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Working With Assistance Dogs

How do I decide if I should train Service Dogs?

Most dog trainers love dogs and training dogs. This is only the beginning. If you have ever trained a novice class of individuals who have never trained a dog before you know that training dogs is the easy part. Training people to train their dog or maintain their dogs training is the hard part. Now add to this that you have to train a person who is not as able to move with, motivate, correct, and in some cases understand your instructions right away. Training Service Dogs involves all of this plus the fact that your are making a ten year commitment to help this team whenever they need it. Only decide to train Service Dogs if want this challenge and long term commitment.

How long does it take to become a Service Dog trainer?

Most Service Dog programs have a two to three year apprentice training program. Shorter programs might be able to train a Service Dog in general. They can not fully train an individual to deal with different temperament dogs. It is unlikely that you can learn to place a dog with a disabled individual in this amount of time as well as have knowledge of many different disabilities. You are in a buyer beware situation with schools that promise to make you a Service Dog trainer in 6 months. Be especially careful of if they have never had experience with the placement of a Service Dog with a disabled individual.

How do I become an assistance dog apprentice trainer?

You must contact organizations independently. You may have to relocate to a rural area. The fact is a lot of people inquire about this every day. There are many people applying for limited positions. If you’re interested in cleaning poop, running errands, filling out paperwork, shoveling snow and everything else involved producing Service Dogs, take the time to find an opening. Finding an opening in your area often is enhanced by your volunteering prior to getting an apprentice position.

I want to start a program because I love dogs and want to help them live productive lives.

Starting your own program involves much more than working with dogs. A common misconception about the assistance dog field is that it’s about dogs. In reality, it’s about helping people. If you do not think of yourself as a “people” person, no amount of love for dogs will make this the right field for you. You will be training, guiding and counseling people with a variety of disabilities as well as working with the curious and sometimes difficult public. You will be expected to be diplomatic and flexible and creative when working with people to ensure that their needs are met. While all good trainers must respect their dogs, your main goal will be to empower a person with a disability, not to make a dog happy.

How do I get information about volunteering, acquiring an assistance dog, raising a puppy, or adopting a released, retired or pet therapy dog?

Each ADI member program has its own policies and procedures regarding these issues and you will need to contact the programs individually for specific information.

How do I get my dog certified as an assistance dog?

Currently there is no international certification available for assistance dogs. However, ADI member programs currently use the ADI Public Access Test to certify their own graduate teams. Some ADI member programs do offer to certify owner-trained dogs and you would need to contact them directly for information about their programs.

What do programs look for when hiring people as assistance dog trainers?

This will vary with each program and the type of assistance dogs they train. Generally, programs look for a person with a practical, common sense attitude toward dogs. Like most employers, programs are looking for positive, enthusiastic team players with good people skills. A good instructor candidate is patient and genuinely interested in helping people. A willingness to work long and hard, get dirty and do whatever needs to be done to accomplish the program’s goals are a must. Each program has it’s own policies and procedures relating to dog training, client selection, team training and follow-up. Job seekers will want to do careful research on each program to determine which program best matches their ideals and meets their needs.