Animal Trainers


Employment Prospects


Approximately 14,830 animal trainers are employed in the United States. Animal trainers work for a wide variety of employers, including stables, dog-training and companion pet programs, animal shelters, zoos, aquariums and oceanariums, amusement parks, rescue centers, pet shops, and circuses. Many are self-employed, and a few very successful animal trainers work in the entertainment field, training animal "actors" or working with wild and/or dangerous animals. A number of these positions require a great deal of travel and even relocation. Although some new zoos and aquariums may open and others may expand their facilities, the number of job opportunities for animal trainers at these facilities will remain relatively small. Companion programs that train animals to assist people who need help in daily living activities will employ an increasing number of trainers.

Tightened security measures around the globe have created demand for bomb-sniffing dogs and their trainers. An increasing number of animal trainers and handlers will be employed by government agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Fortune 500 companies, amusement parks, and sports arenas.

Starting Out

People who wish to become animal trainers generally start out as animal keepers, stable workers, or caretakers and rise to the position of trainer only after acquiring experience within the ranks of an organization. You can enter the field by applying directly for a job as animal keeper, letting your employer or supervisor know of your ambition so you will eventually be considered for promotion. The same applies for volunteer positions. Learning as a volunteer is an excellent way to get hands-on experience, but you should be vocal in your interest in a paid position once you have gotten to know the staff and they have gotten to know you.

Pay close attention to the training methods of any place at which you are considering working. No reputable organization, regardless of what it trains animals for, should use physical injury to train or discipline an animal. The techniques you learn at your first job determine the position you will qualify for after that. You want to be sure that you are witnessing and learning from an organization that has a sound philosophy and training method for working with animals.

The most coveted positions depend on the animals you want to work with. Sea mammals are a specialty of oceanariums and aquariums, and these positions are fiercely competitive. Dog-training programs are probably the most plentiful and offer the widest range of training philosophies and techniques. There are numerous books on dog-training methods that you can consult to learn what the differences are.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works only with established dog and handler teams, who usually work within the emergency systems for the regional or local authorities in some capacity. These teams choose to also be trained within the FEMA guidelines.

Advancement Prospects

Most establishments have very small staffs of animal trainers, which means that the opportunities for advancement are limited. The progression is from animal keeper to animal trainer. A trainer who directs or supervises others may be designated head animal trainer or senior animal trainer.

Some animal trainers go into business for themselves and, if successful, hire other trainers to work for them. Others become agents for animal acts. But promotion may mean moving from one organization to another and may require relocating to another city, depending on what animal you specialize in.

Tips for Entry

Visit for job listings.

Read publications such as Soundings (from the International Marine Animal Trainers' Association) to learn more about the field.

Become certified in order to show employers that you have met the highest standards established by your industry.