How to Become an Animal Trainer in 5 Steps

Research the steps you need to take to become an animal trainer. Learn about earning a degree, finding a job and becoming certified to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Animal Trainer Do?

Animal trainers work with animals, teaching them commands and tasks which may include helping people, performing tricks or transporting material. They can train a variety of animals, such as dogs, horses or marine animals. Animal trainers' goal is to get the animal to respond and obey commands that they are given. They may need to get an animal to assist someone with a disability, provide security or, in the case of horses, allow someone to ride them. Animal trainers may also teach animals simple skills that aid in cooperation during veterinary exams. Animal trainers work closely with their animals and often provide basic care for them and watch for any signs of injury or illness. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required High school diploma or equivalent; associate's degree or bachelor's degree available
Education Field of Study Veterinary technology, animal science
Key Responsibilities Condition animals to respond to commands, prepare service animals to respond to the needs of others, general care and grooming of animals in your charge
Certification Voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11%
Average Salary (2015)* $33,600

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is an Animal Trainer?

As an animal trainer, you condition animals to perform specific tasks or respond to commands. Your duties include preparing dogs, horses, dolphins, elephants and other animals to serve medical, security, agricultural, entertainment or transportation needs. For example, you may train dogs to help disabled individuals, horses to carry cargo, and elephants or dolphins to perform tricks. Other duties include feeding, sheltering, bathing and grooming, and arranging medical care.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

While formal degree programs for animal trainers are rare, associate's degree or bachelor's degree programs in veterinary technology or animal science provide you with a background in biology, animal behavior and animal nutrition. Courses in zoology, zookeeping, wildlife management and behavioral psychology also have applications in animal training.

Veterinary technology programs prepare you to assist veterinarians and often include courses in animal anatomy, small animal management, and animal diseases and treatment. Animal science courses address animal breeding, animal genetics, and animal growth and development. Lab courses in agriculturally-oriented programs give you an opportunity to work with livestock, including goats, sheep, horses, cows and pigs.

Step 2: Participate in an Apprenticeship Program

The availability of animal trainer apprenticeships vary based on the animal. Colleges, vocational schools and professional organizations offer courses, workshops or other programs for dog trainers. As a prospective horse trainer, you can receive training at stables or through private equestrian and riding schools. If you want to work with marine animals, you may be able to find opportunities in zoos.

Step 3: Find a Job

Equine stables, marine parks, race tracks, circuses, animal shelters, kennels and zoos are among the facilities that offer employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 11,720 people were employed as animal trainers in 2015. Employment was projected to grow 11% from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the national average for all occupations.

Step 4: Become Certified

Obtaining certification may offer employment opportunities and higher salaries. For example, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers offers the Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) credential to trainers who have 300 hours of training experience in the past five years; 225 hours must be accumulated as a head trainer or instructor. The certification exam consists of 250 multiple choice questions that test your knowledge in animal husbandry, learning theory and business ethics.

Step 5: Join a Professional Organization

Joining a professional organization demonstrates your commitment and professionalism to prospective employers and customers. Professional organizations provide forums for professional growth and continuing education. The International Marine Animal Trainers' Association, the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals and the National Trainers Association are strong options if you train dolphins, dogs or horses.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some related careers that require at least a high school diploma or equivalent are farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers, as well as veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers supervise and manage the activities of various kinds of farms. They may oversee the production of crops or dairy and other livestock products. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers care for animals in clinics or labs by providing food, water and other needs. They often work under veterinarians or scientists.

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