Canine Behavior/Training for Dog Trainers
QUESTION: Dear Madeline,
I have read your bio and agree to rate your response right after you respond.
I hope you don't mind me sending a question that is on the topic of dogs, but not behavior, but on the topic of training of dog trainers. You are a dog trainer, and I've read your responses to other people and feel you will be honest and not sugar coat your response and that it will be intelligent and thought out. This is what I am looking for.
I am in my sophomore year (3rd semester) of college and I get good grades and all, but I don't feel college is for me. In addition, my major is being discontinued along with 12 others at my college and I would have to switch colleges by next year anyway. I have always loved animals and started researching becoming a dog trainer. I saw many programs and academies that looked good, but most were distance learning or out of state. I was excited when I found a hands on program locally that offers different levels for study along with a certification and it sounds really great. I'm very excited about it. The cost is not nearly as expensive as college, but not cheap, either, BUT I would be doing what I love working with dogs i every day and graduating in a shorter amount of time then it would take me to get a college degree. I called and spoke with the people there and they sound incredibly supportive and enthusiastic, and they even offer financial aid. It seems like they cover everything. There is an intensive program I can complete in six weeks and graduate to become a professional dog trainer with a certification. I am very interested in doing this instead of going back to college next semester.
Would you be willing to share with me your take on becoming a dog trainer and what you think the outlook is in the profession now and for the future? What better person to ask then a dog trainer, and a dog trainer independent of a program designed to make moneu from students. I don't really know who else to ask. I need an independent opinion, and my parents would like me to have one for this decisio
Thank you for any input you can give me. This is a big decision and my parents are willing to support it as long as I can make a living after becoming a dog trainer.
ANSWER: Hi Jess,
I appreciate your reading my bio and sending me your question. I don't mind answering it as I think it's a very interesting question, and I promise I won't "sugar coat" anything in my response and be honest.
Before I respond fully, would you mind sending me the names, and links to if possible, the academies and schools you have researched, including the one about which you are very excited? I would like to see what they offer and give you the most informed response I can. Please send that information to me at firstname.lastname@example.org where I can fully peruse the information. I'm familiar with most of the offerings out there, but think that addressing specific one(s) you've researched will offer you the most targeted response. Please indicate specifically the one in which you are thinking of enrolling.
Please don't rate any responses until I have had a chance to fully respond to your submission, which you may need to do as a Follow-up.
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Madeline, I am Jess from allexperts. The schools I am interested in for learning to become a dog trainer are Starmark in Texas, National K-9 (www.nk9.com) in Ohio, www.TomRose.com, catchdogttrainerts.com (which is the school local to me I mentioned), www.karenpryoracademy.com, www.animalbehaviorcollege.com, www.internationaldogtrainersschool.com
I was leaning towards Starmark because they have a 12 week program that you can take as four weeks, then eight weeks, or 8 weeks and then add 4 weeks later. But, every time I call there there is only one person to speak to (Jennifer Ellerthorp) and she is always busy or in a meeting. My parents were leaning towards Starmark, too, because they thought it would be good for me to be away and on my own for a month or two. I would like that, too. Our second choice is the local one, Catch. Our third choice is Karen Pryor Academy. Thank you SO much, Jess
I thought I would post a follow-up addition to my answer a couple of months later. I have another concern which I didn't post. I understand the school in N.J. which you mentioned is teaching their students for a state certification. The courses, however, are being taught by instructors who are not certified as educators themselves. This would be of great concern to me, since I am a state certified N.J. educator and I personally know that the training and testing to become a professional educator is highly specialized and not easily attained. My other concern is that students are being turned out of this school with a state certification after only a few weeks or a couple of months of being taught. I don't know how the instructors accomplished this, but it doesn't seem "Kosher" to me at all. It seems ironic to me as well that instructors at the school, of which one of the primary instructors does not even have a college degree never mind a state teaching certification, are teaching courses to (mostly young) students for a state certification without having a professional teaching certification themselves. Just thought I'd mention that, as I hadn't earlier. I do think that if you're training people to train dogs, whether it be their dog or someone else's, you really ought to know what you're doing - and that comes only with highly specialized education as a professional educator. There are too many cognitive benchmarks to hit, and too many learning styles to be aware of, and so much more, which would be too challenging for anyone who didn't have a professional state teaching certification themselves. My course work and testing was post-baccalaureate, meaning that a Bachelor's Degree was required in order to even be able to take the education course work; and, the course work lasted a year, full-time. As well, student teaching lasted a year and took place at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. We were also graded, and tested at the state level in order to receive our teaching certifications. It is quite rigorous. I would personally not attend any school where the instructors were not professionally certified themselves as educators, not just as "dog trainers." As dog trainers, the human is our primary student, NOT the dog. For this, a professional state educator's certification should be required, in my professional opinion.
Hope things are gong well for you!
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
N.J. State Certified Educator since 1992
Sorry for the delay in responding. I wanted to make sure that I had given
my response a lot of thought and think about the best way to share my experiences. Understand that in no way should my experiences and opinions suggest what you should think or what action you should take in determining what sxchool for dog trainers, or perogram,you should choose. That decision is solely yours to make.
I’ve been familiar with Starmark Academy in TX for many years, from the time that it was called Triple Crown Academy. I know a couple of people who
graduated from there. One graduated about 10 or
more years ago when the school was still known as Triple Crown Academy.
She has a permanent and exclusive position at a boarding facility as their
on-site trainer, which is a very nice position. The other works as an
independent trainer and also does boarding and pet sitting in her home.
What I like about Starmark Academy is the length of their program, which
is 12 weeks for their longest and most in-depth program. In my opinion
and given my experience as a trainer and dog behavior expert and
consultant since 2002, 12 weeks full-time would be the minimum program that a
beginner would need to go through and complete in order to obtain a good
sense of the science and physical application of understanding and working
with dogs - but, not to be working with dogs yet as a trainer. I believe such a progran can prepatre a person for a mentorship or apprenticeship with an experienced trainer for at least two years, and/or prepare someone to work safely in a shelter or with rescue dogs. The learning theory alone, something I learned as both an
education and psych major at two different colleges (so I had a bit of a
head start before deciding I wanted to work with dogs) and continued studying relative to becoming a dog trainer, I think takes a minimum of six months to a year of applying the concepts in real world scenarios in order to
become comfortable with the concepts and with applying them to real-life and sometimes behaviorally challenging
situations, with both dogs and people.
Make no mistake that being a trainer is ALL ABOUT training the people as
much as, if not more than, the dogs. If you”re not comfortable with
people and, if in fact you don’t like people much, do NOT become a dog
trainer! While it’s important to like dogs, it’s just as important to
like people and like working with them. People can be difficult, without
meaning to be. The fact is that, psychologically and without their
conscious awareness, people tend to resist change, whether it be personal
change or changes regarding their pets. As well, people today, because of
the instant gratification culture we live in, expect a Magic Bullet when
it comes to changing behavior in their dogs. It is our job, as trainers,
to educate and sell people on what’s best for their dog - that is, a
commitment to changing the dog’s behavior, time, patience, and
understanding the concepts we’re trying to teach them as trainers and
behavior experts, ideally using positive reinforcement methods.
I spoke to a friend a few days ago who spoke with Marsella
(spelling…?) at Catch. If you look at their website today and over the
past weeks, they are currently offering a six-week certification intensive program, and my friend was told that they have "graduated" two classes of students,totaling 24 people, in the spring and in the recent fall group. My
friend spoke with Marsella with a list of questions I had given her, and
asked some of her own, which I’m glad she did as she’s a smart cookie and
thinks quickly on her feet. She was told that this career school is
changing their six-week option to a one-week Master Class option instead which Marsella
recommends be taken with something called an Intensive. Students obtain
a certificate after completing the week-long Master Class. The intensive
consists of instruction by Pia Silvani, Head of Training for St.
Hubert’s in Madison, N.J. The intensive has had students complete it in as little as three and a half months (full time) or as long as 18 months. I didn't think the school had been around 18 months, so I'm not sure how they know that - but I could be wrong. Maybe they have been around for that period of time.
I don’t like the idea of only one instructor, or two instructors who are for all intensive purposes politically connected and staked in the success of the business for all 12 students without the
option of other independent, salaried instructors who are simply employees, and I will go into more detail about why I
feel this way a few paragraphs below.
Now, if I thought, as I said, that three months at Starmark was the bare
minimum program anyone should take in order to even begin understanding
and applying concepts for dog training and understanding of canine
behavior, then I don’t need to tell you how I feel about any school
granting a student a certificate in one week in a Master Class or in six weeks. Maybe my friend misunderstood something, or maybe Marsella had difficulty imparting information to my friend. My friend said there were a few times Matrsella had diffculty understanding what she was asking and that she put my friend on 'hold' several times in order to obtain information from the school Director whom she said was standing nearby in the same room.
My friend was told that there are two main instructors for this career
center - the Director,David Muriello, and Pia Silvani, whose using the training facility at St. Hubert’s in
Madison, N.J. for the training of the students in New Jersey. Pia doesn’t
have a title that Marsella is aware of, but she is one of two head
instructors for the program and is NOT otherwise part of Catch’s program,
as my buddy was told.
As I mentioned, there is currently a six-week intensive, but my buddy was
told that the decision to discontinue that offering is being made “right
now.” When my friend asked the reason for this, she was told, quote, that
the Director of the career school is “overwhelmed” after teaching two
six-week intensive programs and that it “was too much for him.” I have to admire her honesty in sharing this information!
But, that would really concern me, that a trainer who has been in the
field for the same amount of time I have (we actually took an Instructor’s
Training Course, aka ITC at the same time as beginners to the field in
2003) would not be aware of the amount of work it takes to teach from 9 -
5 every day for six weeks and be overwhelmed by the schedule. As a dog
trainer working full-time, I keep these hours pretty regularly and am used to them, and it seems odd to me that
a dog trainer in the field for the same amount of time I have been would
find this schedule “overwhelming” and not be used to or prepared for it. In addition to my
currently keeping that schedule as a full-time dog trainer and behavior
consultant, I have a NJ State Teaching Certification since 1992, and I
spent some years standing in front of a classroom of students (30, not the
12 which Catch tops its classes out at but closer to Starmark’s class size
of 23 - 30) for seven hours a day, teaching and educating, helping to write curriculum, plan
lessons with clear and identifiable goals, and adapt myself to the
different learning styles of different types of students, as well as
interact with many other faculty members. I did not burn out after six
weeks, nor did I feel overwhemed. While I can’t tell you how you should
feel, it would greatly concern me that the Director would feel
“overwhelmed” by this schedule after only six weeks. Frankly, I’m
surprised that a representative of the school answering the phone would
disclose this information, and she told my friend that the Director was
“right here” when my friend asked a few questions for which Marsella has
to put her on hold and ask the Director of the school, David Murielle. I remember him well fromwhen we were both student dog trainers in 22003, and thought he worked hatrd at being very charming and had a good sense of humor; but, I was unimpressed with any training skills of his relative to any of the other 999 students there, even as a beginner. We were all there to be trained as instructors, that was the course. He did not exhibit the intense curiosity about aspects of training that I would have expected, and I can remember specifics about that.
And, let's face it - if dog training were so lucrative, why wouldn't he have remained a dog trainer instead of takoing on responsibilities of running a school for dog trainers by which Marsella says heks "overwhelmed?" The fact is, dog training is not all that llucrative. If you research the annual top salary fpor a dog trainer in the metropolitan area, it"ks about $45,000 at the TOP, and for someone who realizes that a huge part of the job is marketing and self-promotion, as well as building a good reputation, which takes years.
In addition, I might wonder about the solvency of such a new school. It seems to me
that a small fortune is being spent on advertising trying to attract
students, since almost every time I log onto the Internet ads come up
advertising the school. This targeted and aggressive marketing strategy makes sense, since I believe the school
Director was a marketing major 18 years ago at Cornell. In fact, having perused his
school website, I felt very much as if I were being ‘sold’ in what I
strongly felt was the emotional wording of the copy, and the way the
website is structured. If you take a look for yourself, a lot of the copy
is intended to play on emotions, something I personally don’t like.
Peppered within the copy at key junctures are also student testimonials
designed to convince the reader about the great careers students who have
completed the program have launched. And, about that word “launched” -
it’s a very popular marketing buzzword right now in advertising; but, make
no mistake - I don’t believe a dog trainer career gets “launched” like a
rocket as the copy would have you believe and a point which I addressed above.
Again, this has been my experience and is my opinion.
My friend was told there is no placement program at this
school. Coincidentally, and as reinforcement of this fact, I was called
eight days ago by a male student who said he had just completed the
program looking to apprentice with a trainer. I think he will have a tough time, I believe in large part because many trainers do not want to be training their competition. I have
allowed people to apprentice with me in the past but I no longer take on
Apprentices, though I do take on assistants from time to time. It is a tremendous amount of work to monitor someone else in
addition to your full-time job, to test their knowledge, to depend and
rely on them (or not be able to…) to show up at appointments and independently complete reading assignments, and it is naive for anyone to not think
that if you do a great job,this apprentice will not likely become your competition;
or, something else could happen. That “something else” is that this
person may go out into your shatred service area
and call themselves a dog trainer having trained under you BEFORE THEY ARE
READY AND BEFORE YOU THINK THEY ARE READY, and do damage to your
reputation when they say they trained under you as your apprentice, and
then do a poor job of training soeonene’s dog. This can do damage to YOUTR reputation as a dog trainer. The thing is, a really
excellent trainer makes dog trainer and behavior modification look easy,
and some apprentices come away too early thinking that the actual practice of being
a dog trainer and behavior consultant is easy, when in truth it’s not easy
at all, takes at least a couple of years to develop the rtequisite skills and deliver services responsibly and effectively, and requires very
specific skill sets which MUST be learned before anyone can responsibly
call themselves a dog trainer and/or dog behavior consultant. As partial
proof of what I’m saying the fellow who called me who said he recently
completed Catch’s program had poor “people” skills over the phone which I
found off-putting. I didn’t like how he approached me verbally, wth an
arrogant ‘taking charge” attitude rather than “I want to apprentice with
you and learn” attitude. He made assumptions about the type of training I
offer based on very little information and research that he did rather
than ASK me about those particular services and skills I provide and how they might benefit him.
As a graduate of a six-week program, I got the impression that this fellow considered being mentored
an inconvenience, and he sounded as if his six-week program made him an expert. To me, that is frightening!
But, I can see how the influx of information over a six-week period, plus students being told how great they
are so as to boost their confidence and keep them in the program, would build false confidence in a student.
This, for me, has always been a slippery slope in mentoring dog training apprentices - how to build their confidence
and keep their motivation high regarding learning, while at the same time not giving them the false impression
that they are ready after six months or even a year to go out on their own and become dog trainers taking on
serious behavioral cases.
As for the student who called me, I would assume that a student who completed a program that they paid anywhere from
$5,000 to $8,000 for his dog trainer education also would have offered him guidance on how to approach potential mentors and how to
converse with them in a way which was not off-putting. Based on his approach to me, I might assume that the program did not cover this all-important skill. I could be wrong - but, there was no evidence of it in his approach to me.
As for the other head instructor, Pia, I have had personal experience with
her which I can speak to. I volunteered at St. Hubert’s from 2002 to
2004. I volunteered three days or nights a week in Puppy Classes, Basic and Feisty
Fido, which amounted to about nine hours a week. In addition, I brought my own puppy (at the time - he’s now an
mature dog, of course) to their classes, from puppy class on through
Advanced Obedience classes and Wonder Dog. I took him to similar classes elsewhere, too. Although I was volunteering at their training school in order to learn, I was not offered a discount on classes I took with my own pup/dog. As good will, I feel they should have offered this to people volunteering their time. That's, again, my opinion, and something I would offer had I been running the training school, and my personal feeling is the lack of this courtesy to volunteers is indicative of the mindset of the person directing the training program - that is, that volunteers were not appreciated and owed nothing for their time and effort. This was, in fact, the prevailing climate of the atmosphere there upon which I picked up from almost everyone working there - and, as a business person for many years, I know that "a fish rots from the hjead down."
During the time I was there as both a student and a volunteer, I saw
evidence that trainers were not always as well trained as they should have been.
If they were, and some were very good, their interpersonal “people” skills
were not all they should have been. Often, instructors there would not
allow me to interact with their dogs. Since I interact with dogs all the
time without a problem, I can only assume that this was because of some
flaw in their dog, not any flaw with me, that they didn’t want people to
pick up on through interaction with their dog. Listen, as trainers, we
sometimes gravitate toward the “problem” dogs because we know we’re best
equipped to deal with and help those dogs. There is no shame in
admitting, even as a trainer, that your dog isn’t perfect; but, that’s not
what these people were explaining to me, which, of course, I would have
understood. So, why the reluctance to allow me to interact with their
dog? And, by interact, I mean just say “hello” to the dog and allow the
dog to become familiar with me, since I saw these dogs several
times a week. It was, simply, weird! By contrast, a year or two later, I
became friendly with a local trainer who was not from St. Hubert's whose puppy class I took my other dog
to, and she was happy to allow me to interact with an “work” her
Australian Shepherd. This was a great experience for me, because, being a
“new” person to the dog, the dog thought she could get away with not
performing her skill set behaviors in the same way her owner expected her
to; but, being a dog trainer, I saw this (as did the owner), and
disallowed the dog to get away with a reduced performance level by being
as consistent as the dog’s owner. This was a win-win situation for all of
us a learning experience - for the owner, for the dog, and for me as a
relatively new trainer at the time. I think the difference is one of how
secure a trainer feels with her skills, and I believe that this was the
difference between the trainers and the Director of ttraining at St. Hubert's and the trainer secure in
her skills which I just described who encouraged my interactions with her
dog.At least this was my perception of things, and no other explanation
makes sense to me. I did find the trainers at St. Hubert’s not only to
behave in a very insecure manner, but there was a clear delineation
between them and me in that I felt I was perceived as lower on the totem pole or pissing post
than were they. This was evinced in how they treated me - a reluctance
(or inability…?) to answer my informed and reasonable questions about
training and behavior and the way those questions were dismissed (even at seminars I attended there); a reluctance to have me interact in any way with their own dogs (with the exception of ONE trainer whose name was Leah, who
seemed to have no problem with my interacting with her dog, and the dog
was certainly none the worse for it!); in their lack of appreciation for
the hours and effort I was putting in; and in their not-too-subtle body language
toward me: There was one trainer there in particular in whose Feisty Fido
class I volunteered who would purposely walk directly into wherever I was
standing and expect me to hop out of her way - which is exactly what I
did, because I really didn’t need to get into that pissing contest with
her. Toward what end? What exactly did she think she was “winining?” To
this day, I laugh at the way she behaved like a human trying to imitate a
I can say, however, that I had a much better experience there as a student
with my own dog than as a volunteer in the training school trying to learn
to become a dog trainer. I think the difference was that as a student, I
was not a threat or potential competition to anyone, whereas as a
volunteer about whom it was known that I wanted to become a dog trainer, and one with observable skills, I was potential competition for the small, niche market share of potential students overlapping their service area that might choose to come to me at
some point rather than to them. This is my perception of what occurred, and,
having had many years now to think about and analyze what occurred, as
well as having had feedback from other trainers, I think my perception is
I really admired Pia's reputation, though I admit I was disappointed after meeting her and having some of the interactions with her which I described. Certainly I felt that she had some knowledge and some dog training "chops," but, even as a beginner, I saw her make training mistakes which I wouldn't have made even back then. As well, I saw some instructors under her make ehgregious mistakes I I remember one time an instructor set off a whole class of Feisty Fido reactive dogs, and I saw the event coming, while the experienced instructor clearly didn't see it coming.
Pia seemed to dislike me from the moment I started volunteering in the training school and I did not feel Pia was professional or objective(with the one exception of the ITC critiques where a roomful of other students might have wondered if she hadn't been objective) about how she treated me as a volunteer student with the objective of becoming a trainer. She had very clear favorites, of which I was not one. I’m not sure what it was I
did that put her off, but I was terribly disappointed that I was so obviously being treated differently then the budding trainers she favored. Not only did I find the environment surrounding Pia toward me non-support and anything but encouraging of my efforts and skillls, but I felt she put purposeful and intentional roadblocks in my way to succeeding. Now, I’m not talking about challenges. Challenges are something I rise to and welcome which raise my skill set. These were roadblocks which I felt were designed to exclude me, discourage me, and
make things more difficult for me than for others whom she treated as her favorites.
Remember I mentioned that I went to an Instructor’s Training Course in
2003 at which the Catch Director was also a beginning student? Well, Pia was my instructor and team leader for most of the assignments, which were hands-on demonstrations we had to do with our assigned shelter dogs, and which sometimes included other students’ assigned dogs from the shelter there at Rondout Valley. We students, about 100 of us, were paired in teams of two with a shelter dog from Rondout
Valley, which is where the ITC took place for five days from 9 - 5 every
day. Clearly, we (my teammate and I) were given the most difficult and
challenging dog. That’s fine - this WAS a CHALLENGE, something I welcomed,
and something to which I rose with my team mate and at which we both
succeeded and excelled regarding changing her behavior. The dog had learned quite a lot of skills in the five days we
spent with her, and my team mate ended up adopting the dog, whose name was Roxy.
Continuing regarding my experience at ITC with Pia, we had to make one to
several live presentations a day by taking turns in groups of about 12 students. I don't recall that we were
not given a time constraint, and one would think that the order in which
students were asked to present by Pia would be random - right? On some days a student might
present first, on another day be third or even sixth, and on another day
go last. I was slotted in as LAST FOR EVERY SINGLE PRESENTATION, which
meant, because I didn’t know how long each presentation would be, that I
had to sit there and couldn’t even use the bathroom if I needed to after
about the eighth person, because I was concerned I might miss my turn and
be penalized for it. I don’t think this occurred by accident. I think
putting me last was intentional and by design, and I think
it was intended to rattle me and adversely affect my performance.
However, and this is where someone either makes abuse into a challenge and makes
lemons out of lemonade, or becomes emotional and fails - I actually used
being last in my advantage. I was able to observe both the successes and
errors (not failures) of all the students that went ahead of me, listen to Pia's
critiques of them following their presentations and adapt my presentation
in that time, making it better than, possibly, it would have been, by
learning from those successes and errors by the other students who all
went before me. So, I turned what would
have been a disadvantage intended to "get" to me into an advantage. And, an advantage I think it
was, because Pia had very little criticism about my presentations, much
less than she had for others’ presentations. This can be taken two ways -
either I was THAT good in the early stages of my development as a trainer;
or, she withheld information from me so that I’d learn less than if she
spent more time and gave me more constructive criticism than she did. I
think it was the former, based on feedback I got from other budding
trainers who were there. Either way, it all looks good for me! Pia gave me what I thought were fair critiques following my performances/presentations. I was grateful for this and felt reieved about it though,again, I would have welcomed more because I wanted to learn as much as I could.
One of Pia’s favorites was in that ITC for the five days, too. We were assigned by Pia to work on one project/presentation together, which involved four students, not two. It was a relay which we were all supposed to work on together with other students acting as our students and their assigned dog in the presentation/relay.
However, this person told us that she would be taking on the assignment
herself and assigning everyone their roles the day of the presentation. This
didn’t sit well with me, but I was outvoted by the three other “trainers,”
who, of course, were probably glad to let someone else take over the
assignment and do all the preparation work for the presentation/relay for them.
Not me - I wanted the experience, but again, I was outvoted. Looking back on it, my belief was that the relay was written in advance, most likely with Pia's input.
WWen the day came for the presentation/relay, I found out that the three other presenters, which included Pia's "pet" student who also worked at St. Huibert"ks with Pia at the time, had met earlier that morning, a meeting arranged by the student who took control of the assignment, and a meeting about which I was not told and from which I was excluded. The other three students had key, participating roles in the relay that day, while my instructions were, literally, to stand out in left field. I was written out as a participant, on purpose. Would you, as a reader, come to any other conclusion than I was purposefully excluded? If so, what would that
So, my concern with Pia would be that, when she has an emotional reaction
to someone for whatever reason, she might behave in ways that I certainly perceived as
unprofessional, even petty. Now, this is MY experience, and I can’t tell
anyone else what to believe or what choice they should make. If you
decide to go to that school, you should draw your own conclusions. At the
same time, if the shoe fits and you find, if you end up being a student at that school, that you’re being singled out in the
program in a way that you don’t feel is beneficial to you, you can
possibly benefit from my experiences by being prepared with a strategy as to how to handle that.
One other thing: when I became a trainer a couple of years after spending
all that time at St. Hubert’s, I put up my first dog training website. On
it, I put into my copy that I had spent two years as a volunteer at St.
Hubert’s participating, observing, and honing my skills in specific classes. Within a couple
of weeks, I got an e-mail (which I still have) from the Assistant Director
of Training there at the time telling me that I had to remove any
reference to St. Hubert’s, even though the information was factual. I
thought this was just an awful way to treat a former volunteer who volunteered in good faith there for two years, and on legal grounds I could have
refused - but, I complied, just to avoid conflict with them and to avoid burning any bridges. To me, these people
could not have been more awful and non-supportive. I don’t know why they
even allowed me to volunteer there for as long as I did if their intention
was to treat me in this manner, except that I must have been of some
benefit to the instructors for whom I volunteered, and I’m sure I was. I
remember once cleaning up an instructor's dog’s vomit, which was certainly
not in my “job” description, when her dog got into a bag of dog food left
on the floor of one of the offices and gorged himself, then threw up several
times in the office during her class. Was I thanked for doing this? No,
I was not. I told the instructor so she could keep an eye on her dog in
case he continued to vomit that night, but, even still, a little appreciation in the form of a "thank you" would have been nice. (And, one has to question why experienced trainers wouldn't have known better than to leave bags of tasty dog food on the floor in an area where their unsupervised dog had opportunity to teatr them open and gorge himself).
As far as programs themselves, I think the curricula of some of the others you mentioned seems a lot more fleshed out than Catch, especially in light of the fact that they are changing their offering at this early juncture due to the Director feeling "overwhelmed." I can see obvious holes in the Catch program and, again, based on what my friend was told,
it seems to be in a state of flux, relatively new as this school is. I personally
would not want to attend any school that hasn’t been around for a few
years and “vetted.” as to its track record. I would want to know that the
school is solvent, that it has a good reputation, and that students who
completed the programs were working a year or two later. What I like
about Starmark is that they have been around for over 20 years and has a
good reputation. If the newer school fails after a few years (and, as my
friend was told during her research, a program is already being discontinued because the
Director is “overwhelmed” by it), what good will it be to have a
certificate conferred as a result of having attended a school and a
program if it were to go out of business and was no longer in existence? This possibility would
greatly concern me. I can’t tell you how to feel or what to decide, but I
can share my thought process with you.
As far as the field itself goes, let me speak to that a bit. Dog
training is very competitive. Buyers/clients are a small, niche market of people who are able and willing to pay a
premium for a private trainer, and the more trainers which are turned out
at a high volume, the more competitive the field will become. That means
that the asking price for an hour of a dog trainer’s time will fall, not
increase. The more trainers entering the field who cover the same service
area will be competing for the same small number of clients able to pay
their fees, and those prices will drop as the competition with other trainers increases. One may think a new dog training school opening up in
town is a great thing. There may be great things about it, but in terms
of getting market share of clients I see it as a huge negative economically for existing trainers, since the public doesn't have much education on who the really excellent trainers atre and what a truly professional trainer looks like, which is not necessarily a person with a bunch of organizational affiliations which anyone can join, or a bunch of letters after their name which can be easily acquired, in as little as a few weeks depending on the institution or career school granting the certifications and other "qualifications." There are currently no national or state requirements of dog trainers, and virtually anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, even people with criminal histories about which you wouldn't know.
I am a business person who has owned and operated
several businesses before becoming a dog trainer who has a solid
understanding of how the economy works, and I am mature (in my 50s now) as
well with a long time spent and experienced in several fields trying to
make a living since I was a teenager. Here is something else you can
research yourself on the Internet - the top salary currently listed
for dog trainers in the NYC urban area is about $45,000 at the top of the
pay scale. I have made that amount and more annually, but it took me
several years to work up to that annual amount. My costs were and are
equipment, website and website management, pay-per-click advertising and
SEO in order to get new business and continue building a solid referral
base, gasoline and auto maintenance, bait (food) used for training dogs,
computer, computer paper, printer, cell phone, advertising, business
cards, a steady flow of webinars and study materials so that I stay
current in my field (I just spent over $100 on only two textbooks, but
they are key to my business and were necessary), and liability insurance
which costs me in excess of $500 per year These don’t even cover all my
costs, but cover many of them. Professional educational materials are necessary, ongoing, and can become quite costly. Another cost is membership to dog trainer organizations which can run into the hundreds or thousands. I used to be a member of many of them, but being a member had no effect on my busoiness whatsoever, so over time I discontinued my memberships. Most of my business now comes from
referrals, with my second source being my website. What you earn is
strongly dependent on these factors and variables, as well as the economy.
In a bad economy, which we had from 2007 and which finally picked up
again in 2012 for my business, I made half of that annual
projected salary for dog trainers. I can tell you that in 2008 and 2009,
my annual earnings dropped to almost half of what they were in the two
years prior. So, your income will be largely dependent on the economy as
well as your competition and the numbers of those people, and also on
the relatively small niche of people who have the disposable income available to pay your
hourly fee or group class fee. To wit, fees charged by dog trainers don’t
seem to have gone up much in recent years, but seem largely stagnant. I
check ALL THE TIME, and this is what my research has yielded. Research by
you or someone else might yield different results, and if they do, I would
be interested in this information being shared with me. That being said,
it is a good idea to regularly check what other trainers in your service
area are charging and what they are offering.
Many dog trainers in my atrea who I know have second jobs in addition to dog training. One woman I know worked for FedEx for many yeatrs and at the same time worked only part-time as a dog trainer. A few years ahgo, she retired from FedEx with a pemsion, and only then became a full-time dog trainer. If dog training had made her enough money, I'll bet she would have quit that job and become a fulll-time dog trainer earlier. But, the reality is. These students of dog training atre being sols a bill of goods. Training dogs, in it's current incarnation, does not afford one a very good living. A person on their own will need a second income or a second job. That is the reality.
If you decide to offer group classes, you will need to find a space in
which to conduct them and very likely need to pay rent for that space,
advertise to get students, and, whether you’re offering private and/or
group classes, you will need to purchase your own liability insurance as
well as gates, crates, cones, and other equipment. Do your homework and research
I am very fortunate in that I love what I do and do it because Il love it
- and I am fortunate that my husband earns a good living so we are not at
all dependent on my income. I do what I do because I live the science, I
love the people who are my clients, I love being an educator, and I love
As for Starmark, I like their website a lot. It is to the point without emotional selling and
describes the program without much of the emotional marketing gibberish I
see on other similar websites, is well-organized in the way it imparts
information to the reader, has excellent offerings and seems well
thought-out in terms of those offerings, and I like the 12-week program.
Starmark offers students the option of breaking up the 12-week program,
though, of course, they recommend doing the whole 12 weeks if you are
able. The longer the course you take at Starmark, the better the price,
with the four-week course being more expensive calculated at four weeks
than the 12-week price costs if one breaks the 12 weeks down by price
compared to the four week course (I hope this makes sense the way I have
There are two things I didn’t like about Starmark’s program. One is that
students who just completed their program are kept on as interns teaching new
students in the Starmartk program. There is one “key,” experienced instructor per
the 30 students allowed in any one rotation/class, and then four interns. If I
were paying what is a significant amount of money to be in this program, I
would not want to be relying on information imparted from unpaid interns who atre very recent graduates of the program. I didn’t
count that as one of the things that concerned me about their program,
that interns are not paid but I believe interns should be paid - and,
didn’t that recently become law in this land under Obama, that interns
must be paid? If they are not being paid, that suggests to me that they
are not being paid because they are not experienced enough to be paid.
so, my thought process is: If I were someone (a parent of a student, e.g.) paying for orconsidering having my adult child
enter Starmark’s program, would I want my child to be taught by some intern that’s
not considered experienced enough to be paid, and is gaining their
experience on me or my adult child, someone who is where that intern was only three short months ago, fair to me as a paying parent or to my child? Again, I’m not telling you what to think, only offering
you how I think and hopefully raising provocative questions as food for thought. The decisions you make
based on what I’m sharing will be your own.
The second thing I didn’t like about Starmark is that the students’ day
starts at 6:30 a.m. cleaning kennels until about 8:00 - 8:30 a.m. on a
rotational schedulewhich changes each week. A student cleans about eight
kennels every morning. When the person I spoke with who called there
asked why this is part of the program, this person told me that they were
not very satisfied with the answer from the School Director, a woman named
Jennifer Ellerthorp, which was that students might end up working in a
daycare, boarding facility or kennel, and need to know how to correctly
sanitize and clean a kennel. so, here is what I think of that: It seems
to me that this can be learned in a couple of days, or even on Youtube (I
checked, and there is terrific and concise information on Youtube
explaining how to clean and sanitize a kennel). In addition, you can
volunteer ar a shelter or day care and learn how to do this. I am sure
any kennel or day care/boarding facility would be thrilled to have someone
volunteer to clean their kennels for a week or two. I don’t see why any student of dog
training should have to pay for this. It seems to me that this is the
school’s way of getting free kennel cleaning from students who are paying
for valuable instruction on other key topics such as the science and
learning theory behind dog training and canine behavior and gaining
hands-on experience training dogs. I personally would not want to be a
parent shelling out the kind of money the school is asking for my son or
daughter , or even for me if I were a student there, to be cleaning eight
kennels a morning starting at 6 a.m. in a program that goes until 5:00
every day for a week, or more. Call me spoiled, call me crazy, even...but
that’s what I think. While i do think learning to clean and sanitize a
kennel is a valuable skill, my point is that this can be learned on your
own without your having to pay exceptional amounts of money, even having
to take out financial aid possibly, in order to learn it.
What I loved about Starmark’s program besides the (minimum, in my opinion)
length of it, were some of the offerings. They offer scent training,
narcotics detection, agility, and therapy dog training in addition to their other core dog training coursework. Again, I feel their
program is very well fleshed out and well thought out, though, again, I can see a
couple of things they might offer which they don’t (yet).
I can mention briefly, too, that National k9 (www.nk9.com) seems to have a well fleshed out and well designed program. I would suggest calling and speaking with someone about the program.
As for Animal Behavior College, early on as a trainer I was contacted by
them and asked to mentor some of their students, which I did. I
discontinued doing so because i was frustrated with what they were
teaching their students in their written material and felt some of it was inaccurate. As well, a few years ago I volunteered at a shelter where another trainer was mentoring quite a few Animal Behavior College Students. I had an opportunity to look at ABC’s
written material again, years later from when I originally saw it, and
found it still lacking. There was misinformation in it and some of the
material was not as informed and science-based as it should be. As well, students of ABC atre required to find their own training mentors. I believe the school "vets" and finds mentors for students. I can't speak to the quality of the mentors.
Before choosing any school, if possible, ask if you can audit classes.
Any school worth their salt should not have a problem with your doing
this. Have the school give you a couple of options of days when you can
show up, so that you can show up “by surprise.” If the school is prepared
for you to show up at a certain time on a certain day, they may try to put
their best foot forward and you may not be seeing how instruction is
really offered and conducted. I was given this advice once by a very
smart person who advised me to do the same when I was considering
purchasing a horse - “show up an hour earlier than they tell you to show
up,” I was told. Good advice! I attended a grooming school several years
ago. One morning I showed up an hour earlier than classes were scheduled
to start before any of the other students arrived, but when some staff had
arrived. I don’t want to go into what I saw, but it was shocking enough
that I dropped the course and felt I could not stomach ever going back
there again. I was fortunate to have gotten my money back, with some
to-do initially from the school’s director, and continued my grooming
education elsewhere where I was much happier. So, my point is that using
the element of unpredictability and surprise can work for you and sometimes can garner you important information which you might not otherwise
Have been able to garner.
Also, ask to speak to some of the students privately after a class or
module you observe, without the instructors or directors present. Students may not be truthful or genuine in front of an instructor or
director who holds a bit of their fate in their hands, for obvious reasons. Give your e-mail to each of the students, and/or obtain theirs if possible, and ask if you can follow up with them if they’re willing as
they proceed through the program, and even after they complete the program. You want to know how they truly feel about the instruction they got, and six months down the road after their completion of the program,
you want to see if they are actually working in the field and how they’re
doing. No program should want to obstruct you from doing this that has
nothing to hide. I would advise you to take your time and really “vet” the school before jumping in to a program that will cost your parents thousands of dollars for just a couple of weeks, or a few months, depending on which school you choose, of instruction.
By contrast to the Catch program, which will charge about $5,000 - $8,000 as my friend understood it
for their Intensive and their Master Class, both of which they suggest the student
take, Starmark charges about $10,000 for their 12-week program, and I
feel that financially this is a much more sensible option (but still almost as expensive as attending a university or college!). Though, again,
I would encourage you to try to arrange up front that you want to get your
money’s worth with instruction from a long-time and experienced instructor
rather than from a recent graduate “intern.”
So, ALL this being said, this is my final advice: STAY IN SCHOOL. COMPLETE
YOUR COLLEGE DEGREE! There is nothing as valuable for your critical thinking skills as a formal college education. Get your degree. While you’re getting it, read up on dog training, not the written-for-the-general-public books you find in Petco, but textbooks
designed to be read and used by dog trainers in the field. I am providing
a link at the end of this to an article which gives good advice as well as
good recommendations for the reading material you will need to cover. You
don’t need to pay a career school thousands of dollars to read these
books. Just get them read them at your own rate, and imbibe the information in them. While you’re in college, when you feel prepared,take a few training classes as a student with your own dog - you’ll learn
a lot just from being another trainer’s student in their class with your
own dog! Offer to volunteer at a shelter a couple of days a week. When
you feel you’re really ready and can responsibly handle them take on easy
training cases for a small fee, or even for free in order to get your paws
wet, while you have the luxury of living at home with your parents paying
your expenses. In a few years, you will not have this luxury any longer,
most likely. Do NOT take on behavior cases for at least a couple of years, which is how long I think it takes to be able to take on behavior
cases and gain the hands-on experience to be able to do so if you’ve been training several dogs a week prior to taking on behavior cases. You will know what you can handle, and if you take on anything you feel you can’t
handle, BE HONEST, tell your client, and refer them to a veterinarian
behaviorist, which is veterinarian with a specialty in animal behavior, of which there are relatively very few, but we are fortunate to have a
few good ones in New Jersey and in New York City. You can find veterinarian behaviorists at www.AVMA.org
Here is the link to the article which offers good advice as well as some of the early reading material you’ll need to cover in the first six months of your
learning to become a dog trainer:
www.animalhumanesociety.org/training/how-can-I-become-dog-trainer the titles listed there are an excellent start for a beginner.
Go to Dogwise.com too for DVDS and books on dog training. There is a great online school called E-Ttraining for dogs which offers affordable webinatrs from which dog trainers can benefit. I have enjoyed many of their offerings.
Good luck and best regards, and if you have the time, please update me at
some point on your progress!
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
Dog Trainer and Dog Behavior Consultant
The reason I requested sending me the dog trainer schools privately is that I could have referenced them for you in the order in which you sent them to me without mentioning the name of the school in a public forum. Since you sent them publicly, my response will need to be more general. I'm doing some research on a one school you sent me with which I wasn't familiar until last week when I, coincidentally, received a call from one of their students seeking a mentorship with a trainer, and will continue with my response in a day or two. Please be patient, and I will give you an honest opinion of both the field (which is not a profession, btw, for those without specific types of degrees) of dog training and how to obtain the training and experience you will need. Please do not rate my response until I have completed it. ~ Madeline Friedman at AllExperts in Dog Training and Canine Behavior