Animal Trainer

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Animal Trainer


Have you ever seen re-runs of the show about the talking horse? Mr. Ed was a real horse, and although he couldn't actually talk, he could obviously communicate with someone -- it was an animal trainer who got him to move, shake his head, and whiney on cue. Animal trainers work with a variety of animals, from pets to movie monkeys, teaching them everything from how to sniff out narcotics to how to dance the tango in a gorilla-sized dress.

Animals are most often trained using rewards: if an animal does what it has been taught to do, it gets a treat or a pat on the head and some affectionate words.

Some animal trainers work with pets, mostly dogs. They work with the dogs and their owners, house-breaking the puppies and teaching them to stay, sit, and follow other simple commands. Some older dogs are disobedient, and get involved in activities that are dangerous, like running into the street. These dogs might have to visit a trainer to unlearn bad habits. Not only do they work teaching the animals, but also try to teach people how to give their animals these cues and how to maintain the expected level of behavior in the animal. They work with dog owners trying to help the animals and their owners understand and communicate with each other--not only does the trainer teach the animal how to sit, but acts also as an interpreter, of sorts.

Other trainers work with attack, police or rescue dogs. These dogs need to not only be obedient, they need to be extremely in tune with their specific roles, like recognizing illegal substances by their scent, or how to recognize an intruder. The training these animals get is intense, as is training animals who work as guide dogs, who must be trained for months, or even years, until they are ready to work as the "eyes" of their blind partner.

And then there are the trainers who work with animals in entertainment, like show dogs and cats, trick-performing whales and dolphins, racing and show-jumping horse, or animals who act in the movies or on television. These animals learn tricks and movements so well it appears natural. Trainers working with these animals also teach them to cope with people, lights and cameras all going at the same time.

Training animals is not an easy task. It takes someone who has a lot of experience with animals, as well as a lot of love, patience, and dedication to do this job well.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Animal trainers must be good communicators, who are hard-working, dedicated, and loyal. They need to be reliable, personable, and understand a little about psychology. They should be good at working through problems patiently and thoroughly. They need to be creative, and work well on their own.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Advertise services
  • Meet with animal owners and animals to discuss desired training results
  • Give one-on-one or group lessons in obedience
  • Work training guide dogs, narcotics animals, or attack dogs
  • Travel with entertainment animals to movie shoots and public appearances
  • Write regular reports on animals' progress
  • Supervise assistants
  • Animal trainers work with animals in a number of environments, for long periods of time, as well as for short sessions. They may work with simple obedience commands, like helping a dog learn to sit and stay, or respond to their voice, while some trainers, working with police narcotics dogs, must help animals recognize trace scents of illegal substances. Animal trainers must be careful to always keep records of animal progress, as well as look after other administrative duties, as well as work closely with the animals. They work with many different people, as well as animals, and travel often if they are with entertainment animals. They generally work outdoors, especially if they are working with dogs.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Animal trainers work in a variety of locations including humane societies, police services, zoos, circuses, marine showcase parks, on film sets and television studios, veterinarian offices, boarding kennels, at their own business or home location, or even parks. They may train many animals at once, along with their owners, or they may work with an animal one-on-one. Their work environment can be noisy and hectic.
  • Those who work in the entertainment industry have long, hard hours, especially during periods of filming or rehearsal. These trainers live closely with the animals, and feed, water, and monitor their health. Trainers who only work with animals a few times a week have more regular schedules, making appointments when it suits them, the animals, and the owners. This often includes evenings and weekends.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Animal trainers can work with animals in the movies, or domestic animals. They can become instructors, teaching other people to train animals. They can become animal groomers, or open a kennel or stable. They can go on to become teachers, physical therapists, and work with disabled people. They can open up a shop that sells animal supplies, or write books on animal training techniques.

  Educational Paths  
Animal trainers who intend to train domestic animals or entertainment animals don't have to go through any set education program to work. What they need mostly is hands-on experience and observation. Many learn by working with an established trainer, learning the tricks from this mentor. Some prospective trainers may also take a course in animal training, and while there are some schools to learn the tricks of the trade, it is important for trainersto check them out first, to ensure they will be getting the best education.

Some animal trainers choose to complete a university degree in animal husbandry, zoology, behavioral science, psychology, or veterinary science, as the world of animals is no longer only about obedience and control, but is becoming more and more scientific.

Some areas of animal training do require higher education. Those who train whales and dolphins are encouraged to pursue a master's degree in biology or marine biology, while people wanting to work as guide dog trainers often study with a Member School of US Council of Dog Guide Schools.

To get started some people train may train their own animals, or ask to work with someone else's. Volunteering at an animal shelter is a good way learn as much as possible about different animals and breeds.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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