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Training to Become a Dog Trainer for the Disabled

by Stephanie Dube Dwilson, studioD

If you love dogs and have a heart for helping people in need, then becoming a service dog trainer might be a good fit. Service dogs help disabled people live independently. They help the disabled travel on their own and even handle day-to-day chores in the home. When learning how to be a service dog trainer, training the dogs is the easy part. Training people is the tough part, according to Assistance Dogs International.

Personal Qualifications

First, you should honestly assess your personality and decide if training service dogs to work with the disabled is the right career choice for you. You will not only train the dogs, but also train the disabled person on how to work with the dog. You need patience to motivate and teach the dog owner, along with the willingness to make a 10-year commitment to help the dog and his owner whenever needed, states Assistance Dogs International. Skills also relevant to this job include excellent problem-solving skills, communication skills and the ability to work with both groups and individuals.

Training Programs

There is no single, defined career path or certification needed to become a dog trainer for the disabled. You'll need to locate a service dog training program and ask if there's an opening to take lessons. Programs take one to three years to complete and involve hands-on training with a new dog. You not only learn the techniques on training a service dog, but also have a dog assigned to you that you train as you learn. You foster the dog and let it live in your home for the duration of the program.


Although training varies from program to program, there are a number of basic commands and techniques that you learn as an apprentice in a service dog training program. You teach the dog to retrieve objects for its owner, to pull a wheelchair, open doors and cabinets, to search and rescue people, to turn on lights and to dial special phones designed for assistance dogs. Your dog also learns how to help its disabled owner in crowds, and how to notice and respond if its owner is suffering a panic attack or other health scare like a blood sugar drop, food allergy or seizure. You'll also learn relevant canine laws such as leash laws and the state's laws for assistance animals.

Service Dog Standards

Once you've graduated from your dog training program, future dogs will take about six months to train, one to two hours a day. This will total about 180 to 360 hours. Assistance Dogs International offers a Public Access Test that certifies dogs as service dogs. In order for your dog to pass the test, he'll need to respond to verbal or hand signal commands. These commands include but are not limited to exiting a vehicle, approaching a building and entering, heeling through a building, sitting, responding from six feet away and avoiding noise distractions.

About the Author

With features published by media such as Business Week and Fox News, Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an accomplished writer with a law degree and a master's in science and technology journalism. She has written for law firms, public relations and marketing agencies, science and technology websites, and business magazines.

Photo Credits

  • Apple Tree House/Lifesize/Getty Images