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.

Should I Become 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 teach dogs to respond to voice or contact commands. They 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 dogs that are prone to those reactions would not be trained as service animals.

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.

Career Requirements

Degree Level None required
Licensure or Certification Licensure could be required in some states; voluntary certification available
Experience 2-3 years along with an apprenticeship
Key Skills Good interpersonal and communication skills, know how to use common dog training equipment including clickers, targets and tethers, enjoy working with dogs, patience
Salary (2015) $32,034 per year (Median salary for all dog trainers)

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

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 last 1-4 days and cover topics in animal learning theory, obedience techniques, and training safety. Service dog trainers 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 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 last only a couple of days and present basic techniques, while others entail several months of advanced practice and introduce theories of service dog training. According to Assistance Dogs International, Inc., programs promising to teach dog training in a few weeks will not provide the level of training required to become a certified dog trainer. Reputable programs 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 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 are also responsible for completing basic tasks, such as running errands, picking up dog excrement, and processing paperwork.

Step 4: Obtain Certification for Advancement

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. 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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