Most animal caretakers learn on the job. Still, many employers prefer to hire people who have experience with animals. Zookeeper and marine mammal trainer positions require formal education. Most animal care and service worker positions do not require formal education, but many animal care facilities require at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Although pet groomers typically learn by working under the guidance of an experienced groomer, they can also attend a licensed grooming school. The length of each program varies with the school and the number of advanced skills taught.
Most zoos require keepers to have a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal science, or a related field. Animal trainers usually need a high school diploma or the equivalent, although some positions may require a bachelor’s degree. For example, marine mammal trainers usually need a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, animal science, biology, or a related field.
Most animal caretakers learn through short-term on-the-job training. They begin by doing basic tasks and work up to positions that require more responsibility and experience. Some animal caretakers may receive training before they enter their position. Pet groomers often learn their trade by completing an informal apprenticeship, usually lasting 12 to 20 weeks, under the guidance of an experienced groomer.
All workers must be compassionate when dealing with animals and their owners. They should like animals and must treat them with kindness. They should understand pet owners’ needs so they can provide services that leave the owners satisfied. Some animal caretakers may need to deal with distraught pet owners; for example, caretakers working in animal shelters may need to reassure owners looking for a lost pet. Many animal caretakers and all animal trainers need to be patient when teaching or dealing with animals that do not respond to commands. Animal trainers must have problem-solving skills when teaching an animal obedience and other behaviors. They must assess whether the animals are responding to the trainer’s teaching methods and identify which methods are most successful. Stamina is important for animal trainers because their work often involves kneeling, crawling, bending, and occasionally lifting heavy supplies, such as bags of food.