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How to Become an Animal Trainer

Updated on December 12, 2011
Animal Trainer @ Denver Zoo
Animal Trainer @ Denver Zoo

Let me went to the Sea World Believe Show this weekend and now you want to be an animal trainer?

Or, maybe you have always been enthralled with the animal show when the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus comes to your town...

Whatever your reason, if you have always wanted to be an animal trainer, keep reading to learn more about this exciting and unique career.

Job Duties

Animal trainers do more than just train animals for performance at shows. They also train animals for assisting people who are disabled, they train security animals (Police K9), and they perform day to day obedience training as well.

In a nutshell, animal trainers train animals to heed the commands of the human voice, and human gestures.

Animal trainers are often involved in the care, feeding, and transport of the animals under their care, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the most commonly trained animals are dogs, horses, sea lions, dolphins and whales (think Shamu).

Some of the more exotic trained animals are lions, tigers, and bears - as much as they can be trained...

Animal trainers often work in zoos, marine theme parks, safari theme parks, and of course, the traveling circus. However, they also perform independent contract work, and many trainers own and run dog obedience schools.

While the career of an animal trainer seems exciting and adventurous, the job can be dangerous and demanding as well; however, these aspects usually are simply not enough to stop an animal lover with their hearts set on animal training.

Sea World Believe Show
Sea World Believe Show

Career Training

Animal trainers have been known to start in their field with only a high school diploma or GED.

However, if you are looking to work in a zoo or in a animal theme park, you will need a 4 year degree.

Make no mistake, if you want to swim with the killer whales in shows like Sea World's Believe, you will need a bachelor's degree in marine biology at the very least.

There are plenty of private dog training schools all across the country, and opportunities are excellent for people with an entrepreneurial spiritwho want to start their own dog obedience schools.

There are some organizations that will allow a career hopeful to start out with a veterinary technology 2 year degree and transition into animal training.


Because of the diverse nature of animal training jobs, the pay can start anywhere from $18,000 a year and go all the way up to $51,000 per year.

No doubt, the higher pay comes with education, experience, and degree of difficulty.

If you are interested in a career as an animal trainer, start your journey by check out the National Animal Control Association.

Good Luck!


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    • bamuscarella profile image

      Brittany 5 years ago from Buffalo, NY

      Positive training is one thing. It's another when a trainer's "power" goes to his head and he begins abusing the animals he's supposed to care for. The idea of a zoo or aquarium as a place where people can safely learn about and build respect for wild animals is a quaint notion, but I think today most don't go into those institutions with such ideas in mind. Did you ever see an elephant swaying back and forth, or a tiger pacing back and forth in his cage? Those kinds of repetitive actions come from lack of mental and physical stimulation, which trainers are supposed to provide. Animals in circuses and other forms of entertainment are used just for that—entertainment—abused and exploited. I've seen too much of the aftermath of a career in the circus, the zoo, touring ... to think that these institutions are anything but one more piece of evidence that shows just how little humanity actually cares.

    • profile image

      Allea 5 years ago


      You are plainly putting human emotions onto animals. Animals are not degraded by positive training techniques, but they do find stimulation in figuring out a new way to get food or please their 'alpha' (a natural position of dominace). A border collie for example needs not only exercise, but training and mental stimulation which can be achieved by teaching tricks as well as traditional working behaviors. They will get bored with fetching and will start to display obsessive behaviours (yes, even if you know better than to 'degrade' your dog by allowing it to learn and BOND with you).

      That said, positive training is a way of bonding with another species and I think it is small-minded of people to attack those who are good at it because of a few who were scum.

      Getting an animal to a level of performance as seen in good shows and circuses requires a balance of calmness, consistency and force of personality in their handlers, whereas aggression towards an animal with produce an inconsistent, sometimes confused, animal who is likely to attack (which doesn't make a great show).

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      Sueswan 6 years ago

      @memories1932 I agree 100% with your comments.

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      Memories1932 6 years ago

      As a true animal lover I think wild animals should be left in the wild to live the kind of life they were meant to live. They shouldn't be exploited by people and put in zoos, circuses,marine theme parks or other places like those.Dogs need to learn commands to keep them safe. Dogs don't belong in circuses or any place else like that where they are made to do degrading tricks. Like the wild animals, dogs should not be exploited either. People have to learn that everything is not here for their benefit. They have to learn to respect animals and live in harmony with them, not to take advantage of them or exploit them.