Although they are often confused, the handler and the trainer have very distinct roles. Experience, expertise, tasks and objectives are very different from one to the other. Let’s try to help you differentiate between these two professions and the tasks that are specific to each.

We will deal specifically with private security detection and protection dogs, but the information can also apply to police or other public security services.

Note that occupations that are related to animal behaviour, such as dog obedience trainers, will not be discussed here. Helping people with pets is not our field.
Instead, we will discuss the profession of dog handler as well as that of dog trainer, both of which are related to working dogs.

What is a dog handler?

Dog handlers work with their dogs in the field, primarily in security, patrol and/or drug or explosive detection. This is also the case in other areas such as search and rescue. In all cases, it involves a dog and a handler working together with a common goal.

Handlers are responsible for their dog and carry out the work for which the dog has been trained. They act as specialists in the field with very specific skills when compared to their colleagues.


Experience that develops over time

Dog handlers may start work with little training experience and even with little experience with dogs in general. However, they must have an excellent capacity for learning, as they will have to assimilate a great deal of information in each of the specializations. They must also ensure that they are surrounded by competent people who will guide them through the difficulties they may encounter during their career.

With the right tools and techniques, they will be able to progress and be efficient and effective in the field.


Handlers develop a unique relationship with their dogs

Handlers live full-time with their dogs. They have to feed and care for the dog every day, taking care of its needs. They also take care of the dog’s daily training.

Dog handlers must therefore have a real passion for their companions. The dogs will occupy their thoughts and life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and this for little financial benefit when compared to their colleagues.

What is a trainer?

The trainer is responsible for training future working dogs. In order to properly train them to carry out their missions, they must be familiar with field work and the problems associated with it.

The trainer is also the one who is responsible for the basic training of the handlers. The trainer will either give them a dog that is already trained and show them how to use all of its abilities, or will follow them closely so that they can train their dog themselves. This trainer is also present to accompany and supervise the dog handlers in their daily training during their career or during their missions.


An experienced professional

Before becoming a trainer, this person will probably have worked and excelled as a dog handler. This means that the trainer will have several years of experience in the field and will have had several training sessions with other experienced trainers. The trainer should have trained several dogs for work and in several different specialties.

Every dog is different. It therefore takes a great deal of experience to be able to read the dog’s behaviour and to be able to adapt your technique to each animal. This is the only way to quickly bring them up to the level required for the specific job for which they are intended.

The thing to remember is that you don’t become a trainer straight away. Usually you start your career as a handler and then, with experience and the right skills, you can eventually become a trainer!


Trainer specializations

There is no comprehensive and precise training to become a dog trainer. Rather, it is a combination of experience in the specialty, various training courses in the field, learning from good trainers, being open-minded and above all being a good handler.

It should also be noted that a detection dog trainer will not necessarily be a good guard dog trainer, let alone a good service dog trainer. It is possible to be a trainer in several areas, but these are all specialties that you need to be familiar with before you start.


Continually in training

Trainers will have to face many challenges throughout their career, even after many years. It is therefore very important for the trainers to be able to question themselves and to be open-minded in order to move forward.

They must continue their education, attend seminars around the world and train with various organizations to gain as much knowledge as possible.

«Who dares to teach must never cease to learn»

– John Cotton Dana

From training to the field

Trainers, unlike handlers, may have several dogs in their charge at the same time for the duration of the training. The dogs normally live in a kennel during their training. They are taken out every day and are trained by the trainer several times a day, 4 to 6 times a week.

During the training period, the dog may also be trained by more than one trainer. These trainers train dogs that are usually less than two years old for a period that varies from 2 to 6 months.

Once the training period is over, the dog will be handed over to its handler who will do the field work with it.

The handler and the trainer therefore have very different but complementary responsibilities to ensure the dog’s performance in the field.

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