Dog Training: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

A few times a month, I get emails or phone calls from individuals wishing to enter dog training as a profession. Before I trained dogs,...


A few times a month, I get emails or phone calls from individuals wishing to enter dog training as a profession.

Before I trained dogs, I negotiated contracts for an academic publishing company. Before that, while I worked through college, I was a bartender, the best booze-slinger this side of the Mississippi. Nobody ever said, “I’d like to negotiate academic licensing contracts for consortia and multi-site organizations,” but lots of my friends used to say, “I’d love to be a bartender! That sounds like a lot of fun!” Sometimes bartending was fun, but it was hard work. Sometimes it was frustrating work. Since we didn’t have a bouncer or a phone in the dive bar I worked at, sometimes it was downright scary. Other times it was disgusting.

People think that bartending professionally is one non-stop party. Anyone who has tended bar knows that this is generally not true. Similarly, people wanting to enter the field of dog training envision playing with puppies all day. Many of them say, “I like dogs better than I like people. I’d much rather work with animals!”

It is true that dog training can be an exciting and rewarding career. But when making any critical life decision, particularly one as important as selecting your career, you will be best able to make a decision that you are pleased with if you are making a well-informed decision. Here are some things you should consider if you are interested in training dogs professionally:

  • your clients have two legs – if you don’t like people, dog training may not be the right job for you. While a fondness and respect for dogs should be considered a job requirement, a desire to help people is just as important. The dogs may love you, but they won’t pay your bills.
  • you wear a number of hats – I am an author, janitor, bookkeeper, teacher, customer service representative, consultant, prep cook, motivational speaker, and frequently, put more miles on the van in a week than a taxi driver on a cab in a given week. This means that I work a lot more hours than I actually get paid for – nobody pays me for cleaning the classroom, cutting hot dogs and other treats for class, writing training handouts, developing curricula, scheduling classes, or updating my QuickBooks.
  • educating yourself and developing your skills will take time – if you wanted to be a mechanic, veterinary technician, lawyer, or chef, you would expect to spend years developing the education, experience, and skills required to excel in your field. In this respect, dog training is no different.
  • you must be committed to continuing education – while not all dog professionals agree, I believe that continuing education in the field of dog behavior is needed to offer your clients the most effective service. Plan on attending seminars, conferences, and purchasing lots of supportive educational materials over the course of your career.
  • you must consider investment – unless you are working for a large pet store chain, you should expect to invest in starting up your business. In addition to financing your education, you will need to consider the costs of establishing and maintaining your business. If you are planning on teaching classes, this may include the purchase or rental and preparation of a facility in which to offer them. Even if you are planning on specializing in in-home services, you will likely need to purchase: web development services, advertising, liability insurance, and supplies (clickers, treat bags, etc. for your clients).
  • even if you are self-employed, you’ll need staff – at a minimum, you will need a lawyer to draft a waiver for your clients to sign. You may also need to hire an accountant to help you manage your finances and file your taxes.

Still interested? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog on paths you can take to get started.

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