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How to Become a Service Dog Trainer

Becoming a dog trainer (or service dog trainer) can be very rewarding, but it is also a lot of work. Having a love of animals is just the beginning — the most experienced dog trainers understand that often the most difficult part of the gig is working with people!

You may be surprised to learn that there are no legally-mandated standards or certifications for service dog trainers — or pet dog trainers. Anyone can decide to train dogs and start their own business or training organization. Most trainers are self-taught or have learned techniques through other trainers, books, online courses, videos or short seminars. Some of the best trainers do not have formal training themselves. That being said, if you are interested in becoming a trainer we highly suggest some kind of formal training.

There are a few dozen schools around the country that train service dog trainers. Most are small and began with experienced dog trainers (some began with training military working dogs, police dogs or other working dogs) who moved into training service dogs for disabled individuals and then decided to help train trainers too. One of the best places to learn how to become a service dog trainer in the country (and possibly the world) is Bergin University. If you’re really looking for the finest service dog training education possible, Bergin is the hands-down go-to school.

Two more great resources are the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT).

Service dog trainers don't necessarily need a certification.

About Service Dogs and the ADA

The ADA is written to allow disabled individuals to use their service dogs in public with as few barriers as possible. If access were not as open, every building, restaurant and dry cleaner in the country could stop disabled individuals with their service dogs and demand proof of training. The ADA specifically states that if someone says their dog is a service dog they are to be taken at their word, regardless if it has been certified by a state or other authority. See below:

  • The ADA states in section § 35.136 service animals part (f): “A public entity shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal.” You can view the full ADA law here:
  • The ADA is also designed so that disabled individuals may train their own service dogs. Program-trained service dogs can be very expensive and out of budget for many disabled individuals. Some service dogs may cost upwards of $10,000.


With the input from over 100 service dog handlers in America, the United States Service Dog Registry (USSDR) represents the most democratic realization of an assistance animal registry and training and behavior standards agreement to-date. The results are a registry with completely free and voluntary online self-registration hosted by an independent, non-governmental, privacy-conscious and secure service.

USSDR is designed with input from experienced trainers and service dog owners who believe there should be an opportunity for those who wish to voluntarily and knowingly comply with not only the ADA law, but also an additional and specific set of community-defined training and behavior standards. These training and behavior standards go above and beyond the ADA and the basic foundations of a Public Access Test.

A Higher Standard for Service Dogs and their Handlers

USSDR’s purpose is to allow someone the opportunity to voluntarily hold themselves and their animal accountable to a higher standard by publicly signing a specific set of training and behavior standards that goes above and beyond the law. Simply registering with with USSDR or any state does not qualify an animal or an individual as a service dog Ttam or provide any special rights, legal or otherwise. If someone is found not to comply with USSDR’s training or behavior standards their registration can be removed or suspended.

What does Registration with USSDR mean?

USSDR is an extra step that goes above and beyond the law. Under the law it is not required that service and assistance dog teams show or have identification in the form of a vest, special harness, training certificate or registration. Nor is it required that animals are officially trained, certified or registered with any state, federal or independent organization.

USSDR hopes to help reduce the number of people abusing the ADA by requiring registrants to understand that intentionally misrepresenting an animal as service or assistance animal for any reason is not only unethical, it is also illegal. All registrants are required to understand and accept the following:

  • What is involved with training and using a service or assistance animal
  • How important their behavior, and that of their service or assistance dog, is to the general public and other service and assistance animal teams
  • The definition of a service or assistance animal
  • The minimum training standards for a service or assistance animal
  • What is involved with a Public Access Test

Originally published by AnythingPawsable; reprinted with permission.

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