Hey guys! Dog training is a fast-growing career field, and for good reason. More than ever, pets are becoming kids for people, and as Earth’s population grows, there are more dogs than ever. In 2012, 36.5% of US households owned a dog totaling 69,920,000 dogs. By 2015, those numbers jumped to 44% and 78,000,000. That’s a significant increase! As dogs become more popular, so do all-things-dogs to include dog training. So if you love dogs, and you think you’re interested in becoming a trainer, there’s a definite career possibility out there for you. Now, the question is, how do you go about it smartly so that you succeed (rather than fail) in such a huge industry. Everything you’re about to read is stuff I wish I had known when I got started, but alas at the time the world of dog training seemed big and untouchable and, unfortunately, too many dog trainers out there think that what they do is this big secret and don’t want to share their knowledge and experiences. (In my opinion, being open and honest and sharing information freely shows confidence in what you do, how you do it, and most importantly why you do it.)
First things first,
As much as we’d all love to live on hopes and dreams, you’ve got to be in a financially good position to get started. When I got started as a dog trainer, I’d always been financially-savvy and I had money in savings so I always knew I had a cushion to fall back on. That said, when I first opened my business, I knew there wouldn’t be much income right away, so to avoid using my savings I got a couple jobs cleaning houses. The hours were flexible, which is what I needed, and there wasn’t much commitment. If you’re not good with money, you’ll never succeed at starting, running or staying in business. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program. Justin and I used this to get on the same page when we got married, and it was great! We have no debt except our monthly house payment. Being financially smart will be a big thing both as you get started and as you grow. My approach has always been an old-fashioned one: Save-Save-Save and if you can’t afford to pay cash for it, don’t buy it! Get your finances in order because whether you go to dog training school first, or whether you work or intern for someone, money might be tight for awhile. If you’re the type of person that likes to spend-spend-spend…that’s going to be a problem. You need to start living within your means and get professional guidance if need be!
And I’m not talking about experience as a professional dog trainer, I’m talking about experience with dogs! I worked with well over 100 dogs before I ever stepped foot into dog training school. Working with your own dog is not enough. To be a dog trainer, you have to love working with all dogs, because loving to train your own dog is one thing – loving to train someone else’s dog is something completely different. Big dogs, small dogs, old dogs, young dogs, fearful dogs, aggressive dogs, hyper dogs and lazy dogs. My recommendation? Volunteer at your local shelter. Start by walking dogs. Those dogs that come flying out of their kennels jumping all over you? That’s exactly how client dogs will be (for the most part) on day one of training. So get used to it, and practice your leash handling skills. Don’t try to be the Dog Whisperer and work magic on the dogs. Learn how to do one thing (like teach a dog The Name Game) and try that. If the dog responds, great. If he doesn’t…well, that’s where you start to learn! Every dog is capable of being a good dog. There’s no such thing as a stubborn dog; as a dog trainer (because in that moment, that’s what you’ll be) you need to figure out how to communicate with and motivate the dog in front of you. If the shelter isn’t an option, another option is fostering for a local rescue. Keep in mind, like anything in the industry, there are good rescues and there are bad rescues. Find a good one, get an easy dog (food-motivated dogs, in my opinion, are the easiest to train) and get to work. If you’re really, really lucky you’ll have a third option in the experience category: Shadowing a trainer. I say this because there aren’t many trainers with shadow programs. It takes a lot of time, there’s a lot of liability, and at the end of the day it simply isn’t worth it. But, if you can find a trainer who’s willing to let you learn from them, do it!
Yes, you need to go back to school (in a way). Get books…all the books! Read, read, read. Learn, grow, apply, take notes. You need to be an A+ student if you want to be a good dog trainer. While experience isa bout 75% of being a good trainer, knowledge is the other 25% and shouldn’t be ignored. Books I recommend: Team Dog, How Dogs Learn, The Intelligence of Dogs, Excel-erated Learning, Cesar’s Way, Inside of a Dog, Your Dog is Your Mirror, What the Dog Knows, How to Speak Dog, Canine Nutrigenomics, War Dogs, Trident K9 Warriors. I’ve read countless dog books, and most them I’ve read two and sometimes three times. After you read books, look up online videos. Search YouTube and take notes. Remember, there are some Yahoo Trainers out there so be careful what you believe. I am a balanced trainer for a reason, and my methods are unlike any other trainers because I don’t 100% agree with any trainer out there! (Seriously!) That leads me to my next point
Let’s tie “How you were raised” into that, as well. I grew up in a Christian home (there are six of us kids in total). We learned right from wrong. We learned what hard work is all about. We were taught to respect our elders, to speak when spoken to, and to obey our parents. How I was raised has played a major role in how I train dogs. To be honest, this concept didn’t occur to me until about two years ago. I realized that, as I tried to explain the why’s to dog owners (why we do this, why we do that), I realized I didn’t know exactly why. It just felt right to me. I train dogs the way I was raised. And, sadly, even in my generation we were the odd ball out. So many of my friends growing up were lazy and self-righteous, thinking their parents should pay them allowances just because. Lazy kids who didn’t make their beds, interrupted their parents, didn’t help make or clean up after dinner. (You know the kids I’m talking about.) I’m telling you now, if you are/were that kid, and if you haven’t/won’t change, you’ll never be a top trainer in this industry. Dog training demands that you have a moral compass and character traits that you can’t learn out of a book. You either are or you aren’t an honest, humble, hard-working person. And if you’re wanting to be a balanced trainer, but you think the world owes you a favor, you’ll never fully understand what it is to be a balanced trainer.
Next, what you all want to hear about
Notice how I didn’t list this first? It’s because this is what most people think about first, and that’s the wrong way to go about it! If you just want to go get certified, there are a number of schools that will happily take your 10-20k and give you a piece of paper in return. I’ll be honest, I got lucky: Nobody told me to have my finances, experience and moral compass in order before paying for dog training school…it just happened that way, and that in and of itself says a lot: I never would’ve gone to school if I was broke, hadn’t worked with dogs and lacked integrity or work ethic. But, unfortunately, so many people think: “I want to be a dog trainer!” and they waste their money on schools. Did you know only about 5 of the 30 students I graduated my first dog training school with are actually dog trainers? Fact. That’s a very low statistic. That said, here’re some of the dog training schools out there. I’ll put Recommend by the schools I recommend looking into:
The Michael Ellis School for Dog Trainers (recommend)
National K-9 Learning Center
The Tom Rose School
Karen Pryor Academy
Tarheel Canine School for Dog Trainers
Vohne Liche Kennels
It’s a very short list, as you can see. And I only recommend MES. If you have 4 months and 18k to spend, you’ll get everything you’ve bargained for with the Michael Ellis School. I understand that cost and that length of time isn’t realistic for everyone, this is just my two cents. Starmark isn’t a bad school if you know nothing about dogs, but if you’re experienced it’s not going to challenge you much. Karen Pryor Academy requires that all students sign a contract form agreeing to be be Pure Positive Trainers only in order to actually graduate (which is crazy to me). I don’t have first-hand experience with National K-9, but I’ve heard mostly good things. Vohne Liche is only open to current and prior law enforcement and military. I attended Starmark Academy’s 12-week course, Vohne Liche’s 6-week dual purpose handler course and 6-week trainer course, and The Michael Ellis Schools’ 2-week Obedience Intensive class.
Stay tuned for part 2!