Can I make a living as a certified professional dog trainer?

make a living as a professional dog trainer

The title of this article is perhaps the most common question we are asked by potential students who speak to us about our professional dog trainer courses and programs.

It would be easy to jump in without finding out the facts and deciding that you can easily make money as a dog trainer in 2019. After all, people are always going to have dogs, and those dogs will always need to be trained – right?

Having the right mindset

As with any new business idea, it isn’t always easy to get your venture off the ground. Your first few years will test your patience, question your talents, and make you wonder if dog training is the right career for you. 

One common myth for newcomers to the dog training world is that it will be ‘fun’ because instead of interacting with humans, you’re dealing with dogs. But there is far more to training than simply playing with pups from dawn till dusk, and whilst dog training can be an extremely rewarding career, this mindset overlooks a key trait of any successful businessperson – clear communication skills. As a successful dog trainer, you will need to network with people from all walks of life to sell your services.

Getting started as a dog trainer

Pet dog trainers who provide only group classes and private lessons are able to set their own schedule and work their own hours. These dog trainers can provide classes at local parks, public facilities, or local vets or grooming salons.  This can be an advantage in the early stages of your career, as it reduces your overhead costs and commitments to building upkeep, and allows you to focus on perfecting your timing, skills and diagnosis of behaviors.

In terms of services, trainers who only offer puppy classes and basic obedience may have a difficult time making enough money to cover their day-to-day expenses, but this is a great starting point or a way to obtain supplemental income. To stand out from the common basic obedience trainers, many trainers specialize in a narrower area – for example, scent work, competition obedience or dog fitness.

Gaining certification and building your reputation

If you’re serious about becoming a professional dog trainer, you’ll need to forge a reputation as a knowledgeable expert in your field. Taking an educational course and learning as much as you can about the inner workings of canine behavior is an essential step on the route to becoming a well-respected dog trainer. As you learn the theory, you’ll find it easier to diagnose behavioral issues and implement practical solutions.  

Professional dog trainers who are able to provide in-kennel training services may have the opportunity to make more money and focus on more severe dog behavioral issues. With in-kennel dog training programs, you have far more responsibility in the day-to-day care and cleaning of kennels and working with client dogs.  When starting out, many dog trainers can’t afford kennel staff, so they are responsible not only for training and rehabilitating the dog, but also for feeding, walking, and cleaning kennels seven days a week.  

This type of commitment to animals is not for everyone, and some become frustrated because they would like a day off. In the first few years of starting your own business, especially with in-kennel training and boarding programs, you won’t have a lot of time for breaks. This is when passion and dedication kick in to get you through the early days. Owning a business, especially when animals are involved, carries responsibility too – the reputation of your business starts and ends with you.

Additional services to consider

Many potential students are interested in other aspects of training, for example:

  • Training police dogs and military dogs
  • Working with search and rescue dogs
  • Competition bite work
  • Other dog sports

As you develop your interest and knowledge in these parts of the dog training world, you’ll reach a point where you will be able to provide these to your clients. Dogs are some of the most amazing animals in the world and teaching canines how to protect and serve through public service is rewarding in itself.

However, breaking into the working dog world is not an easy task.  New trainers must be ready to network, demonstrate, and donate time to build a reputation. Another challenging aspect of working dog training is teaching handlers how to trust the dogs. Humans are critical by nature and convincing new handlers that your canine can be trusted to protect their life, find drugs/explosives, and track down the scent of the missing is no easy feat. Patience and good communication skills are essential to match the canine and handler and teach them how to work together.

There has never been a better time to become a dog trainer

The pet dog training industry continues at a frantic pace, with overall U.S. pet expenditure expected to top $75 billion in 2019. There is no sign that the population’s willingness to invest in toys, treats and training for their beloved pets will be stopping soon. This opens up plenty of opportunities for dog trainers to provide high-quality offerings to pet owners around the country.

Anyone can hang a sign on their door that says ‘Dog Trainer’ – but it doesn’t mean everyone is good at it! However, if you are a self-starter, have a strong work ethic and don’t mind beating the bushes to get your business off the ground, there are clear paths for success.

At Highland Canine, we offer informative dog trainer programs which cover all aspects of dog training. Our students not only learn how to train dogs, but they also discover how to effectively market themselves as professional dog trainers after graduation. If you’d like more information, learn more about our programs or contact us for further details.

This article was originally posted on in May 2014. It was updated in July 2019.