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There are a number of different types of dog handlers, but they all share one thing in common. Whether an individual is interested in professionally handling show dogs, police dogs, customs dogs, or dogs that have been trained for another specialty, a handler must have a thorough understanding of the breed. Much of what a dog handler learns is self-taught. While there are professional associations to join, no dog-handling specialty requires specific education, certification, or licensing.
Two membership groups, the Professional Handlers’ Association and the American Kennel Club Registered Handlers Program, have established their own sets of requirements for members. These requirements include kennel condition expectations as well as a code of ethics that must be followed by any member who wants to become a dog handler. Becoming a member in one of these organizations is often the first step toward becoming eligible for their dog handler apprenticeship programs. While joining a professional organization offers networking opportunities and assures future clients that the handler takes this job seriously, it is possible to become a dog handler without joining such associations.
Deciding to become a dog handler can mean a great deal of travel. Handlers who work exclusively with show dogs often spend days or weeks on the road, moving from one exhibition to another. A handler with a well-established career may handle a number of dogs. Owning a vehicle to carry correctly installed, strong travel crates is essential. The travel van or truck also needs sufficient room for exercise pens where the dogs will be held upon arrival.
Dog handlers must provide more than appropriate travel accommodations for the dogs. Clean and comfortable crates and dog runs at a home facility are also important. Those handlers with memberships in one or more associations must abide by the organizations' boarding requirements.
To become a dog handler, it’s also important to have a strong professional relationship with a veterinarian who will care for a sick client at home. While on the road, a handler might be required to handle a medical emergency or give medications. Handlers need to have a good basic understanding of the types of illnesses a particular breed is susceptible to, as well as how to handle injuries when a veterinarian isn’t immediately available.
Of course, handlers must also have a thorough understanding and appreciation of the specific breed or breeds they are working with. Knowing an animal’s strengths and weaknesses, how to groom a particular breed, and how to exhibit a particular dog at a show are important. This knowledge can also help a handler protect his or her professional reputation by avoiding animals that will not show or perform well.