Animal Trainer: Career and Salary Facts

Explore a career as an animal trainer. Learn about education requirements, certification, salary and potential job growth to see if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Animal Trainer?

Animal trainers work with different types of animals to instill positive behaviors for a variety of settings and purposes. Trainers teach animals to be safe family pets, helpmates for the blind and disabled, and assistants to law enforcement agencies. Some trainers prepare animals to compete in shows and races, while others train them for performances and educational programs. Animal trainers may work with dogs, horses, marine mammals and more. No matter the animal or the reason for training, animal trainers must monitor behavior and teach the animal to respond appropriately to the command. These professionals may give commands using words, hand motions, touch and more. The following chart is an overview of this career.

Education Required High school diploma; some postsecondary education preferred for certain jobs; bachelor's degree for marine mammal trainers
Training On-the job training
Key Skills Communication skills, animal handling skills, adaptability, customer service
Certification Requirements vary, but certification is recommended
Job Growth (2014-2024) 11%*
Average Salary (2015) $33,600*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Animal Trainers Do?

Animal trainers don't just work with family pets. In fact, many trainers work with animals to achieve specific goals or train the animals to complete specific tasks. For example, a dog trainer may specialize in training dogs to work with law enforcement agencies, or to act as companion pets or therapy animals for individuals with disabilities or illnesses. A horse trainer may work with animals to get them ready to act as therapy animals for injured or disabled children, for entertainment work or to improve an animal's performance in horse shows.

What Kind of Career Can I Have as a Horse Trainer?

According to U.S. Horse, trainers exercise and groom horses, and help riders to improve their skills and techniques. They also teach horses to walk, trot and jump comfortably (www.ushorse.biz). As a horse trainer, you'll judge a horse's temperament and behavior and develop a training program to suit the animal, according to the Occupational Information Network (online.onetcenter.org).

You may work for the non-profit North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). According to the NARHA, equine therapy can be beneficial for those with multiple sclerosis, attention deficit disorder, developmental delays, and emotional and behavioral issues (www.narha.org).

What Career Options Exist for Dog Trainers?

Professional dog trainers may work with dogs to prepare them for work as guide dogs for the blind or physically disabled. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that dog trainers may receive their own training through workshops and classes (www.bls.gov). According to Guide Dogs of America, these animals are trained to increase the mobility of visually impaired individuals (www.guidedogsofamerica.org).

Voluntary certification is available for dog trainers through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (www.ccpdt.org). Eligibility requirements include at least 300 hours of dog training experience within the previous 5-year period, according to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). A high school diploma and references are also required for this certification.

Guide Dogs of America reports that trainers who work with their organization are certified by the State of California (www.guidedogsofamerica.org). K-9 trainers specialize in training dogs to work with law enforcement agencies. These trainers may work in private school settings that train animals for a variety of tasks, like contraband detection, search and rescue or cadaver recovery.

How Can I Become a Marine Mammal Trainer?

The BLS reports that as a marine mammal trainer, specializing in whale or dolphin training, you'll usually need a degree in marine biology or animal science. In a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology program, you can expect to take courses in genetics, invertebrate zoology and marine ecology. You may study how pollution affects marine life and how geographical information systems are used to track wildlife. It may not be required, but as a marine biology student, you may have the opportunity to complete internships for experience that may prove valuable when looking for a job.

Some employers, like Sea World and Busch Gardens, may require that marine mammal trainers have SCUBA certification and pass a swimming skills test (www.seaworld.org). New marine mammal trainers can expect to complete apprenticeships before they begin work with killer whales and other sea life.

How Much Will I Earn as An Animal Trainer?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2015, animal trainers who were employed by individuals who needed personal services earned an average of $38,410 a year, while those who trained animals for spectator sports took home an average of $35,210. Trainers who worked with local government agencies were paid an average of $46,550 a year, while those who worked with retailers earned average annual incomes of $21,960.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers are related positions that require a high school diploma or equivalent. These workers provide basic care for different animals in a lab or clinic. They may feed, clean and exercise the animals. Veterinary technologists and technicians are also related positions, but require an associate's degree. These workers help veterinarians perform and analyze various kinds of medical tests to help diagnose an animal's medical condition.

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