How to Become a Licensed Dog Trainer: Licensure and Career Roadmap

Learn about licensing and certification for service dog trainers. Map out the steps you'll need to take, and consider whether this is the right career for you. View article »

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  • 0:00 Service Dog Trainer
  • 0:53 Get Training
  • 1:47 Get Experience
  • 2:14 Get Licensed or Certified
  • 3:05 Continue Your Education

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Video Transcript

Service Dog Trainer

Behind every service dog is a professional who trained it to assist patients or people with disabilities or respond to emergency situations. Service dog trainers prepare dogs to guide or assist people with physical or emotional needs. Trainers need to have compassion and patience towards dogs and owners, physical stamina and strong communication skills. Service dog trainers also need a thorough understanding of canine behavior, care, safety, training techniques and laws, as well as the needs of people who require assistance. The mean annual salary for all animal trainers, including those who train service dogs, was $33,600 in May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; postsecondary training is often helpful
Licensure and Certification May be required for certain types of dog trainers
Experience Varies; some employers may not require any experience
Key Skills Compassion and patience towards dogs and owners, physical stamina, excellent customer-service and oral and strong communication skills, basic computer software competence, and the ability to work in group and independently
Salary (2015) $33,600 (Median salary for all animal trainers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor of Statistics; Job posting from various employers (August 2015); Guide Dogs of America

Step 1: Get Training

Most service dog trainers hold a high school diploma or its equivalent, although no formal education background is required. There are many programs that prepare dog trainers with the fundamentals of service training and can lead to certification. Service dog training programs are available through private or service organizations, associations and schools. These demonstrations and lectures teach aspiring trainers how to work with puppies and dogs while providing them with hands-on opportunities to develop their training techniques.

Additionally, they are associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs available that provide raining, while also offering courses in canine studies and human-dog relationships. Many programs are accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI), which maintains a set of standards for service dog training around the world.

Step 2: Get Experience

Unpaid and paid internships, or apprenticeships, can provide valuable hands-on experience in service training. Apprenticeships offered by service organizations can last for multiple years and can include the training of seeing-eye dogs or hearing dogs. Apprenticeships tend to require some prior work with dogs, along with a willingness to travel and the ability to work with people who need assistance.

Step 3: Get Licensed or Certified

State licensure may be mandatory for some dog trainers, but these situations are uncommon. For example, licensure is required to train service dogs in California, where a trainer must provide proof of experience and a list of persons and dogs trained. Employers often view certification, which is offered by a number of associations and organizations, as sign of professionalism in the field. Certification proves that a service dog trainer has met specific standards in training and usually requires passing an exam, a number of minimum training hours, and a commitment to an industry code of ethics. Some well-known and widely accepted certifications include those offered by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Step 4: Continue Your Education

Recertification as a service dog trainer is required every 3-5 years and on-going continuing education is needed to fulfill it. Continuing education requirements can range from attending a course or seminar at an approved university or from a service organization to publishing an article in a peer-reviewed industry publication. Continuing education ensures that service dog trainers are committed to the most current standards in the industry.

Let's review. While service dog trainers rarely need a state license, a professional certification can serve as proof of knowledge and experience. Animal trainers overall earned a mean annual salary of $33,600 in May 2015.

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