How To Become a Dog Trainer: 3 Must-Take Steps

Ready to leave behind your cubicle, demanding boss, 9-to-5 hours, difficult co-workers, exhausting commute, mind-numbing/ stressful/ dissatisfying work? Dreaming instead of clickers, grateful clients, happy dogs, flexible hours, and looking forward to your workday? Sounds like dog training might be for you.

If you’re serious about being a professional dog trainer, you’ll need to set yourself up to make a living at it. Here are the three steps you need to take to become a dog trainer:

Step 1: Choose the Right School for Dog Trainers
Dog training is an unregulated industry; unlike true professional fields like medicine, law, accounting, etc., there is no official body determining whether you can be a dog trainer. But if you’re serious about a career in dog training, and you care deeply about dogs, you owe it to yourself and them to pursue the best possible education in dog training and behavior.

You probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t love dogs. A lot. And most likely you’ve had the pleasure of growing up with them. But loving and living with dogs doesn’t make a dog expert, any more than loving and living with people makes us psychologists or teachers—it takes expert training to rise beyond conventional wisdom into true expertise.

You’ll get much more enjoyment from your work and create a far greater positive impact on the lives of dogs when your love of them is backed by a scientific understanding of canine learning theory and the professional skills to put it to best use.

When you’re ready to go to dog training school, choosing the right one is paramount. An unregulated industry also means that our schools are unregulated. Determining serious schools versed in the latest scientific knowledge from those teaching long-debunked ideas about dog behavior and training can often be challenging. Additionally, good schools come in a wide array of formats, from in-person courses to online programs to university degrees—all of which have their advantages. How to decide?

Here’s a resource that can help: We keep our free Going To the Dogs career e-book updated with the most widely-respected dog training school options, with descriptions of each and links to learn more.

Step 2: Get a Dog Training Business Education
Once you’ve learned about dogs, you’ll need to begin your business education. There are few jobs available in the dog training field, so most dog trainers are obliged to start their own dog training businesses in order to do what they love for a living.

If you’re like most dog trainers, it’s a love of dogs that’s brought you here, rather than a burning entrepreneurial spirit. So if the idea of starting and running a dog training business has you drawing a blank (or, even worse, breaking out in a cold sweat), business learning is your next step.

You’ll need to know how to design your training services, what to charge for them, how to set and enforce policies that protect your income and your clients’ training progress, how to market your services to get those clients, and so forth. Don’t worry—you don’t have to be a sales, marketing, or business natural to succeed as a dog trainer. But you do need to learn the basics.

Here are some resources to help: our services and toolkits focused on Starting Your R+ Dog Training Business will help you get you up and running. If you prefer a more one-on-one handholding approach, consider personalized Business Consulting. Still just exploring? Read our book How To Run a Dog Business: Putting Your Career Where Your Heart Is.

Step 3: Create a Transition Plan
The idea of starting a dog training business may be hard to fathom if you’re working full time for a living. It’s one thing to dream about becoming a dog trainer. It’s another thing to get from here to there. How do you transition from your current job or career to training dogs for a living? Is it even possible?

That last question is easy: Yes, it is. We’ve seen dog lovers from every conceivable background make the transition—from restaurant and retail workers, to teachers and tech folks, to medical doctors and marketing execs.

The how question is a bit more complex: You need a transition plan. To be more exact, you need a transition plan personalized to your unique situation. For example, your transition plan will look different depending on how much you need to make, whether you work a job with flexible or strict hours, whether or not you’ll be able to exit your current position gradually, what kinds of additional demands you have on your time, what your support network looks like, and so forth.

The power of a transition plan is that it lays out your exact steps to reaching your goal of becoming a dog trainer, and exactly when it’s safe to take each step. Without a transition plan, most would-be dog trainers either never make it to full time, or jump too soon and find themselves in financial hot water.

If you’re serious about making your living as a dog trainer, here’s a resource to help: dogbiz Checklist for Starting Your R+ Dog Training Business provides an annotated checklist to build your personalized transition plan, or take advantage of our career consulting to have your plan created for you.

There you have it: The 3 steps to becoming a professional dog trainer. Granted, it’s not a small amount of work. But the rewards of training dogs for a living couldn’t be more worth it. We hope you agree—the dogs in your community are waiting for you!