The job outlook for dog trainers is on the rise as many owners look for guidance on raising their pets.
If you’re a dog owner with experience training dogs, you might be considering turning your skills into a profitable career. So how much do dog trainers make?
A dog trainer’s salary will depend on several factors, including the state in which they operate, whether they operate in a small town, large town, or in the countryside, as well as the strength of their credentials.
To help you decide if this is a wise career path for you, let’s take a look at these factors.
What is the Average Dog Trainer Salary?
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the earnings of animal trainers in general, and not for dog trainers specifically, their median numbers are largely reflective of the average dog trainer’s salary (source).
As of 2018, the BLS reported that the mean hourly wage of animal trainers is $16.95 per hour, and the mean annual wage is $35,260. The median numbers more likely to reflect dog trainers are $14.08 per hour and $29,290 annually (source).
The median numbers for the industries that pay the most per hour for animal trainers are local government ($22.02), scientific research and development services ($18.13), spectator sports ($17.56), support activities for animal production ($17.56), and social advocacy organizations ($16.29).
Pay Variance by State
Both the hourly and annual wage will, of course, vary widely by state. Dog trainers operating in cities also tend to earn more than those operating in small towns. The states of California, Florida, New York, Texas, and North Carolina boast the highest levels of employment for animal trainers.
Between these states, the mean hourly wage goes from $20.00 per hour in California to $13.22 in North Carolina or a median annual wage of $16.80 to $11.78. That translates into a mean annual wage of $41,600 to $27,500, or a median annual wage of $34,944 to $24,502.
The top-paying states for animal trainers are Iowa at $34.69 per hour, Kentucky at $29.16 per hour, and Illinois at $22.19 per hour. In Iowa, an animal trainer can even earn around $72,160 annually!
However, the median hourly wages expected for dog trainers in these states would be $12.27, $21.99, and $17.95 per hour respectively.
What They Do
Since many inexperienced dog owners struggle to teach their dogs basic skills, dog trainers make their living mainly through obedience classes. The trainer will teach the dog simple commands, manners, or tricks.
This is preferably done through positive reinforcement such as praise or treats to encourage the desired behavior. Dogs with distinct behavior issues will take more time, effort, and expertise.
Other trainers teach more specialized skills for the likes of service dogs, show dogs, hunting dogs, or police dogs.
The job requires excellent people skills since it’s as much about teaching humans how to interact with their dogs as much as it is training their dogs. In addition to working at obedience schools, your average dog trainer may work at a humane society, kennel, or pet store.
It’s also important to note that many animal trainers are self-employed, and the BLS numbers do not account for these workers.
While training dogs can be emotionally draining and even potentially dangerous, it can also be highly rewarding. There are also relatively few entry barriers to becoming a dog trainer if you have the necessary temperament and skills.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Dog Trainer?
Training programs can take from a few weeks to a few months, and an apprenticeship can take six months to a year. The American Human Society, for example, has a three-month apprentice program.
The apprentice observes a dog trainer as they teach classes and, over time, begins to take on a larger role in the classes (source).
Dog trainers might take courses at a community college or vocational training school, but there is no dog training degree or major.
The Association of Professional Dogs Trainers (APDT) notes that “formal education in behavioral psychology/ethnology/veterinary sciences is very useful,” while also noting that it is not required (source).
More important according to the APDT is volunteer work conducted at animal shelters that will expose you to many different breeds of dog.
The APDT also provides learning seminars and online resources for those interested in becoming a professional dog trainer, but they do not formally endorse any specific schools.
If you intend to work for yourself, it might be wise to pursue a business degree or take a few business courses. You may also want to take a few classes on course structure if you intend to teach classes on dog training.
Dog Trainer Certification
There’s actually no state or federal law that requires you to be certified as a dog trainer, although it does help with your credibility in the eyes of your clients.
For those interested in certification, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) is the leading national organization (source).
The CCPDT offers the Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) exam, which tests your knowledge of “ethnology, learning theory, dog training technique, and instruction.”
In order to take the exam, which costs $385, you have to have 300 hours of dog training experience within the previous three years. You also have to have a signed reference from a veterinarian or a holder of a CPDT certificate.
Those who do hold the title Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) have to undergo continuous education in order to maintain that title (source).
The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (AABP) offers a Certified Dog Trainer program to become a “Certified Dog Behavior Technologist.” They also provide a list of approved education providers (source).
There is also an international organization that offers certification known as the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, which includes a dog division (source).
How Much Do Service Dog Trainers Make?
Service dogs are dogs that are trained to help individuals with a disability. Service dog training also involves training the pair to work together, so it requires experience with people with disabilities as much as with dogs.
Most organizations that train service dogs are nonprofits, so they don’t always pay particularly well. The bottom 10 percent of dog trainers earn $9.74 per hour and $20,270 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI) provides high-quality certification for service dog trainers and requires a demonstration of proficiency for membership. They estimate the cost of a dog trainer’s salary at around $25 per hour over a six-month period for a total of $3,000 (source).
These organizations need to keep costs as low as possible, and the total cost of training a service dog can run over $25,000. There are organizations that provide service dogs for free to qualifying individuals, while others provide financial aid to make service dogs more affordable (source).
The American Disabilities Association doesn’t require a service dog to be professionally trained, and persons with disabilities can train their own service dog.
However, since there have been many cases of abuse involving the misrepresentation of animals as service dogs, many state and local governments have passed laws making it an offense to misrepresent an animal as a service dog.
To increase the quality of service animals, several companies like Canine Companions for Independence and NEADS World Class Service Dogs have special breeding programs.
The Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans has created a minimum standard for service dogs provided to veterans known as Canine Good Citizen Plus.
Police Dog Trainers
The hourly median wage of animal trainers working for local government is $20.02 for an annual median wage of $41,637. Some of this will depend on whether the trainer actually works for the police force or is contracted through a private training company.
Requirements for police dog trainers vary by state, and they usually require formal training at a state-approved K-9 instructor school. Law enforcement dogs require scent detection training to detect suspects, explosives, or narcotics. The dogs also have to be able to protect their handler and remain calm under fire.
The cost of training a police dog will be very similar to training a service dog, and these are highly valuable animals.
Interested to be in the field? Find out how to become a dog trainer in this video here:
If you have solid people skills and a passion for training dogs, you can make a solid living as a dog trainer with a median hourly wage of $14.08 per hour.
The greater your experience and credentials, the more likely you will be able to command a higher salary.
As Americans continue to invest more time and money in their pets, the future for dog trainers continues to look bright.
You generally only need a high school diploma to enter the field, and you can pursue further education and certification if you wish to grow your own business or further your career.