“Should I become a dog trainer?” is a common question pet owners ask themselves—and why wouldn’t it be? As a pet owner, you love your dog, you love being with dogs, and you may have even successfully taught your dog to behave without reading any books. You think to yourself, “Why work in an office when I can work with my favorite animal every day?” If you’re contemplating a career change and you’re interested in dog training, you’ve come to the right place! Below, we list what it truly takes to become a successful dog trainer.
1. You have to understand dog behavior
Dog training requires knowing how to understand dog behavior and interpret dog body language. Similar to human body language, dog body language can be easily misinterpreted or simply mysterious. You may think your dog is happy when he’s “smiling” at you, but he may actually be suffering from stress or fear.
Before you train any dog, it’s important you read up on dog behavior and body language. Knowing when a dog might bite or suffer from anxiety during a session is invaluable to your dog training career.
2. You must have excellent communication skills
Contrary to what you might believe, being a dog trainer means working with people. It’s your job to teach pet owners how to train their dogs. You give pet owners the foundation to apply your dog training techniques at home. For your dog training sessions to be successful, you must communicate in a way your clients can comprehend.
Great communication also includes listening to dogs, listening to your clients, going into in-depth explanations if needed, and addressing any client concerns. Great customer service goes a long way.
3. You have to know how to market yourself
Dog training is just like any other business. In order to gain clients, you have to market yourself. Many successful dog trainers will tell you that being a dog trainer is equal parts working with dogs and working on your business. This is where some dog trainers lose hope, as they might find it difficult obtaining new clients.
“The hardest part is selling yourself,” says professional dog trainer Heidi. “Not everybody can go out there and talk to everybody and say, ‘I’m the best dog trainer in the area.’ Or if they see someone having a hard time with their dog, just walk up to them and say, ‘Hey, let me help you with that.’”
However, there are plenty of resources out there that can teach you how to market your dog training business. You can find marketing advice from books, blogs, and podcasts. A few dog trainer schools even offer marketing courses as part of their curriculum designed to help you grow your business when you graduate.
4. You need to have patience
The most successful dog trainers have the endurance to handle anything—from potential dog bites to impatient clients. Training dogs is hard work. You need not only patience with dogs, but people as well.
It’s not uncommon for clients to come to you with their dogs and expect their pets to be perfectly trained within a short period of time. You can blame your clients’ false perception of how dog training really works on television shows and social media.
Every dog is different, so what works for another dog may not work for another. It takes time to understand what motivates dogs. You need to be able to clearly explain your dog training process to clients from the get-go to avoid unrealistic expectations.
5. You need to have hands-on experience
Having hands-on experience training dogs is crucial to your success. With the rise of online dog training courses, it’s easier than ever to obtain a dog trainer certification or designation without actually having any real work experience.
Before you take on clients, you need to practice what you’ve learned on dogs. You can practice on your own dog, your friends’ dogs, or your neighbors’ dogs. An easy way to train a variety of dogs is by enrolling in a hybrid dog training school that actually requires students to complete a certain number of hours training dogs at a local shelter.
6. You have to know your market
There are 60.2 million U.S. households that own a pet, according to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey.1 When choosing an area to serve as a dog trainer, two factors to consider are population and competition.
If you’re looking to become a dog trainer in San Diego, you have to acknowledge you won’t be the only dog trainer in the area. Get a leg up on your competitors and check out their services and rates, and offer something unique or better.
On the other hand, setting up your dog training business in a less populated area requires you to still market yourself both offline and online. A bonus of being a dog trainer is you can take your business wherever you go. If you feel competition is too high or business growth is slow, you can expand the areas you serve.
7. You have to remember to have fun
Most people who begin the profession do it because they have a genuine love for dogs. It can be easy to forget that when you’re doing things you might not enjoy when running your business. Remind yourself why you set out to be a dog trainer in the first place and have fun with your sessions. Your clients will appreciate the positive attitude, dogs will be engaged, and you’ll be happy knowing you’re making a difference.
Knowledge, skills, experience, ambition, and consistency are what it takes to become a successful dog trainer. As with any entrepreneurial venture, there will be difficult times as well as gratifying times. However, it’s those times when you’ve taught a client how to train her dog with your methods that make it all worth it.