I feel it’s important to mention at this point that dog training is an open career field with no prerequisites. There is no overarching organization that requires you to be certified to train. You can literally go print business cards right now claiming to be a dog trainer, and you’ll be one. Doesn’t mean you’ll be any good, but that’s how unregulated this career field is. I recommend getting certified. The knowledge and experience you’ll gain, in addition to the credentials you’ll have later on as a trainer, are important. Let’s fast forward now and assume you signed up, and you’re at dog training school.
BE THE BEST DOG TRAINER YOU CAN BE
Now’s the time to live, eat, and breathe dog training. I’m serious. This is your chance to learn everything you possibly can about dog training, so pay attention. Take notes, ask questions, arrive early and stay late. Devote every waking minute to dog training. I used to get up at the crack of dawn to take my dogs on a walk, and then my friend Natalie and I would always be the first ones to arrive at the training building…and the last to leave each night. Together, Natalie and I graduated at the top of our class, but that leads me to my next point…
BE CAREFUL WHO YOU HANG OUT WITH
Regardless of which school you attend, you’re going to see after the first week or two which students are serious and which students are not. It’s very obvious. Half of my class squandered their tuition money and goofed off. They drank, they partied, they slept around, and, sadly enough, they neglected the very dogs in their care by failing to even provide basic necessities (food, water, exercise). Behind-the-scenes, I was taking care of their dogs; they never did find out, and apparently they didn’t care. They would show up late to class, sometimes hungover, and almost never prepared. Come test time, since they hadn’t worked with their dogs, they put ridiculous amounts of pressure on the dogs to “get caught up” so they didn’t fail the tests. For written exams, they cheated off each other’s tests. What shocks me is that some of those students are now “professional” dog trainers who run businesses. Let’s hope their moral compasses have pointed them in a new direction by now. If you’re truly passionate about dog training, you’ll use every single minute of every single day to better yourself as a trainer. Dog training school is an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t waste a single second!
While you’re in school, if you haven’t already, start planning for your future. While I was at Starmark Academy, I realized how much I enjoyed high drive dogs and decided to continue my education at Vohne Liche Kennels working with military and police dogs. I also knew that after graduating, I would be starting my own business so that was in the back of my mind in regards to asking questions in class and gathering information. It was during this time also that I was brainstorming ideas for a business name, logo, business cards, website design, program handout and more.
While in dog training school, my advice is that you
DO NOT ADOPT ANY DOGS
You’ll most likely be working with shelter or rescue dogs, in addition to any personal dogs you bring, and it’s going to be very tempting to adopt whichever dog(s) you’re working with. After all, you love dogs, so adoption seems like the natural next step, right? Careful, that guilt-driven mindset is how dog trainers end up with 7, 8, 9 personal dogs. I’m not saying having multiple dogs is a bad thing, but every single dog is an added responsibility. You’re in a transitional period of your life, and the last thing you need to be doing is adding more to your plate. There was a big push at Starmark to adopt the rescue dog(s) you were working with; about half of my class adopted at least one dog while in school. Some of the dogs even had behavior issues. Most students trained 2 or 3 dogs in total – I trained 5 – and I was tempted to adopt every single one of them. As hard as it was to say no, I’m glad I didn’t. Unless you have this unbelievable connection with the dog, and you can’t imagine your life without him/her, and you know the dog would be a tremendous asset to your career as a trainer…don’t do it. I had Zoey at the time, and that was all I needed. Fun fact: Some dog trainers don’t own dogs at all. That seems a bit strange to me but to each his own.
PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE
I started working with my first clients when I was still in school at Vohne Liche. Again, to keep from using my savings, I posted on Craigslist as a dog trainer and got my first private lesson and board & train clients. My prices were appropriate to my level of experience (low/little). My goal was to start growing as a trainer. I knew I was going to make mistakes – and I did – and I learned from every single mistake. When I first started, I was enthusiastic, motivated and confident. (Confidence is key in dog training!) The clients I worked with in Indiana were incredible, and their dogs’ training was a big success; we still keep in touch to this day.
Keep in mind, right after graduation might be a transitional phase for you. Having first-hand experience working with clients and their dogs will be a tremendous asset to you when looking for a job. Your certificate isn’t enough. Having worked with three or four dogs isn’t enough. Employers such as myself are looking for someone who’s worked with, like I said, 100 dogs or more. And this is why I recommend getting experience before you ever go to dog training school. You’ll have a one-up on everyone else, and you’ll be better qualified than all your peers upon graduation. On a side note, having experience teaching people is going to be huge plus, as well. I had several years’ teaching experience under my belt before I ever thought about getting into dog training. I took several Secondary Education courses in college, I was a volunteer ESOL (English as a Second Language) teacher in North Carolina, and I spent a year teaching English and economics at a university in Ecuador. Those experiences have paid off ten-fold as a dog trainer. Public speaking is another bonus. If you’re going to be teaching classes, you need to get comfortable speaking to groups of people!
Moving on, let’s assume you apply for a dog training position with a pre-established company,
DOUBLE CHECK YOUR RESUME
As an employer, I will tell you that there’s nothing more off-putting than receiving a resume full of typos. Your resume is your first impression. Get it right!
Pictured is Daisy – a yellow Labrador who I adopted in 2013, trained as a narcotics dog, and donated to a department in Nevada.
Stay tuned for part 3!