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Become A Dog Trainer

Want to be a dog trainer? Following the dream of a dog training career can be tempting—a life of dogs, clickers, interesting cases, flexible hours. Right? Yes, absolutely. But it’s much more, too. 

Dog training is also about working with people, marketing, sales, accounting, and all sorts of other administrative tasks. Success isn’t a given, even if you’re an experienced hobby trainer. But a solid plan can lead you to a profitable, enjoyable dog training career or business.

Here’s an overview of the steps to success—and what we can do to help you get there.


  • 1

    Get Educated

    A couple of decades ago, going to school wasn’t an option for dog trainers and most were self-taught. Now there are quality educational courses to suit any learning style and geographical location, so finding and attending a course should be the first thing on your to-do list.

    Dog training is as-yet an unregulated industry, so formal education and training will not only give you a proper scientific grounding for your work, but will elevate you to a professional level in a market still flush with amateurs.

    Articles to read: Going Pro, Making a Living With Dogs: 7 Steps to a New Career
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Classes to take: For an overview, download our free e-book Going To The Dogs

  • 2

    Define Your Services

    What services will you offer? Don’t make the mistake of leaving this decision to later—it determines your rates and policies, and often affects your brand identity, too. Will you teach group classes or do private training sessions, or both? If you do private sessions, will you take on basic manners cases only or also behavior problems like resource guarding and fear? If classes, which will you offer? Puppy? Basic manners? Dog sports?

    Take into account what others in your area are doing. Is a niche the best route? Many successful businesses are built on specialization in puppy training, dog training for families, aggression, separation anxiety, etc.

    Articles to read: The Case for Day Training, The Magic of Niches
    Products to save you time: The book How to Run a Dog Business
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Classes to take: Business & Training Workshops and web seminars like Train At The Next Level and Tips For a Successful Day Training Program.

  • 3

    Choose A Name

    This task is a lot tougher than it used to be thanks to so-called domain squatters—people who buy up every conceivable domain name and then offer them up for auction, hoping to make a bundle. Don’t let that put you off, but be prepared for the naming process to take a little time.

    Try to find a name that’s simple and memorable, or tie the name to local geography (Localville Dog Training). Consider your intended audience and let that inform your tone (Raging Rovers won’t likely appeal to families, for example). Check domain name availability for all names and make sure they haven’t been trademarked already at the county, state, or national level.

    Products to save you time: The book How to Run a Dog Business
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Resources to check out: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, NamingForce (crowdsourced naming)

  • 4

    Write A Marketing Plan

    If you hope to stay in business, you must market your services. It really is that simple. Putting up a website, though crucial, isn’t enough, nor is relying on word of mouth. You need a compelling marketing message and a plan to get that message in front of the right audience. This doesn’t mean you should spend thousands on advertising or direct mail, which are hard to target, frequently ignored, and offer a miniscule return on investment.

    Instead, focus on types of marketing that allow people to get to know you a little without the standard off-putting sales hype. Some ideas might be vet and shelter referrals, partnerships with other businesses, local PR and outreach efforts, informative newsletters, and so forth.

    Articles to read: Why Marketing Fails, Got Vets? Marketing Tips
    Products to save you time: The Marketing Toolkit
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Classes to take: Web seminars like Dog Pro Marketing Workshop

  • 5

    Get A Logo & Website

    This, on the other hand, is an area where you do need to be prepared to spend some money. Not outrageous sums, mind you, but sufficient to get you a professionally designed logo, and a professionally designed and written website with enough content to give people a sense of your training philosophy and techniques, experience, services, and what it might be like to work with you.

    And no, a DIY effort is not a good idea, even if you’re nifty with Photoshop. Unless you happen to be a trained copywriter, graphic designer, and web developer—all rolled into one—do the business-like thing and hire pros. Your website is your shop window to the world, and with so many dog trainers in the market, you want yours to stand out for its polished look.

    Articles to read: The Professional Bio, Got Website Links?
    Services to support you: Design & Website Services

  • 6

    Set Your Rates

    As simple as this sounds, deciding what to charge can be a stressful process for many people. This is partly because dog training has yet to attain status as a serious profession whose practitioners deserve to be compensated accordingly, and partly because some trainers, when faced with this prejudice, settle for less than they are worth and thus set an unfortunate precedent in an area.

    Don’t let that happen to you. Decide up front that, as you have valuable education and experience and are operating a fully licensed and legal business, you will indeed charge a professional’s fee for your services.

    Articles to read: Setting Your Rates Right
    Products to save you time: The book How to Run a Dog Business
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Classes to take: Business & Training Workshops

  • 7

    Craft Your Policies

    Thinking of skipping this one? Not a good idea. A policy manual may not jump out at you as your best friend in business, but your own may well turn out to be. Carefully thought-out and firmly enforced policies protect your business reputation and profitability—and thus your business survival. By contrast, the absence of sound policies can mean lost income, wasted time, and endless frustrations due to cancellations, payment disputes, and scheduling nightmares.

    So, buckle down and write a set of policies that will support business growth and actively train your clients from the outset to behave as you wish them to.

    Articles to read: Good Policies Save Money
    Products to save you time: Books like How to Run a Dog Business and Minding Your Dog Business
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Classes to take: Business & Training Workshops

  • 8

    Address Legalities

    Up next is legal paperwork, also rarely on anyone’s list of favorite activities. The good news is that legalizing and protecting your business is easier than you might imagine. At a bare minimum, you need a business license from your city and, unless you’re doing business under your own name (Joan Smith Dog Training), you also need to register a fictitious business name (also known as a doing-business-as certificate or an assumed business name) with your county clerk’s office.

    Now consider how best to protect your business. Liability insurance, while not foolproof, is affordable and adds a level of protection that can make it easier to sleep at night. Your contracts also should be crafted to spell out clearly what you are and are not responsible for. To get yet another layer of protection, you can set your business up as a limited liability company. Finally, set yourself up with a good CPA who understands the ins and outs of running a dog business.

    Articles to read: Going Pro
    Products to save you time: The book How to Run a Dog Business
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Classes to take: Business & Training Workshops
    Resources to check out: Mourer Foster (insurance for dog pros), Dollars & Scents (CPA for dog pros)

  • 9

    Set Up Systems

    Nothing can derail a budding business quicker than the absence of easy-to-use systems. Good systems are the framework that holds everything together. Don’t give in to the temptation to wait until you have clients; set yourself up for smooth sailing from the beginning by creating templates for contracts/service agreements, phone screening and initial consult intake forms, invoices, etc.

    Depending on your services, also consider business software for easy organization and billing, tracking client data, enabling online registration for classes, and much more.

    Products to save you time: The Business CD For Trainers
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Classes to take: Business & Training Workshops
    Resources to check out: DogBizPro (dog pro business management software)

  • 10

    Get Going

    Congratulations! You’re now well prepared and on track for business success. What to do now? Train dogs. Market your business. Repeat. And should you need advice as you navigate your new career, add to your services, expand your business, hire staff, and deal with competition, we’d love to help.

    Articles to read: A Successful Attitude = Success
    Products to save you time: Browse our collection of CDs to find professionally designed curriculum packages for basic, puppy, and topics classes, ready-made training plans, and pre-written training handouts.
    Services to support you: Business & Marketing Consulting
    Classes to take: Web seminars like Be A Full-Time Dog Trainer.