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Service dog trainers train dogs to help people with disabilities carry out their daily tasks. Typically, service dog training schools are operated as nonprofit organizations that depend on donations and grants as their primary sources of revenue. As a result, salaries in this field tend to be low, even for people who have a college education. Although the work can be rewarding, some animal trainers earn only about $17,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A service dog is legally defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a dog specifically trained to perform tasks for a physically or mentally disabled individual. The dog must assist the person with seeing, walking, hearing, working or other key daily activities directly related to the person’s disability. Service dogs are not considered pets; therefore, federal laws protect the right of people with disabilities to have their service dogs with them in public places. While service dog trainers teach dogs more complicated tasks, those who work in paid positions normally earn no more than and sometimes less than dog obedience trainers. Earnings vary depending on the geographic region and employing agency or organization.
Service Dog Training Programs
To become a service dog trainer, contact local humane societies or animal shelters, animal rescue groups, dog obedience training schools, 4-H groups, veterinary practices, dog breeders, kennels or even pet supply stores in your area. These organizations might be able to direct you to programs or individuals involved in training service animals. You might be able to connect with an experienced trainer who will take you on as an apprentice if you are willing to volunteer your time. In fact, many established service dog trainers work as volunteers rather than as paid employees.
Although there is no standard educational requirement for service dog trainers, many attend courses at community colleges and vocational schools. Courses cover topics related to understanding canine behavior, animal learning theory, teaching obedience cues, developing problem-solving skills and initiating safety procedures. Reputable service dog training programs require individuals who want to train service dogs to serve an apprenticeship. A person might have to work two-and-a-half to four years as an apprentice trainer. There are professional organizations and training programs that offer certifications for dog trainers. Being certified shows you have developed skills and expertise in the field. A few states require guide dog trainers to be licensed.
Higher Earnings Potential
You might be able to earn a higher salary working in a more profitable area of dog training, such as teaching obedience classes or training scent-detection dogs for law enforcement as your primary occupation. Professional dog trainers often earn at least $20 an hour or $50 per lesson, increasing their earnings over time. Local animal trainers sometimes train service dogs. Although private professional trainers aren’t always willing to train a service dog, some do. Others work part time for organizations that train guide dogs and other service animals in addition to being employed as a professional dog trainer.
Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.