Become an Animal Trainer: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 09, 2020

Learn how to become an animal trainer. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in the animal training field.

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Should I Be an Animal Trainer?

Animal trainers can work in zoological parks, marine parks, animal shelters, horse farms, or private homes training animals of all kinds. Individuals might train animals for entertainment purposes, to be more obedient pets, for security, or to assist disabled persons. The job duties are quite vast. Training involves familiarizing the animal with human contact, introducing voice commands and hand signals, and encouraging a desired response. Trainers might also be in charge of monitoring animals' health and dietary needs.

The career requirements are lax, but you need a skill set that includes speaking, listening, critical thinking, decision making, time management, problem-solving, and customer service skills as well as physical stamina, compassion, and patience. Keep in mind, that when working with animals, there's a risk of bites, scratches, and other injuries. The job demands vary greatly by work setting, as do earnings. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, animal trainers earned an average yearly salary of $35,260 as of May 2018.

Career Requirement at a Glance

Degree Level Varies depending on animal training
Degree Field Zoology, animal science, or related field
Experience Varies by type of animal being trained; some positions may only require short on-the-job training
Certification Voluntary certifications available; training marine animals may require CPR, lifeguard, or SCUBA certifications
Key Skills Speaking, listening, critical thinking, decision making, time management, problem-solving, and customer service skills; physical stamina, compassion, and patience
Salary* $35,260 per year (2018 average salary for all animal trainers)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

Now that you know more about this profession, explore the steps individuals can take to become an animal trainer:

Step 1: Choose an Animal Type

First, you should select what type of animal you want to work with. Animal trainers can work with many different types of animals, including dogs, horses, marine mammals, birds, cats, and exotic creatures. Since different animals require varying levels of education and drastically different work environments, it is important to do research and decide on a career path first. For example, a dog trainer may not need a college education and might work indoors in an animal shelter environment, while a marine animal trainer often requires a bachelor's degree and works outdoors and in water.

Step 2: Get Postsecondary Training

The next stage of this career path is postsecondary training. Although formal college education isn't strictly required fro this career, employers often prefer animal trainers with postsecondary animal education. Many schools offer certificate and diploma programs geared toward training specific animals, such as dogs or exotic species. But students who wish to advance as trainers or related positions should consider an associate's or bachelor's degree in animal science, zoology, or veterinary sciences. These programs may include such classes as animal nutrition, mammalian anatomy and physiology, animal communication, and aquatic ecosystems.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Next, you can gain work experience working with animals, which can improve job prospects, particularly if you choose to forego formal education. Such entry-level opportunities generally come in the form of volunteer work and internship at zoos and animal shelters. Job seekers may want to join an animal trainer organization, such as the International Marine Animal Trainers' Association, which may give members access to internships and other job postings.

Success Tip:

  • Develop public speaking skills. Animal trainers who work in theme parks and zoos are often required to participate in shows or give presentations about the animals under their care. Prospective animal trainers may want to take performance classes or join a public speaking organization like Toastmasters International to work on their public speaking skills.

Step 4: Earn Certification

Finally, you should work on obtaining mandatory and voluntary certifications. Some animal trainers may need to be certified in CPR, while those working with marine mammals may need SCUBA certification. Additionally, you can gain professional certification to commitment to the field and proficiency. There are many certifications options. For example, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers offers the Certified Professional Dog Trainer credential to qualified dog trainers.

Becoming an animal trainer generally requires postsecondary training in or related to animal science, zoology, or veterinary sciences, as well as experience working with animals and any mandatory certifications. These professionals may also pursue certification specific to the type of animal with which they work.

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