Four steps to becoming a dog trainer

Occasionally, I receive letters and emails from people who want advice on becoming a dog trainer.  Currently, there is no recognized qualification in dog training in the UK. 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 time, resulting from their prowess in one of several dog training disciplines.

Four steps to becoming a dog trainer - dogs, career -

Few people can make a reasonable living out of dog training full-time unless they are highly 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 hugely fun and very rewarding. You can do it alongside a regular 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, specifically a dog training instructor. They are as follows:

  1. Train your own dog to a high standard
  2. Get involved in a dog training sport or activity
  3. Get some instructing experience
  4. Get some credentials

Train your own dog to a high standard.

Some 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 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 these questions is no, you have more work to do before you begin the next step.

You can get help training your dog from books, websites like this one, and 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 need to consider which dog training discipline you would like to become involved with.

You can 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 attend some of their regular training sessions. Look at the articles on agility, working trials, competitive obedience, and gundog work for more information and to find out which disciplines appeal 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 to get involved in gundog work. And some tiny dogs will struggle with more demanding physical sports.   Regular involvement with a Club will give you access to other like-minded people.  You can observe good (and in some cases harmful) instructing techniques. With commitment and progress, you will eventually be able to participate in helping to train others.

Get some instructing experience.

Several organizations 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 taking on clients without credentials. However, gaining some instructing expertise 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 coaching portfolio takes time, but it is essential to progress to the next level.

Get some credentials

You can acquire two credentials to support your claim to be a competent dog training instructor.

  • Membership of a reputable professional organization
  • Paper qualifications and course attendance certificates

You must gain membership in a recognized professional organization that sets and maintains standards for 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 clients confidence because they know they have some recourse against you if you let them down.

Certificates saying you have attended a course on canine behavior have little value. By all means, follow a course if the subject matter interests you. Still, unless there is an examination at the end that you could potentially fail,  the certificate is not 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 helpful addition, and some may provide a genuinely valuable learning experience.

Professional membership is the most crucial step, and there are several 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 must 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 several disciplines, including gundog training.

The Gundog Club

Specifically for working gundog instructors,  the Gundog Club maintains a register of trainers whose performance and conduct are 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 who fail to meet standards from their register. Applicants have to demonstrate gundog handling ability and coaching experience and supply references.

Kennel Club

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 early in your coaching career to 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 begins 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.

I would like to point out that maintaining a network of contacts, especially with more experienced trainers that you can turn to for advice, is essential.  Knowledge and experience is the key to your continued professional development, together with a commitment to never stop learning.  Read everything you can learn about dogs and how they learn. A whole world of information is 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?

Jennifer Barker

I'm Jennifer. My passion for dogs lead to this blog's creation in 2014. I share tales of life with my pups and insights on natural dog care so fellow pet parents can nurture the joy and wellbeing of their furry friends.

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