Learn how to become a dog trainer

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About work

Dog trainers work with dogs – as well as their humans – to teach basic obedience activities and, in some cases, advanced performance activities. Some trainers work primarily with dogs to correct their behavior. Teresa Jurgensen is one of them.

“I consider myself a ‘dog problem solver,'” said Jurgensen, owner of Webster-based Eastside Dog Services. “I like solving problems.”

For puppies, she says, that means anticipating problems. She also works with what could be considered “problem dogs” who engage in unwanted behavior.

“I love seeing a dog’s life improve,” said Jurgensen, who along with his staff work in clients’ homes. Work may include walks and dog-sitting.

Jurgensen practices the philosophy of positive reinforcement or rewarding dogs for their preferred behavior.

“It’s a bit like being a translator – we have to teach humans proper body language and teach dogs to respond to (commands). I love repairing the bond between owner and dog.

Dog owners should be aware that progress may be slow but will ultimately be rewarding, she noted.

Required qualities

Patience is key, as well as the ability to communicate in multiple ways. The job can be physically demanding, and sometimes emotionally as well. “I often have to restrain the big dogs when we start leash training,” Jurgensen wrote in an email. “Sometimes I have to jog or move fast.”

The hardest part of the job, Jurgensen said, is empowering owners, convincing them to adopt a different behavior “so that the dog doesn’t continue to practice the same (bad) behavior.”

Trainers must also be prepared to work a “flexible” schedule, including nights and weekends, Jurgensen added.

Education/training required

No federal or state license or certification is required to be a dog trainer, although certification is available and preferred.

Jurgensen was certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, which required 300 hours of training and passing an exam. Recertification is required every three years, she said.

The closest school to Rochester, Jurgensen said, is Karen Pryor Academy, which is based in Massachusetts and offers regional instructor trainers. The website is karenpryoracademy.com.

Companies like PETCO also offer their own training programs.

What work brings

Dog trainers can expect to make between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, Jurgensen said, especially if they’re “accessible to customers.” The New York State Department of Labor reports that the median salary for “animal trainers” (of all varieties) is just over $29,000 in the Finger Lakes region.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for “animal care and service workers,” including trainers, is around $31,500.

The photo of the work

“There’s a lot of demand, there’s a lot of puppies for everyone,” Jurgensen said. Especially over the past year, more people have had puppies during the COVID shutdowns, she said. “‘Pandemic puppies’ are a real thing.” Jurgensen said she was already booked months in advance.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 22% growth in “animal care and service workers,” including trainers, through the end of the decade. This is considered “much faster than average”.

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“It’s good for (dogs) to sniff things,” Jurgensen said. “They get a lot of stimulation. This is where they get a lot of “news”. We call it ‘pee-mail’.

Where to find out more: The Professional Dog Trainers Certification Board website is the website is www.ccpdt.org.

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Alan Morrell is a freelance writer based in Rochester.

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