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Dog Training Careers

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Are you thinking of becoming a Dog Trainer and not sure where to start?

Dog TrainerOne thing to sort out in your mind is whether you want to train dogs (dog trainer) or teach people how to train their dogs (Dog Training Instructor). If you want to do the former then you may want to talk to the big charities like Guide Dogs for the Blind, Hearing Dogs etc who train dogs as Assistance Dogs. Or you may want to offer residential training yourself - where you take dogs into your home/kennel and train them to do various behaviours. Once they understand what is required the cues are transferred over to the owner. But what most people refer to as a Dog Trainer – person who runs classes for owners - is actually teaching the owners, not the dogs.

One of the first things you need to decide is 'Do you like to work with people?'. If you don't, then please do not think about becoming an instructor. Although we get to work with dogs the majority of the work is with the owners.

To get started the best way is to take a good course, read lots of books, go to as many different seminars and workshops as you can and help out at a good dog training school. The emphasis here is on 'good'. There are lots of courses available – all will teach you something, but some are better than others. Some are still teaching 'dominance reduction theory' an idea long abandoned by modern trainers/instructors. Some are still using punitive methods and aversives (like spray collars and choke chains) which we know are not only unnecessary but can ruin the relationship between owners and dogs because they induce fear in dogs.

DogsOnce you have a basic understanding of Learning Theory, Technical Knowledge, how to teach basic exercises and a plethora of other skills needed to be a Dog Training Instructor go along to some local classes. Phone first and ask if you can go along and watch. If you like what you see then ask if you can come along again. If you don't like it, learn from what is going wrong and call another class.

Many Dog Training Instructor's (DTI's) work part time – teaching at classes/club one or two evenings/days each week. Very often this work is unpaid. It can however give you experience while you are improving your skills, and gives you the chance to work with supervision/support from other instructors.

Even if you decide you want to make a living out of instructing you are unlikely to be working full time, running classes. You would need an awful lot of owners/dogs to to fill thirty or forty classes every week! Some instructors find they can earn sufficient money from their classes and one to one work (where you teach individual people, usually in their own home), but most of them do other work, either a completely separate job or another dog related job such as Behaviourist, Groomer, Dog Walker, Dog Sitter etc.

The majority of DTI's are self-employed. A few work for organisations, but they are in the minority. So, another thing to take into consideration – do you want to be self-employed? There are benefits – you set your own times of working, you can take breaks, you answer to yourself. The cons – you are not guaranteed a wage each week, you have to be organised ensure you pay your taxes, national insurance and make sure you have enough money to live on.

Good things about being a self-employed dog training instructor include:

  • Work for yourself
  • Set your own hours
  • Flexible
  • Get to work with dogs
  • Get to work with people
  • Can be very rewarding

Not so good things include:

  • Workload is variable – often goes down in the summer, and around Christmas for example
  • Have to work at least some weekends and evenings
  • Can be frustrating
  • Not everyone has the same commitment to training their dog as you havesome owners can be challenging
  • Can be lonely work

What can you teach

  • Good manners – most popular. Basic exercises – Sit, Stand, Down, Recall, Walk nicely, leave food, pay attention. You will also teach puppy owners/handlers about bite inhibition, natural 'dog' behaviours, socialiation/habituation and the needs of their dog. Help owners to understand how their dog learns so they can teach their dog anything they would like him to understand.
  • Obedience – competition or fun - close heel work, sharp turns, long stay, send away, scent discrimination etc.
  • Agility – competition or fun – jumps, weaves, tunnels, A frame – fast and accurate.
  • Ring craft – competition – it might seem as if the owner is just walking round the ring at Crufts, but in fact there is a lot of skill involved in showing your dog in the best possible light, getting him to move at the most appropriate speed etc.
  • Rally – competition or fun – Brought over by APDT UK a couple of years ago. Similar to obedience, but with more fun involved. Dog has to be seen to be enjoying himself! Aimed more at the pet dog owner, than obedience competitors.
  • Flyball – where the dogs race over small hurdles, hit a box which releases a ball, they catch it and race back to their owner.
  • Gun dog – competition or fun – Teaching the dog to retrieve game that has been shot – from land or in the water – and returning it to the owner, and other skills/behaviour appropriate to working as a Gun Dog.
  • Heel work to music/Freestyle – dancing with dogs.
  • Working trials – scent work – following a trail or searching an area for novel items and returning them to the owner. Second part is akin to agility where dogs have to go over long jumps and scale quite high walls.
  • Water sports – Newfoundlands in particular love water sports where they are taught to 'retrieve' people and boats and bring them to safety.
  • Sheep herding – great for the border collies, gives them a release for their inate talents.

Dog in TrainingThere are many, many dog sports available in this country – the list above is just some of them. Any dog sport you are interested in you can teach. Of course you have to learn all about the discipline first – the rules, the different exercises, different ways of teaching each exercise – then you can compete in it and perhaps even judge it, so that you know as much as possible about it, before teaching it to others.

At the moment Dog Trainers and Dog Training Instructor's do not (by law) have to have any specific qualifications, standards of knowledge or experience. This is being looked at by the industry now, and hopefully this will change in the future. Initially it may be 'self-regulation', but eventually it will hopefully be made law that you have to be competent and have a certain standard of knowledge before you can teach people to train their dogs.

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers, UK and some other organisations have set standards that Instructor's must meet before they can become members. The Association was set up to be able to give dog owners the assurance that if they are taught by a member they will be taught correctly, and with up to date, no aversive training methods. APDT, UK members also have to abide by a Code of Practice and if found to have broken this they will have their membership taken away. It is a good idea to aim for membership of one of the recognised organisations – it will give owners an assurance of your competency and give you a network of colleagues.

  • Learn as much as you can about training dogs and get experience of working with different dogs
  • Learn as much as you can about teaching people, planning classes, presentation and communication
  • Work with experienced instructors, if possible, as an assistant and later as an instructor with their support/guidance
  • Become a fully-fledged Instructor!
  • Continue learning and keep up to date with modern methods
  • Enjoy!
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