What Does an Animal Trainer Do?

Animal trainer and dog sharing a high-five.

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Housebreaking a stubborn puppy or teaching a parakeet to talk isn't easy. Professional animal trainers know the proper techniques to teach animals to be obedient.

An animal trainer knows how to teach dogs, horses, or even marine animals to display certain behaviors or keep them from exhibiting others. Animal trainers help animals become accustomed to human contact and teach them to respond to commands. They may work with show animals, service animals, or family pets.

 Animal Trainer Occupation

Quick facts about the animal training profession include:

  • Animal trainers earned a median annual salary of $28,880 in 2017.
  • This occupation employed about 14,340 in 2017.
  • Animal trainers work for kennels, zoos, aquariums, animal shelters, and animal rescue organizations.
  • About one-quarter of animal trainers are self-employed.​
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment in this field will grow faster, in general, than the average for all occupations through 2024. More specifically, dog trainers will see a lot of job openings in the future, but horse and marine mammal trainers will face intense competition.
  • One of the greatest risks associated with this occupation comes from working with aggressive or frightened animals that may bite, kick or scratch, causing injuries.

Responsibilities of Animal Trainers

Animal trainer duties can vary significantly and depend on items such as the type of business and animal, as seen in various advertisements:

  • Doggy daycare center: "Keep dogs safe and help them learn manners"
  • Pet supply chain store: "Coach, encourage, and motivate dogs and pet parents"
  • Aquarium: "Execute daily care and behavioral conditioning of pinnipeds"
  • Animal shelter: "Educate our volunteers, adopters, and community on dog behavior and training"
  • Humane society: "Work with other staff on post-adoption challenges with training class students"
  • Animal entertainment production company: "Assist with animal care and backstage responsibilities"

Soft Skills for Becoming an Animal Trainer

 Animal trainers need certain soft skills or character traits to do their job successfully: 

  • Interpersonal skills:  While your job will involve training animals, you also have to work with their owners. Your ability to get along with humans will help you tremendously. Your interpersonal skills must include patience and compassion.
  • Instructing: Not only must you teach your animal clients, you must be able to provide clear instruction to the people who care for them. 
  • Problem-Solving: The ability to detect problems as well as come up with solutions to them is a necessary skill.
  • Physical stamina: Bending, lifting, and kneeling are regular parts of the job for animal trainers and you will need the stamina to do all three.
  • Listening: Your ability to listen and understand the needs of your human clients is imperative.
  • Monitoring:  You need keen observation skills when working with animals, as they cannot verbally let you know how they are doing.

In addition, employers may want skills such as:

  • A strong ability to inspire and motivate yourself and others
  • A positive can-do attitude
  • Strong team skills
  • The ability to set goals, prioritize, and provide feedback to others to complete multiple tasks on or before a deadline
  • Exceptional organization and time management skills

Education Requirements for Becoming an Animal Trainer

Qualifications for becoming an animal trainer usually include a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED). However, in some cases, a bachelor's degree is required. For example, a marine mammal trainer must have a bachelor's degree in biology, marine biology, animal science, or a related field.

Determining If This Occupation Is Right for You

Your interestspersonality type, and work-related values are among the factors that will help you determine whether being an animal trainer is a suitable career choice. If you're considering a career as an animal trainer, you should study this occupation, which may include speaking with other animal trainers, to determine if it is the right career for you.