Dog handler or trainer

What they do

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.

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.

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.

How do I become one?

Education and training

It is possible to 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 or a related area.

The Certificate III and IV in Companion Animal Services are offered at Western Australian TAFE colleges and other registered training organisations. Browse courses through Jobs and Skills WA and search on the My Skills website to find a registered provider near you.

You can also undertake a traineeship in companion animal services (level 3 or level 4). The traineeships usually take 24 months to complete.

The National Dog Trainers Federation also 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. Contact the National Dog Trainers Federation for more information.

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

Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer, enabling you to complete training towards a nationally recognised qualification. You spend  time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider.

You can do an apprenticeship or traineeship if you are a school-leaver, re-entering the workforce or as an adult or mature-aged person wishing to change careers. You can even begin your apprenticeship or traineeship while you're still at school.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.