Steps to Becoming an Animal Trainer

Steps to Becoming an Animal Trainer

If you have a passion for working with animals and want to turn that passion into a rewarding career, becoming an animal trainer may be the ideal path for you. Animal trainers work in a variety of settings, from zoos to aquariums, and are responsible for training animals to perform specific tasks or behaviors. This informative guide will outline the necessary steps and skills required to enter this exciting and fulfilling profession.

Before embarking on this career path, it’s important to understand that becoming an animal trainer is not as simple as just having a love for animals. While a deep affection for animals is a core trait of successful trainers, there are other essential skills and qualifications that will help you stand out in this competitive field. For instance, many employers prefer candidates who have some form of formal education or training, such as certifications or a degree in animal behavior or a related field.

When it comes to education, there are various options available for aspiring animal trainers. Some individuals choose to pursue postsecondary education at schools that offer specialized programs in animal training. These programs provide a comprehensive curriculum that covers everything from animal behavior to training techniques. Others may opt to gain hands-on experience through internships or apprenticeships with experienced trainers. While these paths may be less formal, they can be equally valuable in providing the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in this profession.

Once you have obtained the necessary education or experience, the next step is to gain practical experience in the field. This can be achieved by working as an animal caretaker or attending a training school where you can gain supervised practice. Applying for entry-level positions as animal attendants or caretakers at zoological parks or animal training centers can be a great way to get your foot in the door and start building your resume. These positions often involve feeding, cleaning, and providing routine care for animals, as well as assisting with training and enrichment activities.

In addition to practical experience, it’s also important to develop strong interpersonal and communication skills. Animal trainers often work with a team of professionals, including other trainers, veterinarians, and animal care specialists. The ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with others is essential in ensuring the well-being and success of the animals under your care. Furthermore, being able to convey information clearly and provide instructions to clients or visitors is a valuable skill in this line of work.

The outlook for animal trainers is projected to grow at an annual rate of 13 percent, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is mainly driven by the increasing demand for trained animals in entertainment and service industries. While dog trainers may be the most common and familiar type of animal trainers, there are also opportunities to work with a wide variety of animals, including dolphins, horses, and birds. So, if you’re passionate about animals and enjoy the idea of working closely with them, a career as an animal trainer could be a perfect fit for you.

Step 1: Explore the Animal Training Industry

Before diving into a career as an animal trainer, it’s important to explore the industry to gain a deeper understanding of what it entails. This step will help you determine if becoming an animal trainer is the right path for you.

In the animal training industry, there are various settings in which trainers work. Some trainers are employed by organizations such as zoos, aquariums, or theme parks, where they work with a wide range of animals, from elephants to dolphins. Others choose to work as independent trainers, offering their services to pet owners who want help with their dogs’ behavior.

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Animal trainers play a core role in their animals’ care. They provide training and behavioral adjustment to help animals develop skills, overcome challenges, and engage in desired behaviors. This can be especially helpful for animals in rehabilitation or in need of behavioral modification. Trainers also work closely with veterinarians and caretakers to ensure the animals’ overall well-being.

When it comes to salary, the amount varies depending on the type of training and the industry in which the trainer works. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for animal trainers was $30,430 in May 2020. However, salaries can be higher or lower, depending on factors such as experience, educational background, and the specific animal training niche.

Although not mandatory, there are educational programs and certifications available for those who want to pursue a career in animal training. Some trainers obtain a postsecondary education in fields like animal science or behavioral psychology, while others opt for specialized programs that focus specifically on animal training. These programs can provide a solid foundation of knowledge and skills to help you succeed as a trainer.

Before applying for any formal programs or certification, it’s a good idea to gain as much hands-on experience with animals as possible. Volunteering at local shelters, interning at wildlife rehabilitation centers, or working as a dog walker can all be valuable experiences that introduce you to the practical aspects of animal training.

It’s also important to consider your own personality traits and skills. Animal trainers need to be patient, calm, and compassionate, as working with animals can be challenging and sometimes unpredictable. Good communication and problem-solving skills are also essential, as trainers often need to work with animals’ owners or caretakers to address specific behavioral issues.

Step 2: Acquire Relevant Education and Experience

To become an animal trainer, it is important to acquire the necessary education and gain relevant experience in the field. This step will introduce you to the various educational and experiential requirements needed to pursue a career in animal training.


While some animal trainers may begin their careers without a formal education, most employers prefer candidates who have completed some form of postsecondary education. These educational programs provide valuable knowledge and training in animal behavior, learning theory, and training techniques.

There are several educational paths you can consider:

  • College or University: Many colleges and universities offer degrees or certificate programs in animal behavior, animal training, or a related field. These programs typically include courses such as animal biology, psychology, and training methods. Some schools even offer specialized programs for training specific animals, such as marine mammals or service dogs.
  • Trade or Vocational Schools: Some trade or vocational schools offer programs specifically tailored to animal training. These programs may focus on a specific type of animal training, such as dog training, or provide a broader education in animal behavior and training principles.
  • Online Courses: There are also online courses and distance learning programs available that allow you to learn at your own pace and gain a solid understanding of animal training concepts.


In addition to education, gaining hands-on experience is crucial for becoming a successful animal trainer. Employers value practical experience as it demonstrates your ability to apply learned skills in a real-world setting. Here are some ways to gain relevant experience:

  • Volunteer at Animal Shelters or Rescue Organizations: Volunteering at animal shelters or rescue organizations can provide you with valuable experience working with animals and understanding their behavior. This hands-on experience can help you develop the necessary skills to work as an animal trainer.
  • Internships or Apprenticeships: Some animal training programs or departments offer internships or apprenticeships where you can work alongside experienced trainers and learn from their expertise. These opportunities allow you to gain practical experience and network with professionals in the field.
  • Participate in Animal Training Workshops or Seminars: Attending workshops or seminars focused on animal training can provide you with additional knowledge and skills. These events often involve hands-on learning activities and provide an opportunity to learn from experienced trainers.
  • Paid or Professional Animal Training Roles: Once you have gained sufficient knowledge and experience, you can apply for paid or professional roles as an animal trainer. These positions may be available at zoos, aquariums, theme parks, or other similar settings. Working in these environments will allow you to apply your training skills and work with a variety of animals.
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Remember, the more experience you have, the more attractive you will be to potential employers. Building a strong foundation of education and experience will greatly enhance your chances of becoming a successful animal trainer.

Step 3: Gain Practical Skills through Hands-on Training

One of the most important aspects of becoming an animal trainer is gaining practical skills through hands-on training. While educational programs and certifications can provide a solid foundation, the ability to work directly with animals is essential for success in this profession.

Hands-on training allows aspiring trainers to develop the necessary traits and expertise required for the job. By working with animals in real-life settings, individuals will learn how to observe their behavior, interpret their actions, and apply appropriate training techniques. This experience is invaluable for understanding the unique characteristics of different animals and their specific training needs.

There are several ways to gain hands-on training in the field of animal training. One option is to work or volunteer at an animal shelter, veterinary clinic, or other animal-related organization. By assisting professionals in their daily tasks, aspiring trainers can learn from their expertise and gain practical experience.

Another option is to enroll in a postsecondary program that offers hands-on training in animal behavior and training. These programs often provide opportunities for students to work directly with animals and apply what they have learned in a real-world setting. Some programs may even have partnerships with local zoos or animal-training academies, providing students with additional learning and training opportunities.

In addition to these formal programs, aspiring trainers can also learn through informal means. This can include participating in dog training clubs or attending workshops and seminars led by experienced trainers. These activities can provide valuable insights into different training methods and techniques, as well as opportunities to learn from experts in the field.

It’s important for aspiring trainers to be proactive in seeking out hands-on training opportunities. While formal programs can be helpful, there is no substitute for real-world experience. By actively working with animals and applying what they have learned, individuals can build the necessary skills and confidence to succeed in this rewarding career.

Hands-on Training Tips:

  • Try to work with a variety of animals to expand your skill set and experience.
  • Seek out opportunities to observe and learn from experienced professionals.
  • Attend workshops, seminars, and conferences to stay informed about the latest advancements in animal training and behavior.
  • Consider obtaining certifications in animal behavior or training to demonstrate your expertise.
  • Keep a record of your training experiences and accomplishments to showcase your skills when applying for job openings.

Salary and Requirements:

Animal trainers can expect a median annual salary of around $30,000, although this can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and the specific area of animal training (e.g., dog trainers, marine mammal trainers).

It’s worth noting that the demand for animal trainers is expected to grow at a slower rate than the average for all occupations. However, there will always be a need for skilled professionals who can provide training and behavioral services to animals in need of care and guidance.

Step 4: Determine the Area of Animal Training Specialization

After gaining experience and knowledge through the previous steps, it’s time to determine your area of specialization in animal training. Many animal trainers choose to specialize in a specific type of animal or a particular training behavior. This allows them to become experts in their chosen field and provide a specialized service to clients.

There are many different areas of specialization within animal training. Some trainers focus on dog training, working with both pet dogs and service dogs. Others may choose to work with exotic animals such as dolphins or elephants, providing training and enrichment in settings like zoos or marine parks.

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Before choosing your area of specialization, it is important to consider your interests, skills, and career goals. Do you have a particular affinity for a certain type of animal? Are you passionate about a specific training behavior? Answering these questions can help you narrow down your options and choose a specialization that aligns with your interests and goals.

Training Specializations for Dogs

Working as a dog trainer can be a rewarding career choice. Dog trainers work with dogs of all breeds and ages to teach obedience commands and correct behavioral issues. There are several specializations within the field of dog training, including:

  • Obedience Training: Dog trainers who specialize in obedience training work with pet dogs to teach them basic commands such as sit, stay, and come.
  • Service Dog Training: Some trainers specialize in training service dogs to assist individuals with disabilities. This type of training requires more advanced skills and knowledge.
  • Behavior Modification: Trainers who specialize in behavior modification work with dogs who exhibit problematic behaviors, such as aggression or anxiety, to help them overcome their issues.

Depending on the specialization, dog trainers may work independently, for a training academy, or as part of a department or team. Dog trainers may also be self-employed, offering their services to clients on a freelance basis.

Training Specializations for Exotic Animals

Working with exotic animals requires specialized knowledge and experience. If you are interested in training marine animals like dolphins or sea lions, you may pursue a career as a marine mammal trainer. These trainers work in marine parks or aquariums, teaching animals to perform various behaviors and working to enhance their social and physical well-being.

In addition to marine mammals, trainers can also specialize in working with other exotic animals such as elephants or big cats. These roles typically require working in zoos or wildlife conservation centers, providing training and enrichment activities to promote the animals’ health and overall welfare.

When determining your area of specialization, it’s essential to consider the demand for that particular type of training, as well as the outlook for career growth and salary potential. Some specializations may have a higher demand and offer higher salaries, while others may be less common or less lucrative.

Take some time to research different specializations and talk to professionals in the field to get a better understanding of what each specialization entails. You may also want to try volunteering or shadowing professionals in your desired area of specialization to gain more hands-on experience and further inform your decision.

Determining your area of specialization is an exciting step in becoming an animal trainer. By choosing a specialization that aligns with your interests and goals, you can create a fulfilling and rewarding career working with animals and making a positive impact on their lives.


What are the steps to becoming an animal trainer?

The steps to becoming an animal trainer typically involve obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent, gaining experience with animals through volunteering or internships, completing a formal animal training program or earning a degree in animal behavior or a related field, and gaining hands-on experience through on-the-job training or apprenticeships.

Is it necessary to have a degree in animal behavior to become an animal trainer?

While a degree in animal behavior can be beneficial, it is not always necessary to become an animal trainer. Many animal trainers gain skills and knowledge through practical experience, such as volunteering at shelters or working under the guidance of experienced trainers.

Are there any certifications or licenses required to work as an animal trainer?

There are no specific certifications or licenses required to work as an animal trainer. However, obtaining certifications, such as those offered by professional organizations like the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, can help demonstrate your expertise and credibility to clients and employers.

What are some similar careers to animal training?

Some similar careers to animal training include animal behaviorist, veterinary technician, zookeeper, marine mammal trainer, and pet groomer. These careers all involve working closely with animals and require a combination of practical skills and knowledge about animal behavior and care.

How long does it typically take to become an animal trainer?

The length of time it takes to become an animal trainer can vary depending on various factors, such as the individual’s prior experience, education, and the training program or apprenticeship they choose. On average, it can take anywhere from several months to a few years to gain the necessary skills and experience to work as a professional animal trainer.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.