How to Become an Animal Trainer

Overview

Animal trainers train a variety of animals such as: dogs, horses, tigers, lions, monkeys, dolphins, etc. to behave in a specific way. As an animal trainer, you main responsibility will be to help the animals get used to human contact and train them how to respond correctly to certain commands.  You may work with family pets, circus animals and/or service animals.

Educational Requirements

As an animal trainer, you will need to obtain a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma (GED). In addition, some employers may require a bachelor’s degree in order to train their animals. For instance, if you decide that you want to become a dolphin trainer, you will need to acquire a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal science, animal development or a related field.

It is important to note that in in most cases, you will have to teach yourself how to train the specific animals in your care. There are training programs available to “teach” you how to train various animals, but they are not required and often ineffective.

Certification

You do not have to be certified to be an animal trainer, but it may help you obtain a higher paying job. It is important to remember that not all certification programs are approved by the Association of Dog Pet Trainers (ADPT). ADPT offers a variety of approved certification programs on their website. Always do your research before choosing a training or certification program.

Job Duties

As an animal trainer, you will more than likely work with a variety of animals. You may also have contact with the owners of the animals. It is important that you show compassion and patience towards the animals and their owners. You may be required to squat, lift, bend and kneel so it is imperative that you are in good physical health.

Your other duties may include:

  • Assessing the animals to determine their training program (based on their disposition, capabilities and talents)
  • Interacting with the animals (verbally and physically) to help them adjust to human contact (touch, sound, etc.)
  • Training the animals to respond correctly to specific commands
  • Stimulating the animals with physical exercise and activities
  • Monitoring and providing a balanced diet for the animals while they are training

Salary Prospects

According to the Bureau of Labor Statics (2013), in 2010, there were approximately 50,000 animal trainers in the United States and most of them were self-employed. As a non-farm animal trainer, you can expect to make between $18,000 and $33,000 a year with the average salary falling at $25,000. If you fall in the lower 10%, you can expect to make approximately $18,000 a year and if you fall in the upper 10%, you can expect to make approximately $33,000 (bls.gov).

If you are a certified animal trainer, you can expect to make between $19,000 and $55,000 with the average salary falling at $35,000. If you are in the lower 10%, you can expect to make approximately $19,000 a year and if you are in the upper 10%, you can expect to make approximately $55,000 a year (bls.gov).

It is important to remember that animals require constant care so most animal facilities (kennels, animal shelters, and stables) must be staffed at all times. As an animal trainer, you will often be required to work nights, weekends, holidays, flexible hours and/or overtime. Approximately 40% of non-farm animal trainers work part-time and 30% of certified animal trainers are self-employed and therefore make their own schedule (bls.gov).

Career Outlook

The career outlook for animal trainers, in general, is good. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), jobs for animal trainers are expected to increase by 23% by 2020. It is important to note that the increase will vary by industry, location, experience and training. For example, the need for non-farm animal trainers is expected to grow by 28%, but farm animal trainers are only expected to increase by 3% (bls.gov).

The increase will more than likely stem from the need to maintain the growing pet population in the United States. Many people consider their pets to be a significant part of their family so they will continue to pay higher fees for the care and well-being of their cherished pets. This will increase the need for animal trainers to train and care for animals at kennels, pet spas, veterinarian offices, pet hospitals and pet stores.

Moreover, the demand for animal groomers, marine mammal trainers, zoo animal trainers and horse trainers is expected to grow more slowly than other forms of animal training. Working for zoos, circus shows, horse derbies and/or amusement parks will not yield as many jobs in the future. This is due to the rising cost of owning and caring for large animals. The high costs will prevent many people from purchasing large animals, which will cause this area of animal training to grow more slowly than other areas such as training cats and dogs.

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