How to Start a Career in Dog Training

How to Start a Career in Dog Training

Postby chelynnah » Tue Dec 09, 2008 7:24 pm

From: OldCapeCod (Original Message) Sent: 06/09/2006 02:57
I'm thinking about getting certified as a dog trainer. I can't stand the thought of working in a corporate environment until I retire.

Can anybody give me information about if it's hard to find work when you are newly certified (or thereafter), what pay to expect if you work for someone else (or yourself), etc. Feel free to pm me.


From: Chinabound98 Sent: 06/09/2006 03:54
Hi Lynn,

I can offer the "expert opinion" as one who has been there, done that! I currently work full time as a dog trainer, fully supporting myself and my dogs as a single-income household. It's not what I went to school for! I have a degree in Journalism and worked professionally in public relations for six years before "going to the dogs."

Here's what I can tell you. Dog trainers are a dime a dozen. There are as many, if not more BAD ones out there as there are good ones. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, certified or not. Certification means very little. There are very few groups that "certify" dog trainers. The Assocaition of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) is one of them. Most organizations offer "certificates" that mean little more than a person completed their training program.

Even the APDT certification program only certifies that the person passed a test and met the requirements to be eligible for the test.

In my opnion, the best way to become a dog trainer is to find one whom you really admire and whose techniques you respect and wouldn't hesitate to practice on your own dogs. Become an apprentice with this person. Assist in their group classes and observe their private lessons. At the same time, read everything you can get your hands on and go to as many seminars as you can afford. There's a TON of great info out there. You've got to be willing to seek it out and take it in. Many times, your ability to help the dog is a life or death situation for the dog. Your help fails and the dog is put down.

Very few trainers I know can swing training full time as their only income. The ones who do are usually in two income households. Everyone else holds at least a part time "day job" and does training at night. It's a career you choose b/c you love dogs and enjoy working with people.... NOT because you want to get rich. I'm lucky -- I presently pay all my bills and support myself on training alone -- BUT, I rent a small apartment, hardly ever go out and don't have high expenses over my head. My training partner works full time as a dog trainer, but is married. If she didn't have her husband's income, she'd definitely have to scale down her lifestyle.

What you make depends in large part on how good you are. Word of mouth referral is an absolute MUST. Knock on wood, we are blessed to have great word-of-mouth. We do zero commercial advertising and fill approximately 10-12 classes a week. Right now, I make slightly less than what I was making when I left non-profit PR. I make about $40,000 a year and I work my ASS OFF to make that! It's nothing for me to work a 12-14 hour day. Dog training doesn't pay enough to hire office staff, so I return all my own phone calls, do all my own data entry, run errands to buy supplies, etc. in between trying to be out of the office training dogs. I work weekends and evenings. I sometimes spend more time with other peoples dogs than with my own.

Around here (Los Angeles) private training goes for anywhere between $40-$150 an hour. A six-week session of group classes runs anywhere from $65-$150.

Then there's the emotional aspect of it. It kills me to see a great dog with a lousy family. It kills me to see a scary dog with a great family. Sometimes I have to tell a family who loves their dog to death to return it to the shelter or rescue, or worse, that it needs to be put down for the safety of the family and b/c of quality of life issues for the dog.

Dog training "schools" are a dime a dozen, too. Definitely check out APDT. It's a great resource and is a clearinghouse of information for people who choose to train with positive, reward-based methods. Training with fear and intimidation (choke chains, alpha rolls, etc.) are a thing of the past and studies have proven over and over again that they do little to modify behavior and make most behavior problems worse, while ruining the relationship with the dog. Avoid any mentors who train with these methods.

A few books to get you started:

Anything by Pat Miller or Patricia McConnell
Ex-Celerated Learning by Pam Reid
Anything by Jean Donaldson
How to Speak Dog (forget who it's by)
On Talking Terms with Dogs by Turid Ruggas
Anythng by Suzanne Clothier
(All can be found at

Other great minds to see in seminars, etc.:

Pia Silvani
Kathy Sdao
John Rogerson
Brenda Alloff
Sue Sternberg

As for some "good" dog training schools, The San Francisco SPCA has two different programs. One is 7 days and the other is a month. They are considered to be like the Harvard of dog training schools. Cynology College has an online diploma program that's a great place to start. Check them out at

I try and do 2-3 seminars a year and read anything new that comes out.

Get your hands on as many dogs as you can. Volunteering at a shelter is a great way to do this. The dogs teach you the most, but you need a foundation of book knowledge to "understand" the messages they're giving you.

Hope this helps. Feel free to email me either here or directly at stephanie @ if you have specific questions. I've been doing this full time now for nearly five years. I LOVE the work, but HATE the schedule. But I love the work more, so it's still okay.

J9's K9s Dog Training

From: patchnmike Sent: 06/09/2006 04:21
Stephanie...what a great reply you posted. It was informative to the max and was very generous of you to spend the time to give Lynn and all of us this info. It made me want to be a dog trainer! I hope your reply will be archived.

From: pixelwhips Sent: 06/09/2006 04:28
I second that, Jini!


From: OldCapeCod Sent: 06/09/2006 14:11
Thank you so much, Stephanie, for that indepth reply. I'll look quickly at the sites you posted (I'm at work now). Have you heard of, or what do you think of ABC (Animal Behavior College)? You can post privately if necessary. They told me the average income was $40K unless you have add-on services (doggy day care, dog walking, etc.). They said you could bring it up to $50-$100K. I really need $50 to make my bills. I suppose working nights and weekends to start, until a business is built. I'd love to find a partner to do this with.

I do not care about getting rich. I do need to be able to cover my expenses though. The only time I think it's unfortunate that I'm single is when I wish I lived in a 2-income household. Then again, many women correct me when I mention it, saying that some men also spend the money faster than it comes in.

I'm not sure how life brought me into the corporate environment (about 2 decades now), but I've never belonged there and will never be really happy. At night & on weekends, all I want to do is stay home with the animals or do doggy-related things. My friends get angry with me, because I never want to do things with them. When I go anywhere, the dogs are with me. I think I'd LOVE that lifestyle. When I was young I went to dog grooming school, but my then husband up & quit work and went to grooming school himself, during the day while I worked days and went to school nights & Saturdays. Because he got into the field, I had to stay at my secretarial job for the insurance money (another issue I am concerned about now). Anyway, I never got to work in the field. I did get rid of the selfish husband, thank God. So, I can either go through life working at jobs that make me unhappy, or I can figure out to make this work, one way or the other. I'll print out the info you gave me and read it during lunch. I'd so LOVE to make this happen.

I noticed you didn't have Karen Pryor on the list. I do love clicker training. I never took a class, but a friend (Leslie Nelson of Paws-U-Win training center, use to give me tidbits to work with whenever I saw her at lure coursing. She's 2 states away from me though. There are no training centers in the area I live in. The closest one (it's teeny) I found was 30 minutes away, and that's the only one I found on the Cape. Maybe I could rent a hall at a grange or something once I got enough clients.? My yard is big, but that would be seasonal, and I don't know if I could get a business license for dog training. Then again, I'm jumping the gun here. I'm excited though. I wish I could get my best friend to learn with me. She's interested, but won't take the plunge.


From: OldCapeCod Sent: 06/09/2006 16:29
I just did a quick peek at your website, Stephanie. One thing that stands out in the photos, is the pride on everybody's face! I'm very impressed! I printed out the info for I just need to find out the difference between Canadian & American dollars. I had been in touch with ABC, and I'll continue to check out both schools. I just have to be positive about making this happen. I'm really impressed by your training center. You have some nice ideas too (the Friday Night get togethers, the nature walks). Have you been in the business long?

I haven't checked out APDT yet, but will.

Take care,

From: Chinabound98 Sent: 06/09/2006 21:41
Thanks for the compliments on the website! The owner, Janine, (the J-Nine in the J9's K9s) started the business about 8 years ago. I came on board in 2000 as a student, started teaching part time in 2001 and by 2002, had left the 9-5 and was teaching a couple nights a week and doing freelance writing on the side. By 2003 I was training dogs full time. I didn't make the $40,000 off the bat, but worked up to that over the three years.

Janine originally offered Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced classes. When I came on board, I added a puppy class and started doing Street Smarts (meeting w/ students in a different urban location each week), Wilderness Walks and the Friday Night Fidos classes. I've since added all sorts of field trips, a training scavenger hunt, a retrieve clinic, etc. We also worked together to add agility classes and a short, 4-week class of nothing but come when called exercises. What I love best about our business is that students train with us for YEARS! Not only is it good for us financially, but more than that, it means that we're getting it right in terms of showing people that training can be FUN! It's nothing for a student to repeat the Advanced class 20 times. The curriculum always changes (we let the students in each class tell us what they want to work on and we design the class based on their input) so people come to class every Thursday to have "date night" with the dog!

I've always thought that being in LA allowed us to charge what we do for classes. What would your local market tolorate?

Right now, we're talking about wanting to expand and bring in another couple trainers so that we can concentrate on teaching privately during the day and have a couple nights a week off and let others teach for us at night. It's really, really, REALLY hard to find trainers that we trust enough, but then, we're both control freaks, so that's a big part of it. I'm trying to expand my peice of the business to include hosting educational seminars for trainers. I'm co-hosting my first one in Oct. We're bringing John Rogerson in to do a three day biathlon training seminar.

I tried dog walking for a while, but I felt too strongly that the dogs should be walked apart rather than together, so since I'd only walk one dog at a time, it never made any money. I'm not a huge fan of dog day cares, since I think they're little more than indoor dog parks, so that idea never appealed to me. Although, I did loosely contemplate doing a dog day care that was more like a daily board and train, where the dog would stay at the facility for the day for training, but would have very limited interactions with other dogs.

Board and Train does make good money, but you have to be set up properly at home to pull it off.

J9's K9s is currently in the position of being on the verge of jumping from a small mom-n-pop type training business to a larger scale operation. The growing pains totally suck!

If you join APDT, one of the perks is joining their Yahoo group. I see postings from members across the country who are first starting out and trying to fill classes. It's really slow going in the beginning.

I don't know much about ABC, but I can ask around. I'm lucky to have access to many minds I respect in the area. And yes, please add Karen Pryor to my list of must-reads/follow, etc. Speaking of Karen Pryor, Clicker Expo is one of the seminars I'm going to. It's in my backyard here in LA in Jan!!!


From: Chinabound98 Sent: 06/09/2006 21:44
BTW - a couple more "down sides" to consider....

Insurance is definitely one of them. Paying your own health insurance SUCKS!

No paid time off. Ever. Period. You work, you get paid. You don't work, you don't get paid. Plus, it's very hard to schedule time off b/c you always have a class going on somewhere.

I often miss the days of two weeks paid vacation... or paid sick days!


From: OldCapeCod Sent: 07/09/2006 14:33
Stephanie, I'm sure I'm not the only one that appreciates the time you've spend in sharing your experiences and insight. One of the main issues I'm struggling with is that I wouldn't be able to take Bartlett racing if I go into this field (unless I can get someone else to take him). I want him to be happy, and I want his breeder to be glad she entrusted him to me. The fact that I want to race him (and that I'll love him to pieces) is the reason she placed him with me.

The other issue is the insurance. I turned 50 this summer and pieces of me may fall apart :)

I'm wondering if I should just study like crazy (as you suggested), learning what I can, and maybe I can find a center that would let me volunteer somehow in exchange for the education I would get. I went to the library last night and got a book called Understanding your Dog. So far I'm really enjoying it. I put a hold on a couple of Karen Pryor's books. I'm on the train 2 hrs. each day, so I have plenty of time for reading/studying.

Take care, Stephanie. You're the greatest!!!

From: Chinabound98 Sent: 07/09/2006 18:30
You're definitely going to work at least half of the weekend as a dog trainer. We tend to work when everyone else has their time off so that they can bring their dogs to us!

I'm at a point now where I tell cients I don't work on Sundays. Period. That's the only day I have to be out competing with my own dogs. I only have two dogs, but between the two of them, I dabble in NINE different sports! Now that my Golden is competing in agility, hunt test work and dock jumpng and Zoie the Whippet is in obedience and Rally, it seems we always miss something each weekend b/c I'm working on Sunday. I hate that I can only do 1 of 2 days on a weekend of coursing, with the rare exception of when I manage to get another trainer friend to cover for me in a class. When I bring my Golden out in obedience, I want to campaign him a lot, so my goal is to have a training apprentice that I can bring up to teach for me on Saturdays. Right now my choices are don't hold classes and go to the shows ---------- and don't make money because of it ----------- or run the classes and only show on Sundays. I want to campaign my Golden to a UDX in obedience and a MACH in agility. That's going to take some serious showing. I'd love to get Zoie's Master Hunter. We're 1/2 way there. She has two obedience CDs and I want to get a UKC CD. We also need two more Rally Excellent legs. So many shows, so little time!

I suggest you start reading. I got into this when I took Zoie to her first obedience class. I ended up apprenticing under and now working with Janine at J9's K9s. Take Bartlett to that puppy kindergarden class and if you really like them, stay involved in classes and see if you can become a volunteer. Who knows where it will take you.


From: OldCapeCod Sent: 07/09/2006 20:17
I've come to expect great advice here, and, again, I wasn't disappointed.

Hannah finished her ASFA f.Ch, but became gravely ill around 3 yrs. of age, and I retired her. For the past couple of months, her joints have not swollen up. I no longer bring the baby stroller along for walks in case she can't make it back (though I think she rather enjoyed being carried along like a queen). My point being, that I don't know if I should let her run. It may be worth it, because she'd LOVE it!

The general consensus is that PK is great for the pups, so I guess I should give it a go with Bartlett. He's such a live wire right now, he may embarrass me. The books all say to ignore or walk away from them when they are doing something you don't like (unless you must to stop them). It's kind of hard to do that when we are out walking and he's hanging off my shoe laces or tug-of-warring with my sock. Mostly I just keep giving him acceptable chew toys to refocus him on something acceptable. He does seem to be quick at learning with the clicker. As much of a handful as he is, I could eat him up, hence, the catch phrase "Get in my belly!" I'm sorry, I keep going on about him (and Hannah), but I know you all are just as crazy about your precious Whippets!


From: Chinabound98 Sent: 08/09/2006 19:05
I almost forgot... 'cuz I try to block it out... but the reality is that perhaps THE hardest thing about being a dog trainer is when your client loses a dog... especially when they lose them young. You get so attached to everyone's dogs. Twice this month, I've had clients lose dogs that I've done a LOT of work with. First it was a Border Collie that just moved to TN. with the family and within two months, they woke up and found her dead in the laundry room. An autopsy revealed she died from anaphalactic (sp?) shock from a suspected spider bite. She was four. Just this morning, I got a call from a client who he and his wife bring their two Pugs to class all the time. They lost one last night. She was allergic to bees and ate two of them. They were prepared with the at-home injections and took her to the ER vet. She was doing well by 1am but by 4am, her heartrate slowed and they lost her. She, too, was only four.

Hug your dogs.


From: nascarjem Sent: 09/09/2006 00:46
I for one love to hear about Bartlett and see all the pictures. It is bringing back a lot of memories of raising a puppy. One whippet puppy I had enjoyed walking along nicely with me and then all of a sudden would begin jumping straight in the air maybe about four feet high. He was about nine weeks old at the time. One evening while we were on a walk, he jumped and somehow twisted his body in midair. He ended up landing on his side on the pavement. I thought for sure he was going to be dead after coming down so hard, but fortunately he just had the wind knocked out of him. I carried him home just to be safe, but he was ready to race around the yard as soon as we got there. The jumping faded away over time, thankfully.

I got started in training through some friends who belonged to the local training club. They also had a friend who taught classes at the humane society. I took a class from the gal at the humane society and then she asked me to assist with her next class. I did that, and the following year became a member of the training club. I was training an Afghan hound and working towards a CD. I assisted classes at the training club for different instructors. I found it was good to assist under different instructors as I was able to learn different techniques and then decide which ones I wanted to incorporate into my style. I taught my first class and looking back on that experience, I know I wasn't ready to take that plunge at the time. I thought I knew it all (had just come off earning that CD so I figured I must be a great trainer) and found out there was so much I didn't know. I could train my own dogs, but didn't have the skills to teach other people who to train their dogs. It was several years before I ventured back into the middle of the ring as the instructor. Even then, I made sure one of my assistants was an experience instructor.

Having assisted many classes and taught a couple as well, I can tell you a lot of people come in with the fear their dogs are going to embarrass them. A lot of times, those dogs end up being the stars of the class. Just relax and remember these are puppies. Enjoy their antics and utter cuteness. At the same time, they are sponges and soak up everything you teach them. Puppyhood will be over way too quick!
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