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What is a Dog Handler?

By Lou Paun
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The average pet owner is not a dog handler. This term is used for a person who works with highly trained dogs under special conditions. Some handlers are professionals, but many are amateurs. They may train the dog they work with, although others are educated to handle a dog that is already trained.

A show dog handler is a professional who presents dogs for judging at dog shows, where they are evaluated for physical traits. Usually, he also trains and grooms the dog he shows, and often the clients' dogs live in his kennels while they are being shown. In many countries, a professional organization works with the national kennel club to establish and maintain handler standards.

Military dogs serve in four main areas: narcotics detection, explosive detection, specialized searches, and combat tracking. They also work as sentries, messengers, and scouts. Each dog is paired with a handler who is trained to work with the dog. Experienced military dog handlers can go on to become trainers of both dogs and new handlers. Today, military dogs and handlers also work with homeland security.

A search and rescue (SAR) dog handler is usually a volunteer who has trained his own dog in special search techniques. SAR dogs are trained in tracking, site searches, and cadaver discovery. This type of handler must be educated in advanced first aid and rescue procedures.

Assistance dogs help people with handicaps, and they are trained by professional handlers. Usually, someone who trains assistance dogs specializes in one or two kinds of training. Guide dogs for the blind are a well-known type of assistance dog, but other specializations include hearing assistance, seizure prediction, and general assistance. Assistance dogs usually wear identification when they work in public, and they are allowed in areas that are off limits to pets.

A stock dog handler works with a dog or team of dogs to herd and manage other animals. Sheep dogs are the most common, but stock dogs also herd cattle and other animals, and sometimes even geese or ducks. Usually, the handler is also the owner of the herding dog. Today, herding is also a sport, and many handlers and dogs compete at trials.

A therapy dog handler is usually a volunteer who takes his dog to visit the elderly, the sick and injured, or others who need a little canine companionship. Both the dog and the handler are trained and certified for the job. In addition, therapy dogs must be in excellent health.

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Discussion Comments
By Ivan83 — On May 29, 2011

@tigers88 - In my opinion, the best training for dog handlers is to spend a lot of time with a lot of different kinds of dogs. It is also important to spend time with large groups of dogs who are interacting with each other. If you do this for long enough, and pay close attention, you will begin to understand how the dog sees the world and how they respond to different commands. If you are trying to become a specific kind of dog handler, like one that handles bomb sniffing dogs, it is probably best to take a course. Good luck!

By tigers88 — On May 28, 2011

@whiteplane - Your topic really intrigues me because I have been interested for a long time in dog handling jobs. You say that a lot of people are bad at it. What kind of skill does it take for someone to be a good dog handler? Is there a dog handler course that could help?

By whiteplane — On May 26, 2011

@backdraft - I agree with you completely and I'm glad you raised this point. Training dogs is a lot harder than it looks and it involves methods that a lot of dog handlers don't pay enough attention to. They think they can train a dog with collars and treats and strong words but it takes a lot more than that to really and truly train a dog. A lot of dog handlers claim to have skills that they don't actually possess.

By backdraft — On May 23, 2011

I have a little experience in training dogs and it is a lot harder than it looks. It involves a lot more than just doing or saying the right thing. Dogs have incredible instincts of smell and natural instincts which pick up on things humans are never aware of.

In order to work successfully with a dog you have to be in the right mood and right frame of mind. You have to project things to the dog that only the dog could pick up on, almost like they were psychic. It is a lot trickier than it looks.

By truman12 — On May 21, 2011

Its amazing all the things that dogs can do and all the ways they have been used to assist humans. Talk about man's best friend. It is always worth remembering that these dogs work so well because they have great handlers. It is the careful training, direction and attention provided by a handler that focuses the dogs natural instincts to be a benefit for humans. Dog handlers are more important than they get credit for.

By jonrss — On May 20, 2011

The mention of therapy dog handlers got me thinking about a great program that they offer at my local library. It is called Paws for Reading. Once a week a representative from a local animal shelter will bring in a dog that has shown a particularly calm and friendly demeanor.

The dog is then placed in the children's section and kids have the option of going up and reading to it. The idea is that kids who struggle with their reading will be more comfortable reading to dogs because the dogs won't judge or correct them. From what I can tell, the program is a huge success. The kids seem to like it and the dogs get a lot of attention and affection that they might be missing in the shelter.

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