In the past few months, Atlas Assistance Dogs has had the privilege of attending and speaking at two Karen Pryor ClickerExpos! We have met wonderful, innovative people from all around the world involved in positive reinforcement dog training and are thrilled to have received such positive feedback. We have observed that an increasing number of dog trainers are interested in taking the extra step to learn how to become service dog trainers but just don’t know where to start, or are nervous about this work as it has such an impact on people’s lives.
Indeed, becoming a service dog trainer takes motivation, determination, innovative thinking, and real a commitment to helping people with all types of medical conditions or disabilities. Once limited to helping the blind, service dogs are now recognized for the vital services they can perform for a wide range of disabilities and conditions. For example:
- Seizure disorders
- Conditions affecting mobility
- Other chronic medical conditions
So why might you want to become a service dog trainer? First and foremost, you would be significantly changing someone’s life in a very positive way. These are people who might have lost a great amount of independence, who t might rely on other people to help them with daily tasks, who might fear going out in public on their own. A properly trained service dog can go beyond helping someone with their basic needs. The tasks the dog is trained to do can help them thrive and benefit from the same opportunities available to anyone else. As their trainer, you will have played a major part in that.
Furthermore, working with people with disabilities can be an incredible and enlightening experience for you. Most service dog trainers build strong bonds and even long term friendships with their clients. They truly become part of a team working towards common goals. Working with a client affected by disability requires empathy, humility, compassion, curiosity, and open-mindedness. Perhaps you have no prior experience with disability, but you will more than likely quickly develop a deep understanding and compassion, and further your knowledge about people’s different life experiences.
Service dog trainers must think outside of the box and must be willing to be attentive and adapt to their client’s needs. Every client you work with is different, even if they have the same medical condition or disability. Two people with seizure disorders are not going to want or need the exact same type of support from their dog during a seizure; two wheelchair users will not need the same type of mobility or retrieval assistance from their dog. What’s more, two people with the same condition might want more or less hands-on help from their trainer and you must be able to comprehend what each client needs. Beyond adapting to the client, the trainer must be able to adapt to the dog. How will each dog best accomplish its job based on its unique traits and characteristics? For example, a dog that already uses its paws to get its owner’s attention might have an easier time learning to alert with its paw rather than with its nose. A service dog trainer must always be open and ready to think about new ways to go about things and having the dog and client be successful in a way that works best for them. Either because of the dog, the person, or the need it is common for service dog trainers to be required to invent protocols on the fly and to train a skill at least partially differently than they ever had before.
If you are a dog trainer who wishes to take the extra step and move into the world of service dog training, you can do that! Atlas Assistance Dogs wishes to increase the availability of service dog trainers around the country in order to help as many people who may benefit from a properly trained service dog. Our program is meant to help dog trainers learn all they need to know about how to train service dogs and how to work with people with disabilities in a caring, ethical, inclusive, and fun manner!