Service Dog Trainer: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

People who enjoy working with animals and are passionate about improving the quality of life for the disabled may consider a career as a service dog trainer. Some employers prefer to hire service dog trainers with undergraduate degrees. Most service dog schools require trainers to complete apprenticeship programs and pass exams.

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Service Dog Trainer Job Description

Service dog trainers teach guide dogs, hearing dogs and therapy dogs to assist people with disabilities. Apprentice trainers typically work at service dog training schools under the supervision of experienced instructors and, with experience, may go on to instruct other trainers. This is a physically demanding position, which requires trainers to walk and control dogs of various sizes and breeds. Trainers are matched with puppies and work with their partner dogs through the entire training process.

Service Dog Trainer Duties

Along with teaching dogs to assist the disabled in certain functions, trainers familiarize dogs with human interaction and teach basic obedience skills, such as walking in pace with handlers and sitting on command. The training process is comprised of many small tasks, each with instruction techniques. For example, some trainers may use the bridge technique, which involves rewarding dogs every time they perform certain actions. Trainers also provide dogs with physical and mental exercise during the training process. After training is complete, they match dogs with their owners and teach the two to work together.

Service Dog Trainer Requirements

Coursework and Apprenticeships

College coursework in animal behavior, biology and psychology, while not required for all positions, can provide relevant preparation for aspiring trainers. Additionally, apprenticeships allow service dog trainers to gain real-world experience under the tutelage of experienced instructors.

Individuals may teach dogs basic skills as apprentices for up to four years. Once they master training skills, apprentices may take on greater responsibilities and advance to instructor positions.

Certification

There are no certification programs geared specifically to service dog trainers; however, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) offers voluntary certification for dog trainers in general (www.ccpdt.org). In order to be eligible to sit for the CCPDT certification exam, candidates must have recent experience training dogs or instructing other dog trainers. Continuing education is required for certification renewal.

Licensure and Other Qualifications

In some states, guide dog trainers must be licensed. For example, in California, becoming licensed involves successful completion of a set of exams and three years as an apprentice. California guide dog trainers must maintain licensure by taking continuing education courses.

Dog schools may administer their own exams and field tests to apprentice service dog trainers. Additional tests may be required for advancement into instructor positions.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Animal trainers in general earned an annual median salary of $25,270 in 2012, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). From 2010-2020, slower than average job growth of 3% was predicted by the BLS for animal trainers.

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