Animal handlers are in charge of handling animals in a working role and continue the training of the animal, in accordance with national legislation.
Includes people working with security and military dogs, search and rescue dogs, laboratory animals, assistance dogs or show animals.
Includes stud animal handlers.
Animal handlers typically do the following:
- Give food and water to animals
- Clean equipment and the living spaces of animals
- Monitor animals and record details of their diet, physical condition, and behavior
- Examine animals for signs of illness or injury
- Exercise animals
- Bathe animals, trim nails, clip hair, and attend to other grooming needs
- Train animals to obey or to behave in a specific manner
The following job titles also refer to animal handler:
stud animal handler
animal care assistant
Animal handlers are employed in a variety of settings. Many work at kennels; others work at zoos, stables, animal shelters, pet stores, veterinary clinics, and aquariums. Their work may involve travel.
Although animal handlers may consider their work enjoyable and rewarding, they face unpleasant and emotionally distressing situations at times. For example, those who work in shelters may observe abused, injured, or sick animals. Some handlers may have to help veterinarians euthanize injured or unwanted animals.
In addition, a lot the work involves physical tasks, such as moving and cleaning cages, lifting bags of food, and exercising animals.
Injuries and Illnesses
Animal handlers They may be bitten, scratched, or kicked when working with scared or aggressive animals. Injuries may also happen while the caretaker is holding, cleaning, or restraining an animal.
Although most animal handlers work full time, part-time work is common for both trainers and animal caretakers. Work schedules may vary to include evenings, weekends, and holidays. In facilities that operate 24 hours a day, such as kennels, animal shelters, and stables, animals may need care around the clock.
Animal handlers typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent.
Although pet groomers typically learn by working under the guidance of an experienced groomer, they can also attend grooming schools.
Animal trainers usually need a high school diploma or equivalent, although some positions may require a bachelor’s degree. For example, marine mammal trainers usually need a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, animal science, biology, or a related field.
Dog trainers and horse trainers may take courses at community colleges or vocational and private training schools.
Most zoos require zookeepers to have a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal science, or a related field.
Most animal handlers learn through on-the-job training.
Animal trainers may learn their skills from an experienced trainer. Pet groomers often learn their trade under the guidance of an experienced groomer.
ISCO skill level
ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:
- the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
- the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
- the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.
Animal handler is a Skill level 2 occupation.
Animal handler career path
These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to animal handler.
Long term prospects
These occupations require some skills and knowledge of animal handler. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of animal handler with a significant experience and/or extensive training.
Essential knowledge and skills
This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of animal handler.
- Biosecurity related to animals: Awareness of hygiene and bio-security measures when working with animals, including causes, transmission and prevention of diseases and use of policies, materials and equipment.
- Signs of animal illness: Physical, behavioural and environmental signs of health and ill health in various animals.
- Animal welfare legislation: The legal boundaries, codes of professional conduct, national and EU regulatory frameworks and legal procedures of working with animals and living organisms, ensuring their welfare and health.
- Animal welfare: Universally recognized animal welfare needs as applied to species, situation and occupation. These are:
- need for a suitable environment
- need for a suitable diet
- need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
- need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
- Physiology of animals: The study of the mechanical, physical, bioelectrical and biochemical functioning of animals, their organs and their cells.
- Environmental enrichment for animals: Types, methods and use of enrichment for animals to allow the expression of natural behaviour, including the provision of environmental stimuli, feeding activities, puzzles, items for manipulation, social and training activities.
- Safe work practices in a veterinary setting: Safe work practices in a veterinary setting in order to identify hazards and associated risks so as to prevent accidents or incidents. This includes injury from animals, zoonotic diseases, chemicals, equipment and working environment.
- Anatomy of animals: The study of animal body parts, their structure and dynamic relationships, on a level as demanded by the specific occupation.
- Animal behaviour: The natural behavioural patterns of animals, i.e. how normal and abnormal behaviour might be expressed according to species, environment, human-animal interaction and occupation.
Essential skills and competences
These skills are necessary for the role of animal handler.
- Treat animals ethically: Carry out activities according to accepted principles of right and wrong, including transparency in work practices and conduct towards clients and their animals.
- Control animal movement: Direct, control or restrain some or part of an animal’s, or a group of animals’, movement.
- Manage animal biosecurity: Plan and use appropriate biosafety measures to prevent transmission of diseases and ensure effective overall biosecurity. Maintain and follow biosecurity procedures and infection control when working with animals, including recognising potential health issues and taking appropriate action, communicating site hygiene control measures and biosecurity procedures, as well as reporting to others.
- Provide nutrition to animals: Provide food and water to animals. This includes preparing food and water for animals and reporting any changes in the animal feeding or drinking habits.
- Provide an enriching environment for animals: Provide an enriching environment for animals to allow the expression of natural behaviour, and including adjusting environmental conditions, delivering feeding and puzzle exercises, and implementing manipulation, social, and training activities.
- Provide first aid to animals: Administer emergency treatment to prevent deterioration of the condition, suffering and pain until veterinary assistance can be sought. Basic emergency treatment needs to be done by non-veterinarians prior to first-aid provided by a veterinarian. Non-veterinarians providing emergency treatment are expected to seek treatment by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Manage animal welfare: Plan, manage and evaluate the application of the five universally recognised animal welfare needs as appropriate to species, situation and own occupation.
- Apply safe work practices in a veterinary setting: Apply safe work practices in a veterinary setting in order to identify hazards and associated risks so as to prevent accidents or incidents. This includes injury from animals, zoonotic diseases, chemicals, equipment and work environments.
- Handle working animals: Handle and care for working animals. This includes preparation of animal, working environment and equipment, control and monitoring of the animal during work activities, and care afterwards.
- Manage animal hygiene: Plan and use appropriate hygiene measures to prevent transmission of diseases and ensure an effective overall hygiene. Maintain and follow hygiene procedures and regulations when working with animals, communicate site hygiene controls and protocols to others. Manage the safe disposal of waste according to destination and local regulations.
- Implement exercise activities for animals: Provide exercise opportunities that are suitable for respective animals and meet their particular physical requirements.
- Handle veterinary emergencies: Handle unforeseen incidents concerning animals and circumstances which call for urgent action in an appropriate professional manner.
- Monitor the welfare of animals: Monitor animals’ physical condition and behaviour and report any concerns or unexpected changes, including signs of health or ill-health, appearance, condition of the animals’ accommodation, intake of food and water and environmental conditions.
- Assess animal behaviour: Observe and evaluate the behaviour of animals in order to work with them safely and recognise deviations from normal behaviour that signal compromised health and welfare.
- Provide animal training: Provide training in basic handling, habituation, and obedience to enable the completion of day-to-day tasks while minimising the risks to the animal, the handler, and others.
- Implement training programmes for animals: Implement training programmes for animals for basic training purposes or to meet specific objectives, following a developed training programme, and reviewing and recording progress against set objectives.
Optional knowledge and skills
This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of animal handler. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Animal production science: Animal nutrition, agronomy, rural economics, animal husbandry, hygiene and bio-security, ethology, protection and herd health management.
Optional skills and competences
These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of animal handler. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Take advantage of learning opportunities in veterinary science: Use different channels and learning styles such as journals, courses, and conferences to obtain new information, knowledge, skills, and know-how in relation to working with animals.
- Load animals for transportation: Load and unload animals safely into containers or cages for transportation. Make sure they are secure and safely established in the transport vehicle.
- Understand the animal’s situation: Categorise and verify information about the environment and its impact on the animal. Analyse the situation, such as what the animal may want or need.
- Cope with challenging circumstances in the veterinary sector: Maintain a positive attitude during challenging situations such as a misbehaving animal. Work under pressure and adapt to the circumstances in a positive manner.’
- Handle animals for semen collection: Handle the male breeding animal for the collection of semen for use in artificial insemination.
- Calculate rates per hours: Make simple calculations regarding the money that should be earned in relation to the number of hours worked.
- Maintain welfare of animals during transportation: Keep the health and welfare of animals during transportation, including frequent monitoring for signs of stress and symptoms of ill health.
- Assess animal’s condition: Inspect the animal for any external signs of parasites, disease or injury. Use this information to determine own actions and report your findings to owners.
- Apply numeracy skills: Practise reasoning and apply simple or complex numerical concepts and calculations.
- Make decisions regarding the animal’s welfare: Make a choice from several alternative possibilities that promote the animal’s well-being.
- Maintain animal accommodation: Make sure animal enclosures such as habitats, terrariums, cages or kennels are in the appropriate and hygienic condition. Clean the enclosure and provide new bedding material if called for.
- Interview animal owners on animals’ conditions: Ask questions appropriate to the setting and purpose, with the aim to elicit accurate information on the animal’s health condition, in order to facilitate a correct diagnosis.
- Groom animals: Prepare the environment for grooming, select the correct grooming equipment and grooming methods for the animal. Apply occupational health and safety principles of basic animal anatomy and physiology, including the identification and reporting of any abnormalities.
ISCO group and title
5164 – Pet groomers and animal care workers
- Animal handler – ESCO
- Animal Care and Service Workers : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Featured image: By Thukuk – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0