So you want to work with dogs, do you?
For many, a career working with dogs is the very definition of a dream job. I know. I've done it.
I left school at 16 without qualifications but sure in the absolute, certain knowledge that all I ever wanted to do was work with dogs. My chosen path toward becoming a professional dog trainer was not a particularly straightforward one, says Ryan O'Meara.
Back then, I didn't have access to the Web and to say that careers advice on working in the canine industry was 'patchy' would be an understatement.
I know I'm not alone in wanting nothing more than to spend my working hours in the company of man's best friend but let me tell you a little about what it entails.
My first step toward a career with dogs was volunteering at a local shelter. A GCSE in French might be a useful qualification to have but hands-on, practical experience of working with dogs is not only more likely to get you an interview for your start on the canine career ladder, but it also demonstrates initiative.
Once you've spent some time working in a voluntary capacity you may, and I hate to raise this subject, find that you actually don't like the job. In my time working with dogs I saw more people come and go than you can imagine. Some didn't even last a day.
Jackson, pictured above, Ryan's first dog who led him into the world of dog training
The image of working with dogs is all sweetness, wagging tails and joyous walks in the countryside with dogs at your side. The reality is, yes, those days do exist, but the job is far outweighed in terms of noise, mess and a never-ending cycle of hard work.
Dogs don't take Christmas day off either. They still need to eat, be walked, be cleaned.
The first thing you should do is try to get an idea of what type of work you want to undertake. Do you want to be a dog trainer, a veterinary assistant, a groomer, a pet sitter, a dog handler or something else? The Web is your friend.
Once you've established some ideas of the type of work you'd like to do, start contacting the professional industry associations that serve that particular sector. Ask for literature, find out what qualifications you may need.
Did I mention the benefits of volunteering? Volunteer! Spend your free time helping out wherever you can and get a feel for what's involved on a day to day basis in your chosen field of work.
Be honest with yourself. Working in the animal sector is hard graft, normally for low pay in certain sectors. Are you comfortable with the idea that you may have to spend many years working hard for low financial reward and, potentially, the rest of your life?
I know I was. A career working with animals is a way of life, not necessarily a route to riches. The reward is the job itself.
Make as many contacts as you possibly can. Getting to know people in the industry and putting your name forward is extremely worthwhile. Join forums and social media groups.
Hang out online with the people who are already doing the job you plan to do and you'll get a great feel for their day to day trials and tribulations. Imagine yourself doing what they do and speak to them in-depth about it.
Most people who work with dogs will gladly give you as much advice as they can to help you get your start. Live the life before you've even got the job, so to speak.
Finally - and this is probably my best tip - sit down and write out a list of questions, as if you were doing a magazine interview, for people who currently work in the dog world. Contact as many people as you can and ask them things such as:
1. Describe your average day.
2. Tell me about how you got started.
3. What is the best thing about your job.
4. What is the worst thing about your job.
5. What tips would you give somebody who wanted to get started today.
Think of as many questions as you can, speak to as many people as you can, preferably people doing a wide of variety of jobs with dogs, and gather all the results together which can form your own action plan.
By being prepared and forewarned about the highs and lows of your chosen job will not only prepare you ahead of time, but it can also provide the basis for your route into your chosen canine career.
Remember, most people who've worked in the dog world for a long time will have seen many eager new recruits come and go. Sticking it out is far easier if you go in to with your eyes wide open.
I got to live my dream. Working with dogs is, in my experience, as good as it gets. Yes, it's hard work and yes, the pay was pretty low.
Yes it can be stressful and in some cases emotionally draining (just ask the heroes who work in the UK's rescue and welfare sector or veterinary professionals who see the last moments of sick or injured dogs).
However, on its good days, it really is as good as it gets. A dream job where you can truly understand the mantra: Live to work, don't work to live.
Ryan, pictured above, working with his dogs, Chloe and Mia, on recall
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Best of luck!