainer

There’s no feeling quite like having a companion in an animal, especially a dog. Just by looking straight into a dog’s eyes, you can feel their love emanating for you, and the feeling is always mutual. A dog is smart, intelligent, loyal, and adorable; there is no wonder why people adore them. People love dogs to such an extent that they even choose professions related to them, such as becoming a vet or a dog trainer.

Becoming a dog trainer is a very exciting and fun for those who absolutely adore dogs. Of course, training dogs isn’t so easy, but you get to have a great time getting to know the dog and the dog knowing you. It’s like finding another friend, only you build the language up as you go.

Everyone loves dogs, but many people do not have the right personality requirements to make a profession out of it. People need to be much more patient and calm because training a dog can be like training a new-born toddler or a stubborn cat who has no interest other than eating.

Certification and Knowledge of the Profession

First things first, you have to gain knowledge about the profession and get certification. Although certification is not necessarily a legal requirement, you can still contact dog-training councils for certification and extra information. For example, you can contact the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. You can choose to attend a university program on animal behavior or go to a trade school. It only proves that you’ve put extra time and effort into learning about this profession. However, coursework isn’t always necessary to get certified, you need to have some prior training experience.

You should also go around your neighborhood and talk to local dog trainers. Ask them what they do every day and how they do it. Read articles about other possible dog-training related professions. For example, you can become a military dog trainer or a dog trainer for medical purposes. You can even choose to be a dog trainer who trains dogs for the purpose of them appearing in commercials and movies.

You can even find books to read about the profession. So You Want to Become a Dog Trainer by Nicole Wilde and Coaching People to Train Their Dogs by Terry Ryan are great picks.

Dog looking at light bulb
Dog looking at light bulb

Understanding the Animal’s Mind

To be an understanding dog trainer, you need to understand the dog’s mind; how it works and functions, how the dog takes in his/her surroundings and processes it, what a dog feels when a particular thing happens (for example, their owner walking towards them to pet them), etc. You can do all this by doing some reading. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers usually recommends a list of such books which you can read.

You can also look at your own dog’s behavior and take down notes. You can even ask your dog’s vet for reading recommendations or about certain things and aspects of your dog. However, you should avoid authors who claim to know how a dog’s psyche works just because they’ve lived with a dog. You cannot gather 100% accurate information by just living with a dog. So don’t come to concrete conclusions when trying to observe your own dog unless you are one hundred percent sure. Otherwise, do a generalized research if it’s feasible.

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Apprenticeship and Volunteering

Becoming an apprentice can be difficult because there are only a few dog training programs. It is crucial that you find a qualified dog trainer willing to take you in and teach you as an apprentice. An apprentice watches and observes their teachers and takes down notes about different aspects etc. This can help the apprentice learn under the watch and care of a qualified person. Apprenticeships usually last for 6 months or a year and apprentices are either paid very low or not paid at all.

You can visit dog-training classes as well and watch the trainer teach the dogs.

You can also volunteer at any local animal shelter. You may have experience dealing with your own dog, but it is nothing like dealing with dogs of different breeds with different owners. Plus, handling a larger group of dogs can be very hard but very effective. Every dog has a different personality. It’ll be worth your while to know about every dog in the shelter. Such programs let volunteers get hands-on experience by getting them to handle and take care of the animal themselves. Volunteering also gives you an idea on what you can expect if you’ve been considering to make or join an animal-related profession.

Different breeds exhibit different behaviors. You can expect a German Shepherd dog to be a guard dog but not a Poodle or a Dachshund. You can expect a Beagle dog to always find its way home. Volunteering may help you figure out why. It may be related to the size or even the dog’s mind.

Moreover, you can become a foster home which is a shelter for dogs but also a permanent home at the same time. You can take care of dogs 24 hours a day and get to interact with a lot of different personalities and breeds. This can help you understand the animal’s psyche even more.

Dog in suit
Dog in suit

Finding a Job

After completing your apprenticeships and volunteering, look around for shelters or vets or animal hospitals hiring dog trainers. You should get references from your previous volunteer programs and former co-workers or managers to have a good resume. It’ll make potential employers be more willing to hire you. Or you can even open up your own business if you have the money for it.

Scratch a dog and you’ll find a permanent job.

— Franklin Jones

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 James Livingood


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    • dredcuan profile image

      Travel Chef 

      2 years ago from Manila

      As I grew up, I never had any dog in our family house. However, just recently, I had a chance to spend my vacation on my dad's farm. He has 5 dogs in total. In his place, I was able to learn a lot about dogs. Now, this article interests me. Thanks for sharing!


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