Animal Trainer: Introduction to the Animal Training Professions

Animal training is generally offered as a vocational program with hands-on training. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options.

A high school diploma is required to enter the field as an animal trainer. Internships or volunteer work experience that demonstrates the ability to work with animals will help candidates compete for jobs and completion of a certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree in a related field may also be beneficial. Horse, dog and marine mammal trainer are some of the most common specialization areas.

Essential Information

Animal trainers teach horses, dogs, dolphins and other animals to respond to commands and behave in certain ways. Trainers may work for animal shelters, horse farms, circuses or aquariums. They may be required to work irregular hours and perform demanding or dangerous tasks. Animal trainers need at least a high school diploma, and they can enter different vocational programs based on the types of animals with which they want to work.

Career Titles Horse Trainer Dog Trainer Marine Mammal Trainer
Education Requirements High school diploma or equivalent Postsecondary non-degree award Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (for all animal trainers, 2014-2024) 11%* 11%* 11%*
Median Salary $ 26,610 (for all animal trainers, 2015)* $33,129** $26,610 (for all animal trainers, 2015)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Career Introduction for Animal Trainers

Animal trainers employ proven techniques to teach animals to respond to auditory, physical and visual cues. Most animal trainers specialize in training dogs, equine animals or marine mammals. Trainers must possess sensitivity, problem solving abilities and knowledge of the animals with which they work. Animal trainers may also feed, exercise, and groom the animals they are training. Additional duties may include lifting heavy objects or restraining large animals.

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Employment Outlook for Animal Trainers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employed animal trainers was expected to increase 11 percent from 2014-2024. Horse and marine mammal trainers may face an especially challenging job market, largely because the competition for these positions is strong. In May 2015, the BLS noted that the median annual wage for all animal trainers was $26,610.

Horse Trainers

Horse trainers typically work for stables or horse farms, training horses for various purposes, such as riding, racing or performing in shows. They usually begin by working as caretakers at stables, although some may attend accredited vocational schools. Individuals training horses may also be required to meet minimum weight standards.

Dog Trainers

Dog trainers often work for animal shelters, obedience schools or kennels where they teach dogs basic obedience and house breaking. They may also be employed by service organizations where they train guide dogs to assist visually impaired people. Many dog trainers attend vocational schools or community colleges to learn about animal behavior, basic training techniques and safety. Dog trainers also have the option to become certified by state-approved schools and professional organizations.

Marine Mammal Trainers

Marine mammal trainers often work for aquariums and zoos where they train aquatic mammals such as sea lions and dolphins for performances. A degree in marine biology, psychology, animal science or a related area is usually required to obtain these positions. Trainers must also be excellent swimmers and many are certified SCUBA divers. Additionally, most marine mammal trainers teach animals to perform for the public, which requires an appealing speaking voice and the ability to entertain large audiences.

With projected job growth of 11% through 2024 for animal trainers, there should be a lot of opportunities available to those entering this career field. Candidates who complete an internship or volunteer experience working with animals or who hold a certificate or degree in a related field will be able to compete for positions working with the types of animals they prefer.


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