Animal trainers train animals and/or animal handlers for general and specific purposes, including assistance, security, leisure, competition, transportation, obedience and routine handling, entertainment and education, in accordance with national legislation.
The duties of an animal trainer include, but are not limited to:
- Working with animals to ensure that they are healthy, happy, and well cared for
- Providing care for animals in facilities such as zoos, circuses, marine parks, or animal shelters
- Providing instruction to actors on how to handle animals for film and TV productions
- Training animals to perform tricks or meet specific needs such as assisting disabled persons
- Training animals to perform in shows such as circuses, marine mammal shows, or television commercials
- Training animals to behave appropriately in homes or businesses
- Observing animals’ behavior and communicating with other staff members about changes in behavior or unusual occurrences
- Conducting research on animal behavior and instincts to develop effective training techniques
- Training animals to perform a variety of tasks, such as walking on a leash or performing tricks in a show
The following job titles also refer to animal trainer:
dog training specialist
animal behaviour trainer
animal behaviour training specialist
canine training specialist
zoo animal trainer
Animal trainers work with a variety of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, dolphins, and elephants. They work in settings such as zoos, animal shelters, circuses, and marine parks. Many animal trainers are self-employed and work with their own animals, either in their homes or on their clients’ premises.
Animal trainers typically work a 40-hour week, but they may work evenings, weekends, and holidays to accommodate the needs of their animals and their clients. Some animal trainers travel to different locations to give lectures or demonstrations or to participate in competitions.
Qualifications to become an animal trainer usually include a high school diploma or equivalent. However, in some cases, a bachelor’s degree is required, depending on the type of animal to train. For example, in aquariums or zoos, many employers require a bachelor’s degree in animal science, marine biology, animal behavior or a related field.
Most of an animal trainer’s training will take place while they are in school. Students will learn about the different species of animals they can work with, how to handle them and how to train them. They will also learn about the different methods of training and how to apply them.
Once they are hired, an animal trainer will receive on-the-job training from their supervisor. This training will teach them about the specific animals they will be working with and how to handle them. They will also learn about the different methods of training and how to apply them.
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 trainer is a Skill level 2 occupation.
Animal trainer career path
These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to animal trainer.
Long term prospects
These occupations require some skills and knowledge of animal trainer. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of animal trainer 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 trainer.
- 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 trainer.
- 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.
- 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.
- Design training programmes for individuals and animals: Develop programmes to train humans and animals work together. Set objectives and targets. Evaluate the implementation of the training programme and progress by both the person and animal concerned.
- Practise veterinary professional codes of conduct: Adhere to veterinary professional codes of practice and legislation.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Advise on animal welfare: Prepare and provide information to individuals or groups of people on how to promote the health and well-being of animals, and how risks to animal health and welfare may be reduced. Provide recommendations for corrective actions.
- Train animals and individuals to work together: Train animals and individuals to work together, including the match between individuals and animals, the design of integrated training programmes for people and animals, implementation of integrated training programmes, evaluation of integrated training programmes for people and animals against agreed outcomes and evaluating the compatibility between individuals and animals in relation to physical characteristics.
- Deal with challenging people: Work safely and communicate effectively with individuals and groups of people who are in challenging circumstances. This would include recognition of signs of aggression, distress, threatening and how to address them to promote personal safety and that of others.
Optional knowledge and skills
This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of animal trainer. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Dog behaviour: Natural behavioural patterns of dogs, how normal and abnormal behaviour might be expressed according to dog breeds, environment, human-animal interaction and occupation.
- Young horses training: Principles and techiques of educating young horses important simple body control exercises.
- Animal production science: Animal nutrition, agronomy, rural economics, animal husbandry, hygiene and bio-security, ethology, protection and herd health management.
- Breed-specific behaviour of horses: The behaviour and specificities of different horse species.
- Horse anatomy: The study of the anatomical structure and parts of a horse and how they interact.
Optional skills and competences
These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of animal trainer. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Advise customers on usage of care products for pets: Provide advice on basic care products, such as supplements and vitamins, that can be used on various types of pets.
- 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.
- 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.
- Collaborate with animal related professionals: Collaborate with veterinary and other animal related professionals through communication of animal details, case records and summary reports orally or via written or electronic transfer.
- Train horses: Harness, dress and train horses as per the instructions provided. Take into account the age and breed of the horse and the preparation purposes.
- Advise customers on appropriate pet care: Provide information to customers on how to feed and care for pets, appropriate food choices, vaccination needs, etc.
- 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.’
- Evaluate dogs: Assess whether certain dogs are ready to work as a guide dog or not, whether certain dogs should be withdrawn from the training programme, need extra training or a different approach, etc.
- Exercise patience: Have patience by dealing with unexpected delays or other waiting periods without becoming annoyed or anxious.
- Bathe dogs: Prepare dog by removing excess hair, knots and tangles. Bathe and clean a dog’s coat and skin.
- Provide mentorship: Guide and support less knowledgeable or less experienced colleagues.
- Manage a small-to-medium business: Manage the organisational, financial and day-to-day operation of a small-to-medium enterprise.
- Calculate rates per hours: Make simple calculations regarding the money that should be earned in relation to the number of hours worked.
- 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.
- Assess the compatibility of individuals and animals to work together: Ensure work harmony between humans and animals, regarding to physical characteristics, capacity, temperament and potential.
- Design training programmes for animals: Assess the training needs of the animal and select appropriate methods and activities to meet training objectives.
- Advise on animal purchase: Advise clients and customers on the purchase of animals.
- Assist in transportation of animals: Assist with the transportation of animals, including the loading and unloading of animals, the preparation of the transport vehicle, and maintaining the wellbeing of the animal throughout the transport process.
- Protect health and safety when handling animals: Protect health and welfare of animals and their handlers.
- 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.
- Assess customers: Quickly compose a picture of a customers’ personal circumstances, needs and preferences.
- Make decisions regarding the animal’s welfare: Make a choice from several alternative possibilities that promote the animal’s well-being.
- Design plans to address undesirable behaviour in animals: Gather information about the animal behaviour issues, interpret relevant information about the animal, assess the impact of external factors, and assess husbandry/management practices on the animal to develop a plan which tackles undesirable behaviour.
- Select animals for training: Select animals for training using selection criteria including intended outcome of training, age, temperament, species and breed differences. Selection of animals for training includes basic training or training to meet specific objectives.
- Maintain relationships with animal welfare establishments: Ensure good relations with other animal welfare establishments and agencies.
- Create animal records: Create animal records according to industry relevant information and using appropriate record keeping systems.
- Select therapy animals: Identify the right animal with the right temperament appropriate for the therapy.
- 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.
- Clean stalls: Clean stalls to remove all soiled bedding to prevent moisture and fumes from building up and to cut down on potential parasite problems.
- 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.
- Develop an animal handling strategy: Develop plans and strategies to deal with the animal in order to achieve established goals and optimal results.
- Manage personal professional development: Take responsibility for lifelong learning and continuous professional development. Engage in learning to support and update professional competence. Identify priority areas for professional development based on reflection about own practice and through contact with peers and stakeholders.
- Work with veterinarians: Consult veterinarians and assist them in the examination and nursing of animals.
- Care for horses: Provide care of horses.
- Transport horses: Transport horses using safely special vehicles for horse transportation; lead horses to vehicles taking into account the safety of people and horses.
- Budget for financial needs: Observe the status and availability of funds for the smooth running of projects or operations in order to foresee and estimate the quantity of future financial resources.
- Teach young horses: Socialise young horses (cleaning, collaring, bridling, raising feet, etc.), taking into account the safety and welfare of the horse and teacher.
ISCO group and title
5164 – Pet groomers and animal care workers
- Animal trainer – ESCO
- Animal Care and Service Workers : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- What Does an Animal Trainer Do? – Liveabout.com
- Animal Trainer Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More – Climb the Ladder
- Animal Trainer: Job Duties, Employment Outlook, and Training Requirements – Learn.org
- Featured image: Photo by Magda Ehlers