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Learn about the education and preparation to become a service dog trainer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about college coursework and apprenticeships to find out if this is the career for you.
Service dog trainers teach dogs to assist the disabled in everyday functions they otherwise may not be able to perform. College coursework at community or vocational schools, in addition to apprenticeships, can help individuals prepare for work in this field. 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.
|Required Training||Postsecondary courses or apprenticeship|
|Other Requirements||Working with dogs through internships or field experiences; voluntary certification available|
|Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*||15% for all animal trainers|
|Median Salary (2014)*||$25,770 for all animal trainers|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Animal trainers in general earned an annual median salary of $25,770 in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). From 2012-2022, faster-than-average growth in employment opportunities of 15% was predicted by the BLS for animal trainers.