Certified Service Dog Trainer: Certification & Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a certified service dog trainer. Research the job duties as well as education and certification requirements, and find out how to start a career as a certified dog trainer.

Do I Want to Be a Certified Service Dog Trainer?

Service dog trainers teach canines to assist in tasks that people with disabilities can't perform on their own. They might teach dogs to respond to voice or contact commands.

Service dog trainers get the double reward of working with animals and helping people. They might, however, be bitten or scratched by a frightened or confused dog, though usually dogs that are prone to those reactions would not be trained as service animals.

Job Requirements

While not mandatory for this profession, certification for general dog trainers is available. Some schools offer formal service dog trainer courses. Apprenticeships and volunteering are alternative ways of becoming a service dog trainer. The table below outlines the requirements to work in this field:

Common Requirements
Degree Level None required*
Licensure or Certification Required in some states**
Experience Experience working with dogs**
Key Skills Good interpersonal and communication skills*
Technical Skills Know how to use common dog training equipment, including clickers, targets and tethers*
Additional Requirements Enjoy working with dogs, patience*

Sources: *Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, **Guide Dogs of America.

Step 1: Work with Dogs

Prospective service dog trainers can become acquainted with the profession by attending conferences and workshops in canine behavior and training. Available at vocational schools and community colleges, workshops and conferences usually last 1-4 days and cover topics such as animal learning theory, obedience techniques and training safety. Service dog trainers may also gain hands-on experience with dogs by volunteering at animal shelters. Some service dog training schools offer puppy-raising programs in which volunteers care for puppies until the puppies are old enough to begin training.

Step 2: Complete Dog Trainer Courses

Aspiring service dog trainers can prepare for the career by enrolling in formal classes and certificate programs offered at community colleges, universities and service dog training schools. Duration and intensity of training vary by program. Some courses may last only a couple of days and present basic techniques, while others may entail several months of advanced practice and introduce theories of service dog training. According to Assistance Dogs International, Inc., programs that promise to teach dog training in a few weeks will not provide the level of training required to become a certified dog trainer. Reputable programs generally take 2-3 years and require an apprenticeship period.

Step 3: Serve as an Apprentice

Most service dog training schools only consider applicants who have completed an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships at training schools can last up to four years. Under the direction of experienced instructors, apprentices train dogs to assist humans in specific functions and teach disabled owners how to control their service dogs. Apprentices may also be responsible for completing basic tasks, such as running errands, picking up dog excrement and processing paperwork.

Step 4: Obtain Certification

While some states require service dogs to be certified or licensed, no mandatory certification exists for trainers. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) offers voluntary certification for dog trainers in general. Once an apprentice has completed a minimum of 300 hours of training and obtained three recommendations, he or she is eligible to sit for the Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) certification exam. This 25-question exam covers occupational topics, such as animal husbandry, instruction skills and learning theory.

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