This article was excerpted from Pet Businesses, a startup guide available from SmallBizBooks.com .
Part instruction, part psychology, the field of dog training requires great people skills as well as a love of canines. Dog trainers will tell you that you're not just training the pooches--you're also training the folks who live with them. So you have to be able to talk to them kindly, deal with them patiently and reinforce their behavior--then do the same with their furry friends. While a background in psychology can be helpful, a true love of both people and pets and a desire to help them goes a long way to ensure success in this career.
People have been training dogs professionally for decades, although the training wasn't always done so humanely. Prior to World War I, trainers used patience and rewards to school dogs. But with the war came the need for a lot of four-footed "soldiers" who could work in the trenches alongside human handlers. The military often used harsh techniques to train the animals they needed quickly--techniques that included choke chains, punishment and fear.
But in the '70s, a trainer who would become a legend began to teach people who to use kinder and gentler techniques to train animals. Barbara Woodhouse, an Irish dog trainer, believed there were no bad dogs, only inexperienced owners, and espoused the use of rewards and treats to train pets. Her 1982 book, No Bad Dogs: The Woodhouse Way, became a classic.
By the late '80s, there was a resurgence of a type of training that had been invented 30 years before. Largely due to the efforts of animal behaviorists Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes, clicker training made a comeback. It uses a small mechanical device that serves as both a conditioned reinforcer and a signal that a reward is coming later. Although clicker training was initially ridiculed by trainers, "click and treat" training is now the standard in modern dog training, or as Wilkes says, "the first major improvement in dog training in about 15,000 years."
While there are no statistics on the number of dog trainers in the country because the profession isn't licensed, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers has about 5,000 members. And with an estimated 74 million dogs in America, there's lots of room for good trainers to enter the field.
Types of Services
A trainer's bag of teaching tricks will run the gamut from basic on-leash obedience training (sit, stay, come, heel and so on) to behavior modification. Trainers often specialize in certain types of services--usually the ones they like doing best. Among the most common services are:
- On- and off-leash obedience
- Puppy obedience
- Competition obedience (handling techniques for obedience trials at competition)
- Full owner participation training (teaching the owner how to handle the pet)
- Pre-pet awareness (helping owners decide which breed would fit their lifestyle best)
- Hand signal and voice command training
For more information on starting your own pet training service, plus four other pet businesses, check out our guide on SmallBizBooks.com .