How to Become a Service Dog Trainer

If you’re a dog trainer or are thinking of becoming a dog trainer and spending most of your time with man’s best friend, there are many different niches and specialized areas you can explore. One highly rewarding option is becoming a service dog trainer. Preparing specially selected canines to become the helpers and guardians of disabled individuals can be a wonderfully fulfilling career choice, but deciding to become an assistance dog trainer is not always the easiest or the simplest avenue of dog training to go down. In this article we provide you with some expert tips and advice on how to get started and the best ways to get your new career started on the right track.


How to become a service dog trainer

A professional service dog trainer in the United States Navy.

Before You Decide to Make the Commitment

Deciding to become a service dog trainer is a long-term commitment, and can more challenging than many dog trainers anticipate. You’ll need to be able to work with many different breeds of dogs with different temperaments, and definitely a great deal of patience is a prerequisite for working with assistance animals in any role.

As many dog trainers will tell you, it’s much easier to train dogs than it is to train their owners, and this is even more true when the owner has a major mental or physical condition. It can be very challenging to train a handler in how to maintain control over their dog. In many cases, people will need service animals for mobility assistance or to act as guide dogs, so it can be even more difficult to successfully teach them to command and correct their animal as necessary.


How to Become a Service Dog Trainer

Do Your Research Beforehand

The first thing that you need to do is to start reading about what training assistance animals involves. You’re going to have to invest a great deal into learning before you even get to meet a service dog. It’s imperative that you know what the entire process entails.


Read Books by Experienced Dog Trainers

Before you enroll into any school, make sure that you read books on assistance dog training and what it is truly like to work with these wonderful animals. Despite being able to work with some incredible canines and people, instructing service dogs is not all wine and roses, and you will undoubtedly encounter dogs with aggressive or anxious temperaments and some dogs that are very difficult to train (or, more often, some people who are difficult to train). You can mentally prepare yourself for the stressful times ahead by reading case studies and anecdotes by other trainers who have already been successful at the job and written about it. It’s surprising how much this can help to keep your level of motivation up.

how to register a service dog

Look for a Good School and Get Started

If, after your research, you decide you do want to become a service dog trainer, then it’s time to enroll in a service dog trainer’s apprenticeship program. This, like so many things in life, is much easier said than done. There are many organizations (some of which are not-for-profits) that will accept you as an apprentice trainer even if you’ve never worked with service dogs, therapy dogs or any other kind of assistance dogs before. You can begin to search online for a company that offers this. In many cases, organizations that train service dogs won’t directly advertise that are looking for apprentice trainers, so you may need to contact them to find out if they are. Probably, only a small percentage of the many organizations that train and sell assistance animals will be able to accommodate teaching new trainers, and as this is often in high demand, so you may need to look for organizations in a different state to where you live.

mobility assistance k-9 trainingGoing to an assistance dog training camp involves going on a training course that typically lasts between one and three years. As you can imagine, it can also be difficult to keep motivated to go through the entire training process. Although many training schools advertise training courses that last only a few months, the reality is that it usually takes at least two years to be able to fully train service animals.

Because service animal training is a somewhat exclusive niche of the dog training world, and the process of becoming a service dog trainer goes far beyond teaching someone how to train a dog to sit and lie down on command, and it may take some work and some persistence to find a company that will be prepared to take you on as a learner. It may be a good idea to begin by asking to volunteer at a service dog training center to get a feel for what the job involves and to make some contacts to ask for more information. By doing this you can ask other assistance animal trainers how they got started in the business; talking to other trainers is usually far more instructive than just reading advice from a book or online.

Also, be careful about which school you do decide to become an apprentice at. The assistance dog industry is mostly self-regulated, and as such different organizations vary in the quality and value they provide. This is another reason why talking to different trainers to get their opinions and thoughts on what companies are known to be reliable is so helpful.

How Much Training Do Service Dogs Receive?

how to train a therapy dogIn the United States, there is no governmentally-regulated standard about the amount of training a dog has to receive in order to be considered a service dog. The assistance animal industry in the US is self-regulated, and the different organizations that specialize in training service canines each have their own requirements. One guideline that can be used as a rough estimate is the requirements set forth by Assistance Dogs International, which requires that a service animal receive at least 120 hours or training over a six month period.

Service dogs are trained not only in obedience and to be able to do very specific jobs for their owners, including being able to pick up objects, pull wheelchairs, open and close doors, perform medical alerts and seizure alerts and many more. All of this can require very complex and in-depth procedures. Typically, a service dog trainer will work with the animal (and sometimes it’s future owner as well) for a couple of hours per day at least five days a week for several months. Naturally, this requires plenty of patience, and a deep love and personal commitment to producing the highest calibre of trained animals. Becoming a service dog trainer is definitely not a career choice you should consider unless you are a true dog lover.

The reality is, training service dogs is less about working with the dogs and more about working with their future owners. Training service animals is really the business of helping many different kinds of people with various physical and mental conditions improve the quality of their life and become more independent and confident in their day-to-day activities. In other words, it’s a career in which you need to be able to get along with many different people and remain patient as you help them to learn sometimes difficult new skills. There is no standard formula or universal method of training canines and their owners that can easily be taught to new trainers, it’s more of a “work out your own methods as you go along” kind of career, and some people find this way of working much easier than others.


Getting a Job as an Assistance Dog Trainer

A service dog trainer needs to be diplomatic, understanding, accommodating and able to get along with all kinds of clients and all kinds of dogs. A company looking to hire a service animal trainer will most likely be looking for someone who has a genuine passion for helping disabled individuals and working with dogs. You’ll need to be positive, outgoing and a hard worker to be successful in the business. Often, the job isn’t glamorous and can involve many mundane tasks such as cleaning up after the dogs and plenty of paperwork and administration.


registration of a new service dog trainerSpecializing in this Niche Could Improve Your Career Options

If you do decide to complete the apprenticeship program and get some hands-on experience, you can expect to see your career options as a dog trainer expand considerably. Instead of being “just another dog trainer” in your town, you will have highly-specialized and difficult to learn skills that can be of great value to many people, and those skills will be of great value to many companies and organizations that need good dog training.

You also get the priceless benefit of being able to empower and improve the lives of people with disabilities and help them to regain their freedom and dignity in life. After all the hard work and stress that goes into preparing these dogs and their owners for a harmonious life together, the joy that comes from watching someone in a wheelchair with their assistance dog that you trained or watching a child with autism bond with his new dog cannot be put into words.

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