Cool Jobs Q&A: Guide dog trainer

Maclean’s Cool Jobs series: Angela Bentivegna, who trains guide dogs for Lions Foundation of Canada, explains why her gig can be ruff


 
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ANGELA BENTIVEGNA, 32

  • Guide dog trainer, Lions Foundation of Canada dog guides, Oakville, Ont.
  • Education and training: One-year animal-care certificate from
    Sheridan College; Three-year apprenticeship
  • Average yearly income: $38,000-$42,000
  • Years on the job: 11

How did you get into this field?

I used to train marine mammals for entertainment, and I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted a job where I could keep training animals, but also
help people.

Describe a typical day on the job.

On a typical day, I show up in the morning, feed the dogs, and take them out of the kennel to spend a little bit of time with each dog, training. We take them out in public and, many times, we take them home with us to see what they’re like. Does the dog jump up on the counter? Does it go in the garbage? They’re still dogs. You can’t take the dog out of the guide dog.

What do you teach them?

Basic obedience is top priority. In the hearing-ear program, the dogs I train learn to recognize seven sounds: door-knocking, the doorbell, the kitchen timer, the wake-up alarm, the fire alarm, name-calling and the telephone. The dog’s job when he hears one of those sounds is to touch his person. Then, in most cases, he leads the person to the source of the sound, with the exception of a fire alarm, when he spins around in a circle to signal an emergency.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

The follow-up visit. Once the clients graduate, we visit them to make sure the dog is settled in. Then I actually get to see the dog working in the person’s real life.

So you teach people and dogs together?

When the dogs are old enough, they leave their foster families and come to us for their formal training for four to six months. Then they’re matched with a client. We fly the client in, and he or she stays at our facility for two to four weeks to learn to use the dog.

What’s your most memorable moment on the job?

It’s every “lightbulb moment” when the dog finally understands what you’ve been asking. It’s a mini-celebration.

Advice for would-be dog trainers?

You need more than a love of dogs to do this. It can be emotionally and physically draining. You need a sense of humour, compassion, and a lot of patience. Not every person or every animal learns the same way. And don’t forget your poop bags. Always bring more than one, because you never know!


 
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Cool Jobs Q&A: Guide dog trainer

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