How To Become A Service Dog Trainer

Being a service dog trainer can be a very challenging and demanding job.  Not only do you work with dogs as a trainer but you work with people as an instructor, teaching them how to work with their service dog.  The work is hard but it can be very fulfilling.

People typically become service dog trainers by first becoming a certified dog trainer.  This usually means becoming certified through an organization such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers which requires 300 hours of experience (in a five year period) as a trainer or training instructor before applying for certification.

Once you are certified as a trainer and have enough experience as a trainer you can consider working with service dogs.

In order to work with service dogs and the disabled you will need some unique personal qualities.  You’ll need compassion, patience, good communication and people skills and a desire to help people.  You’ll also have to be willing to work for less money than you deserve.  Service dog trainers (and most people who work with non-profits) are paid much less than they should be paid.  Service dog programs depend largely on donations and grants to pay their employees so salaries are not high. You’ll also will probably be asked to work more than a 9-5 job.  So, expect low pay and long hours.  Most people in this field do the work because they love it.

After you choose this kind of work you’ll need to contact a service dog training program.  They’ll put you in touch with an apprenticeship program.  This is required by virtually all service dog training program.  Expect to spend 2.5 to 4 years as an apprentice trainer.  You may do various things as an apprentice from teaching basic obedience to working with dogs and matching them with students.

Service dog trainers (and apprentices) also need to be able to do many kinds of physical work.  Most service dogs are Labradors, Golden Retrievers or crosses of these breeds or German Shepherds.  At times you may need to carry a dog, assist a student who needs physical help and so on.  Sometimes it’s not easy to control an exuberant 80 pound Labrador who isn’t fully trained.

There is stiff competition to be a trainer at most service dog training schools.  It will help your cause if you have experience as a puppy raiser or even as a kennel worker.  Any connection to the service dog training school can help.

There are many things to consider before you become a service dog trainer, including why you want to pursue this career.  It takes a lot of work and it’s not an easy job.  Before you make this decision it’s a good idea to visit a service dog training school and talk to some trainers about what it’s really like to do this work.  Ask them about both the good and the bad parts of their job.  Take your time to consider your options.  Being a service dog trainer could be a wonderful career for you but make sure it’s what you want to do before you make your choice.


Mark Mansfield

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