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Dog handler or trainer

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Summary of occupation

Dog handlers/trainers teach dogs to obey commands and perform certain tasks. This can range from simple obedience training for pets, through to more advanced training for working dogs, such as security or law enforcement dogs and assistance dogs. In many cases, dog handlers/trainers will also have to teach the dog's owner how to behave around the dog to ensure any training remains effective.

ANZSCO description: Teaches dogs to obey commands and undertake specific tasks.
Alternative names:
Specialisations: Canine Behaviour Specialist, Scent Detection Dog Trainer
Job prospects: Average
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Knowledge, skills and attributes

A dog trainer needs:

  • a love of animals
  • to be free from allergies
  • to be patient with both dogs and owners
  • good voice control
  • to be alert to changes in a dog's behaviour
  • to be physically fit.
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Working conditions

Working conditions for dog handlers/trainers can vary greatly, depending on the type of training being carried out. Most obedience training for pet dogs is conducted outside, at boarding kennels or community parks. This sort of training is usually carried out in the evenings or on weekends.

Some specialised training may be carried out in specially designed facilities, tailored to the type of training. In some cases, one-on-one training may also be carried out in a client's home, especially if trying to modify a dog's behavioural problem.

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Salary details

On average, dog handlers or trainers, classified under animal attendants and trainers, can expect to earn between $680 and $799 per week ($35 360 and $41 599 per year), depending on the organisation they work for, and their level of experience. As a dog handler or trainer develops their skills, their earning potential will generally increase.

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Tools and technologies

Dog handlers/trainers will use different equipment, depending on the type of training they are offering. Almost all trainers use food rewards to encourage positive behaviours in the dogs they are training. There are also options for negative reinforcement or punishment, such as choker collars or shock collars. However, these technologies are becoming less common throughout Australia and many professional dog handlers/trainers no longer use such techniques. Trainers working in the security or law enforcement fields also use special protective clothing when training dogs to attack.

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Education and training/entrance requirements

You can work as a dog handler or trainer without any formal qualifications and get training on the job. Skills can be developed through practice and experience with dogs. However, entry into this occupation may be improved by obtaining a qualification in companion animal services, animal studies or a related area.

The Certificate II in Animal Studies, and the Certificate III and IV in Companion Animal Services are offered at TAFE Colleges and other registered training organisations throughout Western Australia.

You can also complete a traineeship. The companion animal trainer/behaviourist traineeship takes 24 months to complete.

The Western Australian Police, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Australian Federal Police and the Australian Defence Force select potential dog trainers or handlers from within their organisations and conduct internal training courses.

The National Dog Trainers Federation offers a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour and Training. The course can be completed by distance education; however, students must attend two practical sessions in Sydney, Melbourne or on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.

Related courses

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Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer. You spend most of your time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider of your choice. They will assess your skills and when you are competent in all areas, you will be awarded a nationally recognised qualification.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. You generally start your school based apprenticeship by attending school three days a week, spending one day at a registered training organisation and one day at work. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you get a full-time apprenticeship you can apply to leave school before reaching the school leaving age.

If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

Related apprenticeships

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Recognition of prior learning

If you think you already have some of the skills or competencies, obtained either through non-formal or informal learning, you may be able to gain credit through recognition of prior learning.

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