Been There, Doing That: Advice from Pro Dog Trainers


“I think it’s really important for dog trainers to get a lot of experience being a student before becoming a teacher. Take as many classes as you can, in numerous disciplines, with your own dog. You’ll learn how different classes are structured and what you like and don’t like about them. When not actively working with your own dog, observe the other students and see how the instructor works with a variety of dogs and people.”
Dede Crough
Give a Dog a Break, Chester Counter, PA

“If it’s a business, not a hobby, you need to know how to run a business. Have a business plan. Know what your start-up costs will be. Know what will be the most effective advertising strategy for the first six months. Plan for your professional development as part of your costs. Get liability insurance. Be professional from the very first day.”
Marilyn Wolf, BS, CBCC-KA
Korrect Kritters, New Port Richey, FL

“People who want to enter this difficult, but rewarding, profession must be willing to pay their dues. I’ve had several calls from people – including some former clients – who have decided they want to become a dog trainer and want to know how to proceed. When I tell them to join the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), attend conferences, read books, shadow a trainer, help teach classes and volunteer at a shelter, most thank me for my time and never call back. In my opinion [dog training schools] alone won’t make anybody a competent trainer. You need practice, experience, observation of hundreds or thousands of dogs, many workshops and seminars, and lots of reading to be good at what you do. Every book, every workshop, every video holds the potential for giving you the perfect way to explain a difficult concept to a frustrated client, or the best way to get through to a difficult dog.”
Rick Riggs, CPDT-KA
Happy Training! Dog Training, LLC, Topeka, Kansas

“It is very important that you enjoy problem-solving; not everyone does. Training dogs and their people requires more than being technically proficient. You may know exactly how to change a dog’s behavior, but if the dog’s handler cannot or will not carry out your plan, you must be prepared to switch to Plan B, or Plan C, or even Plan Z. Be flexible, listen to what the client says – and then believe them when they tell you who they are. If they tell you they want a problem fixed now, creating a painfully detailed training plan is unlikely to be successful; perhaps management would be a better solution for that particular dog team.”
Christina Waggoner, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP
Deschutes River Dogs, Bend, OR

“I think it’s extremely important to schedule specific times to work on the business: accounting, taxes, advertising, networking, etc. It’s important to stay on top of these things. Social media is really taking off for dog professionals, so I spend quite a bit of time adding content to my company’s Facebook page and blog.”
Katherine Ostiguy, KPA CTP
Spring Forth Dog Services, Randolf, Massachusetts