10 Helpful Tips for New Dog Trainers

Want to be a dog trainer? Just getting your feet wet? Here are 10 tips for new or aspiring dog trainers to help you get started.

1. Expect to work for free… even if you are hired for a paid training gig.

You were hired on as a mentee or a kennel technician at a training facility and you’re feeling on top of the world. Or, maybe you are still looking for a mentor but feel all in. At this point, it’s important to note that you will not learn all you need to know during your work day. Anybody can learn the basics working part time, but if you want to become legitimately skilled and reputable it will take thousands of hours. This is not a career you can get away with minimum knowledge — expect to be attending classes, workshops, seminars, shadowing lessons, and researching on your own time, off the clock, and unpaid. If you are looking for a mentor, know that you may be required to pay a mentorship fee, or work an extended period of time for no pay. If you want to be great, you have to learn from the best. This won’t happen overnight.

2. Keep an open mind.

There is a lot of conflicting information in the dog training world. There are many solutions to the same problems, and there are many different cliques that will tell you certain methods or tools are the only way to train a dog, that branching out is bad. Try to shadow a few different trainers from all sides of dog training and explore what works for you. Don’t condemn a method or a group of people based on hearsay or what one trainer tells you.

3. Don’t get too confident.

Dog training can be an incredibly dangerous job, even when you are not intending to take on aggression cases yet. Reading body language is like learning a second language, and knowing when to approach a dog and when to back off is a skill. One bite can permanently disable you, and mishandling can result in a dog escaping, attacking another person or dog, or even being hit by a car. Go slow, and always have a plan for your next steps.

4. Remember, your mentor is your boss first, your friend second.

Something I love about dog training is all of the amazing connections I have made with mentors and colleagues. It can be easy to forget that our mentor is ultimately our boss as our relationship grows and we bond. Your mentor has invested years of their life and countless sums of money into honing their craft, and they are sharing their information with *you*, knowing that one day you will likely branch out, open your own business, and take clients using their trade secrets. Remember this and appreciate it daily. Watch your tone when talking business, whether it be in person, by email, or by phone. Your mentor obviously cares about you, but don’t think they won’t kick your ungrateful butt to the curb if they find you’ve become unappreciative of all they are doing for you.

5. You’re currently at the bottom of the totem pole. It will get better.

You are new to this. We have all put in our hours of crappy shifts, cleaning duty, and poop messes. We’ve been overworked, often underpaid, and had to do things we really didn’t want to. It helps us grow into strong trainers with great work ethics. You don’t get to dictate your schedule or your tasks at this point — if you aren’t ready to train, you will be stuck doing kennel duty for a while. Hell, even once you are training you should expect to spend some years doing the same tasks. It is a part of the job. One day, you’ll get the hours and clients you hope for… but for now, expect to become frustrated every once in a while. You are still learning and, whether you see it now or not, these hours and tasks are helping you become better.

6. You WILL make mistakes. Own them.

Yep. You chased away that evaluation and they went with another training company. You couldn’t find your words and rambled like an idiot. You messed up your professional jargon, or the pricing, or what was required to bring to class. Oops! It happens. We know when we put you in front of clients that you are going to make mistakes. It is okay, really. It will get easier.

7. It is totally normal to be nervous to teach, even when you’ve been doing it for years.

At some point, you just have to do it. You are never going to feel 100% prepared for the random questions clients will throw at you… and it is totally acceptable to say you will get back to them with an appropriate answer later on. You are going to talk REALLY fast and skip over some information, or repeat things, or forget what lesson you are on. Nerves will do that to you… but a secret? It happens for a LONG TIME. Many of us still get a bit of an adrenaline rush when speaking in front of clients. It is a skill that many people struggle with. Don’t worry — we totally understand!

8. Take as many seminars and workshops as possible.

Again, you are not going to become a skilled trainer overnight. Learn from as many people as possible. Take the information you like, and toss out that you don’t like. Getting outt here and hearing new perspectives is a wonderful way to add new tools and skills to your repertoire.

9. Enroll in various training classes with your own dogs.

Basic obedience, agility, nosework, rally obedience, competitive obedience… take it all! While your goal may not be sport work, learning those skills will make other pet skills easier. Maybe you’ll find a new passion, maybe a new appreciation for that type of training, or maybe you find out you totally hate learning or teaching certain skills. It is about the experience and the practice, not always the titles (although those certainly have advantages!).

10. Fostering and volunteering for shelter/rescue work is amazing experience.

I mentioned before, this is a dangerous gig. Dogs have teeth… a lot of them. Ah! I learned how to not get bit as a veterinary assistant, as well as fostering, volunteering at spay/neuter clinics, working in a daycare/boarding setting, and doing shelter work. Finding a shelter that will let you put hands on lots of new dogs will absolutely help you avoid getting bit by client dogs. Learn proper restraint techniques, how to use a leash to noose a dog, how to control lots of strong dogs, watch body language, and watch how the public approaches and interacts with strange dogs. It will all help you later.

Getting into the training industry has been one of the best things in my life, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am still learning and growing every day, and I know how hard it can be in the beginning. We all want to get to the sexy stuff, but the rest is important. Work hard, appreciate your mentors, and never, ever underestimate the work involved in becoming a reputable professional.

Happy Early Birthday, Versailles

My heart dog turns 6 years old on Monday. It is amazing to think back on the years, to smile at the good times and laugh at the not so good, knowing in the big picture of things it is all just a bunch of seconds forming wonderful memories together.

When I was looking for my first working dog years ago, I had a deposit down on an East German/DDR litter. I was 19 years old and thought I wanted a mean, tough, huge dog for my first “protection prospect”. Fortunately, my mentor of the time talked me off the cliff and had me contact a wonderful breeder in Massachusetts instead, and my puppy arrived only a week later. I have never regretted my decision.

I didn’t know much then — sure, I thought I did, but let’s be real.. this poor dog has had to put up with some terrible training, horrendous handling, the wish-washy commitment of a young adult, and unrealistic expectations. She has taught me more about dogs and behavioral issues (lol) than I could have ever imagined, and every day over the past 6 years I have learned something new. Things about what I did wrong, what I did right, how to create issues and how to solve them. That not all dogs are going to be friendly with other dogs, that intelligence can be both a blessing and a curse, that sometimes when you do everything right things still go wrong, and when you do everything wrong sometimes things turn out right.

My bond with this crazy, over-the-top, pushy bitch shaped my career, my relationships, my priorities, and my work ethic. She has made me question my sanity, pushed me over the edge on numerous occasions, and has taken my lack of patience with a derp-tongue and a tail wag. She has never let me down and continues to excel at everything I throw her way, even if her body is slowing down and her age is starting to show physically. Mentally, I hope she always stays so patient with me, and so willing to try anything I ask of her.

Happy early birthday, you Ver-psycho, maniacal, rude bitch. I hope we have many more years together.



Life with Your Aggressive Dog

Experienced dog trainers commonly work with dogs who have shown aggressive tendencies — whether or not they have actually injured another dog or a person, it is critical that their owners understand the severity and the commitment it takes to own an aggressive dog. Many owners are desperate by the time they realize training is necessary, and unfortunately often with that desperation also comes unrealistic expectations on what future life could be with their dog.


It is important to understand that aggression, whether stemmed from fear, territorial guarding, resource guarding, or outward aggression, is almost always managed and not totally cured. With dogs that have been practicing aggressive behavior for a long period of time, we have to understand that our dogs have learned the aggressive behaviors work and that we cannot undo that knowledge. What we can do is provide our dogs with structure, consistency, and management to help prevent aggressive outbursts in the future. Owning an aggressive dog is a serious responsibility and should not be dismissed until a serious incident occurs.

The first step to working through aggression is to admit there there is a problem. Making excuses for the dog or dismissing their behavior simply will not work. Once we accept that there is a problem, the whole family needs to be on board to managing the dog in the same way. Certain steps need to be taken in order to keep the public safe and any deviation from the agreed protocol cannot occur.

1. Always consult a veterinarian for a full examination to rule out any physical ailments. This visit should include a full blood panel and check up.

2. Work on conditioning your dog to a basket muzzle. Muzzles help keep the public safe, but are not fail-proof nor are they a stand-alone solution.

3. While searching for a trainer or waiting for your appointment, do not put your dog in situations where it is doomed to fail. Limit walks, but if you need to get your dog exercised or walked for potty breaks try to go in areas that are not as populated. Do not allow strangers or other dogs approach your dog.

4. Crate train your dog so they have a safe place to hang out in when you have guests over. If you are using any sort of baby gates or closed doors for confinement, make sure there is no way for your dog to get loose or for anyone to enter the room they are contained in.

5. Limit your dogs freedom of movement (no free reign of the house) and resources (toys, bones, food, etc) unless you are directly supervising them.

6. Keeping a leash on your dog when you are home allows you to quickly interrupt any aggressive, unexpected outbursts such as when a package is delivered.

7. No dog parks or public gatherings — before or after training. It is too difficult for us to have control of outside influences, so using common sense and having realistic expectations of where our dog can be out safely is critical.

Again, it cannot be stressed enough that aggression is not a disease that can be cured, but rather a state of mind in your dog that can only be interrupted and directed. Your dog needs to learn alternate, appropriate behaviors such as place/go to bed, come when called, and heel. A dog that is clear on the criteria expected of them in all situations is easier to direct and more responsive to obedience cues. Be your dogs’ advocate and do not put them in unfair or unsafe situations. The results from a bite can be devastating, not only for the victim but also for the dog and owner. Being proactive in management techniques can help your dog lead a more normal life, and a less stressful life for your family.

The Importance of Zen in Your High-Octane Dog

Although I am currently only on my second personal working dog, my professional training experience over the last 7 years along with my association with multiple dog clubs in Colorado and Arizona have brought to light one of the biggest mistakes repeated over and over again by green working dog enthusiasts. Unfortunately, there is a lot of crazy information out there. Because I wish I had been educated on this topic when I was first looking for a puppy, I felt it would be appropriate to share my thoughts in order to help newbies to high energy, working line dogs.


You don’t need to supercharge your adrenaline junkie. If you have done your research and currently have or will have a puppy from a reputable working dog source, know that your puppy probably either has *it* or she doesn’t. If you set a solid foundation as a puppy and find your dog needs extra attention in certain areas as an adult dog, good trainers can help you tackle them. If your puppy grows up to be a dog that is nervy and not fit for a certain dog sport, I can almost promise you that it wasn’t because you didn’t focus on drive as a puppy.

I cannot tell you how many times I was told to crate my puppy any time she wasn’t working (and while I would love to elaborate more on this, the short of the long is that if your puppy/dog will only work if they have been isolated for hours on end beforehand, perhaps it is not a very good working dog), to back-tie her on a harness to encourage drive for the toy/dumbbell/whatever for months on end, to ignore obedience and focus on DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE. This was the single biggest mistake I made with my first working dog. She naturally had *it*, the glorious drive and energy and desire to work that everybody wants, and my lack of experience ultimately created an over-the-top, disengaged yet frantically-ready-to-work drive machine.  While drive building exercises are absolutely beneficial in certain circumstances, engagement and teaching your working line puppy an off-switch (how to settle when they are not actively working) should be at the top of your priority list.

Colorado puppy trainers

Additionally, your high-energy breed does not need copious amounts of exercise per day. SAY WHAT? Seriously. Those people that tell you your malinois is going to suffer and maybe eat a baby if you don’t run her at 30mph for 12 miles per day, every day? They are full of crap. This plays right into a previous comment — these dogs were bred for versatility, and they either have a good work ethic or they don’t. However, we can absolutely create a monster by over-exercising and over-stimulating our working dogs. While working dogs are supposed to be athletes, they do not necessarily need to be Olympians. Even dogs competing at the highest level of dog sports need to be able to travel well (often internationally), be out in public with Joe Average, and turn themselves off to recharge.

A dog that is over-the-top and always on wastes energy, has difficulty thinking, and can be frantic in the work. Not only are those dogs extremely difficult to live with, they are not commonly going to be achieving top scores in performance, either. So, despite what some of the working dog crowd will tell you, your dog does not need a 45 minute training session, a trip to the dog park, plus a half-marathon run every day. In fact, they don’t even need a quarter of that. Make them think daily, take them on a walk, and give them some sort of job that you do at least a few times a week (agility, IPO, mondioring, nosework, competition obedience, etc) and teach them to settle.

Teaching your puppy or dog that there will be days she will not get exercised — we are human after all — is a skill that should not be underestimated. The expectation that a dog should, or will be, “worked” or given a “job” 24 hours a day is completely unrealistic in the average home. There is a time for work, and there is a time to relax. Don’t get caught up in the hype that you cannot peacefully co-exist with your dog in the house. You can, so long as you put in the work. Just because some training veterans say your dog is not supposed to live as a pet does not mean that the dogs cannot live in the house, be friendly to your family and neighbors, and be a good dog to be around. Just because we want energetic, flashy obedience in the future doesn’t mean we should let our puppies walk all over us while we ignore obedience until they’re “mature”. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing — no matter what somebody else tells us.

Puppy Socialization Tips

The current fad is to take a puppy everywhere to meet everyone and everything in the world. Unfortunately, there is also an extreme increase in dog aggression and leash reactivity, and fear with new people and places. This is not a coincidence – socializing our puppies is important, but it is more important to do it CORRECTLY.

When socializing a puppy, it is important that the puppy finds the new interactions GOOD. Just throwing a puppy in an arena with 20 other puppies will not guarantee that they will be social as an adult, and, in fact, may inadvertently CAUSE aggression issues as they mature. Rather than blindly sticking a puppy in with a group of strange dogs, we should encourage our puppy to experience the world while still maintaining that we, the owners, are the greatest being of all time. If done correctly, socialization will assist in creating a confident dog.

Socialization Questions to Keep in Mind

  • Does the puppy/dog have an escape route if they are uncomfortable?
  • Are they using the escape route frequently? If so, we’re pushing them too far, too fast.
  • Does the puppy return to the situation on their own? Bounce back is a very good thing!
  • Will the puppy experience the new item without food present? Some puppies are so “foody” that they will work through their fear to eat, but are not actually getting over the issue.

Important Points

  • Puppies learn more from stable, adult dogs than they do other crazy puppies.
  • Waiting until a puppy is fully vaccinated to take them out causes owners to miss out on the prime socialization opening. See THIS POST (Why You Should Socialize Your Puppy Before It’s Safe) for more information.
  • Dog parks and doggy daycare can cause reactivity issues later on, so it is important to monitor dogs in social situations closely for behavioral cues that they are not having a good time.
  • Allowing dogs and puppies to greet other dogs while on leash increases likelihood of leash aggression later on.
  • It is important to introduce puppies to new environments — not just other dogs and people — such as loud noises, slick floors, uneven surfaces, elevators, wheelchairs, etc.
  • Any puppy or dog showing fear around humans and dogs should be referred to professional training.

Fear Aggression versus Outward Aggression

Signs of Fear Aggression in Dogs

  • Head held low
  • Wrinkling of the nose
  • Curled lips, teeth exposed
  • Corners of the mouth pulled back
  • Ears pinned back
  • Raised hackles
  • Tail tucked/lowered
  • Panting


Fearful dogs will typically choose fight over flight if given the option. In a kennel environment or on a leash, we have taken away their ability to run. If you must handle a dog exhibiting fear aggressive behavior, do so with caution. Ideally, take some time to sit on the ground with your body angled away from the dog. Avoid direct eye contact, and talk in a calm, kind voice. Toss treats at them if they will take them. Fearful dogs typically snap when you have them cornered, or as you are walking away. Never turn your back on a dog exhibiting aggressive behaviors.

Signs of Outward Aggression in Dogs

  • Head held high
  • Front teeth exposed when lips curled
  • “Puffy” lips/huffing
  • Ears up and forward
  • Tail stiff and held upright, slight stiff wagging motion
  • Stiff posture
  • Mouth usually closed when not barking/growlingpost-3404-0-98483000-1362360823




Knowing the difference between fear and outward/assertive aggression is critical. Approaching the wrong one incorrectly will likely end in a bite. If a dog is exhibiting outwardly aggressive behaviors, do not attempt to handle him unless absolutely necessary.


Helping Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is typically caused by the anticipation of an owner’s return and often anxious behaviors occur either soon after they leave or before the dog feels they will return. If owners make their arrivals and departures less exciting, they can prevent or decrease the anxious behaviors. If a dog is exhibiting mild separation anxiety, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Obedience training to set rules, boundaries, and for mental stimulation
  2. At LEAST 30 minutes of heavy exercise per day (preferably more)
  3. Crate training — a RuffTough or ZingerWinger kennel if the dog is a known escape risk
  4. Medications if deemed appropriate, either holistic or prescription
  5. Fake departures/arrivals 25-50x per day
  6. Food only from meal dispensers/treat toys (examples below)
  7. Consider other options including recorded audio left playing, thunder shirt, etc.

With a new dog, it is important the owner gets them straight into a routine of being alone. Taking two weeks off work and spending every day with a dog, then suddenly leaving for an 8 hour work day, will trigger anxiety.

Meal Dispensers

  • Kong Wobbler, Bob-a-Lot, Buster Cube, Planet Dog Snoop, Kyjan Slow Feeder, etc.

Treat Dispensers

  • Original Kong, Kong Genius line, West Paw Tux and Tizzie, JW Treat Dispensers, etc.

Enacting nothing in life is free and getting on a serious obedience training schedule can be helpful for confidence and anxiety. Teaching conditioned relaxation, settle, on your bed, as well as other obedience cues can help you through this process. It is HIGHLY recommended that you find a dog training professional asap to help you with your dog: http://www.humanesociety.org/…/training_nothing_in_life_is_…

Holistic supplements and aids: Composure (Composure Pro preferred), Rescue Remedy, Bach Walnut, CBD oil (Charlottes Web is a good option, cwbotanicals), Adaptil DAP pheromone collar, thundershirt — not recommended for dogs that shred fabric.

Common prescription options: Fluoxetine/prozac, xanax, trazodone, clomipramine/clomicalm.


Some dogs have CONTAINMENT PHOBIAS rather than separation anxiety, or the separation anxiety is so severe that they can seriously injure themselves in a crate. You have to make a determination of what the best route is for your individual dog. For my personal dog, it was best to start allowing him to free roam because he has containment phobia more so than separation anxiety. If your dog will injure themselves trying to escape from the house, a crate might be a better option.

Helpful books: Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs by Malena Demartini-Price, Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety by Nicole Wilde.

I have found it beneficial to have a webcam hooked up to my mobile phone.. helpful in monitoring progress.

Do you have any tips for owners dealing with separation anxiety? Questions about your own dog? Leave a comment below!