Dog Obedience Trainer: Salary and Career Facts

Dog trainers teach dogs and owners basic commands and behavioral skills. Read on to learn more about a trainer's job duties, work environment, training requirements and earning potential. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Will I Do As a Dog Obedience Trainer?

As a dog obedience trainer, you'll teach dogs to respond and adhere to commands and other rules governing their behavior. These commands may be specific, such as sitting, walking, laying down or heeling. They can also be general behavior commands regarding housetraining, protection or socialization with other animals or children. Most obedience trainers work with domestic dogs, but some may train canines for hunting or competition.

Trainers typically use positive and negative reinforcement methods to train dogs. Reinforcement techniques are also known as bridges, and may include saying 'good dog' or giving out treats or toys when the dog follows instructor commands. When a dog doesn't follow commands, trainers may speak to them in a loud, strong, disapproving tone of voice or say 'bad dog.' They may also encourage dog owners to use punishments as negative reinforcement techniques at home. In some cases, trainers may use clickers, or slight physical pressure like tugging on a dog's leash, to elicit certain behaviors. Aggressive physical training is generally frowned upon within the industry.

Where Would I Work?

As an obedience trainer, you may work exclusively with dogs or with dogs and their owners simultaneously. If you work with both, you'll generally be responsible for teaching owners commands and behavioral reinforcement techniques. Canine-owner training generally occurs within structured dog obedience classes, which are often offered through community colleges, 4-H clubs or pet stores. You can also pursue employment as a dog obedience trainer at a kennel or animal shelter. Some obedience trainers may work on a freelance basis, offering their services to individual dog owners in their area.

What Kind of Training Would I Need?

You generally won't need any specific formal educational training to become a dog obedience trainer, but experience is preferred. Many jobs offer some training to new employees, but you'll still need existing knowledge of dog obedience training in order to get hired. According to the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors, many aspiring trainers learn their craft by working with their own dogs, then go on to volunteer training positions and move up from there (www.nadoi.org). You can also learn about dog training by taking courses or enrolling in a certificate program at a community college or trade school.

Training programs teach you about different dog breeds and the unique methods that may be required to train them. You'll also acquire some basic knowledge of canines' behavior and learning processes. Courses provide in-depth education in the various positive and negative reinforcement training techniques outlined above. They also cover physical conditioning, nutrition and dog care techniques. Business operations, accounting and marketing may also be covered.

How Much Can I Earn?

As of May 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that animal trainers earned a median hourly wage of $14.94 (www.bls.gov). This number represents all animal trainers and isn't exclusive to dog trainers. However, the BLS also states that since the majority of animal trainers work with dogs, the above-mentioned figure is likely similar to the median pay rate of dog trainers alone. According to PayScale.com, as of December 2010 dog obedience trainers earned a median hourly wage of $8.72-$11.48 working from an employer. Earnings potential was the highest for self-employed dog obedience trainers, who earned a median hourly wage of $24.19-$50.00 per hour, also as of December 2010 from PayScale.com.

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