According to the Humane Society of the United States (July 2016), there are conflicting estimates of exactly how many dogs there are in the country. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA 2012) reported that there were 70 million, while the recent American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey (2015-16) found that 54.4 million households own dogs—many of them with multiple canines—and put the total at 77.8 million. Both figures demonstrate that canine-lovers abound and consequently, there’s a growing demand for dog obedience trainers nationwide.
The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT 2016) is an esteemed professional organization which 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 Dog*tec —delivered an address at the APDT Annual Educational Conference (2013) titled “What I’ve Learned Talking to Dog Trainers.” She offered six key pieces of advice to people interested in the canine-training field:
- Work on your business, not just in it.
- Marketing is essential.
- Make a sustainable schedule—including quality time with one’s own dogs—and live by it.
- Guide clients effectively toward training goals (i.e., don’t prescribe 12 sessions for a 20-session problem).
- Charge professional rates for services.
- Foster an attitude of success and confidence, even if you have to “fake it until you make it.”
Her excellent talk is available for free on the APDT website.
Finally, 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. 2015), animal training is a growing career field. In fact, openings for animal trainers (including those who work with dogs) are expected to increase 11 percent between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the average growth projected for all careers during that time period (7 percent). This addition of 4,100 positions is only part of the good news. The BLS points out that there is strong competition for marine mammal trainers, horse trainers, and zookeepers, but this job scarcity 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 (April 2015) reported that 62.5 percent of animal trainers were self-employed, a factor which makes the aforementioned business skills especially important.
Finally, the BLS (May 2015) 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 (1,660 animal trainers employed)
- Florida (1,130)
- Illinois (960)
- Texas (760)
- New York (650)
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 2015), there were 11,720 animal trainers across the country with an annual average salary of $33,600. 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 2015):
United States (11,720 animal trainers): $33,600 annual average salary
- 10th percentile: $18,160
- 25th percentile: $20,640
- 50th percentile (median): $26,610
- 75th percentile: $40,010
- 90th percentile: $57,170
Translated into hourly figures, these equated to:
United States (11,720 animal trainers): $16.15/hour average
- 10th percentile: $8.73
- 25th percentile: $9.92
- 50th percentile (median): $12.80
- 75th percentile: $19.24
- 90th percentile: $27.49
Notably, these figures tended to vary by source of data. By illustration, Payscale (2016)—an aggregator of self-reported salaries—found slightly higher salary percentiles among its 76 responding dog trainers in the US:
- 10th percentile: $20,000
- 25th percentile: $25,000
- 50th percentile (median): $33,129
- 75th percentile: $45,000
- 90th percentile: $64,000
These figures also tended to vary by region of the country. Interestingly, four of the top five most lucrative states in this profession were also top-employing states. As proof of point, here were the top-paying states for animal trainers nationwide (BLS May 2015):
- Minnesota (160 animal trainers employed): $43,260 annual average salary
- New York (650 employed): $41,840 avg.
- California (1,660 employed): $37,720
- Florida (1,130 employed): $37,370
- Illinois (960 employed): $37,240
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 2015):
- West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach, FL Metropolitan Division (190 animal trainers employed): $80,080 annual average salary
- Santa Rosa, CA (30 employed): $58,590 avg.
- Wilmington, DE-MD-NJ Metropolitan Division (30 employed): $53,990 avg.
- Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY Metropolitan Division (210 employed): $46,010 avg.
- San Diego-Carlsbad, CA (260 employed): $44,690 avg.
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division (490 employed): $43,800 avg.
- Austin-Round Rock, TX (90 employed): $43,100 avg.
- Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI (130 employed): $42,670 avg.
- New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division (330 employed): $42,470 avg.
- Newark, NJ-PA Metropolitan Division (60 employed): $42,160 avg.
Dog Trainer Educational Programs & Certifications
As demonstrated by the extensive list of credentials provided by Association of Professional Dog Trainers(APDT 2016), there’s an abundance of education and certification options in this profession. While there’s no singular authority which 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 July 2016, 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 “in-home classroom experience” where students complete dog obedience training modules at their own pace. ABC utilizes more than 100 years of professional dog training experience in its curriculum, featuring courses including:
- Basic study of canines
- Learning theory
- Trainer’s toolbox & equipment
- Training fundamentals
- How to impart basic obedience cues
- Effective problem-solving
- Public speaking & teaching group courses
- Building a business
Additionally, ABC requires a hands-on externship under a mentor at a local animal shelter. More than 8,000 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 which provides up to $4,000 to qualifying candidates.
Canine Club Academy Certified Dog Trainer (CCA-CDT)
Another distance-based certification program is available through the Canine Club Academy (CCA), which offers the Certified Dog Trainer credential (CCA-CDT). The CCA provides a personal tutor to each student to assist with flexible online coursework across 10 modules:
- History & psychology of dogs (e.g., evolution, breeding, developmental stages, etc.)
- Dog training fundamentals: theory & practice
- Basic training for puppies
- How to train rescue dogs
- Canine healthcare, nutrition & first aid
- Identifying & correcting behavioral issues
- Advanced dog training
- Business toolkit & marketing
- How to secure employment in the industry
- Being a CCA Professional
Additionally, the CCA has four intensive business-focused modules—daycare for dogs, dog-walking, behavioral counseling, and other services—to hone various prongs of a prospective dog obedience trainer’s business. This program takes 24 weeks to complete, requiring approximately four-to-six hours of weekly work.
Canine Trainers Academy Certified Dog Trainer (CCDT)
The CATCH Canine Trainers Academy (CTA) provides a full certification program which takes approximately one year to complete. This program is recognized by the New Jersey Department of Education and the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development, and is available to students across the country. CATCH offers both distance-based coursework and hands-on workshops nationwide at venues including St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in (Madison, NJ), Hearts & Paws Training Center (Austin, TX), and the Willamette Humane Society (Salem, OR).
The ten modules of intensive dog trainer coursework include:
- Introduction to becoming a dog behavior expert
- Understanding dog behavior, body language & vocalizations
- How dogs think & learn
- Basic & advanced obedience skills (hands-on training)
- Tools of the trade
- How to lead group lessons
- Problem-solving for dog behavior
- How to lead private lessons
- Shelter externship (hands-on training)
- Launching a business in dog training
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.
Other Dog Obedience Trainer Certifications
In addition to the educational programs above which result in certification, there is also an abundance of credentialing organizations which provide certification to qualified candidates based on levels of education, experience, and other factors. Here is an overview of other certifications and society memberships which 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 previous three years
- Signed attestation statement from a CCPDT member or veterinarian
- Signed code of ethics
- Exam fee ($385)
The CPDT-KA computer-based exam comprises 250 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 trainings & exercises
- Signed code of ethics
- 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 trainings and 36 CEUs of lectures or seminars.
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (ACDBC and CDBC)
The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) approach 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 $75 and candidates must submit the following as part of the application package:
- 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 a 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.
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 experience as an instructor
- Worked with at least 100 dogs
- Minimum hours of experience: group instructors (104 class hours) or private instructors (288 hours)
Interview: Marissa Martino, Founder of Paws & Reward Dog Training
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 both 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!