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Assistance dog trainer.

Byline: By Wales on Sunday

What does a career in training assistance dogs involve?

Assistance dog trainers and instructors teach dogs to help people with disabilities how to live independently. There are four types of assistance dog: guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired help owners to use stairs, cross roads, avoid obstacles on busy streets etc. Hearing dogs alert severely and profoundly 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 and seizure alert dogs recognise signs that their owner is about to have a seizure. Trainers deal with the initial stages of training, before passing the dog on to an instructor, who takes the dog through the final stages of training, and matches it to a compatible client. The instructor then works with the dog and client together, often in the client's home.

nWhat personal skills do you need?

You should be interested in dogs and have an understanding of their behaviour as well as being committed to helping people. You need to be patient with the dogs and their owners and be able to inspire confidence in them. You need to be a good team player and be physically fit as this is a very active job involving lots of walking and outdoor work in all weathers.

nWhat training do you need?

Getting into this line of work is extremely competitive so it helps if you have a good education and experience of working with dogs and caring for people. Relevant qualifications include NVQs in animal care. Each organisation has its own requirements. For example, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association requires assistance dog trainers to have three GCSEs (grades A-C) grades or equivalent. Hearing Dogs for Deaf People looks for applicants with voluntary work experience with deaf people and sign language skills and Canine Partners requires people with qualifications in dog behaviour and development and experience in training dogs, plus knowledge of disability issues. Training varies in length depending on the organisation, starting with kennel work and moving on to learning to train dogs under supervision and to working with owners.

nWhat are the opportunities for career advancement?

Most trainers are employed by the registered charities that form the umbrella organisation Assistance Dogs (UK). These are: Support Dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Dogs for the Disabled and Canine Partners. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is the largest of the training organisations, with around 500 trainers and mobility instructors. Guide dog trainers can be promoted to mobility instructor, then move into senior jobs like area team supervisor, training manager or regional training manager.

nWhat is the salary?

Assistance dog trainers may earn around pounds 10,800 a year rising to pounds 15,000+ with experience.

nMore information:

Guide Dogs for the Blind Association Tel: 0870 600 2323; Hearing Dogs for Deaf People Tel: 01844 348100; Dogs for the Disabled Tel: 01295 252600; Canine Partners Tel: 0845 658 0480; Support Dogs Tel: 07854 318086
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 13, 2005
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