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Certified Assistance Dog Trainers are exceptional trainers who change the lives of people with disabilities. They not only have a thorough understanding of canine behavior and training methods, yet they are also excellent communicators who are able to clearly and compassionately interact with diverse audiences and people with disabilities. 

It may surprise you that there isn’t a college degree or special school for Assistance Dog Trainers. At Dogs for Better Lives (DBL), we train Assistance Dog Trainers through a paid apprenticeship program which typically takes 3-4 years. While this might seem like a long time, that timeframe allows individuals to work with a variety of with different dog temperaments and behaviors and build skills to work with and train individuals with disabilities.  

Working on-site at one of our campuses, prospective trainers gain deep knowledge of dog behavior and positive training methods through direct experience caring and training for our dogs. At all stages of the apprenticeship, staff receive mentorship and guidance to help them develop their skills. Our trainers of all levels work together in a fun and collaborative environment. 

Below we outline what it takes to become a trainer – with zero experience. Candidates with prior relevant experience can be placed anywhere along this path, with approval from Program Management. 

Interested in becoming a Certified Assistance Dog Trainer? Visit our Careers page to see current openings and to apply.

Kennel Technician

Staff who start with DBL as a Kennel Technician spend roughly 6-12 months learning the basics about caring for our dogs and identifying dog behavior and body language. Kennel Techs also work to provide enrichment and reduce kennel stress for the dogs in our care. We look for staff who are able to follow directions, multitask, maintain detailed records and have excellent communication skills. Prior to moving to the Training Assistant position, Kennel Techs must complete a written questionnaire, participate in an interview, and complete a dog handling assessment. 

Someone starting their career as a Kennel Tech with DBL could become a fully Certified Assistance Dog trainer in 45-54 months. 

Kennel Technician Duties

  • About 6 months

  • Intro to Dogs for Better Lives

  • Dog Care

Training Assistant (TA)

Training Assistants spend a minimum of three months in the role, fulfilling Kennel Tech duties for about 6 hours a day and working as a Training Assistant about 2 hours per day. During their time as a TA, staff obtain and introductory level of knowledge of all foundational training and teaching skills required in the curriculum. TA’s must pass the written Training Assistant exam before being promoted to Apprentice Trainer. The exam covers fundamentals like kennel management, dog handling, reducing kennel stress, and identifying and troubleshooting dog behaviors. 

Staff starting as a TA could become a fully Certified Assistance Dog Trainer in 39-42 months. 

Training Assistant Duties

  • Minimum 3 months

  • Intro to training

  • Dog Care


Apprentice Trainer 1

Apprentice Trainer 1’s spend about 6 months in the role. During this time, they learn basic American Sign Language (ASL), are assigned their first dogs to train with direct support, and learn and implement the proper obedience, tasks and dog training methods for Assistance Dogs. Before being promoted to the next level of Apprentice Trainer, staff must complete all items in the curriculum and pass a test. 

Individuals who begin their tenure at DBL as an Apprentice Trainer 1 typically achieve their certification in about three years.  

Apprentice Trainer 1 Duties

  • About 6 months

  • Training dogs

  • Dog care

  • Intro to ASL

Apprentice Trainer 2

Apprentice Trainer 2’s expand on the learnings and responsibilities of the Apprentice 1 role and spend about 18 months in the position. During this time, they continue developing their ASL skills, expand upon proper obedience, tasks and dog training methods, learn to evaluate Assistance Dog applicants, and participate in Assistance Dog Placements and follow-ups. To advance to the next level, staff must pass a test and complete all items in the position checklist. 

Staff joining DBL at the Apprentice Trainer 2 level typically become fully certified in about 30 months. 

Apprentice Trainer 2 Duties>

  • About 18 months

  • Continued training

  • Client Contact

  • Continued ASL learning

Apprentice Trainer 3

This is the final step in our training program, and Apprentice Trainer 3’s are working more independently. Staff typically spend about one year at this level before reaching the point of becoming fully certified. In the final year of the apprenticeship, individuals continue expanding their knowledge of training skills, participating in at least five placements and follow-ups, and learning to demonstrate Assistance Dog techniques in public settings. Prior to becoming a Certified Assistance Dog Trainer, staff must pass a test and fulfill all items on the position checklist. 

Apprentice Trainer 3 Duties

  • About 1 year

  • Expanded training

  • Placements & follow-ups

What do Certified Assistance dog Trainers do?

Upon receiving certification, Certified Assistance Dog Trainers acquire, train, and place Hearing Dogs, Autism Assistance Dogs and Facility Dogs with people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or have other disabilities supported by our mission. They train and match Assistance Dogs with clients and provide follow-up for clients. They may also help to mentor and train Apprentice Trainers and Kennel Techs.


Interested in becoming a Certified Assistance Dog Trainer? Visit our Careers page to see current openings and to apply.

One Comment

  • Thanks for putting this in such a clear, concise way. We get calls all the time from dog trainers who do not understand what makes an ADI member organization different, and now I can send this to them.

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