How to Become a Dog Trainer: Put Your Love of Dogs Into Practice
Becoming a dog trainer means you’ll work with dogs every day — a dream for dog lovers!
In this article, you’ll learn about salary, certifications, and career paths, including insights from a professional dog trainer.
So you want to be a dog trainer? There’s never been a better time. Pet ownership is growing day by day, especially after the pandemic pet boom. And the need for compassionate, certified trainers only grows more urgent.
Dog ownership is high in Australia, and only getting higher:
But is the quality of care rising with the rate of ownership? Not always. That’s why dog training plays an important role. By improving the way humans and dogs get along, dog trainers have the opportunity to give dogs better lives — especially rescue dogs who have been mistreated in the past. We spoke to industry insider and dog trainer Shannon Kirwin. She shares some useful tips and guidance for anyone looking to break into this career.
Ready to help dogs live their best lives? Discover what it takes to become a great dog trainer — and where it can take you.
Table of Contents
How to become a dog trainer
Although there are no formal education requirements in the dog training business, you’ll need the right training and experience to do the job well. Before you start your training journey, all you’ll need is to be able to read and write English well — and, of course, you should be a massive dog lover!
Get experience with dogs
Volunteering at a local shelter or dog training organisation is a great place to start. You could also try fostering dogs who need rehabilitation.
Take on an apprenticeship or mentorship
“Find a mentor to work alongside and develop you as a trainer,” Shannon says. “The more hands on experience you have, the more equipped you will be when you apply for your first dog training role.” Find out more about apprenticeship funding.
Get formal training
Most dog trainers have a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour and Training or a Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services. These are often available with flexible study options and you can finish the Certificate III in just six months. Certification, while not strictly required, will give potential clients and employers confidence in your abilities. Find a course.
Shannon stresses the importance of knowing your stuff. “Education is everything. Training methodology is constantly evolving and your learning journey never ends.”
If you’re looking for a career change to the dog training industry, you don’t need to worry about going back to university for a degree. Most trainers have completed certificate courses. These are cost-effective and often available part-time, so you can study while you keep working.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you should be ready to start working as a professional dog trainer. You’ll have a sound knowledge of:
What does it take to become a successful dog trainer? According to industry expert Shannon Kirwin, dog behaviourist, owner and founder of A Furever Life Canine Training, there are three main areas you’ll need to cover: knowledge, experience, and mentorship.
Shannon is an advocate for dog welfare and rehabilitation who cares deeply about animals and humans. “I have been involved with dogs all of my life,” she says.
At age 10, she started training her Rhodesian ridgeback, Zac and her toy poodle, Pepe. On the day they both started behaving well off-leash, she realised she had developed a passion for training dogs. Now, Shannon has built a successful career in the dog training industry.
“I believe that training should be fun, motivating, and highly rewarding. I aim to develop a deeper understanding and bond between owner and dog based on clear communication and mutual respect.”
What do dog trainers do?
A dog trainer helps to improve dog behaviour and promote better dog-human relationships. First, they assess the dog’s current behaviours and status, then develop a training plan to:
Teach the dog to obey commands
Decrease the dog’s aggression
Change inappropriate behaviours
Dog trainers often work every day with the same dog, using training techniques such as positive reinforcement in short sessions for maximum results.
It’s not just about animal behaviour, though — it’s a two-way street. Trainers teach new canine behaviours and educate humans on how to better interact with their dogs. “As a trainer, excellent communication skills and a love for both people and dogs is a must,” Shannon says.
“The close bond I shared with my own dogs led me to begin volunteering and then later working for a rescue organisation. Whilst working in rescue I encountered many animals being surrendered for basic behavioural challenges that could be easily addressed.
I decided I wanted to work in a field where I might prevent further animals from being surrendered and improve the animal human-animal bond.”
— Shannon Kirwin
Dog trainer vs behaviourist: what’s the difference?
A breakdown of the different dog training courses
Which qualification should you choose to become a dog trainer? That depends on whether you’re solely interested in working with dogs, or whether you’d like to branch out into other species and study general animal behaviour.
Certificate III in Dog Behaviour and Training
This government-accredited course covers caring for canine wellbeing, dog behaviour and psychology, and a range of methods to train dogs, with electives available in assistance dog training.
Taught by the National Dog Trainer‘s Federation, whose headquarters is located in Melbourne, Victoria. While they run local in-person training there, they also run online dog training courses for people living across Australia. This includes two practical training sessions in Melbourne, Sydney, or the Sunshine Coast.
Certificate III in Companion Animal Services
If you love dogs, but you’re also interested in the wider animal and pet industry, this nationally recognised qualification is the perfect way to get started.
It covers care for a range of animals, with a combination of training classes, animal knowledge, and hands-on learning experience to build your practical skills. Upon completing the course, you’ll be ready for work as a trainer or behaviourist, animal shelter supervisor, groomer, or pet shop manager.
Compare Certificate III in Companion Animal Services courses.
Dog trainer salary and job prospects
As with most industries, incomes vary quite widely! It all depends on your experience and where you’re working. Pay is usually on an hourly basis, and you can expect to earn between $22 and $33 an hour in Australia. Once you’ve cut your teeth, you might consider boosting your earning potential by starting your own business.
Source: Job Outlook
The animal training industry has seen good growth over the past decade. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of people working in this sector doubled between 2010 and 2020. And while pre-covid predictions saw the sector looking stable, with a slight decline in the next five years, there’s good reason to be optimistic about dog training! The surge in pandemic pet adoption since coronavirus could drive demand upwards – with the RSPCA reporting an incredible 45% increase in dog adoptions.
Apart from that, a report by The Animal Care and Management IRC shows that Australians are starting to care more about animals than ever before. The 2020 bushfires, COVID-19, and increased awareness of the suffering of racehorses have all turned our attention to the plight of animals. Along with the important role pets play in our lives and mental health, services are only growing.
Where do dog trainers work?
Dog trainers can work in a variety of workplaces and sectors, such as:
Service dog training programs
Dog training schools
“There is nothing better than taking a dog that is scheduled for euthanasia and seeing them go on to lead a full and happy life with their fur-ever family.”
— Shannon Kirwin
Career progression may lead down several avenues, including training guide dogs, training and handling police dogs, running a business, teaching, and advocating for animal welfare. You’ll find a wide range of options available to you — the hardest part will be knowing what to pick!
Hover on or tap the map below to see the areas where dog trainer jobs are higher than average in Australia.
Starting up your own business
If you want to branch out, increase your earnings and support a more flexible lifestyle, you can always start your own business. In fact, most dog trainers are self-employed, often holding group or private lessons at boarding facilities or at their client’s house.
You will need to know:
You will also have to check with your local government to understand the exact process needed to register your business. The good thing about dog training businesses, in general, is that the cost of running it is low compared to others since most of the training will happen in your client’s home or a boarding kennel.
Boarding kennels, in particular, are very useful to work at, since you can negotiate a contract with them for regular training programs, which can cut your travel costs substantially.
For people with a deep love for dogs and a desire to improve animal wellbeing, a career in dog training is a smart, compassionate choice.
With some volunteering experience, the right training, and a lot of passion, nothing can stop you from going forth to make a difference in the lives of good boys and girls everywhere.
Don’t wait to start your journey.Browse Courses Today!
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