Whether you are a seasoned pet owner, or simply a fan of all things canine, there is no denying that there are some dogs who can be classed as super smart.
While the old adage claims that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, there are plenty of pooches who pick up the most random of abilities, and some which show a particular affinity for agility.
Working with animals is a rich and rewarding experience, and training dogs to boost their agility skills and compete at the highest level offers a fast-paced, exciting career, in which no two days are ever the same.
Considering switching fields to help dogs achieve their full potential? You have come to the right place!
What Is Dog Agility?
Before we take a closer look at becoming a trainer, it is important to understand what agility is – and what it isn’t. In the simplest terms, “agility” refers to a sport in which a handler directs a dog through a series of obstacles, and the animal is judged based on time and accuracy.
Handlers are only permitted to use their voice, body movements, and signals to direct the dog – they are not permitted to touch the dog, any of the obstacles, or offer incentives such as food or treats.
In addition, the course may be set up in such a way that the dog would not be able to complete it alone – they need the assistance and guidance of their handler.
These limitations mean that training for the event must be rigorous, and only those handlers with exceptional coordination will succeed.
What Skills Does An Agility Trainer Require?
In order to succeed at this career, there are a number of essential skills that trainers are required to possess and demonstrate, and these include:
One of the most important attributes required for the role is a high level of patience – both with the animals themselves, and their owners.
When you are a dog agility trainer, your role is twofold; you are first teaching the dog how to navigate the course, and getting them used to the experience and environment of agility, but you are also teaching their owner how to build and develop the skills to handle their animal.
As with any form of training, agility work takes lots of repetition, correction of errors, and sometimes monotonous exercises to get things right.
Patience is non-negotiable in order to produce calm, happy, and focused dogs, as well as confident, skilled, and patient owners.
Non-Verbal Dog Signals
It goes without saying that anyone aspiring to work with dogs should have a solid understanding of their nature, temperament, and signals.
Dogs and animals cannot use words to tell us when something is wrong, so they will use a range of non-verbal signals, such as laying back their ears or dilating pupils to express stress, discomfort, or fear.
A successful agility trainer will recognize these signs as clearly as they understand their native language, and be able to work with the dog and owner to handle the situation in a calm, productive manner.
Working with animals is never predictable, and no two days are ever the same. To succeed in this field, you will need to be prepared to think on your feet, react to situations as they happen, and move quickly.
A Sense of Humor
Perhaps the most important skill to arm yourself with is a good sense of humor. Owners can be tough to handle, and animals, by their very nature, are prone to doing ridiculous, random, and unexpected things.
If you can accept that things will go wrong, and handle the situation with humor and professionalism, you will be well on your way to becoming an excellent agility trainer.
How Can I Become An Agility Trainer?
If you still think you would be the perfect fit for the job, there are several steps you can take to get started and move your career forward.
Train Your Own Dog
The first place to start is with training your own dog or working with a dog on a daily basis to build up a training routine and develop your skills.
Move beyond basic commands such as “sit” or “stay” – you want your pooch to be an example to your clients, so try more complex instructions such as staying in one spot even when there is a tempting distraction in their eye line, or working on building skills such as reward placement, speed or timing through the practice of sports.
You also need to ensure that you are spotting any behavior issues as they occur, and dealing with them as they arise – a badly behaved dog is no advert for your business.
Tests such as the AKC Canine Good Citizen test can be a great way to access a framework and build a training plan.
Remember: no dog is perfect, and they shouldn’t have to be. Regular training, however, helps to build your skills, experience, and confidence and will allow you to practice before unleashing your skills on the world.
Train Other Trusted Dogs
By their very nature, dogs will forgive their owners pretty much anything, and this includes any mistakes you make while training. Your next step should therefore be to practice training other dogs you know and trust – perhaps those of a family member, colleague, or friend.
Not only does this build confidence, but it also gets you used to dealing with a range of breeds, personalities, and temperaments, as well as gaining experience with owners.
You can also use this time to practice training owners, perhaps by working with them to teach their dogs basic skills and commands, before moving up to more complex routines.
While you do not technically need any formal education to call yourself a dog trainer, it can be useful to take a course or class to ensure that your skills are up to scratch.
A large element of agility training is based on the study of animal behavior and analyzing the ways in which they learn.
Educating yourself on the science behind this can therefore be a very useful way to boost not only your skills as a trainer, but your understanding of the animals you are working with, and the best ways to help them achieve their potential.
This, in turn, offers an insight into why a particular training method may not work, or the best ways to adapt your techniques when required.
The most important consideration is to carefully check the background and credentials of those operating the course – make sure they have a good reputation, and that their teachings are based on solid, scientifically sound practices.
Resources such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers can be a good place to start.
Once you have training under your belt, you will be in a position to get yourself certified and accredited. Make sure you are a member of key organizations, such as the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, to demonstrate your professionalism to clients.
These organizations also offer useful training, updates, and information about the profession, as well as helping clients to find you.
You should also consider studying for a qualification with a center such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers – earning their title of Certified Professional Dog Trainer requires 300 hours of training experience, as well as the passing of a multiple-choice exam – this proves that you are serious, knowledgeable, and can be trusted.
If you have a love of dogs, an interest in animal behavior and psychology, and an interest in people, training as an agility trainer could unlock a whole new career.
With a little training, plenty of patience, and a lot of hard work, this is a great way to do something you truly enjoy – all while working with furry canine friends every day. Sounds like a perfect job if you are barking mad about dogs!
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