Are you considering a career as a professional dog trainer?

Adding expertise in dog training can be a fantastic way to:

  • develop a brand-new, life-long career path
  • have an enjoyable side-gig
  • build more flexibility into your work life
  • develop skills you can use anywhere in the world or
  • enhance an existing career working with dogs.

Is dog training a good career?

If you have a deep love of animals, can think on your feet and enjoy working with people, dog training can be a great career choice.

  • The outlook for dog training is bright. Even before the COVID-19 shakeup, the US Department of Labor projected that the number of jobs in the animal care and service industry would grow by 22% between 2015 and 2026. During the pandemic, 50% of surveyed pet parents reported that spending more time with their pets was a primary benefit of working from home.
  • Tech-savvy dog trainers are defining a new business model. Many dog trainers seized the opportunity to add online training and connected with pet parents even after in-person classes were shuttered. This is especially valuable for areas where dog-training services may be hard to come by, or pet owners who need a trainer more deeply qualified in a specific complex challenge, like anxiety, aggression or reactivity.
  • New trends in dog activities are gaining popularity. Online videos and books about dogs who specialize in scent work, flyball, agility, therapy dog work and more are inspiring dog owners to seek local and online classes to engage more actively with their canine family members. This has led to training specialists who offer guidance and support for getting started in these activities.
  • The life you want is within reach. Whether you want a life-long career, a change of pace or a fun side-hustle, the dog training industry offers the option of setting flexible hours that suit your clients’ needs – and your own.

How much can I make as a dog trainer?

Typically a deep love of dogs and a yearning to help people is what gets dog trainers started in the field. Getting paid feels like a bonus! If you’re considering a full-time, permanent dive into the pool of dog training, it’s good to know that a comfortable living is available to keep you afloat.  Start-up costs for becoming a dog trainer are low compared to many other careers, and practice can often start at home – with your own dog. Once you get established, your earning potential increases rapidly, with hourly rates for private sessions often over $100/hr and group lessons charging $30+ per group class, per dog.  How much income you make as a dog trainer is influenced by several variables:

  • Will you be an employee or run your own business? The majority of dog trainers opt to run their own businesses. Many also do part time work for organizations like animal shelters. The flexibility of being your own boss and determining which hours you’re going to work with clients is a big incentive for prospective dog trainers. It allows you to literally build the day-to-day schedule you want while working with the clients and cases you feel most drawn to. Many dog trainers also choose to band together, creating everything from referral networks to co-teaching or franchising.
  • Do you work full or part time? A great part of being a dog trainer is that it doesn’t have to be full-time, especially not at first. Many dog trainers will opt to keep their “day jobs” when first learning the business, allowing them to get a taste of the work, build experience and grow clientele. 
  • Where are you located? As with many careers, dog trainers often start out catering primarily to the local market. More and more, however, are branching out to online offerings. A local training base is a good way to build experience and your network, while expanding online gives you the flexibility to specialize more deeply and have access to clients who might not be able to access you otherwise. Online offerings, like courses, can also be sold by trainers as a form of passive income, growing your overall income potential without adding hours to your day.
  • How experienced are you? Gaining education and experience increases your earning potential as a dog trainer, but it’s not the only benefit. Many experienced pet professionals choose to add training knowledge to their toolkit to increase their impact and help them stand out from the competition. Other trainers may start out focusing on basic manners and common behaviors, but then choose to specialize, working with owners to navigate more complex challenges, like anxiety, aggression and reactivity. Others choose to specialize in new or growing trends, like therapy dog training and sports. This keeps things challenging and exciting. With dog training, how deep you go is really up to you. It’s important to note that not all experience is equal. Entry-level positions at big box pet stores offer the opportunity to build experience, but provide some of the lowest pay. More concerning is that some of the training you receive with these organizations may not meet the standards in the industry. Good trainers will seek out the latest information, committing to continuing education throughout their careers.
  • What are your credentials? At this point you’re probably realizing that the term “dog trainer” can mean a few different things. It can be confusing! (Check out how VSA is working with an international coalition of animal behavior organizations to bring more standardization to the terms used.) Just as almost anyone can refer to themselves as a professional dog trainer, almost any entity can currently state that it ‘certifies’ its members or graduates to a certain level of professionalism. So credentials can be a bit tricky. They are often considered by pet owners, however, as a way to identify how to hire a dog trainer they can trust. Pet owners specifically seek a trainer to find solutions and to forge a closer, happier relationship with their dog – a dog that they often view as a family member. Saying you have specific credentials (like being a graduate of our Dog Trainer Course) or certifications tells potential clients that you’ve sought and received third-party education and validation in your expertise. These may differ in what, exactly, they’ve validated you for, but it can increase a new client’s trust as they consider you over another trainer. That’s another reason why choosing the right dog trainer school is so important – the credentials you receive as a graduate from a particular institution will reveal a lot to a discerning dog owner. And remember, credentials don’t have to equal certification. For example, a credential might also include your relationship with a local shelter your client loves, where you lead their efforts in training and evaluating behavior.
  • Do you offer additional services or provide a specialist’s point of view? As the industry evolves and the world speeds up, most pet owners are seeking one-stop shopping for their pet’s needs. Whether you’re currently a groomer looking to train, a trainer looking to add walking and boarding to your services, or a specialist who communicates with and coordinates care with your client’s veterinarian to rule out health issues, coordination or diversity of services offered is becoming more important than ever. As such, building in additional services and/or specializing more deeply in a single complex area of behavior can lead to higher income potential for your dog training business.

Top tips for increasing your income potential

  • Value your time. Even as a volunteer, the time you donate to an animal shelter or assisting an experienced trainer should also be focused on expanding your expertise. Ask questions and take advantage of all the educational and networking opportunities available to you.
  • Own your worth. You don’t need to undercut your competition to break into your local or online market. Provide your clients with high-value services instead.
  • Expand your training services or specialize over time. You can specialize your training in agility, behavior modification, managing aggression, show dog handling, scent work, puppy training, and more. Are you driven to make a life-changing difference in someone’s life? Consider a specialty in service dog training or search-and-rescue canines! The field of dog training is exploding, and there are new opportunities developing all the time.
  • Roll online instruction into your service options. Take that pandemic lesson to heart and think beyond in-person classes.
  • Add training to other high-demand pet services. Dog parents who need a dog walker or dog boarding are often pleased to pay a higher fee if their dog will receive expert training at the same time. 
  • Keep your ears open and shape service packages around what clients want and need. Explore how to diversify your revenue stream with this free revenue miracle grow worksheet.

What does it take to be a dog trainer? 

Growing your dog training expertise has good earning potential and certain qualities can help you shift from a good trainer to a great one:

  • Love for dogs, and people, too. People are a critical part of the dog trainer’s equation. If you love helping people and their pets, a training career is one to consider.
  • Lots of experience with dogs. If your hands-on experience is limited, consider working with shelter dogs, partnering with an established trainer in their classes, or taking an entry-level training position that includes professional oversight.
  • A strong drive for on-going learning. Reading, attending lectures, conferences, webinars and seminars show that you are committed to staying current in an ever-changing field. 
  • A love of having fun. Positive training methods are fun! They are a win-win-win for you, your client and their canine.

The Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior is a fantastic place for both new and experienced trainers to build their careers, get on top of new trends and stay current. 

Sign up for a free starter course to begin or expand your dog training journey.

Learning is always a beginning, and never an end.

As a dog trainer, you are part of a fascinating and constantly changing industry with lucrative earning potential. By seeking professional education, you are stepping forward into a supportive network of like-minded and enthusiastic trainers. Open the door by enrolling in our free starter course, and sign up for our newsletter to join the community.