Animal training school and college programs typically focus on specific animals, such as dogs, horses, sea lions or dolphins. Students typically have the opportunity to work one-on-one with live animals and to learn animal biology and psychology as well as training techniques. A high school diploma or equivalent is required for most certificate and bachelor's degree programs. Many programs are offered partially online, but nearly all of them require on-site meetups. Certification may also be available.
Certificate Programs in Dog Training
Although experience is the main route to becoming a dog trainer, there are animal training programs that focus on dog training offered by private institutions. A high school diploma or equivalent may be required for some dog training programs; other programs have no prerequisites.
Most programs provide opportunities for hands-on work with dogs. Dog training programs provide a basic understanding of dog breeds, canine psychology, biology and various training methods.
Dog training programs cover animal behavior and training techniques. Some programs provide training for working with police K-9 dogs or support dogs. Common course topics include:
- Characteristics of breeds
- Dog learning theories
- Clicker training
- Positive reinforcement
- Collars and other tools
Certificate Programs in Equine Training
Many trainers begin by working as horse grooms. For those seeking formal education, there are several equestrian colleges offering certificate programs, as well as some colleges and universities offering programs in equestrian or equine studies. These programs prepare students to work with horses as riders, trainers and riding instructors. Students learn training methods as well as horse and stable management. Prerequisites for these programs may include a high school diploma or GED and demonstrable horsemanship skills.
Programs provide opportunities for working with horses and practicing training methods. Students also study horse anatomy, equine care and behavioral theories. Topics might include the following:
- Animal behavior
- Management of stables and related facilities
- Equine physiology
- Equine health
- Training techniques
Bachelor's Degrees in Marine Biology
Commonly trained marine mammals include dolphins, orca whales, otters and sea lions. Jobs in marine mammal training typically require a bachelor's degree in marine biology; degrees in related areas, such as animal science, biology or psychology, may also suffice. Marine biology programs study the marine environment and all of its inhabitants, including mammals, fish, crustaceans and invertebrates. Programs typically include a course devoted specifically to marine mammals.
While marine biology programs cover marine mammals, they also explore marine ecosystems and the ocean environment. Courses might include the following topics:
- Animal physiology
- Marine zoology
- Marine ecosystems
- Ocean conservation
Employment for animal trainers is expected to grow at a faster than average rate of 11% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Animal trainers earned a median salary of $26,610 annually, as of May 2015.
Despite the predicted overall job growth, horse trainers might find competition for entry-level jobs. Compared to the number of job-seekers, the number of openings for horse trainers is limited.
As in the area of horse training, competition for jobs in marine mammal training might be significant even though growth is expected in the industry overall. Prospective trainers may wish to volunteer or intern at a marine mammal facility before, during and after their degree program to start developing connections in the industry.
Certification and Continuing Education
A number of organizations offer workshops and seminars for dog trainers interested in continued education, including the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Certification is offered by a number of organizations as well, such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Canine Professionals. Both of these organizations require applicants to pass an examination to achieve certified status.
Students who complete a program in horse training may still wish to work as an assistant to an experienced trainer for a period of time to gain more hands-on experience. Bachelor's degree programs in equine studies are also available for students seeking a more comprehensive education beyond horse training; such programs may emphasize an area such as equine rehabilitation or management of a horse farm or stable.
Most marine mammal trainers are 'SCUBA' certified. Opportunities for continuing education are available through professional associations, such as the International Marine Animal Trainers Association, which offers classes, workshops and conferences.
Students pursuing programs in animal training can usually choose to specialize in dog, equine, or marine studies or more general animal studies. The career outlook for animal trainers is healthy over the next decade, though those seeking to enter the fields of horse or marine mammal training may be met with higher competition.