From time to time I receive letters and emails from people who want advice on the best way to become a dog trainer. In the UK at the moment there is no single recognized qualification in dog training. And no single straightforward path for aspiring dog trainers to tread. Many if not most successful professional dog trainers have built up a clientele over a long period of time and as a result of their own prowess in one of several dog training disciplines.
It is probably fair to say, that few people are able to make a reasonable living out of dog training full time unless they are extremely successful in some kind of dog-related sport. Many dog trainers only supplement their income with dog training clients. And the recession has hit dog training quite hard presumably because many people see dog training classes as a luxury
On the positive side, dog training is huge fun, very rewarding, and it is something you can do alongside a normal job because most people want to attend dog training classes in the evenings or at weekends.
Four steps to success
There are four essential steps to becoming a dog trainer, or more specifically a dog training instructor. And they are as follows
- Train your own dog to a high standard
- Get involved in a dog training sport or activity
- Get some instructing experience
- Get some credentials
Train your own dog to a high standard
Some of the people who ask me how to get into dog training do not even own a dog. This might seem obvious, but just as you would expect someone training as a riding instructor to be able to ride a horse, a trainee dog training instructor needs to be a competent dog handler.
Your first step on the dog training ladder is to train your own dog to a high standard. Does your dog walk tidily to heel with and without a lead on? Does he sit and stay whenever and wherever you want him to. Have you taught him not to jump up at strangers, and to come back immediately whenever you call him? Do friends and strangers compliment you on how well behaved he is?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, you have a little more work to do, before you begin the next step.
You can get help with training your dog from books, from websites like this one, and from local dog training classes. Check out the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Training Scheme. When you have established a foundation of basic obedience with your dog, you then need to think about which dog training discipline you would like to become involved with.
Get involved in a dog training sport or activity
Almost all successful dog training instructors are or were successful competitors in one of the four main dog sports or disciplines: obedience competitions, agility, working trials, or field trials. Participating in a competitive sport raises your standards and challenges you in a way that little else does. You do not need to be a ‘superstar’ but you do need to demonstrate competence, and some modest success in competitions is a good way of doing so.
To get involved in one of these sports you need to join a club, and to attend some of their regular training sessions. Have a look at the articles on agility, working trials, competitive obedience, and gundog work for more information, and to find out which of these disciplines appeals to you. If you try one and don’t like it, you can always try another.
You may be restricted to a certain extent by the type of dog you own, you will for example need a gundog breed or crossbreed in order to get involved in gundog work. And some very little dogs will struggle with more demanding physical sports. Regular involvement with a Club will give you access to other like-minded people. You will be able to observe good (and in some cases bad) instructing techniques and with commitment and progress, you will eventually be able to participate in helping to train others.
Get some instructing experience
There are a number of organizations that offer training qualifications or accreditation for dog trainers and we will look at these below. But all of these organizations require that you first gain instructing experience. This can be a bit of a catch 22 situation, as you may not feel confident in taking on clients without any credentials. However, gaining some instructing experience is a vital next step in your journey
The best way to gain such experience is through your club, or by volunteering to help an experienced and reputable trainer with his or her classes. Building up your own coaching portfolio takes time, but it is essential if you wish to progress to the next level.
Get some credentials
There are basically two kinds of credentials you can acquire which will support your claim to be a competent dog training instructor.
- Membership of a reputable professional organization
- Paper qualifications and course attendance certificates
It is important that you set about gaining membership of a recognized professional organization that sets, and maintains standards for, the dog trainers on its registers. Your membership in such an organization demonstrates your professionalism and commitment to maintaining high standards of conduct and performance. It gives confidence to clients because they know that they have some recourse against you if you let them down.
Certificates saying that you have attended a course on canine behavior do not have much value in themselves. By all means, attend a course if the subject matter is of interest to you, but unless there is an examination at the end which you could potentially fail, the certificate is not very meaningful to your future clients. Some of these courses are very expensive, and it is difficult to evaluate or compare them with one another. They are not an essential part of a dog trainer’s portfolio but can be a useful addition and some may provide a genuinely valuable learning experience.
Professional membership is the most important step and there are a number of organizations that you could register with. Including the following:
Association of Pet Dog Trainers
For general obedience and pet dog training, the APDT is an important registering body. To become a member you will need to demonstrate that you meet their standards.
British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers
Another reputable organization is the BIPDT. Popular with service dog trainers (ex-police, military, etc), the BIPDT also runs training courses for dog trainers in a number of disciplines including gundog training.
The Gundog Club
Specifically for working gundog instructors, the Gundog Club maintains a register of trainers whose performance and conduct is monitored and whose instructors undertake not to use harsh methods on dogs under their instruction. The Gundog Club does not shy away from striking trainers that fail to meet standards from their register. Applicants have to demonstrate gundog handling ability and coaching experience and to supply references
The kennel club has an accredited instructor scheme that you can work through and you can find more information on their website. It is worth joining this scheme at quite an early stage in your coaching career so that you can build up your portfolio over time and as you gain experience.
Learning about dogs
This a privately owned organization that provides training and qualifications for clicker trainers. You can find out more on their website using the link above
Completing the four steps
Your journey as a dog trainer is just beginning as you complete these four steps. You will learn rapidly as you continue to train more people to train their dogs but there will always be new situations to challenge you.
Maintaining a network of contacts, especially with more experienced trainers that you can turn to for advice is essential. Knowledge and experience are key to your continued professional development together with a commitment to never stop learning. Read everything you can lay your hands on about dogs and how they learn. There is a whole world of information available to you online and in your local library.
How about you? Where have you got to in your journey? Did you find any of the above helpful, and is there anything you would like to add?