How to Become a Dog Trainer: Our Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

A dog trainer plays catch with a canine client.

A dog may be man’s best friend, but a dog can also represent an excellent business opportunity, especially if you’ve got a knack for training even the most difficult canine.

And if that’s the case, then you may have considered becoming a dog trainer.

You’re in luck. We just so happen to have the ultimate step-by-step guide on how to become a dog trainer.

Expect to discover a mix of what training techniques you’ll most likely need to learn, as well as the steps you should take to help turn your dog training knowledge into a bona fide (or should we say, Fido) business.

But first, ask yourself the big question…

Do I Have What It Takes to Become a Dog Trainer?

Don’t worry, you won’t have to go back to school or spend years in training to learn how to become a dog trainer.

In fact, some of the best dog trainers start out with a set of foundational skills and personality traits, which look something like these:

1. You care about dogs.

I know, I know. It goes without saying that if you want to become a dog trainer, then you must love dogs … right?

Yes and no. Of course you have to care about and love dogs. But there’s a big difference between loving your dog, and loving all dogs, regardless of breed, age, or temperament.

After all, as a dog trainer, it’s likely you’ll have to deal with some fairly frustrating dog behaviors. And more importantly, you’ll be expected to work through those bad habits so you can teach your canine clients better ones.

So it helps to have a loving foundation for all dogs, even those that may be a little more misbehaved than others.

2. You’re a patient person.

I don’t just mean patient with dogs, either. In fact, some of the most challenging aspects of being a dog trainer may involve working with your human clients.

Let’s face it: Every business that deals directly with customers encounters some issues every now and then. But add dogs to the mix, and suddenly you may find yourself face-to-face with clients who are overprotective, nervous, and/or demanding perfection.

That’s why the best dog trainers tend to be the most patient. Remember, you’ll be training your clients’ fur babies —- and that means they may be more demanding or insistent with you.

However, that does mean they may be elated when you help them manage their dogs better — and that can be a feeling that’s totally priceless!

3. You don’t mind being self-taught.

Since there’s no “official” school for dog training, most of what you’ll learn comes down to what you’re willing to research.

From dog-training webinars to online certification courses (more on that in a bit), there’s no end to the number of resources that are available to you.

So the question is, how likely are you to dive head-first into that research?

The best dog trainers not only love dogs, but they also don’t mind learning as much as possible about dog training.

And the learning doesn’t stop once you’re working as a trainer; you’ll be expected to keep up-to-date on the latest trends and dog-training trends.

Bottom line? If you’re the type of individual who doesn’t mind taking the self-taught route, then this is likely a great career track for you.

4. You’re ready to treat dog training like a business.

Here’s the deal: Once you start working as a dog trainer, you’re officially a small business owner.

That means you’ll have to start thinking about things like:

  • What business structure you want to be
  • How you’ll market your dog training business
  • What your website will look like
  • How you’ll get your first clients
  • What small business software you need to support you
  • And more

But don’t be intimidated! The process of becoming a small business owner doesn’t have to happen overnight. And while we’ll cover some of the bases here, you can check out our step-by-step guide on how to start a small business for more help.

All right, now that we covered the basics, let’s get down to what you came here for: our five best steps on how to become a dog trainer.

How to Become a Dog Trainer in 5 Steps

1. Know your end goal.

Before you dive into building a dog-training business, take the time to understand what your end goal is. For example, are you looking to train dogs for competition? Teaching obedience skills for clients (aka pet training)? Working at an animal shelter?

Map out that end goal, as it can help guide you in the right direction once you’re ready to launch your dog-training business.

2. Start doing your research.

There are a lot of resources out there for dog trainers. However, dog training is generally not a regulated industry, so there’s no one educational standard that programs must follow.

In general, there are two options for dog-training research: attending a dog-training program or learning everything on your own.

Attending a dog-training program: If you choose to go this route, find a program that teaches the LIMA (Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive) and Humane Hierarchy methods. Learning these approaches can give you the foundational knowledge you need to get started as a dog trainer.

If you’re looking for the best dog-training program, be sure to speak to a fellow dog trainer. They will likely have some solid recommendations for you.

Learning on your own: There’s no college degree or educational requirement that comes along with being a dog trainer, so it’s truly a wide-open field for any dog lover.

However, if you choose to go the self-taught route, it’s important to learn about the LIMA (Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive) and Humane Hierarchy methods (as mentioned above), as these are industry-standard knowledge for dog trainers.

Feel free to do online research as well; top sites include The Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the American Kennel Club.

Finally, there are plenty of learning opportunities through conferences and local animal shelters. Plus, if you know any dog trainers in your area, you could always ask them for some coaching.

Speaking of which…

3. Train with a mentor.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers recommends working with a mentor to: (1) log training hours; and (2) have someone who can sign off on your training hours if you decide to get certified.

Picking a mentor means finding a fellow trainer who can teach you what you need to know about learning how to become a dog trainer. You also could get training from an animal behavioral therapist or a veterinary behaviorist; either option can help you become an informed and experienced trainer.

4. Get business insurance for dog trainers.

As soon as you start working with clients, you’ll want to protect yourself with business insurance.

Think business insurance is just for “real” businesses? Think again: As soon as you start taking on clients for your training services, you could be found liable for any damages or mistakes caused by your training.

And even if you don’t think you’ve made a mistake, a client could sue you for some perceived slight or error. In that case, you’d have to spend money to defend yourself in court.

So what does that have to do with business insurance? Simple: Business insurance can financially protect you from some of the biggest risks you face as a dog trainer, such as:

  • Someone getting bitten by a dog you’re training
  • A client suing you
  • A dog getting hurt while under your care
  • And more

In either of the above scenarios, you’d likely be liable for financial damages, and that means you’d have to take money out of your own pocket to pay for vet bills, legal fees, and more.

But with business insurance, your policy could cover you so that you only have to pay the deductible — even if you’re sued for thousands of dollars in damages (up to your policy limits).

Best of all? Even if you consider yourself self-employed, you can still get dog trainer insurance. In fact, here at Simply Business, we specialize in helping self-employed people and sole proprietors find the right coverage.

For most dog trainers with no employees, we typically recommend starting with general liability insurance, which is a dog trainer insurance policy that protects against claims involving third-party damages, accidents, medical bills, and more.

5. Keep brushing up on your dog training skills.

Even after you start your dog training business, it’s important to keep up-to-date on the latest methods and schools of thought out there.

You also can brush up on your knowledge on more specific dog training topics, like:

  • How to treat phobias (ex: lightning, fireworks, etc.)
  • How to train an aggressive or reactive dog
  • How to deal with an anxious or nervous dog
  • And more

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to become a dog trainer, let’s talk about something that may be on your mind: whether or not you’ll need certification.

How to Become a Certified Dog Trainer: Does It Matter?

Wondering if you need a certification or license to be an “official” dog trainer?

The answer is, not really.

While there are certifications available through some organizations — including the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers — it’s technically not required in order to start a dog training business.

However, there are a few reasons why you might want to consider learning how to become a certified dog trainer, including:

  • Getting more gigs. A certification can go a long way toward convincing potential clients to choose your training services over that of a competitor.
  • Establishing yourself as a dog training authority. If you have plans to market your services via a website, social media, and/or a blog, being a certified trainer can help establish your credibility.
  • Opening up more business opportunities. Want to teach others how to become a dog trainer? Or create a video series for people interested in teaching Fido to sit and stay? Being a certified dog trainer can help open up opportunities for branding and expanding your business.

Ultimately, it’s your call as to whether or not you want to learn how to become a certified dog trainer, as there’s no requirement that says you should. However, if it’s something you’re interested in, here’s what you can expect from the process:

1. Join a professional dog trainer organization.

Most dog trainer organizations have their own certification requirements, so your experience may be different from a dog trainer in another group.

There are a few dog trainer associations out there, so take your time learning about each one, to find which is the right one for you. Some may be local or state-based, while others may be a national organization for dog trainers.

If you’re looking for a head start, we recommend checking out The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). This professional organization offers a variety of training resources, classes, and more to both current and future dog trainers. Professional membership starts at $110/year.

2. Demonstrate your dog training experience.

In most cases, you’ll need a set amount of training hours to qualify for a certification. For example, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers requires a minimum of 300 hours of training experience for certification.

3. Get sign-off from a veterinarian.

Most organizations will require sign-off from a veterinarian in the form of an attestation statement. Some organizations may allow you to swap out this letter with one from a fellow certified dog trainer.

Essentially, this letter shows the certifying organization that you’ve been engaging in training and/or have good moral character.

4. Complete your application.

If you’re looking for certification through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, you’ll be asked for the following items to complete your application:

Your entire application can be completed and submitted here.

If you choose to get certified through another dog-training program, your application process may look a bit different.

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5. Take the exam (if required).

Some organizations will ask you to sit for an exam, which will test your dog-training knowledge. Don’t worry, the questions won’t come out of nowhere — they’ll usually be based on the training principles followed by the association you’ve joined.

If you choose to take the exam through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, your exam (which is called CPDT-KSA) takes place over a three-week period. The exam includes both written questions and in-person tests, where a trainer will ask you to perform standard commands at a place of your choosing.

If you pass the exam, congrats! You’ve officially become a certified dog trainer.

Learn more about the exam (including how to register) here.

Remember, once you’re certified, you’ll need to update your certification every three years. Recertification involves either one of the following two options:

  1. Achieving a set amount of training hours (tracked in a training log); or
  2. Taking the CPDT-KSA exam again.

Go on, show off that certification — you earned it!

Want More Info on How to Become a Dog Trainer?

In addition to this article, there’s a ton of information out there on how to become a dog trainer. But make sure the resources you’re using are from reputable sources, like dog-training associations or the AKC.

As for us? We’re a small business insurance platform that specializes in helping business owners protect their livelihood. That means we’re looking out for people like you, who want to put in the hard work of building a business without leaving it vulnerable to risks and accidents.

And that’s especially true for dog trainers. After all, dogs are animals, and that means accidents can happen at any time, no matter how good a dog trainer you are.

So don’t leave your dog-training business vulnerable to lawsuits. When you’re ready, check us out for affordable, comprehensive business insurance.

And if you need more info on how to grow your business, we’ve got you covered. Check out the rest of our blog, Simply U — it’s full of advice on how to ensure that your dog training business thrives.

Best of luck, and happy training!

Mariah Bliss

I love writing about the small business experience because I happen to be a small business owner – I’ve had a freelance copywriting business for over 10 years. In addition to that, I also head up the content strategy here at Simply Business. Reach out if you have a great idea for an article or just want to say hi!
Mariah writes on a number of topics such as small business planning, contractor insurance, and business licenses.