Should I Become a Seeing-Eye Dog Trainer?
Those interested in working with dogs and helping the blind can pursue a career as a seeing-eye dog trainer, either as an entrepreneur or working for someone else. This job requires physical stamina and critical-thinking skills. Trainers have to be able to keep up with their charges and evaluate dogs' progress, making changes to the training plan as needed. Workers in this field have a higher incidence of workplace injury and illness when compared to all other occupations, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The educational requirements to becoming a seeing-eye dog trainer are a high school diploma or GED and, in some cases, college-level courses are required in animal science or biology-related fields. Some states require seeing-eye dog trainers to have a license, and certification is voluntary. Experience working with animals through volunteering or apprenticeships can be beneficial for those seeking this career. The key skills one must possess in order to be a successful seeing-eye dog trainer are instructing, critical thinking, speaking, active learning, active listening, coordinating, judgment and decision making, patience and stamina. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for animal trainers in 2015 was $33,600 per year.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Some positions require that seeing-eye dog trainers hold a college degree. No particular field of study is necessary, but a Bachelor of Science in Biology program with a concentration in animal behavior could prove useful. These programs usually take four years to complete and focus on relationships between animals and their environments. Courses might include animal behavior, neurobiology and animal physiology.
Step 2: Gain Volunteer Experience
A career in seeing-eye dog training requires experience working directly with dogs. Prospective seeing-eye dog trainers can obtain this experience by volunteering at animal shelters or obedience schools, such as Guide Dogs for the Blind, a seeing-eye dog training school that offers a volunteer puppy-raising program. In this program, volunteers care for puppies from 8-18 weeks of age. Along with familiarizing puppies with human interaction, volunteers teach them fundamental obedience and manners.
Step 3: Complete an Apprenticeship
Prospective seeing-eye dog trainers can enter the occupation through an apprenticeship with a guide dog training school or association. These programs can last three years and provide apprentices with hands-on, supervised training with seeing-eye dogs. With experience and proven proficiency, apprentices may be given greater responsibility and offered permanent positions.
Step 4: Get Licensed
In some states, licensure is required to work as a seeing-eye dog trainer. For example, in California, licensure requires completion of a 3-year apprenticeship, passage of several exams and completion of continuing education courses to maintain licensure.
Step 5: Obtain Employment
If an apprenticeship program does not lead to permanent employment, seeing-eye dog trainers can apply for employment with a guide dog training school. Many employers prefer applicants with apprenticeship experience and require candidates to pass written exams before becoming trainers.
Step 6: Earn Certification
Seeing-eye dog trainers can demonstrate practical knowledge in animal training and behavior by earning certification through a professional organization. For example, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers offers the Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) designation to those who pass an exam. According to the council, exam candidates must have at least 300 hours of dog training experience within the past five years. Certification is not mandatory; however, it helps increase referrals and displays advanced knowledge and experience.
Being a seeing-eye dog trainer is both physically and mentally challenging, and trainers must be critical thinkers, active learners and decision makers. A high school diploma or GED is required in order to pursue this career, and some college-level courses, as well as licensure and certification, are encouraged as well.