For animal lovers, going to the dogs might actually be a good career option. But it’s not all fun and games: Training animals of any kind takes a lot of patience, as well as long hours and dedication.
Trainers work with animals for the stage and screen, as well as teach obedience classes for household pets. Although clients such as theme parks, traveling stage shows and Hollywood movies are the most glamorous, jobs for obedience trainers are more common.
Training is a slow process
Whether they are training a pooch to sit or to jump through hoops, it’s necessary to work slowly and to repeat each part of the trick over and over. Treats and positive reinforcement also help the animals learn, but 12-hour days are common.
“You have to take baby steps,” said Joel Slaven, animal trainer and founder of Joel Slaven’s Professional Animals.
“I haven’t had a vacation in 13 years. Animals don’t know about days off. The hours are whatever they need,” Slaven said.
Trainers don’t only teach dogs new tricks. They also monitor morning and evening diets, make sure animals are cleaned and groomed, and ensure that they have ample rest and playtime between rehearsals and shows.
Experience is key
Most dog trainers are self-taught, having trained their own animals and observed other trainers for many years.
Organizations such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (ccpdt.org) offer a certification based on “knowledge of the science of dog training” and a minimum of 300 hours in the field. The online test costs $385 for nonmembers.
Volunteering at animal rescue shelters or getting an apprenticeship with an established trainer are also good ways to gain experience in the field.
Entry-level trainers make about $1,400 to $2,000 a month. Trainers who own their own companies make more, but Slaven adds that it’s not a career for folks who want to get rich quickly.
Only animal lovers need apply
The most important quality for a dog trainer, not surprisingly, is the love of animals. Patience is also a key characteristic, given the long hours trainers devote to teaching each new skill to the animal. Those with small children may not be a good fit for this job, because of the long hours and lack of flexibility.
“It has to be more than a job; it has to be a way of life,” Slaven said.