Archive for Dog Training Industry

How to Become a Dog Trainer: Professionalism is More than Just Money

If someone needs a thing done but does not want or know how to do the thing, like how to train a dog to walk on a leash, they can hire someone else to do the thing. If enough people want the same thing, the thing becomes a profession. Some things require skill, some require strength. Many things are learned over decades,  for instance, how to become a dog trainer, many others only need days. From astronauts to apple pickers to accountants, there are countless professions out there and even more people doing them. If it’s a job, and you get paid for it, you’re a professional. Though perhaps overly simplistic with many exceptions, that is essentially how it works.

Along this line of thought, at first blush it might seem reasonable that one becomes more professional or perhaps a better professional the longer they do the thing or the more they get paid for doing the thing. However, I’m sure we can agree with a resounding NO that this is not at all the case. I’m also sure we can all think of certain thing-doers out there who are getting paid a ridiculous amount of money and have done the thing for a disturbingly long time, yet are not very good at doing the thing. We can all also probably name several other thing-doers who are exceptionally skilled at the thing yet are barely making ends meet. This might even be you! This disparity applies to pretty much any profession, but perhaps may be even more pronounced among professions that are not at all or not very well regulated. Perfect examples can be found within the companion animal industry. Now if we consider all of these different kinds of thing-doers out there, who are all doing the same types of things, but are doing them with different degrees of ability, and getting paid different amounts: are they all professionals? Well, if they are getting paid for it than, technically, yes. However, I believe that true professionalism is more than just money from doing something.

In my opinion, when learning how to become a professional dog trainer, there is an enormous difference between being a professional, and being professional. Further, this difference is not based on how long you’ve been doing the thing or how much you get paid for the thing. Rather, the difference is based on much more. A few examples are as follows.

Ability. A perfect example of professionalism is being able to do the thing! Having natural abilities is always a really great thing to have, especially when working with animals. One can significantly improve that ability by doing the thing, practicing and modifying to improve efficacy, and pursuing regular and on-going education.

Reliability. A professional shows up, on time, and does what they say they will, and meet or exceed expectations. Organization, realistic awareness of ability and limitations, and many other factors contribute toward reliability. My favorite motto is to always under promise and over deliver.

Communication. How you transfer information to others about yourself, your services, and your ability are critical to being professional. How you write, speak, dress, and act are all forms of communication that occur whether you are at work or at the grocery store. Knowing how much information to give, when to give it and when stay quiet, how to encourage as well as correct, and how to maintain boundaries are all skills any professional will need.

Ethics. Ethics for pet industries are often outlined by certification or education organizations, which many professionals are obligated to adhere to in order to maintain affiliation. Beyond that, it’s up to the professional to decide what they consider right or wrong, in terms of things like refunds, talking about clients to others, talking about other professionals to others, and so on.

Ego. It’s good to be proud of your accomplishments and toot your own horn from time to time. However, bragging and arrogance tend to be signs of less than professionalism. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong, while sticking to your guns when you’re right.

These are just a few ideas to consider with regard to professionalism and how to become a dog trainer.  In my upcoming Keeping it Professional webinar on May 1 at 10am central, I will discuss this and more and go into more detail about concepts. My goal herein as well as via the webinar are to try to provide even a single helpful idea for increasing your own professionalism. I love what I do and I want to see everyone succeed at what they do.


Through her company, Jones Animal Behavior, Katenna Jones provides behavior consulting services to cat and dog owners, guidance to local rescues, and educational events to pet lovers and professionals. She is an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Certified Cat and Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Pet Dog Trainer.

For more information and access to over three hundred webinars are telecourses, go to Raising Canine.

Privates or Groups, Make the Right Recommendation

There are a number of questions that come up in an initial dog training client consult. One of these is what specific service type best fits the client’s needs. For example, are group dog training classes the best fit or is one-on-one client coaching a better option? Consider the following factors when you make a recommendation for private versus group dog training instruction:

1. How important is individualized attention? Can your client and client dog learn well in a group, or do they have specialized needs addressed by one-on-one coaching?

2. Can you target the necessary behaviors best in the client’s home or in your training facility?

3. Is convenience important to your client?

4. Would the client dog benefit from the increased distraction of a group class? Or would this create sufficient stress that the dog would find it difficult to learn?

5. Has the client’s vet prohibited or discouraged visiting high risk areas? Even if you provide the details of your sanitation regimen, vets may not want extremely young puppies or immune compromised dogs to visit a training center. Of course, you should defer to the vet in these instances, most especially if you have already provided the details of your sanitation regimen. In these instances, in-home training is the only option, although you can discuss with your client whether coaching or day training is the best fit for their needs.

6. Are private lessons cost prohibitive for your client? This is an influencing factor, but placing a dog who needs private training in a group class for cost purposes does neither the client nor the other students any favors.

These are a few of the factors to consider when making a canine coaching product recommendation to clients on your initial phone consult.


Combating Media Misperceptions

Dogs make for great news, especially dogs that perform unusual acts that benefit their humans. Unfortunately, the media are not subject matter experts on dog behavior and can be guilty of misinterpreting or oversimplifying the dog stories they’re reporting.

In the following news article, a family dog exhibits reactive and possibly aggressive behavior toward the family’s babysitter. The article details abusive behavior perpetrated against the child and witnessed by the dog. The family discovered the abuse when their dog’s unusual behavior toward the babysitter prompted them to set a voice recorder.

As professional dog trainers, we know that most reactive and aggressive behavior exhibited by dogs is not in response to witnessing the bad acts of an individual or an indication of that individual’s bad character. It’s important to educate your clients as to the causes and treatment of aggression and reactivity. People-friendly dogs may respond adversely to a “different” person, including people of an ethnicity, mobility, or state of health that they have not routinely encountered. Some dogs have more generalized reactivity to people unknown to them.

Be aware that you will routinely encounter misconceptions, whether influenced by the media or otherwise, and that part of your job as a certified dog trainer is to help your clients make training decisions based upon accurate information, not misconceptions.

Understanding and Applying the Humane Hierarchy

What is the humane hierarchy? The humane hierarchy as it applies to dog trainers is a position statement promulgated by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) that addresses minimum standards of care. The following are the 6 procedures and practices to be applied in descending order when making decisions regarding training protocols and behavior interventions.

  1. Health, Nutrition, and Physical Factors
  2. Antecedents
  3. Positive Reinforcements
  4. Differential Reinforcement of Alternate Behavior
  5. Negative Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Extinction
  6. Positive punishment

Visit the CCPDT’s site to read the position statement in full. For a better understanding of the 4 quadrants and other practices above, enroll in Become A Professional Dog Trainer’s professional dog trainer course.

Why is it important for professional dog trainers to understand and implement the humane hierarchy? First, applicants for certification agree to abide by the CCPDT’s position statement as a prerequisite to holding a CCPDT certification. Second, and more importantly, the humane hierarchy provides an ethical framework within which professional dog trainers, certified and uncertified, can make training decisions when creating and implementing training protocols.

Swimming: Targeting Specialized, Seasonal Training

One of the requirements of a professional dog trainer includes staying up to date on specialized topics and being prepared with relevant information when your clients come to you with seasonal questions. If you live in a hot climate, your target service areas include suburban housing where pools are prevalent, or if you live an area with plentiful lakes, streams, rivers, or creeks, then get ready to answer questions about swimming. Conversely, if you live in cold country, your clients will want to know what outdoor activities they can safely do with their dogs.

Having a number of positive dog training tips ready for a variety of diverse topics will make you a better certified professional trainer, and your clients will be thrilled with your broad knowledge base! Read “Swimming with Your Dog: Getting Started In 7 Easy Steps!” for some helpful hints on swimming you can pass on to your clients.


6 Things I HATE About Being a Certified Professional Dog Trainer

You’ve read about the 7 Things I LOVE About Being a certified professional dog trainer.  Now that you’ve had a moment to think about your dream job, let’s take a moment to contemplate the hazards of becoming a certified dog trainer!

1. You can’t help everyone.

Most trainers choose dog training because they want to help dogs and their people.  Unfortunately, you can’t take every client.  Some can’t afford your fees, some have problems that don’t fall within your areas of expertise, and some clients aren’t ready to commit to change.

2. There are no end goal guarantees.

Certified dog trainers are ethically limited in the types of training promises we can make.  While a certified dog trainer can guarantee satisfaction, a certain amount of time spent with the client’s dog, or the use of certain types of methods, ethical trainers won’t guarantee training goal end results.  Clients desperately want to hear a guarantee, and less ethical trainers may offer these guarantees.

3. Days are long – and dog training will be the smallest part of many days. 

Accounting, marketing, cleaning, driving, and administrative duties.  Many dog trainers are small business owners, which means accounting, marketing, and various admin duties consume a large part of the day.  If a love of dogs, helping people, and teaching draws you to dog training – be aware that much of dog training does not involve training dogs.  Working for someone else, dog trainers can expect to do some light cleaning, driving to clients’ houses, and some admin.

4. Disillusionment     

For many professional dog trainers, the root of their professional interest comes from a desire to help people, decrease euthanasia rates, or from a personal experience with a special dog in their past.  Some clients have unrealistic expectations or want results with minimal or no effort on their part.  And dog training results are limited by a number of factors:  time, money, the training issue and end goal, and the owner’s engagement and ability to name a few.  These limitations can be disheartening sometimes.

5. Traffic

Such a simple thing – but a personal least favorite of mine.  Most dog trainers have private clients, provide day training, offer some dog walking (training walks, pet sitting for long-term clients, etc), and/or train group classes at multiple locations.  Expect to spend a good amount of time behind the wheel of your car.  And frequently, your clients are available at times that traffic is peaking.  This all equals 1 dog trainer in stop and go traffic.

6. Cobbler’s Children

If you’ve ever heard the saying the cobbler’s children go without shoes, then you’ll understand how little training a dog trainer’s own dogs may get.  I love to train my own dogs.  Many professional dog trainers love training their own dogs but find the days slipping by with no dedicated personal training time, each day filled to the brim with dog training…someone else’s dogs.

Why be a dog trainer?

Looking at this list, you may ask – why am I a professional dog trainer?  Every job has its downside.  What’s important is being aware of the pros and cons.  Incorporating my love of dogs into every aspect of my life, scheduling flexibility, helping people who want to be helped – these are things that provide me with a great deal of personal satisfaction.  Enough satisfaction that the things I don’t like, even sometimes hate, pale in comparison.  And always keeping the negatives in mind helps me to work toward improving those downsides of the job.  I can limit my traffic time through smart scheduling.  I can train with my own dogs if I simply schedule myself like a client.  Some of the solutions are less simple – but I’m always searching!

Yes, there are downsides. No, becoming a professional dog trainer isn’t for everyone. Create your own LOVE/HATE lists, compare the columns, and follow your head – or just follow your heart. I know that when I read through my list of “loves,” I fall in love with dog training all over again.

7 Things I LOVE About Being a Certified Professional Dog Trainer

1. Dogs.

I love dogs. Training them, hanging out on the sofa with them, watching them work, watching them play. As a professional trainer, I spend every day with dogs! Client dogs, and since I work for myself and have a dog-friendly workplace (of course!), my own dogs.

2. Flexible Schedule.

While it’s true that most professional dog trainers work primarily when regular folks are available, weekends and evenings, there is also the ability to set aside blocks of time when you simply don’t schedule clients. Does this mean you work less? No. But you have great influence over when that work happens, especially the administrative, marketing, and business portion of your work.

3. Picking Your Clients.

Like to teach puppies? Then focus on puppy clients! Love flyball? Teach a flyball class! Prefer hands-on training to teaching clients? Provide day training! Every business needs a certain number of clients to be self-sustaining, but you can direct the focus of your business and the types of clients you are servicing through marketing and product offerings.

4. Helping People.

As a certified professional dog trainer, you will solve people’s problems. That’s a great feeling.  Dogs are a part of your clients’ families, and by helping your clients build a stronger bond with their dogs, you’re making a significant positive impact on their lives.

5. Teaching. 

If you enjoy teaching people, professional dog training is a great profession to join. Dog training clients are a group of people who have reached out to you to solve a specific problem. They not only want to be there, many clients are highly motivated to learn.

6. The Aha Moment.

There is a moment in teaching people and in training dogs, where the light bulb comes on.  That moment when it all comes together is incredibly rewarding to see, especially  when you’ve been an integral piece in the process leading to that moment.

7. Being My Own Boss. More than setting my schedule, picking my client type, and helping people (great as all those are!), the general concept that I am responsible ultimately to myself and my clients is a great feeling. I like being the boss of me!

5 Tips to Make Clients Love You.

1. Listen!

As professional dog trainers, we spend years, sometimes decades, acquiring information and experience to better help our clients.  Sometimes we’re so eager to share our information that we don’t stop to listen.  To help our clients, we have to know what their needs are – which requires us to listen!  Check back for our blog on how you can improve your listening skills.

2. Dog training skills work on clients! 

Here are just a few dog training skills that will also help your client interactions:

Providing informative and timely communication.  It’s good customer service when you’re dealing with email and phone communication.  And it’s good teaching when you’re coaching clients.

Rewarding the behaviors you like.  You can do this by simply acknowledging your clients good timing, their correct execution of a mechanical skill, even their good efforts in following instructions.

Setting your clients up for success.  You can do this by giving your clients a training plan, making successive steps attainable, and managing their expectations for progress.

3. Be genuine!

You’ve chosen to become a professional dog trainer for a reason.  If you’re in dog training to help people, don’t forget that.  If you’re in dog training to help dogs, don’t forget that dogs have clients attached to them.  If you truly want to help your clients and their dogs, it shows.

4. Be an expert!

As much experience as you may or may not have, there is always more to learn.  It’s also important to refresh your memory and update your knowledge with continuing education.

5. Be specific!

When coaching clients, be very specific in both your praise and your criticism.  “I like that you rewarded your dog just as soon as his rear was on the floor.”  Or, “you might try keeping hand lower so that your dog doesn’t jump up for the treats.”  Being specific helps your clients to improve, and it shows that you’re paying close attention to them – and they deserve your attention!

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Wanted: Must Like People!

Are you considering becoming a certified professional dog trainer?  You love dogs and want to train to be a dog trainer.  If that sounds like you, then beware!  Every dog you encounter as a certified professional trainer has a person attached to the leash.  More than that, as a professional dog trainer, it is your ability to teach the person that has the greatest impact on the long term success of the dog.

Many certified professional dog trainers choose dog training as a career because they love dogs and are trying to turn a passion into a profession.  Be sure that your passion includes helping and teaching people.  If you want to become a professional dog trainer, it can be a challenging career path for someone who loves dogs but doesn’t have well-developed people skills.  What does this mean for you?  Here are some dog trainer requirements that focus on the human side of the equation:

1. Communication: As a certified professional trainer, you must be able to clearly and efficiently convey information to clients and prospective clients.  Many clients have busy lives with competing priorities, and your time as a certified professional trainer – especially in group classes – is very limited.  This makes clear and efficient communication vital for both your profitability and customer satisfaction.

2. Have a Heart: Compassion shouldn’t be reserved for the dogs, but also shared with your clients and prospective clients.  Many people turn to certified professional dog trainers in times that are especially stressful and emotional for their families.  They are struggling to cope with problems that seem overwhelming to them.  Criticizing their choices and judging the past does little to help a client move forward with solutions to the challenges they are facing.

3. Organization: As a certified professional trainer, you’re a teacher whose expert knowledge of dog behavior is the basis of your professional credibility.  It is essential that you be able to organize your class content and client communications so that you present information clearly and in a way that can be understood by your clients.

As you investigate the options and weigh the question – to become a certified dog trainer or not? – don’t forget that certified dog training professionals must like people, too!

The Humane Hierarchy

When CCPDT came out with their humane hierarchy, I was thrilled. I had been exposed to this hierarchy for several years, found it to be a very useful tool, and have been teaching it to my students, so I was very happy to see CCPDT adopt it. The hierarchy comes from the human applied behavior field, and a lot of very informed, serious thought by extremely qualified individuals went into it.

I don’t know that this is the reasoning behind the hierarchy, but it seems to me that the higher the level, the less stressful on the animal. In other words, antecedent control (another term for management) is less stressful than the next level down, which is R+. All learning is somewhat stressful, so, simply removing the stimulus that sets the occasion for these behaviors is less stressful than training the dog to do something different.

In our weekly phone calls for my Professional Dog Trainer Course students, I’m finding myself referring to the hierarchy more and more. Our phone calls are student-driven – i.e., they come to the call with questions, training scenarios they’re having problems with, etc., and we discuss these issues with a goal of clarifying how theory can inform us in real life application.

As we discuss these situations, I find myself saying things like

  • “Where does this fall in the humane hierarchy?”
  • “Why would you choose this protocol before trying DRI? Have you referred to the humane hierarchy?”
  • “Who can tell me the levels of the humane hierarchy?”
  • “You are expected to know the humane hierarchy and be able to recite it from memory.”

Knowing the humane hierarchy does not necessarily mean you must actually implement each level of the hierarchy before moving to the next level. It means you should understand the levels and be able to make an informed decision (from experience) as to what is going to work best in this situation.

I would expect the newer the trainer, the more they have to think about this; however, experienced trainers will know immediately that they are going to, for example, combine management, DRA (differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior) and P- (negative punishment) for a dog that persistently and obnoxiously jumps up on people; whereas, a softer dog who is jumping up and very lightly putting his paws on you may only need management and DRA.

The humane hierarchy can also help experienced trainers. We often automatically go to a technique that we know works without thinking about why. For instance, when working with reactive dogs there are three techniques that are all effective and actually very similar with minor variations: D/CC* (desensitization and counter-conditioning), DRA, and R- (negative reinforcement – CAT or BAT, for instance). Every trainer should have these three tools in their toolbox, but they can use the humane hierarchy to inform them about which is preferable and in what order.

The humane hierarchy also makes us better critical thinkers. It makes us think about what other trainers are saying, and analyze whether or not it makes sense to us. So, I think the humane hierarchy is a great tool and one we should all know by heart!

*Note: D/CC is not included in the humane hierarchy, but I believe it should be included on the same level as R+.