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Five Steps to Success as a Dog Trainer

Five Steps to Success as a Dog Trainer

So, you’ve decided you want to be a dog trainer.  There is much to learn, but if I had to give anyone some advice about how to set yourself up for success at the art and science of training, here are five down and dirty quick tips:

1. Get a quality education.  There’s no substitute for knowing the science upon which animal training is based.  That means a college or community college level Psychology 101 course, or an online course in animal learning is a good start. One of the best is given by Dr. Susan Friedman, and is called Living and Learning With Animals.  Trainers need to thoroughly understand what drives behavior, and how to use those principles to modify it. They cannot rely on pop psychology, intuition, energy, or quackery.  Some of my picks for schools that offer quality education are: The Academy for Dog Trainers, Dognostics Career College, Karen Pryor Academy, and Peaceable Paws.

2. Get all breed animal handling experience.  You must pay your dues.  Volunteer for an animal shelter, or apprentice with someone in the profession.  Work at a dog day care or kennel.  You aren’t a trainer yet, even if you earn a diploma or credential, if you’ve only trained your own dogs, even if they did well in sports, work, or competition.  All dogs learn by association and by consequences, and while breed differences don’t mean that you have to use methods that aren’t in line with your ethical standards, there are some breed tendencies that it’s helpful to know about.

3. Join a professional association that is aligned with your ethical core values as a trainer.  The organization can be a great source of continuing education, insurance coverage, trade discounts, camaraderie with and support from like-minded trainers, an an advocacy ally and marketing partner.  As an example, my professional affiliation is with The Pet Professional Guild.

4. Always strive for technical excellence.  World class animal trainer, Bob Bailey, is credited with saying that training is simple, but not easy.  So, if an animal fails a task, a good trainer ALWAYS looks to their own competency, or lack thereof, before  blaming the dog or searching in the proverbial desert for some potion, diet, or new and improved pop science protocol.  When things go awry, try to assess whether your own fundamentals are sound.  Did you motivate the dog with something the dog views as a worthy reinforcement?  Did you set criteria well, and not overface the learner?   Do you have a written training plan and are you documenting progress?  Was your rate of reinforcement high enough?  Did you set the dog up for success? Is training FUN???

5. Always err on the side of professionalism.  It’s poor form to give veterinary, nutrition, or grooming advice unless you have a credential.  If someone calls to ask about puppy class, much as you want to, don’t contradict a vet’s advice about waiting, Instead, you could simply say that your training center follows AVSAB guidelines and provide the client with information they can ask their vet about without undermining the advice they were given.  Overstepping professional bounds is dangerous.  Integrity can earn you referrals from vets who learn they can trust you, but your business can suffer if vets feel you are not respecting their professional boundaries.  dog trainer, dog training schools

About pawsforpraise

I own and operate Paws for Praise. We offer group dog training classes and behavior consultations in a dog and human friendly environment. We think training should be fun for you and your dog. Go ahead - make a tail wag!

11 responses »

  1. I agree with all of your tips; however, I feel you left out an important educational resource. I enrolled in the Animal Behavior College’s Dog Obedience Training Instructor course — and earned my certificate from them in May of 2013 — because of its combination of online academic study as well as local hands-on experience with a mentor trainer in both shelter/rescue and classroom work. The academic portion is very detailed, and a little “intense” in some areas. And the hands-on portion was immensely valuable and satisfying for me. In fact, as a result of the hands-on stage, I ended up adopting my third dog from the high-kill shelter where I did my volunteer work. While I’m enjoying retirement with my newly-retired husband, my ABC education has been my main resource when I have issues with my shelter puppy.

    • Perhaps you are unaware of the recent controversy over ABC’s position on the use of shock collars. As a force free trainer, and founding member of the Pet Professional Guild, I chose to mention those schools that I consider to be more progressive in their force free ethos as well as the quality of curriculum.

      • I am aware of it, and they have cancelled their contract with the company because so many of the students, graduates, mentors, school employees, and Facebook followers are against the use of said collars. I personally would not use one for many reasons, not the least of which is my own inexperience with the collars.

        Having said that, I can tell you from personal experience that the curriculum does lean heavily in favor of positive reinforcement methods; and strongly advises students to avoid using coercive training methods, especially if one does not extensive experience with and knowledge of the risks involved.

  2. Yes, I know that, however, the response from Mr. Appelbaum certainly didn’t denounce the use of those collars, and in fact he seemed to excuse their use. ABC also retains a sponsorship agreement with PetSafe, which manufactures remote collars. Many of the trainers who protested the latest sponsorship were unaware of that until now. In any case, my omission of ABC from the list was deliberate, and unless they were to completely renounce the use of shock in animal training I feel I made the right ethical choice for me.

  3. Great advice. Have you heard of the Companion Animals Science Institute (CASI)? Dr Susan Friedman is an instructor for one of the modules in the parrot course, so that definitely ticks a box with me. James O, Hare bases the course content on behavioral science. Ethics are covered and the side effects of using aversive stimuli. He supports the PPG and takes a definite stance against punishment based techniques. It’s an in depth and demanding course which provides a solid foundation. Some of the lecturers at Dognostics have attended CAS as wellI 😉

    • I have heard of CASI, but did not mention it since I try to recommend only those schools that publicly reject the use of shock collars. I’m not saying that CASI does allow them on their humane hierarchy, just that I have not found any information that says they oppose their use completely. I know that Dognostics does reject shock, but that is not an indication that the schools their instructors attended do. If James O’Heare confirms CASI as opposed to shock Id be very happy to edit the blog to include them.

  4. You have very good tips but there is much more to it.
    You must be patient with all types of people and dogs. You must deliver the right amount to praise with constructive criticism and you must be comfortable with speaking in front of a crowd (sometimes over barking dogs).
    I’m sure I’ve missed some but you get the overall picture.

  5. This is really a helpful tips.. I think every dog trainer should know about these.. Thank you for writing about this.

  6. I do have experience with over 10 different species of dogs, but still i keep on learning from professionals 🙂

  7. I agree with what you said about getting all breed handling experience. That makes you more valuable and it’s easier to find jobs. That is a great way to improve your income and get customers to choose you.


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