That’s a question with no straight-forward answer! The answer will depend on your background and previous animal experience, the quality of the dog training program you pursue, the type and quality of hands-on dog training experience you are able to gain, and your own natural skills and abilities. The following should help give you an idea of what you are looking at in terms of time in your journey to a career in dog training.
Your own background and animal experience: If you want to be a dog trainer, you will need to gain experience in handling dogs and recognizing signals and signs canines give off with their body language. If you have spent several years working with dogs in a shelter or working as a kennel technician or groomer, you may have a jump on your competition in terms of your comfort level with dogs, handling ability, recognition of canine body language and more. There are several companies or franchises that hire and train people that have a background in the corporate world with no background at all in dog training. Although these candidates may very well use their skills as an attorney, accountant, business manager, marketing expert, etc. in their careers as dog trainers, if they want to become the best professional dog trainers they can be, they will need to gain a great deal of experience working with dogs before they can really succeed as a professional dog trainer. Although some people coming from a corporate background will have volunteer or other experience with dogs, sadly, many of the companies or franchises that hire people with no background in working with dogs provide as little as THREE WEEKS of training before turning them out to work as professional dog trainers!
The quality of the dog training program you pursue: Not all dog trainer educational programs are created equally. When you choose a program to give you the education you need to be a dog trainer, look for a dog training program that is based on science and teaches you the underlying sciences of learning theory and ethology rather than just giving you a handful of recipes to deal with different scenarios. If you understand the science that underlies dog training, you won’t run into trouble if none of the typical recipes work for a particular dog. You’ll have the knowledge and depth to modify your training approach to specific dogs and specific dog owners.
The type and quality of hands-on experience: After you learn the science of dog training, it is important to master the physical skills necessary to excel in the field of dog training. Volunteering to work in a shelter or kennel will give you the variety you need – you’ll work with a wide range of breeds, mixes, and ages of dogs. In addition to that, you’ll want to work with a professional dog trainer who can give you feedback about your timing, criteria setting, delivery of reinforcements, and handling ability. You can do this by working as an apprentice to another trainer, choosing a dog training course that includes either hands-on or video feedback work with a professional, or taking dog training classes with a number of different dogs from different trainers in your area. You will also need to practice your group class and instruction skills. Teaching people and running both private and group lessons take skill and practice. The best way to gain this skill is to work as an apprentice with an experienced dog trainer. Having a mentor that you can call on to ask questions and talk to about cases is also important.
If a program promises you that you will be able to become a professional dog trainer in a very short period of time with no hands-on experience or mentoring, be wary! You need a program that takes a commitment of time and energy and that offers you mentoring and feedback on your physical skill as well as an education in the science of dog training. Don’t settle for less!
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