How to become an Assistance Dog Trainer. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does an Assistance Dog Trainer do?
Assistance dog trainers and instructors train dogs to help people with physical disabilities, hearing or sight difficulties to live independently.
You could work with the following types of assistance dog:
- guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired – help owners to use stairs, cross roads and avoid obstacles
- hearing dogs – alert deaf people to sounds such as smoke alarms, crying babies, telephones and alarm clocks
- disability assistance dogs – carry out tasks such as pressing emergency buttons on phones and opening and closing doors
- seizure alert dogs – recognise signs that their owner is about to have a seizure.
Your work could include:
- working with volunteers who foster puppies and young dogs
- helping dogs to adjust to the routine of basic training
- training at a more advanced level related to the dog’s future work
- matching dogs to owners
- training dogs and owners together
- providing aftercare and support for owner-dog partnerships.
You may have responsibility for a particular area of the work. For example, you could work for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association as a trainer (carrying out the first part of the dog’s training) or a mobility instructor (doing advanced training and matching the dog to its new owner). Some organisations employ aftercare officers and volunteers to provide ongoing support.
You would usually work 35 hours a week, Monday to Friday, with occasional evenings and weekends. Part-time work is possible.
This is a very active job, involving a lot of walking and bending, and being outside in all weather conditions.
You would travel all over the country to visit dogs and their owners.
How much does an Assistance Dog Trainer earn?
Salary and pay information:
Earnings depend on the organisation. For example, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association trainees earn £14,659 a year, and qualified trainers earn £18,298.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
You must be at least 18 years old and will usually need a full, clean driving licence.
It will be useful to have experience of working with dogs. You can build up your experience through volunteering in areas such as temporary boarding and puppy socialising – to find out more check with any of the following:
- Support Dogs
- Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
- Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
- Dogs for the Disabled.
You could also contact your local kennels to find out about volunteering opportunities.
Relevant qualifications like NVQs in Animal Care or a course in animal management could give you an advantage, although they are not essential.
Each organisation has its own entry requirements. For example:
- Guide Dogs for the Blind Association – you will need five GCSEs (A-C) including English, although equivalent qualifications may be considered
- Hearing Dogs for Deaf People – you will need sign language skills (although training is given in British Sign Language) and experience of work with deaf people.
Check with the individual organisations for details.
Training and Development
Once you are employed as an assistance dog trainer you will receive on-the-job training. This will vary in length depending on the organisation.
You may start with kennel work, then move on to learning to train dogs and working with owners. In some organisations your training will include canine anatomy and physiology.
As an experienced trainer you could volunteer with Dog AID, an organisation which teaches people with physical disabilities to train their own dogs in general obedience and in specialised tasks to help them manage their disability in everyday life. This could be useful for developing your skills. See the Dog AID website for details.
Skills and Knowledge
- an interest in dogs and an understanding of their behaviour
- patience, both with dogs and their owners
- commitment to helping people
- the ability to work alone and as part of a team
- the ability to inspire confidence in dogs and their owners.
Most trainers are employed by Support Dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People or Dogs for the Disabled. These are all registered charities which are part of the organisation Assistance Dogs (UK).
Vacancies are advertised on the organisations’ websites.
With experience you could progress to a senior job such as area team supervisor, training manager or regional training manager.
Your experience as a trainer could lead to a care support job, perhaps as a rehabilitation worker. Other options include moving into a related field such as veterinary nursing or working as an RSPCA inspector – see the relevant profiles for information on these jobs.
You may also be able to set up your own business, offering services such as dog obedience classes or private dog training.