Careers in Animal Training & Enrichment Fields
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Careers in Animal Training & Enrichment

What is Animal Training and Enrichment?

Animal training emphasizes the shaping of desired behaviors through positive reinforcement. Animal enrichment refers to the structuring of an animal’s environment to provide choices and promote natural behaviors. Taken together, these tools allow us to create outstanding training plans and to develop a more comprehensive approach to behavioral management.

Who needs to know about training and enrichment? Everyone that works with animals! Once considered an "extra", behavioral enrichment and animal training are now considered an indispensable part of animal welfare. Training and enrichment play a central role in animal care, as evidenced by the requirements for licensure by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Both institutions recognize the importance of proper behavioral management. Animal training can greatly improve animal husbandry, facilitating the voluntary cooperation of animals in everything from veterinary procedures to feeding to breeding. Behavioral enrichment enhances the quality of life by reducing stress and encouraging a range of healthy, species-typical behaviors. Together they constitute a crucial component of animal welfare; these tools are used by a wide variety of animal professionals.

What Fields Incorporate Animal Training & Enrichment?

Animal Trainers & Behavioral Consultants

Trainers working with dogs, cats, parrots or other companion animals need to have a detailed knowledge of animal behavior. They also need a deep toolbox of techniques that can be used to modify behaviors. Dealing with problem behaviors often requires changes to the environment or providing new outlets for natural behaviors being performed in inappropriate ways. Groomers, pet sitters and doggie daycare owners also need to be able to manage the behavior of their animals.

Veterinarians and Vet Techs

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians deal with behavioral issues daily, whether they work in an office setting, a lab, a zoo, or the field. Many owners may be creating health or behavioral problems simply because they don't understand their animals. A solid foundation in training and enrichment allows veterinary staff to identify and correct many of these problems. Some technicians have developed behavioral specialties, learning to work with owners to structure the home environment in ways that improve behavior and increase their pet's welfare. Behavioral management goes well beyond simple obedience training.

Zookeepers & Wildlife Educators

Managing wildlife in captivity poses some special challenges. Most species do not adapt easily to close human contact and the sights and sounds of a facility. Caretakers need to train animals to actively participate in their own care using the principles of operant conditioning. Enrichment also plays a key role, encouraging animals to forage, preen and rest in species-appropriate ways.

The outlook for professionals in animal care and service, including animal trainers, is excellent. Employment in these areas is expected to grow 15 percent over the 2012-22 decade, faster than the average for all occupations (source: U.S. Department of Labor). Salaries vary greatly based on the specific field or employer. For example, independent animal trainers may work for $20-50/hour or more.  Animal care workers in a shelter or kennel may earn significantly less.

Who hires animal trainers and behaviorists? They may be self-employed as trainers or behavioral consultants. Behaviorists also work for veterinarians, in zoos and aquaria, the entertainment industry, animal shelters, stables, kennels and the retail pet trade. Sample positions include:

  • Dolphin trainers
  • Exotic animal trainers
  • Shelter workers
  • Veterinarians
  • Veterinary technicians
  • Biologists
  • Zoo keepers
  • Aquarists
  • Dog day care staff
  • Bird trainers
  • Stable workers
  • Kennel technicians
  • Groomers
  • Movie trainers
  • Educators

If you have a professional interest in Animal Training & Enrichment, you may want to explore one or more of these associations for additional information.

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