Joyce Chido used to scrub dogs for a living. "It was backbreaking trying to lift those Airedales and collies, all nipping at you. After a few months I graduated to feet. You do nothing but these little dogs' feet, shaving them, clipping them between the toes."

Chido was a displaced homemaker, a mother of two with a high school diploma who had to find work after her 20-year marriage ended in divorce.

"There was nothing available. And I wasn't making any money at the poodle parlor." So at 45, the former Cleveland housewife cleaned movie theaters seven days a week. Then she heard about a Washington institution that offered free training and board to displaced homemakers.

Ten years later, she is a staff development manager at the Washington Hospital Center. In the past year, Chido, of Takoma Park, has trained 77 employes, using movies she filmed. What made the difference, she said, was the Hannah Harrison Career School.

"Thank God for the school," she said. "If I hadn't had that, I don't know what I'd be doing now."

The MacArthur Boulevard NW school was named for the widowed mother of department store founder Julius Garfinckel who scrubbed floors to support her children. In 1950, Garfinckel set aside $3 million for land and a building to train "worthy women dependent upon their own efforts for their livelihood."

The Harrison school, on a quiet, wooded campus, began accepting women 35 years and older from all over the country. Women lived at the school and learned about housekeeping management free of charge. When Chido graduated in 1978, about a third of the 47-member student body lived on campus.

"We lived in tiny dorm rooms, and they taught us how to do everything. We had classes in psychology, in sanitation, in management. They gave us on-the-job training," Chido said. "A lot of us were grandmothers. We all had gray hair."

A total of 1,601 students have graduated from Hannah Harrison. Today, no one lives at the school. Displaced homemakers make up about half the enrollment. The rest are women -- and since 1978, a few men -- who are supporting families and cannot afford career training. The age requirement has been lifted, although the school encourages women older than 30 to apply.

Last year 72 students, including five men, enrolled at the school.

Administered by the YWCA, the school has expanded its curriculum beyond the original course in executive housekeeping. About half the students study practical nursing in a one-year, accredited program. Others follow the 10-month environmental services management program, preparing to head hotel and hospital maintenance staffs.

Three years ago, the school added a microcomputer course, which accounts for a quarter of its enrollment. Applications are now being taken for the 16-week course.

Overall, said DeWayne Miller, head of the microcomputer program, 90 percent of the school's graduates find the job they were looking for. Many others seek additional training.

The number of homemakers who have lost their main source of income, in most cases through widowhood or divorce, may be on the rise. A study released last summer by the nonprofit Displaced Homemakers Network reports that based on an analysis of the 1980 census, the United States has 11.5 million displaced homemakers, three times the number cited in a 1976 Labor Department survey. The District alone has more than 50,000 displaced homemakers, the study found.

While the Harrison school was among the first institutions in the Washington area to direct its services to displaced homemakers, there are other programs.

The Carl Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984 set aside money to train single parents and homemakers. In the District, the training is administered by the D.C. public schools' A Step Towards Employment Programs, which offer free vocational training and assistance with transportation and child care.

The Displaced Homemakers Network, headquartered in Washington, refers women to about 1,000 local displaced-homemakers' organizations nationwide.

Wider Opportunities for Women, a D.C.-based group founded in 1964, merged with the National Commission on Working Women last year. Wider Opportunities trains 300 low-income women in the Washington area each year in high-paying, nontraditional fields, such as electromechanics.

These programs instill more than skills. "Some women don't need skills; they need confidence," said Eunice Wright-Jones, whose office administers the D.C. public schools' program. "These older homemakers think they have no skills, but they have. All they need is a push."

Program counselors give guidance on finding a niche in the working world, writing resumes, dressing for success and perfecting the art of interviewing. "When they come in, they're sure they don't know anything and can't compete in the real world," the Harrison school's Miller said.

Counselors also help with child care and transportation, and supply professional references -- a credential many former homemakers lack.

However, Rubie Coles, deputy director of Displaced Homemakers, said: "There is no training program targeted for older women, and there should be." Programs such as the one in the D.C. public schools and those offered by Wider Opportunities often are geared to single parents and those on welfare, she said. "Older women just get served here and there. And the chances of a woman finding a job after 30 years in the home are slim."

She cited the Department of Labor's report, "Workforce 2000," a June 1987 profile of the nation's future work force. According to that report, two-thirds of those entering the work place between now and the end of the century will be women, and the number of workers ages 35 to 54 will increase from the current 38 percent to more than half the work force.

Training should be refocused to prepare the future work force, Coles said. "These women are much harder to serve, from a training point of view. They have no skills or rusty skills, and they are often afraid of the work environment. Employers and the government should start looking to train the available pool of workers."

Some assistance programs in the Washington area are directed to special groups of women. Irene Stambler, a local business owner who was a displaced homemaker, gives $2,000 grants to divorced or widowed Jewish women to help fulfill career goals. Stambler grant recipients, typically in their thirties and forties with several children, finish training degrees or start small businesses.

"We're looking to help people bootstrap themselves into a better position," said Craig Shniderman, executive director of the Jewish Social Service Agency in Rockville, which administers the Stambler grants. "These are women in transition. It's intended to be a boost at a critical moment."

Stambler said she loves to see a woman start a business with the funds she provides. "But it's exciting, no matter what she does with the grant."

Divorced after 24 years, Stambler founded a temporary agency in Washington "out of sheer desperation." Now, she said, she's a rich woman. "Once I started making money, I wanted to invest in other women and urge them on."

Since the program started 2 1/2 years ago, 21 women have received Stambler grants.

More than half the Stambler grants have been used for graduate school, and the rest for business endeavors and vocational training. A recent survey notes that vocational training has been the quickest route to a new career.

One surprising problem with that and other assistance programs: not enough takers. "It was hard to find applicants at first," Shniderman said. "People find it a little hard to believe that there is money available to those who need it -- and that it's a grant, not a loan." DISPLACED HOMEMAKER PROGRAMS

Programs that can help displaced homemakers start over: The Hannah Harrison Career School. Tuition-free training in nursing, environmental services and microcomputer skills. Open to high school graduates who need to support themselves or a family but cannot afford job training. A microcomputer course begins in March; applications will be accepted through Jan. 31. For information, call 333-3500.

Irene Stambler Vocational Opportunities Grant Program. One-time grants of $2,000 to complete professional training to start/expand a small business. Available to Jewish women who are widowed, divorced or separated and who demonstrate financial need. Contact the Jewish Social Service Agency, 6123 Montrose Rd., Rockville, Md. (301) 881-3700.

Wider Opportunities for Women. Offers free training in basic math and English along with specialized training in electromechanics. Open to low-income single mothers 18 or over, with a child under 18. Contact the agency at 638-3143.

A Step Towards Employment Programs. Free training in cosmetology and electromechanics, construction, auto mechanics and other nontraditional trades is offered through D.C. public schools. It is aimed at low-income, single heads of households in the District. For information, call 724-4218.

Referrals to other programs in the Washington area. Maryland and Virginia, for example, have a number of programs for displaced homemakers. They may be obtained by writing the Displaced Homemakers Network, 1411 K St. NW, Suite 930, Washington, D.C. 20005.