Animal Career Spotlight: Dog Obedience Trainer


According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dec. 2020), there are conflicting estimates of exactly how many dogs there are in the country. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA 2018) reported that there were nearly 77 million households that owned one or more dogs. It’s clear to see that canine-lovers abound and consequently, there’s a growing demand for dog obedience trainers nationwide.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT 2020) is an esteemed professional organization that hosts Canine Life and Social Skills (CLASS) trainings, events, online certificate courses, and resources for dog owners and trainers alike. APDT points out that while many employed dog trainers are self-educated—autodidacts who have attended seminars and read widely about behavior modification, ethology (i.e., the science of animal behavior), and related topics—other trainers have achieved professional certification through a quality training program. These educational programs for entry-level dog trainers typically take six months to a year, covering the following subjects:

  • History of dog training
  • Fundamentals of how animals learn (e.g., classical and operant conditioning, methods of reinforcement, habituation, etc.)
  • Behavior of dogs (e.g., body language, facial cues, social signals, breed characteristics, etc.)
  • How to design classes & build a business

While being a dog-lover is essential for the occupation, being business-savvy and comfortable with marketing is also crucial for success. In fact, Veronica Boutelle—the president and founder of dogbiz teaches dog obedience trainers how to start their own dog careers.

As well, Sara Carson Devine, a top trick dog instructor and her furry companion Hero, delivered an address at the APDT Annual Educational Conference (2016) titled “Sharing Positive Training Skills and Techniques.” Sarah and Carson share their work widely on their YouTube channel The Super Collies with the aim of educating and entertaining dog owners and dog trainers.
There are various specializations for aspiring dog trainers who want to deepen their learning in aspects of the discipline, including basic obedience, performance events, dog functions (e.g., law enforcement, therapy, or service animals), dog acting, and advanced behavioral modification.

Read on to discover the bright career outlook in this field, salary prospects, and certification courses for dog obedience trainers.

Dog Trainer Career Outlook & Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2020), animal training is a growing career field. In fact, openings for animal trainers (including those who work with dogs) are expected to increase 22 percent between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the average growth projected for all careers during that time period (4 percent). This addition of 75,500 positions is only part of the good news.

The BLS points out that there is strong competition for animal trainers and caretakers, but this does not extend to the field of dog obedience training due to the widespread presence of canines in American households.

It’s important to note that dog obedience trainers may incur relatively higher rates of injury than other occupations due to the physical nature of this career. Scared or aggressive dogs may lash out and bite or scratch trainers, and having up-to-date rabies vaccination is strongly recommended. While some dog obedience trainers work traditional business hours, others may work weekends, evenings, or holidays to accommodate the schedules of the dog-owning clients.

As dog obedience trainers grow their business and become more popular in local communities, they generally have more leverage and agency in their scheduling. That said, the BLS reported in April 2015, 62.5 percent of animal trainers were self-employed, a factor that makes the aforementioned business resources especially important.

Finally, the BLS (May 2019) found that the states with the highest levels of employment for animal trainers were generally those with higher populations. Here were the top-employing states in this profession:

  • California (1,980 animal trainers employed)
  • Florida (1,590)
  • New York (1,300)
  • Texas (1,190)
  • Illinois (810)

Dog Obedience Trainer Salary

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not maintain data specifically for dog trainers, it does report on the occupation of animal training. According to the BLS (May 2019), there were 16,530 animal trainers across the country with an annual average salary of $36,240. While this figure is lower than the average salary across all occupations, it’s worth noting that many dog trainers work part-time.

In more detailed terms, here are the percentile salaries for animal trainers across the country (BLS May 2019):

United States (16,530 animal trainers): $36,240 annual average salary

  • 10th percentile: $20,810
  • 25th percentile: $24,120
  • 50th percentile (median): $30,430
  • 75th percentile: $42,080
  • 90th percentile: $59,110

Translated into hourly figures, these equated to:

United States (16,530 animal trainers): $17.43/hour average

  • 10th percentile: $10.00
  • 25th percentile: $11.60
  • 50th percentile (median): $14.63
  • 75th percentile: $20.23
  • 90th percentile: $28.42

Notably, these figures tended to vary by source of data. By illustration, Payscale (2021)—an aggregator of self-reported salaries—found slightly higher salary percentiles among its 360 responding dog trainers in the US:

  • 10th percentile: $23,920
  • 25th percentile: $25,293
  • 50th percentile (median): $27,851
  • 75th percentile: $30,597
  • 90th percentile: $31,200

These figures also tended to vary by region of the country. Interestingly, one of the top five most lucrative states in this profession was also top-employing states. As proof of point, here were the top-paying states for animal trainers nationwide (BLS May 2019):

  • Kentucky (490 animal trainers employed): $56,710 annual average salary
  • Iowa (90 employed): $54,230
  • Washington (240 employed): $43,650
  • California (1,980 employed): $43,030
  • New York (1,300 employed): $42,150

Finally, there were some highly profitable metropolitan regions for animal trainers as well. Here were the ten top-paying cities in this career across the country (BLS May 2019):

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach, Anaheim, CA (490 animal trainers employed): $50,080 annual average salary
  • San Diego, Carlsbad, CA (400 employed): $58,590 avg.
  • Memphis, TN-MS-AR (50 employed): $46,890
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA (160 employed): $45,410
  • Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI (240 employed): $45,010
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT (40 employed): $44,660
  • Columbus, OH (110 employed): $43,460
  • Charleston-North Charleston, SC (N/A employed): $43,220
  • Lexington-Fayette, KY (180 employed): $42,870
  • Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL (N/A employed): $42,420

Dog Trainer Educational Programs & Certifications

As demonstrated by the extensive list of credentials provided by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), there’s an abundance of education and certification options in this profession. While there’s no singular authority that accredits the training schools or credentialing for dog obedience trainers, there are various philosophies, modules, and course delivery methods available.

It’s worth noting that while professional credentialing was not mandated for this profession as of February 2021, state and federal government authorities may change their stance on the credentialing and registration of dog obedience trainers in years to come. Furthermore, employers and dog-owning clients typically prefer trainers with recognized training or certification from one or more of the entities discussed below.

Fortunately for prospective dog obedience trainers, many of the certification programs are delivered online and can be taken at the convenience of the student. In addition to large, popular academies such as the Animal Behavior College (ABC), there are many individual dog trainers who have established their own certification courses such as Pat Miller (Peaceable Paws), Victoria Stilwell (Positively), or Karen Pryor (KP Academy).

As mentioned above, a majority of the certification programs take six months to one year to complete; however, since dog obedience training certification courses are typically offered at a student’s convenience, the timing is variable. Most educational programs require that candidates have at least a high school diploma prior to enrollment. Here is an overview of professional certifications for dog obedience trainers which include educational training as part of the package.

Animal Behavior College Dog Trainer (ABCDT)

The Animal Behavior College (ABC) based in Santa Clarita, CA features an online dog trainer course where students complete dog obedience training modules at their own pace in approximately one year. ABC utilizes more than 100 years of professional dog training experience in its curriculum which is founded in LIMA (least invasive, minimally aversive) dog training philosophy and features courses including:

  • Basic Study of Canines
  • Learning Theory
  • Trainer’s Toolbox & Equipment
  • Training Fundamentals
  • Basic Dog Obedience Cues
  • Effective Problem-Behavior Solving
  • Dog Training Safety
  • Public Speaking & Teaching Group Courses
  • Building a Dog-Training Business

Additionally, ABC requires a hands-on externship under a mentor at a local animal shelter. More than 17,000 trainers have graduated from this program. Upon successful completion, a dog trainer can use a credentialing title on their resumes: Animal Behavior College Dog Trainer (ABCDT). Notably, military spouses may qualify for free ABC tuition under My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA), a program that provides up to $4,000 to qualifying candidates.

Canine Trainers Academy Certified Dog Trainer (CCDT)

The CATCH Canine Trainers Academy (CTA) provides a full self-paced online certification program that takes approximately six to 18 months to complete. This course follows the standards set forth by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. In-person workshops are available, but not required to complete this program.

Additionally, the CTA has free business consultations for graduates of the master-level class, as well as access to a comprehensive library of dog training materials, and a student support team with mentors.

Highlights of the master class program include:

  • Graduating with a Certified Dog Trainer (CDT) credential
  • Mentorship opportunities
  • Career and business-building resources
  • Customizable lesson plans
  • Pet first-aid and CPR certification

Other Dog Obedience Trainer Certifications

In addition to the educational programs above which result in certification, there is also an abundance of credentialing organizations that provide certification to qualified candidates based on levels of education, experience, and other factors. Here is an overview of other certifications and society memberships that can enhance one’s resume in dog obedience training.

Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA AND CPDT-KSA)

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) offers two credentials: the Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Skills Assessed (CPDT-KSA).

To qualify for the CPDT-KA certification exam, candidates must have:

  • At least 300 hours of dog training experience within the previous three years
  • Signed attestation statement from a CCPDT member or veterinarian
  • Signed code of ethics
  • Signed LIMA (least intrusive, minimally aversive) effective behavior intervention
  • Exam fee ($385)

The CPDT-KA computer-based exam comprises 180 multiple-choice questions and is available at testing facilities throughout the US and Canada.

To qualify for the CPDT-KSA certification exam, candidates must have:

  • An active CPDT-KA credential
  • Online application with video of assigned training & exercises
  • Signed code of ethics
  • Confirmed compliance of LIMA (least intrusive, minimally aversive) effective behavior intervention
  • Exam fee ($225)

All certifications are valid for three years. To maintain the CPDT-KA credential, dog trainers must complete 36 qualifying continuing education units (CEUs). To maintain the CPDT-KSA credential, dog trainers must complete 12 CEUs of hands-on training and 36 CEUs of lectures or seminars.

Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (ACDBC AND CDBC)

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) approaches dog training holistically and provides memberships to qualifying individuals.

To become an Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (ACDBC), a candidate must have the following:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • At least 300 hours of experience in animal behavior consulting
  • At least 150 hours of qualifying coursework in the designated Core Areas of Competency
  • Demonstrated knowledge of learning theory, conditioning, and other areas
  • Application fee ($75)

To become a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), a candidate must have the following:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • At least 500 hours of experience in animal behavior consulting
  • At least 400 hours of qualifying coursework in the designated Core Areas of Competency
  • Application fee ($125)

International Association of Canine Professionals Certified Dog Trainer (IACP-CDT)

The International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) offers Certified Dog Trainer (CDT) and Certified Dog Trainer Advanced (CDTA) credentials to qualifying candidates who pass comprehensive examinations.

The IACP-CDT written exam costs $100 and candidates must submit the following as part of the application package:

  • Three years of experience as a practicing canine professional
  • Three client forms
  • Three reference forms
  • A sample training
  • Three case studies

The IACP-CDTA exam costs $150 and is available in two formats: an in-person training session with three dogs evaluated by an IACP-CDTA Evaluator or a video of a training with three dogs to be submitted for evaluation. Dog obedience trainers are critiqued for their confidence, timing of rewards, methods of correction, and other factors. A minimum of five years of experience as a professional dog trainer is required to take the CDTA exam.

These credentials are valid for two years and can be renewed following the submission of 20 continuing education units (CEUs) and $100.

National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI) Membership

Finally, the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI) provides membership to qualifying dog trainers which can enhance one’s resume. NADOI was established in 1965 and is the oldest certifying organization for dog training instructors.

To qualify for membership, candidates must have:

  • Completed membership application
  • Five years of experience in dog obedience training
  • Two years of experience as an instructor
  • Worked with at least 100 dogs
  • Minimum hours of experience: group instructors (104 class hours) or private instructors (288 hours)

Professional Advocacy for Dog Obedience Trainers

January was National Train Your Dog Month, hosted by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). The aim of this annual week is to grow public awareness around dog training resources and support dog trainers in the work they do with dog owners and their dogs.

For dog trainers, the APDT offers a website and social media sites with customizable marketing materials to download, as well as free webinars and sample press releases. Dog trainers are encouraged to share these resources to connect with clients and support dog obedience training throughout the year. As well, APDT offers a worldwide directory for people to locate a certified dog obedience trainer in their local area.

At the policy level, organizations such as the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) take a stand on trends and issues related to dog obedience training. The IAABC has spoken out publicly against the use of Bluetooth and smart device-controlled e-collars to control undesirable behavior due to its latency in delivering the signal, therefore rendering positive reinforcement ineffective. As well, such devices create an aversive reaction in dogs which violates the IAABC’s support of LIMA behavioral philosophy. To learn more about professional advocacy for dog obedience trainers, please see the full list of the IAABC current position statements.

Interview: Marissa Martino, Founder of Paws & Reward Dog Training

Schools By State

Marissa Martino—an experienced dog trainer and businesswoman—founded Paws & Reward Dog Training in Colorado. Her business has been in operation for six years, and she answered some questions about her methods and the advice she would give to aspiring dog trainers:

What Is Your Dog Training Philosophy or Method?

I specialize in behavior modification related to fear, aggression, and anxiety. Working together ​with the client, we identify behavioral issues exhibited by ​the dog, establish environmental root causes, and use a holistic, positive reinforcement​ approach to educate and train bot​h the client and the dog in order to reach the desired goals. I also believe that our relationship with our canine companions can be a window into how we relate to the world around us. It gives us insight to what holds us back and shows us where we can expand and connect in our own lives.

My approach when working with the client regarding a behavioral concern​ involves getting curious with the client about the parallels between how you and your dog perceive the world, noticing how your emotions affect your relationship with your dog and everything around you, and shifting your perspective which ultimately shifts your dog’s behavior as well as your own behavior.

What Kind of Educational Program and/or Certification Do You Recommend for Aspiring Dog Trainers?

I’d recommend Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers or Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training Academy. Also, I’d suggest volunteering with a trainer local animal shelter in the behavior department if that is an option​.

What Advice Would You Give to People Interested in This Profession?

To really enjoy people since that is who you are ultimately teaching – this is huge!!! Also, do not judge the client; develop empathy and compassion for them instead and then help them through the process. Take on aggression cases slowly only when you feel ready. Stay connected with your local trainer community and to develop camaraderie. Ask for help when things are over your head. Contribute to the local shelter when you can. Above all: have fun and always keep learning!

Jocelyn Blore (Chief Content Strategist)

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Jocelyn traveled the world for five years as an English teacher and freelance writer. After stints in England, Japan, and Brazil, she settled in San Francisco and worked as a managing editor for a tech company. When not writing about veterinary technology, nursing, engineering, and other career fields, she satirizes global politics and other absurdities at Blore’s Razor.