Animals have minds of their own. They behave however they want ... that is until they meet up with animal trainers. An animal trainer, using a variety of techniques, teaches dogs, horses or even marine animals to behave in a certain way. He or she gets animals accustomed to human contact and teaches them to respond to commands. An animal trainer may work with show animals, service animals or family pets.
Almost 45,000 people worked as animal trainers in 2010. Some were self-employed. One of the greatest risks associated with this occupation comes from working with aggressive or frightened animals who may bite, kick or scratch causing injuries.
In most cases animal trainers need a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED). Sometimes a bachelor's degree is required. For example a marine mammal trainer needs a bachelor's degree in biology, marine biology, animal science or a related field.
According to the The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) , a professional organization, most individual who work as dog trainers are self educated. They go on to say that certification is available from many training courses that are "happy to charge you a fee" for a certificate. The organization advises those who want to attend a training school to "do your homework." They provide a short list of what to look for in a program (So You Want to Be a Dog Trainer).
While certification isn't required, it can help demonstrate that one's qualifications are superior to those of someone without it. Not all certifications are equal though. ADPT has a list of recommended certifications on their website. Although the organization focuses on dog trainers, the certifications are for other types of animal trainers as well.
While animal trainers work directly with animals, they have a significant amount of contact with people too. Dealing with both requires compassion and patience. Teaching animals requires good problem solving skills. Trainers must have good physical stamina that allows them to bend, lift and kneel.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts this occupation will grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2020. Demand for marine mammal and horse trainers will be lower than for companion animals.
Animal trainers earned a median annual salary of $25,980 and median hourly wages of $12.49 in 2011.
Use the Salary Calculator at Salary.com to find out how much animal trainers currently earn in your city.
A Day in an Animal Trainer's Life:
On a typical day an animal trainer will:
- Evaluate animals to find out what type of training is needed and possible based on their temperaments, abilities and aptitudes
- Interact, both verbally and physically, with animals to get them used to human voice and contact
- Condition animals to respond to commands
- Give positive reinforcement
- Provide animals mental stimulation, physical exercise and hands-on care
- Oversee diet preparation
Animal trainers often work in competitions and shows. Those who do often conduct educational programs for visitors and guests.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Animal Care and Service Workers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos168.htm(visited April 9, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Animal Trainer, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/link/details/39-2011.00 (visited April 9, 2013).