Those precious and perfectly puffy puppies prying their way into your hearts (and eventually, pocketbooks) on TV shows, commercials and movies? All of them—every single wet nose, wiggly butt, slobbery mouth—are being closely watched and controlled (well, that’s the plan) by a seasoned professional known as an animal trainer.
And the various sniffing pooches (known as, well, sniffer dogs) you see at the airports and bus depots scoping out people and their bags (and making you feel mighty nervous whether or not you have something to be nervous about)? They’re also a result of a knowledgeable and highly skilled training—well, that and genetic planning. But it’s not only dogs that are used to detect drugs and bomb materials. Honeybees and mice are also being trained to do the work that’s been typically assigned to their canine pals.
Besides training animals for work in the entertainment and police-work industry, there are many other ways animal trainers can put their knowledge, experience, training and love of animals to good use.
Some other things animal trainers do:
Raise and train service animals- The term “service animal” can be involved in a variety of different “services,” but essentially it’s a very special creature specifically trained to help people with disabilities such as hearing or vision impairments, mental disabilities, severe depression and medical conditions. And while you may think of dogs when it comes to service animals, a lot of different species are excellent in this area: horses, goats, parrots, cats, pigs, ferrets and even iguanas have been trained to help people. And these animals don’t necessarily come to their work naturally; they need dedicated trainers to help them uncover their natural abilities.
Train dogs to locate missing people - Known as “search and rescue dogs,” these canines are involved in natural disasters, mass casualty events and locating missing people. Yes, some dogs seem “built” for finding people (never play hide-and-seek with a dog—so not fun) but they need training to hone their natural-born skills.
Keep zoo animals healthy - You may think this is a vet’s or vet assistant’s job, but zoo animals need to be trained how to accept medical care, as well as let keepers into their area for general housekeeping grooming duties. Oftentimes zoo keepers are the trainers, but sometimes trainers are hired for very specific duties.
Work with police horses- These horses are exposed to a lot of sights, sounds and smells, and they need to be able to keep their cool (just like the officers riding them), and not be afraid by loud noises, smoke, fire, etc. They also need to learn to cope with ceremonial parades, street parades, marches and civil disorder situations.
Public education about animals - All sorts of animals are put to work to help teach the public about the importance of wild animals—possibly endangered ones—through the use of education and shows. Science fairs, presentations at schools and zoos and even birthday parties are a great way to educate the general public about animals.
Military - Whether you work for the military or for a private organization, there is a demand out there for people who train military dolphins and sea lions to rescue lost naval swimmers and locate underwater mines. (And then, of course, there is the rare Navy Seal, but that’s a seal of a different color…)
Working with animals is rewarding, of course, but it can often be a frustrating way to spend your day. What you want the animal to do and what the animal wants to do may be two very different things. (Remember: PETA is watching.) But if you’re an animal lover and have found that you are able to develop a rapport with animals, this may be the job for you.
Granted, it isn’t typically a particularly lucrative career, but if it’s what you really want, you’ll probably end up happy (and with a houseful of animals and a very robust vacuum cleaner).