Professional dog handlers earn a salary that's closely tied to their area of expertise. A dog handler for breed shows, for example, receives part-time earnings from a variety of clients. Unless he works for an agency that contracts out his services, he's likely self-employed. Other specialized types of dog handling attract different rates of payment — some even offer full-time employment. Salaries also vary greatly between cities and states, with a New York City handler likely to earn far more than a dog handler in Phoenix, for example.
Show Dog Handler Duties
Dog shows are held all year round by the various recognized dog and kennel clubs for breed or conformation, agility and obedience. Owners usually show their dogs, but serious owners pay a professional handler to get the best performance from the dog in the show. Show dog handlers usually take on a number of clients, traveling to shows most weekends with their clients' dogs.
Show Dog Handler Earnings
The client pays the handler's fees for training and showing, and if the dog wins a placement, the handler may get a bonus. The handler pays all her own costs including travel, meals, accommodations and business expenses. The handler's earnings, therefore, depend entirely on her reputation, the fees she charges and the number of clients she's able to service. According to the salary calculator on Simply Hired, which draws its information from the hundreds of jobs advertised online, as of June 2011, a dog handler in New York earns $72,000 a year, compared with the national average of $57,000.
Specialized Dog Handling
Specialized dog handling may include managing search-and-rescue dogs, tracking and scenting dogs, cadaver recovery dogs, drug and explosives detection dogs, security and guard dogs, and others. Becoming a dog handler in any of these disciplines requires extensive education and training in the chosen field. This is reflected in the earnings of these handlers, many of whom are employed on a full-time basis.
A salary search on Indeed for explosive detection dog handler salaries reflects earnings of $85,000 per year for New York City, compared with a salary of $65,000 per year in Kansas City, Missouri, as of June 2011. This shows that salaries are higher for specialized work, as well as that the regional salary range is proportionate across all dog handling disciplines, with a city such as New York being more lucrative for these professionals than smaller centers.
Police Dog Handling
A dog handler in the police force also undergoes extensive training. A police officer must first complete regular officer training and spend three to five years in uniform before qualifying to volunteer as a dog handler. The additional time spent differs between states: In Oregon, for example, a minimum of 400 hours of basic training is required, and the handler must pass the Oregon Police Canine Association Standards test. In this environment, salary is dependent on the rank held by the officer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for police officers in 2008 was between $38,850 and $64,940.