People with many different kinds of mental and physical disabilities use assistance dogs. Blind people use Seeing Eye dogs, which are trained to guide them along sidewalks, streets, and hallways while avoiding dangerous obstacles like other people, cars, walls, and open doors. Deaf people might use assistance dogs to recognize warning sounds like fire alarms. People who are extremely shy or afraid to go out in public might keep an assistance dog by their side to gain the confidence they need to face the world.
Teaching dogs to be useful—to do more than normal dog activities like sleep, run, and eat—is very difficult. But with a bag full of special techniques and skills, lots of practice, and plenty of patience, you'll find that a career as an assistance-dog trainer is also very rewarding. You'll not only grow close to your canine friends, but you'll also meet and work with amazing people. The dogs are only half of your job; the other half is teaching your clients—those with the disabilities—how to use your trainees.
You have to love dogs to be an assistance-dog trainer. In many cases you'll be around them—anywhere from one to a dozen—every day, every night, and every weekend. Round-the-clock training is the most effective way to teach a dog how to work, so there's a good chance the dogs may live with you at your home. You'll spend most of your days teaching them all the useful tricks their future owners will need them to know—things like how to pick up keys off the floor, how to turn on the lights using a wall switch, and how to close a door. You'll use a teaching technique called positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is a way of rewarding dogs for doing what they're told instead of punishing them for what they do wrong. You may teach them to pull a wheelchair. You will also teach them to sit quietly at their owners' feet during meals, to refrain from barking or fighting with other dogs, and to stop at intersections to let traffic pass before leading their owners across busy roads. Of course, you'll also get to play with them. They are dogs, after all!
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