How to become a dog trainer

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Dog trainer with large dog

What could be better than coming home from a long day at work and relaxing with your faithful companion? Well, what if you got to spend your life working with animals all day long?

 Some dog trainers help dogs and their owners overcome problems, while others train our four-legged friends to do all manner of useful things like helping blind people keep their independence.

 In this article, we explore the up sides, the down sides – and take a look at the related role of dog behaviourist.

‘Want to spend your working life helping dogs and their owners? Here’s how you can become a dog trainer’

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What is a dog trainer?

Guide dog with owner

Assistance dogs are just one kind of dog which need to be

trained

You won’t be surprised to hear that dog trainers train dogs to do things, either on behalf of their owners. Assistance dog trainers work for an organisation which trains assistance dogs such as guide dogs blind people. Dog trainers also work in theemergency services or military.

However, it might surprise you to learn that many trainers instruct dogs’ human owners as well. These guys are known as dog training instructors, and their role is to teach dog owners the techniques and approaches they need to train their furry friends.

A related job is that of dog behaviourist. Dog behaviourists are highly qualified professionals who attempt to get to the bottom of strange (i.e. weirder-than-normal) canine behaviour and change this behaviour by tackling the root cause. Dog trainer don’t usually treat behaviour disorders.

What does a dog trainer do?

Dog trainers and dog training instructors:

  • Train dogs to do simple and advanced tasks, from waiting, sitting and fetching, to emptying the washing machine, walking backwards, marching or leg weaving.
  • Hold classes to teach dog owners how to train their animals.
  • Visit dogs at home and work with them and their owners on a one-to-one basis.

Dog behaviourists observe abnormal behaviour, such as excessive barking, and try to work out what is causing the dog to behave in this way. Instead of treating the symptom, which in this case is the barking, they use their extensive knowledge of dog behaviour to diagnose the cause, which may be stress or anxiety, for example.

Is it for me?

Dirty dog

Dogs are not known for their cleanliness - so expect to get

muddy, cold and wet

As dog trainer and behaviourist Denise Nuttall says, “it is not a glamorous job”. It can be dirty, with outdoor work in all weathers required at times. It can be challenging and even upsetting to work with some animals.

On the other hand, there are plenty of up sides. You get to spend much of your working life working directly with dogs and their owners. You will help animals to overcome their problems, grow in confidence and become more content, and give their owners peace-of-mind.

For these reasons, it can be enjoyable and extremely rewarding at times. For many dog lovers, it can be the perfect job.

What skills do I need?

Dog trainers need a range of skills to enable them to work with dogs and their owners:

  • People skills: You need to be able to strike up a rapport with dog owners from all walks of life. You could be helping them through very difficult times, and must be able to offer advice and criticism in a constructive, non-threatening way.
  • Communication skills: Not only do you need to be able to communicate extremely well with dogs, you must be able to get messages across firmly and clearly to their owners, as they will often have to change their own behaviour or carry out your instructions on their own.
  • Patience: You will need to persevere with dogs and dog owners at times, and you need to be able to do it in a cool, calm way.
  • Love of animals: Maybe this goes without saying, but as a dog trainer, you will spend much of your life working directly with animals. That means it’s only for the passionate.

What qualifications do I need?

Online study
You could study remotely for a qualification in dog training

You don’t need any formal qualifications to become a dog trainer or dog training instructor. You don’t need any specific school subjects. As always, good GCSEs in maths, English and science will give you the basic knowledge and skills to carry out important tasks associated with any job. The more highly qualified you are, the more scope you will have for progression later on – as well as having a fall-back option if things don’t work out as you planned.

In theory, this means you could start up your own practice without any experience whatsoever. However, we’d recommend that you take an accredited course in dog training. A basic qualification you could study towards would be a level 3 certificate in “principles of dog training and behaviour”. There are many providers who offer this course, and you can find them by searching Google.

We would recommend that you get some experience to back up your qualification – ideally, before you undertake it, so you can decide whether this is the right career path for you. You should contact any dog training practitioners near you or, failing that, a kennels or vet’s practice. You could also find out about voluntary or work experience placements with organisations and charities such as Guide Dogs, the PDSA, RSPCA or Blue Cross.

If you are interested in becoming a dog behaviouristyou will need to do a degree in animal behaviour or a similar discipline, as well as gaining experience.

How to become a dog trainer

An action plan for becoming a dog trainer might look like this:

  1. Study for GCSEs and A-levels/equivalent. Consider taking biology as this might help with any future medical specialism you decide to pursue.
  2. While you are studying, gain work experience with a dog trainer, kennels, vet, or an organisation like those listed above.
  3. Dog trainer: Take an accredited course in a subject such as “principles of dog training and behaviour”. Alternatively, train to be an assistance dog trainer with an organisation such as Guide Dogs, or a military dog trainer.
  4. Dog behaviourist: Take a degree in animal behaviour or a similar subject.

How much does a dog trainer earn?

The typical salary of an experienced dog trainer is around £20,000.

An experienced dog behaviourist can expect to earn about £25,000.

You can earn much more with experience. Many dog trainers and dog behaviourists choose to be self-employed and run their own business, which means earnings can change. 

If you like the sound of working with our furry friends, check out our post about jobs with animals.

Image credits

Lead image via Pxhere, Guide dog via Wikimedia Commons, Muddy dog by normanack via Flickr, Studying online via Pexels

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