Animal Training Careers

Getty Images

There are many possible career options for individuals that have a strong knowledge of animal behavior and an interest in training animals professionally. Here are a few of the most popular options for this career path:

Marine Mammal Trainer

Marine mammal trainers work with a variety of aquatic species including whales, dolphins, sea lions, and seals. They are responsible for training animals to perform behaviors on cue; these behaviors are later used as a part of educational demonstrations and shows, to facilitate veterinary procedures, or to provide general stimulation and exercise.

Marine mammal trainers are very active and must be able to meet the strenuous physical demands that go along with this line of work. A degree is not necessarily required, but most trainers have a degree or specialty certificate plus considerable internship experience before landing this highly coveted training position. There are always many more applicants than there are trainer positions available, so a strong background in the marine field is extremely important.

Movie Animal Trainer

Movie animal trainers work with a wide variety of animal species that are used as a part of the filmmaking industry. In addition to basic animal care duties, movie trainers bring animals to and from the set at designated times, give cues to elicit desired behaviors, and train animals to modify existing behaviors or perform new ones as required by the director for filming purposes.

Movie animal trainers must be prepared to work long hours under potentially difficult conditions. A degree is not required, but many movie trainers have extensive training whether it is through a formal program or though completing internships with seasoned professionals in the industry. It is much easier to become involved with movie animal training if you are located near major filming centers, particularly in California or New York.

Dog Trainer

Dog training is a very accessible career and also a great way for those interested in animal training to enter the field and gain valuable training experience with a familiar species. Dog trainers work with dogs and their owners to facilitate communication, condition dogs to perform behaviors on demand, and apply a variety of techniques to modify aggressive behavior or other undesirable actions.

Dog trainers are usually self-employed, though some may find salaried work with professional kennels and boarding facilities. Certification is available through several respected professional organizations, and while formal training is not required to become a dog trainer it does greatly enhance the trainer’s credentials in the eyes of clients.

Horse Trainer

Horse trainers can specialize in working with racehorses or show and pleasure horses. Both types of training involve careful management of the horses under a trainer’s supervision to ensure that they are able to put forth optimal performance in competition.

Racehorse trainers focus their efforts on preparing racing breeds (usually Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses) to put forth their best efforts at the track. Racehorse trainers specially tailor workouts to each horse’s level of fitness and long-range goals. They also advise exercise riders and jockeys on the horse’s unique behavioral quirks and preferences. Trainers must be licensed to practice their trade at each track where they compete. Most begin their careers working as barn foremen or assistant trainers, working their way up to having their own stable.

Show or pleasure horse trainers are more likely to ride the horses that they train themselves, teaching the horse how to respond to a variety of cues from the leg or rein. These cues signal gait changes, bends, starts and stops, and more. They may also advise the horse’s owner on riding techniques that will elicit desired responses. Trainers may achieve certification through a wide variety of programs, though no formal certification is really necessary for the pursuit of this career path. Extensive experience in a specific discipline of riding is generally the most important factor in a trainer’s recruitment of clients.

Final Word: Consider Internships

All aspiring animal trainers should consider pursuing any education and training that is available in their particular niche area of interest (such as marine animal training internships). There are many animal behavior internships that would enhance a candidate’s credentials for a future career in a training related field. Additionally, there are many species-specific internships that are not specifically tailored to animal training but give the candidate an excellent foundation to build on. Animal training positions are not usually easy to come by, but with a strong resume and history of experience a candidate can greatly improve their chances of finding success in the field.