Movie animal trainers use their knowledge of animal behavior to train and care for a variety of species. They use positive reinforcement techniques to train animals to perform specific behaviors that are desired for roles in television and movies. They must bring animals out to the set for multiple shots that may be taken throughout a day.
Movie Animal Trainer Duties & Responsibilities
This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:
- Train animals to perform specific tasks.
- Exercise animals.
- Feed animals.
- Monitor animal diet, behavior, and health.
- Maintain training equipment and tools.
- Consult with actors, directors, and others working with animals.
- Adhere to American Humane Association guidelines.
Movie animal trainers must follow guidelines from the American Humane Association to ensure that the animal care provided meets or exceeds industry standards. Trainers provide appropriate physical and mental exercises to keep animals healthy and happy during the hours they are not working on set.
Additional duties for movie animal trainers may include providing food and water, administering medications and supplements, maintaining cages and enclosures, exercising animals, keeping accurate health and behavior records, and transporting animals. Movie animal trainers also must work closely with large animal, small animal, equine, and exotic animal veterinarians to maintain the health of their collection.
Movie animal trainers must be physically fit and capable of working outdoors in changing weather conditions and extreme temperatures. Extensive travel also may be necessary to bring animals to shooting locations, especially if the trainer is not located in an area where movie production is common. Trainers must have the appropriate trucks, trailers, and other equipment to facilitate the safe movement of animals, or they must contract with someone who can provide this service.
Movie Animal Trainer Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track salaries specifically for movie animal trainers. The data, however, does show that animal trainers in California average about $10,000 per year more than the median annual salary for all animal trainers combined. The figures below represent all animal trainers.
- Median Annual Salary: $29,290 ($14.08/hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $55,760 ($26.80/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $20,270 ($9.74/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Education, Training, & Certification
A college degree is not mandatory to enter the field. Most movie animal trainers have a degree in an animal-related field or significant practical experience gained by interning with experienced trainers.
- Education: Common college majors for aspiring animal trainers include animal science, animal behavior, biology, zoology, marine biology, and psychology. The Exotic Animal Training Management program at Moorpark College in California offers a 22-month program that accepts approximately 50 students each year. Degree recipients have gone on to work at major zoos, animal parks, and in Hollywood.
- Training: Movie animal trainers may also gain practical experience from completing zoo animal internships, marine mammal internships, or other animal-related internships and training programs. Interning with an experienced trainer is also a great way to learn the ins and outs of the business, gaining valuable hands-on experience along the way. Ideally, the aspiring animal trainer should pursue a degree, complete several internships, and then apprentice with an experienced professional in the business.
Movie Animal Trainer Skills & Competencies
In addition to knowledge and experience specific to animal behavior and training, there are several soft skills that can help movie animal trainers succeed in the business.
- Patience: The positive reinforcement necessary to mold animal behavior takes time. It's not possible to explain to the animal what to do, so trainers need to work with animals step by step to learn new tasks and behaviors.
- Compassion: To build trust with animals, trainers must genuinely care about their well-being and work to care for them.
- Stamina: The work often is physical, especially when it involves larger animals who are being trained to perform physical tasks.
- Reliability and consistency: Repetition is one of the keys to successfully training an animal, so trainers need to follow through every day on a strict schedule. This trait also benefits a trainer because filmmakers want to work with someone they know is reliable.
- People skills: While training animals is the biggest part of the job, movie animal trainers also need to communicate with directors, actors, and other crew members who work with the animals during filming.
Job opportunities for all animal trainers are projected to increase by about 11% for the decade ending in 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is better than the 7% growth projected for all occupations.
Competition is strong for positions as movie animal trainer positions. Additionally, there has been a shift in the entertainment industry away from using live animals, with more directors choosing to use computer-generated imagery (CGI) to achieve the desired results on the screen.
Movie animal trainers may specialize in working with specific types of animals, such as dogs or marine mammals. They also may work with more varied groups of domestic or exotic species, depending on their personal preferences. Some of the most popular movie animals include big cats, reptiles, dogs, cats, horses, bears, elephants, parrots, farm animals, and birds of prey.
Some animal trainers work primarily in feature films, while others specialize in working with animals for commercials or print ads. Others work in any form of media that is required.
Work schedules are varied. Shoots for television commercials or print ads are more likely to follow regular business hours. Shooting schedules for films or television shows, however, can include any time of day or night, especially when filming on location.
How to Get the Job
Instead of or in addition to a traditional resume, produce a short video that demonstrates your skill with animals.
Gain experience by seeking opportunities through organizations such as the Animal Behavior Institute.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in working as an animal movie trainer also might consider one of the following career paths, listed with median annual salaries:
- Veterinary assistant: $27,540
- Veterinary technician: $34,420
- Zoologist or wildlife biologist: $63,420
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018