Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Median—$10.60 per hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Animal trainers train animals for a wide range of reasons. Some trainers work with large animals such as elephants, lions, or dolphins to train them to perform in front of large groups of people. Others train dogs or other small pets to be more obedient at home. Some train horses or dogs to perform at competitions such as riding shows or dog shows. Trainers also work with dogs or monkeys to assist disabled persons in performing everyday tasks.
Training involves conditioning the animal to respond to commands through the use of positive reinforcement. When the animal responds correctly to a command, the trainer provides a treat, toy, kind words, or petting in order to reinforce the behavior. This training can take months of repetition and much patience on the part of the trainer.
During the training process the trainer may also oversee physical exercise, mental stimulation, and medical care for the animal. They may also take part in shows or competitions, or participate in educational programs at zoos or marine parks.
Education and Training Requirements
Most animal training jobs require a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Animal trainers learn through on-the-job training, working with more experienced trainers to become acquainted with training techniques. Certification is not mandatory, but several organizations offer training programs and certification for aspiring animal trainers.
Some animal training jobs, however, require further schooling. Training marine mammals, for example, requires a bachelor's degree in marine biology, animal science, zoology, or a related field. A SCUBA certification and strong swimming skills are also vital to working with marine mammals.
Getting the Job
Experience with animals is a must, so prospective animal trainers should volunteer in animal shelters or apply for jobs at zoos, marine parks, or large animal services.
Because three in five animal trainers are self-employed, animal trainers can advertise their services, work with individual clients, and then gain new clients from word-of-mouth advertising. Working on a freelance basis requires a self-motivated and disciplined individual who can deal with an irregular schedule.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Animal trainers can advance from working with individual clients to owning their own training business. Some advance to training animals for competitions, such as horse jumping shows or greyhound racing.
Employment growth for animal trainers is expected to grow faster than the average through 2014. Pet ownership is on the rise, and owners with disposable income are increasingly taking advantage of such services as dog training and feline behavior training.
Training animals often requires repetitious activities, which requires patience and self-discipline. Working with stressed, tired, or unpleasant animals can sometimes be dangerous, as it exposes the trainer to bites, scratches, or kicks.
Animal trainers who work with marine animals work near or in the water. Other training must be done in the field, such as working with seeing-eye dogs on city streets or racing dogs on the race track.
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries for animal trainers vary according to experience, type of training, and geographical location. The median hourly income for an animal trainer is $10.60 per hour. The top trainers in the field earn more than $20.62 per hour.
Where to Go for More Information
Association of Pet Dog Trainers
150 Executive Center Dr.
P.O. Box 35
Greenville, SC 29615
International Association of Canine Professionals
P.O. Box 560156
Monteverde, FL 34756-0156
International Marine Animal Trainers' Association
1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60605
The majority of animal trainers are self-employed and are responsible for their own benefits.