This is a common question out there among dog trainers and people interested in a career in dog training. Having gone to two different dog training schools and working as an instructor at one, I will give you my perspective on the subject and help you decide if it's even the right thing for you.
I wont advertise for the schools I went to. This will be unbiased, partially because one of the schools I went to and work for don't want to be directly associated on social media with a degenerate like me. And I don't blame them, I do post some pretty inappropriate and unfiltered content between my Instagram and Facebook page. ;) If you follow my page, you're going to hell too. Jesus is watching you, just saying.
So you want to be a dog trainer and don't know how to get started? Read this first! This article I wrote a while back will help you see if dog training is what you think it's going to be.
Let's assume you've already done your research and are ready to embark on this journey. I will break it down into categories to help you decide what school would be good.
WHAT TRAINING METHODOLOGY ARE YOU MOST COMFORTABLE WITH?
"Well I don't know, I hoped school was going to help me with that."
We have students that come to our school, which is a school that teaches all 4 of the quadrants of operant conditioning, meaning we teach the proper use of Reinforcement, Punishment and how to properly use all training tools. In our school, many times we get students who are not comfortable with prong collars or electronic collars because they have some bias. Most of them change their opinion of these tools and approaches because they learn how to properly use them. Many of them even become very pro-ecollar and prong collar, not because they love to hurt dogs but because they learn how these tools can be life savers.
We also have a student here and there that never really made that change in their opinion. And it doesn't matter what information is presented to them, they just don't buy into it. And hey, that's perfectly OK. These are the students that would probably be happier at a dog training school that matches their belief system.
I can tell you I would have learned a lot from going to a purely positive dog training school but I would also have been frustrated later as I worked with cases where I needed different approaches. So I'm happy I went to school where I did.
So to conclude this section, research the schools, read their curriculum and talk to an instructor if possible. Don't talk their ear off as they are very busy, but call with a list of questions they can answer.
CAN YOU AFFORD TO GO TO A DOG TRAINING SCHOOL?
Don't be surprised to find out some of these schools range from a few thousand to over $10,000.
These are very specialized schools that have to follow state regulations to be qualified as continuing education institutions. There is a lot work involved in teaching you, and this wont come for next to nothing.
If you're a veteran and can have the VA pay for your schooling, be on the lookout for schools that take the GI Bill and /or Voc. Rehab.
***Please be warned that you need to successfully complete the course if you have the GI Bill pay for it, because if you don't, the VA will be coming after you to get ALL their money back, from tuition to BAH!***
I have to stress this because I've had students that were not aware of this and thought they could just slack and get their $1000 + in BAH just for showing up. Nope! if you don't successfully complete, you'll get to see a different side of the VA, one that is speedy and responsive!!
Additionally, you'll be out of work for whatever amount of time this school lasts, it could be 4 weeks or over 4 months. That's difficult because there's no income while you're going to school, unless of course you have a source of passive income.
DO YOU DO WELL UNDER PRESSURE?
Don't come to school thinking that it'll be "fun". If you have fun in the process, great!
But these schools are very intense, there are deadlines! There are academic and attendance standards. You know why? because they have to abide by their state's post secondary educational regulations. This allows them to call themselves schools and makes the nice certificate you get at the end a valid document.
So these schools wont hold your hands, they'll help you if you want to help yourself. But it's not one on one coaching. You're signing up for a school. I have worked with trainers who've attended other schools and their experience was very similar to mine. Work, work, study, study, maybe an hour here and there to eat and poop, but that's about it.
Some schools don't actually have state regulated curriculum. So their attendance and academic requirements might be a bit more flexible, but you will still grind from sun up to sun down.
If you don't do well with pressure, maybe a dog training school is not for you. Maybe you'll need to look at workshops and seminars to get your education. In no way am I trying to sound like a snob here. Workshops and seminars are very helpful and you will learn a lot! But having gone to seminars and workshops myself, I can assure you the road is a bit lengthier than emerging yourself in a full-time school.
Another thing to consider, is that school is never over. Once you graduate, you've gotten a huge foundation! but it's still just a foundation. There's no replacement for experience and getting your hands dirty. You have to recognize you need to keep training, reading, studying and going to seminars. Dog training is a career long journey, not a ride.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH SCHOOL TO GO TO?
It's very likely that you've already done your homework and now you have a few choices. You will keep hearing about other dog training schools. Make sure you keep the same criteria to screen your choices.
So now you're torn. Is it a matter of finances? You may have to compromise a bit.
One thing you can do is contact the schools and talk to them to get a list of graduates you can get in touch with. You can also ask on dog training groups and forums. Odds are you'll hear from a graduate of one of your choices.
When you get to talk to the students of those schools, make sure you talk to actual graduates, not people who went to the school and got kicked out or were unable to graduate as this more than likely wont be a fair review.
When you talk to graduates of these schools, be careful with the cheerleaders too. They loved the school but their outlook in life is so positive and optimistic that they will literally have nothing negative to say about the school. Chances are you're not this optimistic, and your outlook in life is not that bright, where you see opportunity in every disadvantage. Their feed back is great! but you're also missing some negative things about the school.
Be careful with disgruntled graduates too. Unlike the cheerleaders, these people have an incredibly negative outlook on things or HAD an incredible outlook on things at the time. They'll tell you all the negative things about the school without any positive feedback. It's virtually impossible that a school doesn't have a handful of positives about it, unless every time you talk to a graduate of the school, they all have similar horrid complaints. This may be an indication of an issue with the school, not the perception of its former graduates.
Lastly, don't take feedback from a person who didn't actually go to the school. I can't tell you about a dog training school I haven't gone to, yet people feel very comfortable giving you feedback on a school they never once stepped in. So take their feedback with a grain of salt.
Do you even need to go to a dog training school? There's an alternative. Look, you don't HAVE to go to a dog training school. Many of the dog training giants in our industry never went to a formal school.
This doesn't mean they didn't study though!! Some of the best dog trainers out there are thinkers! they're creative! and make a conscious effort to be better with the next dog. They didn't just go through the motions.
You can do something for 15 years or more and still be bad at it! So it's not just about "Time" and "Experience". Learning is a process, it's a daily choice.
So you don't have to go to a dog training school. You can learn on your own by volunteering, reading, going to seminars every chance you can. It takes consistent studying! you can do internships (If you do, I recommend doing multiple internships under different trainers). There is a vast amount of information out there. A dog training school just puts it together in an organized and linear format.
Just because you don't have the budget to pursue your dreams doesn't mean you can't pursue your dreams.
One of my instructors in the first dog training school I went to, worked for free for the first year. He approached the company he now works at a while ago and begged the owner to give him a chance to prove himself, that all he wanted to do was clean kennels and do whatever needed to be done to learn what now he's very proficient at.
ONE LAST WORD ON DOG TRAINING SCHOOLS:
In closing, I want to remind you that no amount of schooling or signed certificates can replace hard work and dedication. Dog training schools are hard and very rewarding, why? Because being a dog trainer can be hard work. A dog training school is not going to guarantee success. Your journey is not over at graduation, all that means is that you do well on tests. No one is going to hold your hand while you're in school. No one cares about your feelings when you're in school.
My boy Jaxx serving as a distraction for a 2017 class