The article “How Do I Become a Dog Trainer and Obedience Instructor” by Peg Prudden may have been written many, many years ago but the information contained in the article is still relevant today.
In the past, most trainers/instructors learned how to train and how to instruct people by “apprenticing” and spending hours, days, months and even years, practicing the art of training without compensation. Trainers understood that becoming a good trainer required time in the trenches and that in most cases this time was not compensated. In today’s world, few people are willing to invest this time and effort and simply want a quick ‘course’ that will teach them everything. This shift away from recognizing the importance of actually spending time in hands-on application towards the belief that everything can be learned from books or video is especially seen in the popularity of on-line courses for the aspiring dog trainer. While the information contained in these courses may be good, the simple fact is that no one becomes competent working with dogs (and people) in a few hours or weeks. It is simply not possible to become a competent trainer without handling dozens or hundreds of dogs and to be a qualified instructor, one must have a good understanding of his or her subject matter as well as being able to communicate well verbally, visually and in writing.
While enrolling in a residential course that lasts a few weeks will provide some degree of hands-on training as these courses almost always require the student to bring his or her own dog to the school, these schools are still limited in that the student only works a limited number of dogs and often is led to believe that this short period of time will turn the diligent student into a master of training a wide variety of tasks.
So, how does one become a good trainer? Reading books, attending seminars and workshops and watching videos are all good starting points. Enrolling in a correspondence course or attending a school for dog trainers can also provide the background information about dogs, behavior and the basics of training. Alone, however, this type of education is not sufficient to qualify one to train dogs. One learns how to train dogs by actually training dogs. This means hands-on work with a variety of dogs of different ages and various breeds. It means setting a standard of what a trained dog is capable of doing and then training those diverse dogs to achieve that standard. If one intends to train dogs for profit, it means learning about running a small business. In almost all cases it also means learning about how to teach people.
To be an effective trainer one must have a good understanding of more than just learning theory. Training is as much an art as a science and a theoretical knowledge must be accompanied by an ability to effectively apply the knowledge. Having a varied toolbox, both with respect to equipment as well as to methodology, is invaluable when dealing with both dogs and owners. It matters not a whit how well a trainer can train if that trainer cannot also ensure the owner can either duplicate the training or maintain it. Even if the trainer knows a particular piece of equipment will work, if the owner is resistant to using it, or is using it incorrectly, the training will suffer.
The first step in learning how to become a trainer is to train a dog. Enroll your dog in an obedience class. Evaluate the class (and the instructor). Were you able to effectively reach the goals for the class? What about the other students? If a student was having difficulties was the instructor able to provide another approach that made the student and dog successful? If you have the opportunity and can afford it, take classes from a number of different instructors and learn to use different equipment and different methods of training. If you only have one dog, then foster for a local rescue group and train different dogs. This provides a great opportunity to train a variety of breeds and also makes the dog more likely to be re-homed and to stay in its new home. One can get experience handling and observing dogs by working for a groomer or veterinarian. Most animal shelters have programs where volunteers can obtain some experience with dogs.
The old tried and true route of apprenticing with a knowledgeable and experienced trainer is still probably the best way to learn how to train. This is especially true if one wants to train more than general obedience. In some instances how a trainer starts basic obedience will depend upon what the trainer’s ultimate goals are for that particular dog. A trainer focuses on field work is usually going to train even basic obedience differently than a trainer who is solely focused on training dogs owned by the general public. While it is important for any trainer to expand his or her knowledge base and learn other types of training, for the neophyte trainer who does not have the experience or knowledge to understand why something may work in one instance and be less successful at another time, it is best to become competent training for one venue before branching out.
Training dogs or working with owners to train their dogs can be a very rewarding profession. However, it is rarely a highly lucrative profession and the time investment to become competent means that for most people they will be continuing to work another job while they learn the necessary skills and acquire the knowledge base to become qualified to accept money for their services.