Working as an Animal Trainer

Animal trainers have incredibly diverse careers. Some work in media and others work in top of the line horse stables, handling tens of millions of dollars worth of racehorses and breeding programs. Salaries for animal trainers are highly variable. Contracts can be worth millions, hourly rates start at roughly $6.50. Make sure to research in detail salaries in these jobs. Salaried animal trainers work on facility hours. Professional trainers work on hours determined by the specific conditions of the job. 

Education and training

The requirements for qualifications for animal trainers differ a lot depending on industry standards, very variable licensing requirements, and the nature of the work, which includes in many cases zoology qualifications. Although formal training for many occupations isn't required in theory, in practice few operators of animal shelters and other facilities will accept unqualified people unless they have documented experience in those fields. These are some of the various qualifications required in different fields of animal training:

  • Horses and racing: Grooming apprenticeships for state licensing requirements and a lot of practical experience.
  • Marine parks and circuses: The emphasis is on animal care, as much as the "exhibit training" factors in basic animal training. Zoological qualifications are the norm. Working with animals requires detailed attention to their needs.
  •  Dog training: Qualifications from vocational and community colleges are the fundamental entry level requirements.
  •  Animal shelters: Although the "training" element may not be obvious, caring for abused animals requires top level professional experience, and is an important part of animal rehabilitation.

A typical day

Sue, a dog trainer, is getting a freshman class of dogs and owners for basic training. These dogs are being trained because their owners have had real problems achieving even basic discipline. There's a Pomeranian which does the exact opposite of her owner's instructions. A young German shepherd routinely looks baffled by its owner's commands. A border collie seems very anxious to please, but the owner seems barely able to communicate with the dog. The other dogs seem to be a mix of behavioral problems, but nothing unusual. Sue starts with basic relationship issues like talking to the dog and establishing a working system of communications. The reward and discipline systems are the next subject. Sue tells owners to be fair about discipline and not to impose discipline in a way which confuses their dogs.

Choke chains and dog biscuits are issued, and they go through the basic "sit" routine. The only one not doing well is the German shepherd, which is looking nervous. Sue asks the dog's name, and talks to the dog. The dog ignores her when she's out of direct visual contact. She calls the training facility's vet. The dog has a minor ear infection, and can't hear well in the low ranges of human speech. An ear wash later, the dog is performing well and has been saved from a potentially serious infection. "All part of the job," reflects Sue.