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Animal Trainer: Job Duties, Employment Outlook, and Training Requirements

Learn about some typical job duties and the educational routes you can take to become an animal trainer, as well as career outlook and salary information.

What Is an Animal Trainer?

Animal trainers most often work with dogs, horses, and dolphins and other sea mammals. They work to train these animals for obedience, security, performance or aiding the disabled. These professionals train the animals in various skills or to respond to certain commands. Animal trainers can teach dogs to perform tasks for people with different kinds of disabilities, train and prepare animals for veterinary care or do obedience training for a show animal. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Education Required High school diploma at a minimum; bachelor's degree may be necessary for working in zoos and aquariums
Training Required On-the-job training
Key Responsibilities Keep records of animal's diet and behavior, administer medications, monitor health, educate the public about the animal
Job Growth (2020-2030) 28%*
Average Annual Salary (2020) $37,950*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are My Job Duties as an Animal Trainer?

As an animal trainer, you'll be conditioning animals to interact with humans and respond to commands. Dogs, horse and marine mammals are the most widely trained animals, but you'll need to possess patience and a keen understanding of animal behavior regardless of the species being trained. You'll use positive reinforcement to reward desired behaviors the moment they're performed. The training regimens and natural talents that you nurture for the animals under your tutelage may take months or even years to reach full effect.

Whether you're preparing horses for equestrian competitions, instructing dogs for law enforcement officials or coaching dolphins for aquarium shows, you may be responsible for other aspects of the animal's well-being. For the animals under your care, you may keep records of their diet and behavior, administer their medications, provide them with exercise and monitor their health. During shows and competitions, you can educate the public about your animal's abilities and behaviors.

How Is My Employment Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the animal care and service profession, including animal trainers, should grow by 28% from 2020 through 2030 (www.bls.gov). These favorable job prospects may be due in part to a high turnover rate for many trainer positions. However, some positions, such as marine mammal trainers, involve high competition for limited job openings.

In 2020, the BLS reported that animal trainers that worked in local government made the highest annual earnings. As an animal trainer, you may work in animal shelters, circuses, aquariums, horse farms or zoos. The average annual earnings for this profession were $37,950 as of May 2020, according to the BLS.

What Are My Training Requirements?

You will not need to follow a single, fixed path to become an animal trainer, and an important factor is gaining substantial experience with your chosen species under a seasoned trainer. Although a high school diploma is required for most positions, the training route you'll take may also depend on the type of animals that you'd like to train. Many aspiring equine trainers gain experience by working as grooms in stables. Prospective pet trainers can volunteer at animal shelters and attend training workshops.

If you wish to work as a trainer at an aquarium or zoo, then your training requirements may be more stringent. Many of those employers require a bachelor's degree in animal science, marine biology, animal behavior or a related field. As a student in one of these programs, you may take coursework in ecology, mathematics, chemistry, molecular biology, physics and zoology in addition to topics relevant to your specific program of study.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Anyone interested in becoming an animal trainer may also be interested in becoming a veterinary assistant, laboratory animal caretaker, farmer, rancher or other agricultural manager. These positions only require a high school diploma or equivalent and work to care for animals in an animal hospital, vet office, laboratory or on a farm. Veterinary technologists and technicians also care for animals and help veterinarians perform medical tests and exams. However, these positions require at least an associate's degree.