Workers in obedience schools and for obedience programs are called “animal trainers.” Animal trainers work with animals and their owners or caretakers to modify bad behavior, train the animals in basic or advanced commands, or to prepare the animals for shows (such as dog competitions or circus acts).
The job is a great choice for an animal lover with outstanding patience and communications skills. Most employers prefer some kind of training, formal or informal, but some trainers learn on the job. Approximately 40% of animal trainers are self-employed. There are several programs around the country which offer classes and/or certificates in obedience training.
Animal trainers usually specialize in one area. Examples include:
- Horseback riding
- Assisting persons with disabilities
- Security training (including drug, bomb, and fire detection)
Animal trainers condition their animals to respond to certain commands. They usually use positive reinforcement (such as a treat, a belly-rub, or a positive noise) at the precise moment the animal performs the requested action – this is what is meant by “conditioning.” Training may take weeks, months, or even years.
The work can be hazardous and unpleasant. Animal care workers may clean cages and animals, hold or restrain animals (which may result in cuts and bites), and move around a lot during work. Additionally, working with difficult animals and owners can be a trying experience.
About 20% of the 151,000 animal care and service workers in 2002 were animal trainers. Job prospects are good, since more people are spending more money on their pets. The field is also expanding in areas such as feline obedience training. Median hourly earnings for trainers in 2002 were $11.03; the top ten percent earned over $21.65/hour.