Service dogs possess a special set of skills that allow them to assist people with an assortment of disabilities, and they require highly specialized training. Becoming a service dog trainer is challenging and the opportunities are few, but the rewards are well worth it.
Volunteer for an organization such as Canine Companions for Independence (cci.org) or the Seeing Eye (seeingeye.org.) These organizations specifically breed dogs with the intention of raising them to become service dogs. Once the dogs are weaned, they are placed in private homes for about 18 months until they are old enough to begin their formal, intensive training. During this time they are socialized and begin basic training. These programs could not exist without volunteer puppy raisers. Volunteer to become a puppy raiser and you become an integral part of the process of training service dogs.
Enroll in a formal dog training program to become a dog trainer or offer to apprentice under an established dog trainer. Once the candidate puppies are 18 months old, they go to live in a training facility where professional service dog trainers take over their training. These trainers represent the very cream of the crop, because they are training animals who will then be responsible for human lives. Becoming a professional dog trainer and working for several years as a dog trainer or as an apprentice will give you an opportunity to learn all the skills you need to further your education and become a professional trainer with a service dog training organization. The drawback to this approach is that you will have to either live near one of the schools or be willing to move to the city in which the school is located.
Offer to assist with dog training classes and programs for the puppies. The puppy raisers who keep the puppies for the first 18 months of their lives are scattered across the country. They are not all in the same city or state where the school is located. Contact the school in which you are interested in working as a trainer and ask where the puppies are trained while waiting to enter the second phase of their training. These puppies routinely attend a group training class in the region where they are being fostered. Find out who the trainer is for these puppies in your area and offer to assist with the training classes. If you do this in conjunction with taking formal education to become a dog trainer, you will be well suited to take a job as a service dog trainer when a position becomes available.
- While learning to become a service dog trainer, learn about the different services dogs are performing for people. Do you want to train seeing-eye dogs, hearing dogs or dogs who assist with mobility issues? Identifying which service you are most interested in training dogs for will help you narrow down the organizations for which you may work.
- These positions are extremely coveted and hard to come by. They mostly go to people who have been involved with the organization in one way or another. Becoming a puppy raiser is the most expedient way to become a service dog trainer and you will be performing a much-needed service.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.