Programs in animal training prepare people to work with pets and their owners. Students learn how to teach special behaviors to animals. They may also learn how to work with animals who perform in races, competitions, shows, zoos, or circuses.
It's almost impossible not to discuss TV's "Dog Whisperer," renowned dog trainer Cesar Millan, when describing animal training programs. Millions of Americans watch "Dog Whisperer" to watch how Cesar takes misbehaving dogs and teaches them - and their owners - how to behave properly. Cesar's philosophy is that dogs need structure and discipline, as well as love, and to view the owner as the pack leader. As a result, the dogs are less anxious, fearful, and aggressive, and you might even say the same goes for the dogs' owners.
Most animal trainers concentrate on working with dogs, teaching them basic obedience skills. However, you can work with animals as big as elephants. You can even train animals, from cats to kangaroos, to perform in movies and TV shows! Typically, animals are rewarded for certain behaviors with treats and positive words, rather than punished for unwanted behaviors. This is called "positive reinforcement."
Very few colleges and universities offer programs in animal training. Several private career schools offer programs, however, but the quality and focus of these programs vary. Some schools may offer courses within their programs in animal science or equestrian studies. These courses are commonly about animal behavior or animal psychology.
Training animals takes considerable experience and skill. You must also be comfortable and confident around animals. Many animal trainers have been around animals their entire lives. In general, most trainers learn on the job by working as helpers for established animal trainers. They also attend workshops and seminars where they learn a variety of training techniques. These include positive and negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment, animal learning, and sensitization. You also take courses about the animal or animals you wish to focus on. For example, you may study the needs of exotic animals or about different dog breeds and associated behaviors. No matter what your chosen animal is, your courses will offer plenty of hands-on experience.
Many professional animal trainers say that their work is just as much about working with people as it is about working with animals, so good training programs also teach you about human behavior and learning styles. You may also learn basic business skills, such as budgeting, accounting, and advertising.