With the explosion of dog ownership in North America in the past few decades, the field of dog training has grown and evolved into a fairly large industry of its own.
After all, most people want a well-behaved pooch to show off to their family and friends. Dogs that exhibit bad manners such as biting, jumping up on strangers, incessant barking, uncontrolled chewing, digging, etc. are usually no fun to be around.
Dog training also includes teaching canines to perform specific tasks, such as service dogs to assist the handicapped, police dog training, training for show dogs, military training, herding livestock, hunting, and more.
While the old saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is not correct, it is true that training a puppy that’s a “blank slate” so to speak is a lot easier than training an older dog who has a lifetime of bad habits that will need to be corrected. Dog training can be as basic as potty training a puppy, or as complex as trying to unwind extensive behavioral issues caused by trauma in an older dog’s past.
There’s also a growing need for training older “shelter dogs” who’ve been adopted into new homes. Many of these animals have developed a set of bad behaviors from their previous owners, and need extensive re-training before they can become safe, loving, well-mannered pets for their adopted owners.
How this industry has evolved
Dog training has been around in one form or another since Roman times, but it didn’t evolve into its current form until the last half of the Twentieth Century, when the US population moved out to the suburbs and more and more people bought dogs as pets.
These canines increasingly became “indoor” pets who interacted with their owners just like another member of the family. And just as nobody wants an unruly, out-of-control child running around the house, most people don’t want a dog that’s just as hard to control in their home either.
From this need, grew an entire industry around the training of dogs. It started with dog owners taking on the task of training their own canines, often with mixed results. Soon dog obedience schools were springing up around the country, full-time dog trainers opened up shop, and weekly obedience classes were being offered in the larger pet stores like Petsmart.
How dogs are trained
Dog training can take several forms, depending the requirements of the animal’s owner, and there are a variety of popular methods in use today. Obedience training involves teaching the dog to respond to a command, or a set of commands, such as “heel” or “lie down.” Behavior modification training attempts to break bad habits and behaviors, such as excessive barking or uncontrolled chewing or digging.
As you might imagine, dog training requires some understanding of how the animal thinks, and why it reacts a certain way in certain situations. Dogs are hard-wired from birth with a set of behaviors and instincts that are very different from humans, no matter how much a part of the family they may seem.
There are several different methods involved in training dogs, the most popular being the “positive reinforcement” approach that rewards the canine for responding in the proper way to training. This is the opposite of negative reinforcement, where the dog is punished for reacting in the wrong way during a training session.
Anyone who has young children has experienced positive and negative reinforcement when dealing with their kids behaviors. While both methods can be effective, it’s generally thought that a positive-based reward system will produce better long-term results, and make for a healthier, happier dog.
It’s also widely agreed that training should be a fun experience for the dog. Training sessions often include time for praise, a pat on the head, and even games. In this way the training becomes something the dog looks forward to, and this positive reinforcement is another factor in making the entire experience more effective for animal and trainer alike.
Working as a professional dog trainer
Some dog trainers start out by working for an established training business. Others jump right in and launch their own business. Unlike many small businesses, you can start your own dog training operation with relatively few start-up costs. You can start giving obedience training classes in your home, for example, or travel to the client’s home to administer one-on-one training there, which keeps expenses low.
Another option is to team up with a pet store or doggie day care business in your area, and pay them a small fee to use their facilities once or twice a week as needed. You could also lease out space at a local community center, school or church, and hold regular dog obedience classes at night, or on the weekends. Many of these organizations have very reasonable rates on their spare rooms, and they’re more than happy to have some additional revenue coming in from space they’re not using.
Some will even help spread the word about your dog training business, and advertise to their members or congregations. Other ways of getting the word out include advertising on Craigslist, running a classified ad in your local newspaper, handing out fliers at dog shows, and teaming up with a dog groomer or petsitter in your neighborhood.
While many states don’t require licensing or certification in dog training, it’s still a good idea to graduate from a professional training program, and becoming a certified instructor, before starting your own business. You’ll be able to charge more for your dog training, and prospective clients will have more confidence in your training abilities.
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