How can I Become an Animal Trainer?
An animal trainer works with different types of animals to train them for certain functions. Some work as horse trainers, breaking in young horses to be ridden; some work with seeing eye dogs and other animals that help people with disabilities; some train dogs to work for law enforcement agencies or as protection for private citizens; some work with animals at theme parks and zoos; and some train house pets to behave with manners and follow owner rules in the home. Whichever area is chosen, the first requirement for an animal trainer is a love and respect for all animals.
The next requirement for an animal trainer is, of course, training skills. These can be acquired a number of ways. The three most common animals that are trained are horses, dogs, and marine animals. An animal trainer who works with marine animals will have to undertake the greatest amount of schooling and education. To work for an aquatic theme park or zoo, a bachelor's degree in marine biology, animal science, or a similar major is usually required. It's a good idea to look for programs with internships, or to volunteer at zoos and animal parks to gain experience.
Horse training is often learned while working on ranches or farms. For those who are interested in the field but don't have any experience, a good first step is an entry level position cleaning stalls, grooming, and taking care of equipment. It's important to learn every aspect of horse management, and trainers are more likely to take on a novice who has proven a devotion for the field of horse training. If no jobs are available, volunteer at stables and therapeutic riding centers. Observe the trainers and do as much self-educating as possible.
Dog training is a booming business and there are many "K9 academies" and training courses advertised, but they should be approached with caution. Learn about dog training techniques and the care of dogs before enrolling in a training school. Attend training seminars to get a feel for the methods of training that feel right, and avoid any schools that use abusive treatments and rough handling to control the dogs. The public library is full of books on dog training.
An animal trainer can also get a foot in the door by taking courses on the care of animals. Many veterinary technician programs are offered at community colleges and private institutions that provide an excellent introduction to the world of pet care. Graduates can work for veterinarians or use the education and experience to break into a job at an animal training company.
@Mor - And dog trainers are probably subject to less regulation than trainers for other species. I can't imagine that many horse trainers could get away with taking only a single course. Often you are competing against people who have spent their lives around horses and who have degrees in equestrian science.
Actually that's true for a lot of animal trainer positions. They are going to be highly contested, because a lot of people like working with animals, so if you really want to do it you are going to have to work very hard to make yourself stand out from the rest.
Volunteer work at an animal shelter can be a good start, particularly if they are willing to let you work with the person who helps to train their animals. In my experience they rarely have a set-up that doesn't include some kind of schooling for dogs, and maybe even cats and birds as well.
@irontoenail - I imagine the most common kind of animal trainer these days is a pet dog trainer and that you can take specific courses in order to learn how to do it. If you are in a good school they will often help you to figure out the professional aspects of a job as well as teaching you the skills, so choosing a good course is probably the most important part.
It also likely depends on what kind of training you want to do. Even within a single species, like dogs, there are going to be different kinds of trainers. The person who trains dogs to act in movies or do tricks is going to have a different skill set to the one who comes into a home and helps to train a dog to stop chewing up the furniture.
I would encourage anyone who wants to be an animal trainer to contact someone in the field and find out how they started. It seems like the kind of career where there isn't really a clear progression and it's up to the individual to figure out what kinds of skills they will need and to carve themselves a spot in the field.
It might be a matter of just entering competitions for pet training skill until you are able to market your talents. Or it might require an internship or something like that.
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