Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So you wanna be a dog trainer?

RPB receives numerous emails from people interested in becoming dog trainers, particularly Pit Bull specialists. We thought it would be helpful to throw together a blog on some things to consider if you are thinking about embarking on the journey to become a humane, well-educated trainer.

But first, please consider the following: there are no regulatory practices in dog training or education of dog trainers. There is no licensing for dog trainers. ANYONE can claim to be a dog trainer or "behaviorist". So be sure to please read this short article. This will help you understand why not only as a consumer is it important to be choosy about the trainer you hire, but also to be cautious about what certifications and education you pursue if you are looking to become a trainer yourself.

So, what is the process of becoming a dog trainer? Who do you talk to, what school do you enroll in? Keeping in mind that the field of dog training is not regulated, extreme caution is warranted when choosing an educational route. Some of the best trainers are self-taught. They start by training their own dogs, then the dogs of family, friends and neighbors. They read the latest and greatest training books, they attend seminars. Then they begin taking paid clients.

It really is a good idea to pursue some sort of organized, concentrated education via a dog training school. There are many, many schools out there but very few are actually worth the money (and dog trainer schools can be very expensive). Beware "online schools" that certify you in weeks or months and then send you out as a "certified master trainer" or something along those lines. There are several excellent organizations and companies that offer genuinely valuable online education but these can never, ever replace hands-on instruction. Two avenues for online learning include E-trainingfordogs.com and Companion Animal Sciences Institute.

Learning from an actual trainer in a real-world training environment is by far the best way to go about educating yourself. Some are lucky enough to be able to apprentice with good trainers. Sometimes an appreticeship develops after you've enrolled in a trainer's programs with your own dog, and you later begin assisting in classes, and so on. Schools that offer genuinely valuable hands-on learning are not as easy to find. Several schools to consider include the Karen Pryor Academy, The San Francisco Academy for Dog Trainers and Pat Miller's trainer certification program. Any school you choose should include a curriculum that focuses on use of positive reinforcement to teach dogs and solve behavioral issues. Avoid schools that offer such certifications as "master dog trainer" or use prong, choke or shock collars as their tools of choice.

A large majority of dog trainers remain self-taught. These trainers can go on to validate their education by pursuing a certification called the CPDT - or Certified Pet Dog Trainer. This certification is offered through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and remains the only independent certification for dog trainers. Another certification available is offered through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). Both of these certifications are available to those who have completed certain educational and experiential prerequisites but neither require graduation from any specific "dog trainer school".

Educating yourself via books, DVDs, and seminars is extremely important. There is a very large number of resources available. DogWise.com offers a huge array of books and even offers lists of recommended reading for those pursuing CCPDT and/or IAABC certifications. An excellent source for DVDs is TawzerDogVideos.com.

Independent hands-on work with dogs is essential no matter what, and a great way to get this experience is via apprenticeships with or assisting local trainers; working with dogs of friends, family and neighbors; volunteering with shelters or rescues. Documenting the hours logged actually training and handlings dogs, as well as keeping case studies will be helpful later on when you seek certification through CCPDT or IAABC.

There is no quick or easy way to become a dog trainer. This fast-growing field is full of trainers with limited knowledge who bill themselves as experts and charge huge sums of money as they utilize inhumane/old fashioned training methods, or fail to help individual dogs with serious behavior issues that require a more knowledgeable professional. To become truly proficient in this field, you must spend years learning and working with dogs. Even once you become a professional dog trainer, your educational experience will never end - there will always be a new book to read, a new DVD to view, a new seminar to attend. This field is largely self-policed, so it is up to you to insist for yourself that you hold yourself to the highest educational and ethical standards. Dogs and their people will be relying on you for your help and expertise and in some cases, the situations you encounter may even be life or death scenarios for the dog involved. This is not a line of work to enter into without much forethought, or take lightly.

The above recommendations apply to those seeking to become dog trainers and/or behavior consultants. If you are seeking to become a behaviorist, education to the Masters level or higher through a legitimate grad school is a must. Courses of study that behaviorists pursue include behavior analysis, animal behavior, clinical behaviorism, and veterinary behaviorism. Since there are no laws governing use of terms such as "dog trainer" or "behaviorist", many people who label themselves behaviorists actually aren't - in other words, they do not have the college degrees that should accompany usage of such a label.

(Disclaimer: the mention of the above schools, organizations and resources is for your convenience only. RPB is not affiliated in any way with the above and we are not responsible for the use or misuse of the provided resources. It is up to you to do the proper research before pursuing any work or education in this field.)

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