by Helen Cariotis #372
One question NADOI gets a lot is, “How do I become a dog trainer or instructor?” It is tough to know how to get started, and a lot has changed in our business. For one thing, teaching people how to train their dogs has indeed become a business. Years ago, it was rare that someone started doing this with the expectation of making it a career.
Nowadays, pet care and maintenance businesses, obedience training included, are a big part of our national economy. Many non-profit obedience clubs that were the mainstay of teaching classes for the public are no longer around. For-profit businesses like veterinarians and pet supply stores are offering training to pet owners. Schools for dog trainers have appeared, both residential and distance learning, and all sorts of DVDs, workshops, and online resources are plentiful.
So, where DO you start? Each person’s journey may be a little bit different, and NADOI is not here to tell anyone what they should do. We can offer some tips to get you going and advice from some of the best, most experienced, and most successful instructors out there.
The most important thing to understand is that dog training and instructing are hands-on, “just do it” skills.
You will need to work with many dogs and many dog owners before you are proficient. You need to see all sorts of dogs, all sorts of owners, and all sorts of problems. You will need time to practice many different techniques, get comfortable with many tools and kinds of equipment, and get familiar with how different training philosophies work on real dogs, real people, in a real environment. These are things you won’t be able to do from just reading a book or attending an online class.
- Train your own dog first. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one. Work with a friend’s or family member’s dog and find a good class to attend. Get involved in performance events like AKC or UKC obedience. Do IPO (formerly Schutzhund) or herding, agility, rally, or any of the many other dog sports available. The more you accomplish with your dog, the more you will learn.
- Many successful trainers start out in related dog careers, like veterinary nursing or grooming. If you are in another dog business, you may have an advantage, as you’ll have time to build your training business.
- Find a good obedience club or school and get involved. Help with the training classes, and work with a good mentor. Volunteering your time at your shelter or with a local 4-H instructor can also help you learn and get experience with dogs and people.
- Attend obedience training seminars and workshops. Read all you can, and watch and study good trainers on DVDs. Check out the NADOI web site for some online schools we know about or that feature NADOI members. Online obedience “groups” can expose you to lots of information from lots of trainers, as will viewing YouTube videos and reading trainer blogs.
- There are online schools that offer background information on dogs, problem solving and training. These may be a good complement to your hands-on work. There are also a few residence-based dog trainer schools, and depending on how much you can afford, they can also offer good instruction.
- What about certification? Any individual, school, or training group can offer a certification. There are also national certifying organizations like NADOI. Each will have their own requirements. NADOI has been certifying the most experienced instructors for over 50 years and keeps very high standards, while “Joe the Trainer” might offer you a certification after two weeks of study. Choose wisely!
- Many things go into running a business, so don’t neglect to practice public speaking. Learn about how people learn, get informed on how to best advertise and network, and get good legal advice as well. Plan well to succeed!
- NADOI offers many resources for dog owners, trainers, and professionals on our web site. We invite you to attend our Gathering each year, and would love to meet you and offer help and encouragement.
Working with dogs and people is a passion and something we love to do. NADOI seeks the best and most talented instructors, and we encourage you to apply for our provisional or certified membership when you are ready. Best of luck!