This post was written by Carlos Hernandez. In this article, Carlos tells us his story about becoming a service dog trainer – and discusses the challenges and rewards of his role.
Let me tell you my story. My name is Carlos, and I’m 49 years old. I graduated from Metropolitan University of Puerto Rico with a degree in Marketing and Management. I worked in the retail industry and then the mortgage industry for 21 years. When I was fired from my job, I felt devastated and sad. What was I going to do? Where was I going to work?
I had so many questions and so many insecurities.
At the same time as this was happening, I had my six-year-old dog, Marcela, attending D.A.S.H.A (Dedicated Animal for Service Human Always) every Saturday. This organization is dedicated to training therapy dogs and service dogs. The founder, Odalis Garcia, was a graduate from the School for Dog Trainers and conducted classes to train therapy dogs.
I didn’t miss a class, and Marcela was already a therapy dog who attended hospitals, schools and nursing homes. Those Saturdays were my time when I disconnected from all preoccupations and distractions in my life.
Learning how to become a service dog trainer
So without a job, I started calling my friends who had dogs to ask if I could walk their dog, and in just a matter of days, I had clients for whom I provided services such as dog walking, pet taxis, dog sitting, etc.
My clients started to ask me to train their dogs with basic obedience. I always referred them to Odalis as I had no formal background in dog training. But, in fact, it was Odalis who planted the idea in my head about becoming a service dog trainer. She sent me to North Carolina to attend the School for Dog Trainers – and that is when my life changed.
I started learning about dog behavior, training tools, socialization and much more. I also learned how to train a service dog.
It was six months of intensive work and unique experiences, but it was the beginning of a new life. It sounds fun – and it is – but it is still a job that requires patience, dedication and compromise.
Communication is vital as a service dog trainer
My role is not just about working with the dogs – you need to establish a good relationship with the families, and be there to answer their calls when they have a question or if they want to know about their dog. I have to schedule my time to be successful. I work even if it is raining, snowing or during those really hot days in summer.
I have to keep learning about new regulations and changes to legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The rewards of being a service dog trainer
My first Service Dog I trained was Lelo, a mobility assistance dog. I started Lelo from a puppy and placed her with her handler in Puerto Rico. I can’t describe to you the feeling of being part of such a big life change, knowing the dog you trained is going to help and make life easier to someone.
Following that, I have trained and placed different kinds of service dogs. All of them have a special place in my heart – such as Zoey (a seizure alert dog), Radar, Merlin (autism service dog), Smokey (a stability assistance dog) and more.
All of them have a place in my heart and it is always a joy when I receive news from the families about how well the dog is doing, or even just seeing a picture of them.
My final words of advice
What was my hobby is now my job. Yes – you can become a service dog trainer and turn it into a career. Actually, I recently received a message from my beautiful niece, who told me she wants to become a service dog trainer too!
I encourage young people and adults – if you love dogs and you love people – becoming a service dog trainer may be your dream job.