A career training service dogs?
August 23, 2009 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Need info about a career training service dogs.

A friend of mine is convinced that a career training service dogs is what he really wants out of life. I remain dubious for a number of reasons both general and specific to him, but told him I'd query the hive mind for more info.

A few questions he had about it:

a) How does one get started in this kind of career. What training/education do you need and where do you get it? Where would you go to look for job openings?

b) Any insights into what it's really like on a day by day basis? He is interested because he loves animals. Is it really a fun get-to-hang-out-with-dogs-all-day sort of thing, or more boring and repetitive? Having trained 3 of my own dogs I can honestly say that if training service dogs is anything similar, it's definitely not my idea of a good time.

c) What's the pay like?

d) Is it an easy career to find a job in?
posted by reticulatedspline to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've known a few folks who trained service dogs, and they did it as volunteers, usually bringing the dogs to their paying jobs to train them.
posted by twiggy32 at 4:26 PM on August 23, 2009

twiggy32 confirms my information/experience as well... many of the people I've met who train service dogs do it as volunteers....
posted by HuronBob at 4:40 PM on August 23, 2009

There are a variety of types of "service dogs", from abalone-sniffing Customs dogs to vision-assist dogs to bomb and arson dogs.

Each requires a significant time commitment.

I would suggest that he look at taking some extended courses from one of the very established schools like Triple Crown

My background is SAR dogs---but we've got people who run with us who sell their labs to the Air Force to become military dogs.

Some people do it on their own, some work as part of a company. Following 911, the demand for specialized sniffers really took off, with many large institutions and banks looking for their own dog teams, especially bomb.

Some folks get paid per-dog. Some are salaried. Around 2002, bomb dogs were fetching $20k apiece, give or take. They also take a while to train. A drug dog takes less time, like 6-8 months after obedience is over, but they also sell for a lot less.

I've been out of that scene for a while, but Triple Crown is a good place to start.
posted by TomMelee at 4:40 PM on August 23, 2009

I was a puppy raiser for an organization that trained service dogs. It was a volunteer position (it cost me, actually, since I paid for food & some other dog-related costs). Further training of the dog was also unpaid; it was done by inmates at a nearby women's prison. The "finishing" training was done in house by the organization. It seems that prison canine programs are not uncommon; so you friend may be competing with a pool of unpaid volunteers. Thus is seems like he would be seeking the position of the lead trainer who oversees the others' training. This person should have experience not just with dog training, but with teaching others how to properly train a dog. He will be dealing with people as much as (if not more than) dogs.

I can't speak to the specifics as to the background and pay of the lead trainer of the program. I do know she was certified and had previous experience working with animals. As for pay, his employer would likely be a nonprofit organization that is largely dependent on grant and donation funding.

Although I can't speak to it as a career, as a volunteer I certainly got a lot out of the experience. It's one of the top two volunteering activities that I've participated in. Perhaps your friend would consider volunteering to see if it is a good fit for him, and to get resume experience should he decide to pursue such a career.
posted by neda at 4:41 PM on August 23, 2009

My girlfriend worked for an organization (one of the larger guide dog schools) as a trainer of trainers. As mentioned above the trainers were volunteers. She sort of stumbled into it with no specific background of being a trainer. MeMail me if you want more info.
posted by fieldtrip at 7:17 PM on August 23, 2009

addendum: It wasn't for guide dogs for blind people....it was a school training service dogs (and their future handlers) for everything but blind people.
posted by fieldtrip at 7:19 PM on August 23, 2009

I am a guide dog user, not an expert on trainers, but I'll tell you what I know having gone to two different guide dog schools and on my second dog now.

The volunteers that people are talking about above are what we would call "puppy raisers" or "puppy walkers." They are volunteers and take the puppies into their own homes for the first year or so of the dog's life. They are supposed to socialize it by taking it everywhere they can with them and also training it in basic obedience (housebreaking, sit/stay, that sort of thing).

Then, the dogs go to the actual paid training staff back at the schools for a period of months. These trainers are paid. They seem to come from a variety of backgrounds. Some worked at humane societies, some were vet techs, or had other kinds of animal backgrounds. Nothing too professional (like specific college training). They have on the job training for these trainers and several steps of hierarchy of training. Like apprentice, assistant, trainer, master trainer, etc. It takes years to get through these steps, it seems. They also take training in blindness orientation and mobility and use blindfolds, etc.

The guide dog world has always seemed tight to me and very hard to break into. It seems like everyone knows everyone and its a small world. Jobs are usually gotten through connections. Everything from getting hired as the kennel janitor and then moving into an apprentice position to being the CEO's nephew, that sort of thing. Or just being in the right place at the right time. I think job openings are somewhat scarce and the pay isn't that great either (I've been told, but don't know what it is exactly. Pretty low for your lower end trainers).

Trainers are also responsible for training the guide dog/blind person teams and running classes. So your friend needs to be comfortable with people, too. (Which it seems some trainers are not sometimes.)

Oh, and OT for the puppy raising volunteers, here. Your job is VERY IMPORTANT. It is almost more important than the actual guide dog training in some cases. I am dealing with a dog now that guides fine but whose social behavior and general obedience skills suck. I've had her about 6 weeks and she has been a problem from the get go. She is a nice, smart dog. But she is doing stuff that I would have expected the puppy raisers to address a long time ago and based on the info I had, they didn't seem to either get the support and opportunity to do so or just didn't take it seriously enough. I'm paying the price. She can GET me to work, fine. But being at work? She is a pain in the ass who jumps on people, eats out of the trashcans, won't sit still, etc. I'm still trying to work with her, but I NEVER had such problems with my first dog. This is just guide dog 101 stuff. Its embarrassing and it makes it even more impossible to be seen as a professional.

I'll end my OT rant now, sorry. But just, ugh! I'm about to walk my $40,000 trained dog into a PetSmart and sign up for basic obedience training for her. Its ridiculous.
posted by Bueller at 8:34 PM on August 23, 2009

Oh, I missed the part about day-to-day life of a trainer. From what I can tell (and have heard from trainers) it goes something like this:

They seem to go in kind of 6 month cycles. They start by getting a string of dogs that are just out of puppy raiser programs. Perhaps about 5 dogs or so. They literally take one dog out at a time and do training exersises with them. Starting on campus and going into neighborhoods and shopping centers and other areas as the months go on. So maybe they take each dog out for about 20-30 minutes, work on something (all very pavlovian and clicker training-ish, very repetative) and bring that dog back, get the next one. Repeat. Go through all 5 dogs. Break for lunch. Do the same in the afternoon. Repeat for the next four months or so.

After the dogs are trained, a class of blind people will be brought in four two to three weeks to learn how to work with the dogs. Usually about 10 people per class with two trainers and two strings of dogs. The trainers match the students/dogs up and then it is morning training, one student at a time for about 30 minutes each, repeat through all the students, then afternoon training...same thing at increasingly difficult routes and exercises. Then lectures for the students in the evenings (feeding, care, problem-solving, etc.) After a class has graduated, the trainers might take a couple of weeks for follow-up paperwork and checking on the new graduates, things like that. And/or maybe take a couple of weeks vacation and then start the cycle again with a new string of dogs. I, personally, think there would be a lot of boring repetition, but I do think they work closely in teams with other trainers and it is an informal atmosphere where the employees become tight. I guess it just depends on what you think is stimulating or not.
posted by Bueller at 11:41 PM on August 23, 2009

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