If you feel like you have a special connection with your pet, you may also have a special gift for working with animals. Animal trainers get to appreciate the beauty and unconditional love of animals every day while teaching them to respond to commands.
What They Do
Animal trainers are the kind, patient people who work with dogs, horses, dolphins, and other animals in order to teach them to perform certain tasks or behave in a particular way. You’ll use positive reinforcement, such as treats and attention, to let animals know when they have done what you wanted correctly.
Animals can be trained to assist the disabled, protect or rescue people in danger, hunt down criminals, or simply show people how intelligent they are. Some animals (like dogs) are trained in obedience so their owners can be assured of their good behavior. And all kinds of animals can be trained to perform in movies and TV shows.
Animal trainers spend a lot of time with their animals, in order to bond with them and build trust. You will repeat the same procedure with the animal over and over until the response is timed just right. Some are actually “people trainers” too, since they teach owners how to get the desired response out of their animal companions. A typical day for you as an animal trainer may include:
- Observing individual animals to learn more about their behavior
- Touching, talking to, and bonding with animals
- Using a variety of techniques to train and reward animals
- Traveling with trained animals to where their services are needed
- Playing with and stimulating animals
- Feeding, exercising and grooming animals
- Demonstrating your animal’s abilities
- Teaching the public more about animals and their behavior
Who Is Likely to Succeed
Any animal trainer will come to this career with a love of animals in general, and maybe a special interest in a certain type or breed. You should be reasonably fit so you can physically interact with your animal. You are patient and don’t mind repetitive tasks.
Animal trainers have a curiosity about animal behavior that propels them to question and learn. They are resourceful, are keen observers, and know that there is more than one way to motivate an animal you will learn what works with each one. You are calm, gentle, and have a natural rapport with animals of every kind.
How to Learn It
To start, you should spend time observing and learning about animals. You can take a notebook and spend a few afternoons at the zoo, or keep a journal about your pet’s behavior. Look at not just “what” they do, but examine the “why” behind it. Compare your observations with established information from books and websites on animal behavior.
Animal shelters, vet clinics, pet shops and zoos are often looking for volunteer assistants. You can also offer to walk, play with, and of course train other people’s pets to get experience relating to different animal personalities. Assisting an animal trainer will help you learn techniques that work (and also those that don’t). Offer to take some of the grooming and feeding tasks off their hands in exchange for watching them work.
A handful of North American universities and colleges as well as some independent institutions offer Animal Behavior programs that are a natural lead-in to this kind of work. Part of your training may involve an internship where you work with animals hands-on, or you can arrange this opportunity on your own with a zoo, marine center or other facility.
Certification is not mandatory, but several organizations offer training programs and certification for prospective animal trainers. If you want to work with marine animals, swimming and SCUBA training are also important so you can move comfortably in their environment.