The Top-Earning Dog Trainers. Who They Are and How They Make Bank

Introduction

The dog training industry has continued to grow as more pet owners seek professional help with training and behavior modification. According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey, over 90 million households own a pet dog and spent $103.6 billion on their pets in 2020 alone.

Dog trainers can specialize in a variety of areas and set their own rates. However, pay often depends on factors like expertise, reputation, location, and the types of services offered. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for animal trainers in the U.S. was $37,950 per year or $18.25 per hour in 2021.

Some of the highest paid dog training specialties include service dog training, behavior modification, competition training, board and train programs, and training for brand-name dog companies. The most successful trainers are skilled, accredited, and have a strong reputation.

Dog Training Specialties

There are several common specialty areas that dog trainers may focus on. These include:

Service Dog Training

Service dog trainers work with dogs who will assist people with disabilities. According to the ADA, service dogs must be trained to perform tasks and behaviors that mitigate their handler’s disability. Common types of service dogs include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, mobility assistance dogs, seizure alert and response dogs, and psychiatric service dogs. Service dog training requires extensive skill and experience to prepare the dogs for public access and specialized assistance tasks.

Learn more: Wagntails dog trainers

Behavior Training

Behavior trainers work with dogs who exhibit problematic behaviors like aggression, anxiety, excessive barking, resource guarding, separation anxiety, and more. They use techniques like desensitization, counterconditioning, and positive reinforcement to modify unwanted behaviors and teach alternative appropriate behaviors instead. Extensive education in dog psychology, body language, and behavior modification is critical.

Competition Training

the top-earning dog trainers make over $70,000 per year training service dogs.

Competition dog trainers prepare dogs for organized sports like agility, obedience, rally, tracking, etc. This requires teaching extensive verbal cues, handling skills, and sport-specific behaviors. Competition trainers help build the dog’s confidence, precision, and performance skills through ongoing training and trialing. They cater programs to each dog’s strengths.

Service Dog Training

Service dog trainers work with dogs that assist people with disabilities and train them to perform specialized tasks. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for service dog trainers is $40,348 in the US, with top earners making over $70,000 per year. The demand for qualified service dog trainers is high as these specially trained dogs provide critical assistance to those in need.

Becoming a service dog trainer requires extensive education and hands-on training. Trainers need expertise in canine behavior, conditioning techniques, and disability assistance skills. Accredited training programs and apprenticeships provide the rigorous preparation needed for this field. Additionally, trainers must have patience, empathy, and adaptability to work with dogs and clients over months of personalized training. Given the intensive process required, service dog trainers are well compensated for their specialized abilities.

Behavior Training

Behavior training focuses on modifying a dog’s problematic behaviors like aggression, anxiety, fearfulness, and more. These specialists work closely with owners to identify the underlying cause of the behavior and create customized training plans to change it (Outline Management Guide). Common issues they address include:

  • Aggression towards people or other animals
  • Excessive barking
  • Separation anxiety
  • Fearfulness and skittishness
  • Resource guarding around food, toys, etc.
  • Obsessive compulsive behaviors like constant licking

The goal is to replace unwanted behaviors with more positive ones through techniques like desensitization, counterconditioning, and positive reinforcement. It takes a deep understanding of canine psychology and behavior to effectively modify ingrained issues, so skilled behavior specialists can earn $60,000 or more per year.

Competition Training

Competition dog trainers focus on preparing dogs for performance events like agility trials, obedience competitions, and conformation shows. Their goal is to train dogs to execute commands flawlessly and behave properly in the show ring. According to Active Dog Sports Training, the average salary for competition dog trainers ranges from $74,484 to $95,970. (see https://www.salary.com/research/company/active-dog-sports-training-salary)

competition dog trainers earn up to $95,970 per year training dogs for championships.

These trainers use positive reinforcement techniques to teach dogs the advanced skills needed for competition. This includes perfecting obedience behaviors like heel, sit, down, stay, and come commands. For agility, they must train dogs to confidently and safely navigate obstacles like jumps, tunnels, teeter-totters, and weave poles. Trainers also work on perfecting a dog’s gait and stance for conformation. Competition training requires patience, consistency, and a deep understanding of canine behavior and learning theory.

The high salary range reflects the expertise and time commitment required. Trainers invest significant hours over months or years preparing a dog for championship-level performance. Competition training also demands knowledge of breed standards, sport rules, and show ring etiquette. Since competitors invest serious money into dogs, handlers, and travel, they expect top-level expertise from their trainers.

Board and Train

Board and train dog trainers take dogs into their facility or home for an extended period, typically ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months, to provide intensive training. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for board and train dog trainers is $48,500, ranging from $30,000 for entry-level to $120,000 for top earners. However, salaries can vary widely based on factors like location, credentials, experience, and whether the trainer owns their own facility (ZipRecruiter).

The primary benefit of board and train programs is the immersive training environment. With constant supervision and training throughout the day, dogs can make quick progress in obedience, behavioral issues, or service dog tasks. The duration of stay provides the repetition and consistency needed to solidify new behaviors. Owners also benefit from not having to directly implement the training techniques themselves.

On the downside, board and train is typically the most expensive training option, with costs averaging $500-1000 per week. There’s also a risk of dogs regressing after returning home to owners. To mitigate this, many board and train programs include follow-up lessons or refreshers. Thorough communication, planning, and owner education are key to ensuring training translates from the board and train environment back into the home (The Academy of Pet Careers).

In-Home Training

Many dog trainers offer in-home training, where they work one-on-one with clients and their dogs inside the client’s home. This allows the trainer to see the dog’s behavior in its natural environment and train both the owner and the dog together. According to Indeed, in-home dog trainers in the US earn an average salary of $70,000 per year.

in-home dog trainers can make $70,000 yearly by building a loyal client base.

The main advantage of in-home training is that it focuses on addressing problem behaviors in the environment they occur. The trainer can watch the dog’s reactions and pinpoint triggers for unwanted actions. They can coach the owner on proper techniques while observing how they interact with their pet. This customized approach often yields faster and longer-lasting results compared to other training formats.

In-home sessions allow trainers to develop deep relationships with their clients. Dog owners appreciate this personal touch and many choose to continue working with the same trainer long-term. The ability to retain and build up a loyal client base is a major perk that allows talented in-home trainers to command premium rates.

Group Class Training

Group class training involves leading puppy, obedience, agility, or other specialty classes for groups of dog owners and their pets. Trainers teach owners how to train their dogs through demonstrations, lectures, and hands-on practice. Classes usually meet once a week for 4-8 weeks.

According to the Academy of Pet Careers, group class trainers typically earn $25-40 per hour depending on experience and location [1]. On average, group class trainers make $35 per hour teaching classes with 6-10 participants paying $120-150 each for a 6 week course [2]. More experienced trainers or those working for a major brand may earn up to $50-60 per hour.

The main benefits of group class training are getting to help many dogs and owners at once while earning a steady hourly rate. The downsides are prep time for classes and dealing with occasional problem owners. Overall, skilled group class leaders can earn a decent full-time income through this dog training specialty.

Brand-Name Companies

Big chain pet retail companies like Petco and Petsmart employ a large number of dog trainers across their many locations. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a Petco dog trainer is approximately $32,000 per year.

big chain retailers like petco pay dog trainers approximately $32,000 per year on average.

Data from Glassdoor shows that Petco dog trainers make $15 per hour on average, with hourly wages ranging from $12-$20. As major national retailers, Petco and Petsmart can offer more competitive compensation packages to attract experienced trainers.

The scale of these companies also allows them to invest in standardized training programs and certification for their trainers. While independent trainers may have more flexibility in their methods, working for a brand name company provides structure, resources, and likely increased pay.

Conclusion

In summary, the highest paying dog training jobs tend to be in specialized niches like service dog training, behavior modification training, and competition dog training. Trainers who work for established dog training companies or have built up their own brand and reputation can also command premium rates. The most lucrative training roles require extensive education, qualifications, and hands-on experience. While every dog trainer needs passion, the top earners couple that with elite skills and expertise. This enables them to take on the most challenging training projects and produce exceptional results. Their compensation reflects the high value they provide.

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