Animal Behavior and Training Careers

Relative Skills and Interests: Good communication, strong animal handling skills and ability to read animal body language, a love for working with animals and their guardians, patience, ability to adapt quickly and make decisions, physical fitness

Position: Dog Trainer

Job Description: Dog trainers work with pet guardians to help establish positive behaviors in animals.  Some people think of training as teaching “tricks,” but the most popular commands (sit, stay, down) are taught to better a dog’s manners.  There are many different styles of training, but the most effective and humane styles use marker-based training protocols, which encourage desired behaviors using positive reinforcement.

Opportunities: Dog trainers can work independently, as part of a collaborative, or within an animal-related business or organization (at an animal shelter, for instance).

Education and Training Needed: People tend to use the term “dog trainer” very loosely, but unless they list their credentials, that can mean just about anything.  Dog trainers who bear the CPDT credential are Certified Pet Dog Trainers, and have been approved by a professional licensing board.  Only humane training methods are allowed and trainers are required to complete 300 hours of training experience, provide references, and maintain continuing education coursework.


Position: Horse Trainer

Job Description: Some horse trainers ready animals for a variety of competitive equine sports, including dressage and show jumping.  Others work with race horses. Trainers will also supervise workers who provide general care to the horses. Similar to dog training, there are some individuals who use more “corrective” training methods, though there is a general movement towards more gentle and humane methods.

Opportunities: Horse trainers can work independently, as part of a collaborative, or within an animal-related business or organization.

Education and Training Needed: To become a certified horse trainer, one must take and pass a state exam that has both a written and a practical (barn) component.  Horse trainers should have plenty of experience working with horses, including handling, grooming, and tacking them.


Position: Behaviorist

Job Description: Animal behaviorists study the behavior of both domestic and wild animals.  Those who study the behavior of companion animals frequently assist pet owners in managing problems, especially those in dogs and cats.  Behaviorists who study wildlife may work in the field of environmental science, from the preservation of natural resources to managing wildlife sanctuaries.

Opportunities: Behaviorists can work independently or as part of an organization/business.  Those who focus on research may work in colleges and universities.  Behaviorists can also be found working in the field, studying animals in their natural environment.  They may also utilize their knowledge by working in zoos and aquariums, to provide appropriate mental stimulation for the resident animals.

Education and Training Needed: Most animal behaviorists have an undergraduate degree in Animal Science or Psychobiology, plus an advanced degree (Masters or PhD) in a specialized field, depending on their concentration.  There are a few licensing boards which oversee and validate people who use this title for their work, such as the IAABC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).  One can also become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.


Position: K9 Unit Officer

Job Description: A K9 officer is a police officer who works directly with dogs who are trained to do one or more jobs, including bomb detection and the protection of officers.  Though these dogs are generally trained by specialized dog trainers, K9 officers must be able to implement commands and handle their dogs in a variety of potentially stressful and dangerous situations.

Opportunities: Police departments

Education and Training Needed: Generally, K9 officers have an Associates degree in criminal justice and additional training though a police academy. Most have previous experience as a uniformed police officer, and undergo additional training to work directly with their canine sidekicks.


Position: Search and Rescue Trainer

Job Description: A search and rescue trainer is not necessarily a police officer, but they do work closely with law enforcement, as the trained dogs work directly with police officers.  These dogs are trained to air scent for missing persons as well as deceased persons, particularly in the cases of natural disaster (earthquakes and snow storms, for example).

Opportunities: Police departments; agencies that work with police departments

Education and Training Needed: Some search and rescue trainers are police officers, though some have previous experience in traditional dog training.  To further their education, search and rescue trainers can enroll in specialized programs.


Position: Service Animal Trainer

Job Description: A service animal trainer is essentially a specialized dog trainer. They teach basic manners, but also special commands appropriate to the dog’s field of work.  They may also select animals to begin a training program: those who show a certain knack for service jobs. Animals are trained specifically for jobs that include guiding the vision or hearing impaired as well as wheel chair bound individuals or people with seizure disorders.

Opportunities: Service animal trainers may work independently or as part of a collaborative training organization.  Most trainers network with social services agencies that can help match people in need of a service animal with the right canine assistant.

Education and Training Needed: Most service animal trainers have previous experience in traditional dog training.  To further their education, service animal trainers can enroll in specialized programs that last from 6 weeks to 2 years.

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