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A large bird lands on the gloved hand of an animal trainer

An animal trainer could...

Keep zoo animals healthy by training them to allow veterinary examinations. A hand placed over the open mouth of a sea lion Help rescue lost hikers by training search and rescue dogs to track a person's scent. An animal trainer walks with a large dog outside
Condition a police horse to not get spooked when near loud noises, bright lights, fire, or smoke. A police officer riding a horse Train a guide dog to help deaf or blind people so that they can live more independent lives. A medium sized dog with a harness guides a person holding a walking stick
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Do you have a favorite pet food commercial or animal movie in which the animals do something really cool or cute? Animal trainers are responsible for these amazing animal performances. Animal trainers get involved in much more than the fun world of entertainment, though; they are also involved in the serious business of training animals for search and rescue missions, bomb and drug detection, criminal capture, and service to help people with disabilities.
Key Requirements Patience, calm, sensitivity, with excellent observational and problem-solving skills, good physical condition, and great affection for animals
Minimum Degree High school diploma or GED
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, English; if available, physiology
Median Salary
Animal Trainer
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Average (7% to 13%)
  • Read this interview to meet Mark Dumas, an animal trainer for the movies, who describes the differences between working with cats and dogs, and one of his most challenging movies, The Amazing Panda Adventure.
  • Read this interview to meet Joan Ronalder, a top horse and dog trainer who has performed at many national horse show events.
  • In this interview with trainer Katie Brock, you'll discover what it was like to train sea animals for the movie Nim's Island, starring Abigail Breslin.
Related Occupations
  • Park naturalists
  • Teacher assistants
  • Floral designers
  • Dietetic technicians
  • Fish and game wardens
  • Animal control workers
  • Residential advisors
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

On-the-job training is the most common way animal trainers learn their work; however, employers generally prefer to hire people who have experience with animals.

Education and Training

Animal trainers often need a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Some animal training jobs may require a bachelor's degree and additional skills. For example, marine mammal trainers usually need a bachelor's degree in biology, marine biology, animal science, psychology, or a related field. An animal health technician degree also may qualify trainers for some jobs.

Most equine trainers learn their trade by working as a groom at a stable. Some study at an accredited private training schools. Because large animals are involved, most horse-training jobs have minimum weight requirements for candidates.

Many dog trainers attend workshops and courses at community colleges and vocational schools. Topics include basic study of canines, learning theory of animals, teaching obedience cues, problem solving methods, and safety. Many also offer business training.

Other Qualifications

Animal trainers need patience, sensitivity, problem-solving ability, and experience in animal obedience. They also need tact and communication skills. Successful marine mammal trainers should also have good public speaking skills, as seminars and presentations are a large part of the job. Usually four or five trainers work with a group of animals at one time; therefore, each trainer should be able to work as part of a team. Marine mammal trainers must also be good swimmers; certification in SCUBA is a plus.

Nature of the Work

Animal trainers train animals for riding, security, performance, obedience, or assisting people with disabilities. Animal trainers do this by accustoming the animal to human voice and contact, and conditioning the animal to respond to commands. The three most commonly trained animals are dogs, horses, and marine mammals, including dolphins. Trainers use several techniques to help them train animals. One technique, known as a bridge, is a stimulus that a trainer uses to communicate the precise moment an animal does something correctly. When the animal responds correctly, the trainer gives positive reinforcement in a variety of ways: food, toys, play, rubdowns, or speaking the word "good." Animal training takes place in small steps and often takes months and even years of repetition. During the conditioning process, trainers provide animals with mental stimulation, physical exercise, and husbandry care. A relatively new form of training teaches animals to cooperate with workers giving medical care. Animals learn "veterinary" behaviors, such as allowing and even cooperating with the collection of blood samples; physical, x-ray, ultrasonic, and dental exams; physical therapy; and the administration of medicines and replacement fluids.

In this video you will find out what it's like to be an animal trainer at some of the biggest theme parks in the country, and what it takes to become one.

Training also can be a good tool for facilitating the relocation of animals from one habitat to another, easing, for example, the process of loading horses on trailers. Trainers often work in competitions or shows, such as circuses or marine parks, aquariums, animal shelters, dog kennels and salons, or horse farms. Trainers in shows work to display the talent and ability of an animal, such as a dolphin, through interactive programs to educate and entertain the public.

In addition to their hands-on work with the animals, trainers often oversee other aspects of animals' care, such as preparing their diet and providing a safe and clean environment and habitat.

Work Environment

People who love animals get satisfaction from working with and helping them. However, some of the work may be unpleasant, physically and emotionally demanding, and sometimes dangerous. Most trainers have to work irregular hours, clean animal cages and lift, hold, or restrain animals, risking exposure to bites or scratches. Their work often involves kneeling, crawling, repeated bending, and lifting heavy supplies like bales of hay or bags of feed. Animal trainers must take precautions when treating animals with germicides or insecticides. They may work outdoors in all kinds of weather, and the work setting can be noisy. Trainers of show and sports animals travel to competitions.

Animal trainers who witness abused animals or who assist in euthanizing unwanted, aged, or hopelessly injured animals may experience emotional distress. Those working for agencies which deal with the public may experience hostility. Trainers must maintain a calm and professional demeanor.

On the Job

  • Observe animals' physical conditions in order to detect illness or unhealthy conditions requiring medical care.
  • Cue or signal animals during performances.
  • Administer prescribed medications to animals.
  • Evaluate animals in order to determine their temperaments, abilities, and aptitude for training.
  • Feed and exercise animals, and provide other general care such as cleaning and maintaining holding and performance areas.
  • Talk to and interact with animals in order to familiarize them to human voices and contact.
  • Conduct training programs in order to develop and maintain desired animal behaviors for competition, entertainment, obedience, security, riding and related areas.
  • Keep records documenting animal health, diet, and behavior.
  • Advise animal owners regarding the purchase of specific animals.
  • Instruct jockeys in handling specific horses during races.
  • Train horses or other equines for riding, harness, show, racing, or other work, using knowledge of breed characteristics, training methods, performance standards, and the peculiarities of each animal.
  • Use oral, spur, rein, and/or hand commands in order to condition horses to carry riders or to pull horse-drawn equipment.
  • Place tack or harnesses on horses in order to accustom horses to the feel of equipment.
  • Train dogs in human-assistance or property protection duties.
  • Retrain horses to break bad habits, such as kicking, bolting, and resisting bridling and grooming.
  • Train and rehearse animals, according to scripts, for motion picture, television, film, stage, or circus performances.
  • Organize and conduct animal shows.
  • Arrange for mating of stallions and mares, and assist mares during foaling.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Animal Trainers

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