This is a great question! If you want to become a professional dog trainer, your logical starting point is a school for dog trainers. But what does that mean? Currently, there is no standard curriculum for dog trainers, so you really have to do your research and find out what the school you are interested in is really teaching.
There is a whole body of knowledge about how animals learn – it’s called learning theory. We’ve been studying these principles for years (remember Pavlov and Skinner?). These are well established principles of learning and every dog training school should devote a significant portion of their curriculum to these learning principles.
It’s also important that a good school address business issues. Most people who become professional dog trainers will be in business for themselves. Now, the school doesn’t have to give you the equivalent of a business degree, but they should cover basics of how to set up and run a small business, professionalism and marketing.
Dog behavior is also a very important part of a good curriculum. There’s a lot of misinformation about dog behavior floating around – some of it is just plain wrong, some of it is not relevant to training. New trainers need to be able to critically assess behavior and make good decisions about how to go about changing that behavior. In order to do that, you need to understand both dog behavior and the principles of learning.
And, of course, how to train a dog is essential. But – I would hope EVERY school that trains dog trainers would have this component!