What the job involves
Assistance dog trainers and instructors train dogs to help people who have physical disabilities, medical conditions and hearing or sight difficulties. In addition to training the dogs, trainers are also likely to be involved in giving talks and demonstrations, raising funds and helping to train other trainers.
You will need to have a strong interest in dog training and behaviour; along with the desire and commitment to work with people and help them to gain confidence and independence.
You will need to have patience, excellent communication skills, and be physically fit and willing to work outdoors regardless of the weather.
This is a very active job, involving plenty of walking and bending as well as being outside in all weather conditions. Being flexible is also a must as most trainers travel all over the country to visit dogs and their owner, however, part-time work within this role is also possibility. Most positions are usually full-time (Monday to Friday) with the occasional need to work evenings and weekends.
Qualifications and training
Once you are employed you will receive on-the-job training which will vary in length and substance depending on the organisation. As an example you could start your employment with kennel work then move on to learning to train dogs and working with owners. To ensure you are fully prepared and aware of your training schedule be sure to ask your prospective employer about this at the recruitment stage if your questions are not answered prior to this point. In some organisations your training will also include canine anatomy and physiology.
What qualification do I need to start training as an Assistance Dog Trainer?
Each organisation sets its own entry requirements for a job vacancy; however, as with any job it is useful to have experience within the field in which you are applying. In this case experience of working with dogs, for example through volunteering at a kennels, dog rescue centre or other animal welfare organisation would be of advantage. Knowledge of basic dog handling and behaviour management methods would also be beneficial. Organisations involved in this type of work normally offer volunteering and work placement opportunities so ask your local organisations what they could offer you. You will also need some understanding of the issues faced by people with disabilities.
Getting into the profession
You will usually need to be at least 18 years old and will usually need a full, clean driving licence. The entry requirements will be set by the recruiting organisation so they will vary with each available post. Besides meeting any academic requirements set, it is recommended to try and gain any relevant work experience and or additional qualifications you can to make your application competitive. As most trainers are employed by Support Dogs, Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, or Dogs for the Disabled it is a good idea to regularly check their websites for vacancies.
Salary and benefits
Your salary will depend on the organisation you work for. It could range from £15,000 a year as a trainee, up to £20,000+ if you are an experienced and qualified trainer. Figures are intended as a guideline only.
With experience you could progress to a senior job, such as area team supervisor, training manager or regional training manager. You could also volunteer with Dog A.I.D, an organisation that teaches people with physical disabilities to train their own dogs in general obedience, as well as specialised tasks to help them manage their disability in everyday life.
Your experience as a trainer could also lead you to a care support job such as a rehabilitation worker. Other options include moving into a related field, such as veterinary nursing or working as an RSPCA inspector. You may also be able to use your skills to become self-employed and set up your own business, offering services such as dog obedience classes or private dog training.
For details of any current job opportunities, or for more information on working for a particular charity or organisation, please contact them directly. Links to some helpful websites can be found below: