Animal Career Apprentice to Animal Trainer and Student

Diana L Guerrero continues her introduction here at Animal Career Secrets and discusses the tradition of apprenticeships and other steps to becoming an animal trainer.  All content copyrighted 2007 by Diana L Guerrero. Some rights reserved.

Apprenticing usually means shoveling sh**, thawing fish, cleaning buckets, maintaining the exhibits and other duties that take away from an animal trainers day. However, there is a solid reason for the tradition.

Ponder this minute and see if you can come up with a few reasons and I’ll reveal them below.

So, during my quest to get into the college (which I eventually did on the second attempt) I found a private school that was run by the biggest animal actor training firm in the United States. Although the fee was steep and the commute long—I was committed and began at the foundational level—with terrestrial animals.

The facility was located in Riverside, California and most of the big name trainers on the west coast worked there or passed through at the very least. Seated on massive acreage, the place housed reptiles, birds, felines (large and small cats), bears, hyenas, elephants, chimpanzees, orangutans, and a wide assortment of other creatures.Did I mention it was hot? Really hot.

Once we got through the introductory lectures, we then were required to volunteer. That was where the real learning took place. There is nothing to replace experience. Today when people look for credentials—the only thing a good animal person wants to know is if you have what it takes—credentials are good but a good animal person needs savvy, sense, and drive.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from colleagues and animal facilities is that today’s entry applicants have entitlement issues. What they mean is that people believe they can just come into work and don’t have to earn anything. They want everything right away and are not willing to watch, wait, and learn. In fact, at least one prominent animal training program has lost some of its credibility because the school no longer screens heavily as they once did. If anyone can attend there is no guarantee of caliber or drive as there once was. Grades can be a partial indicator of success but animals and those hiring don’t always care how you look on paper.

On many days the temperature at the ranch ranged to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. On those days cleaning was done early and the rest of the day was spent watering animals and learning how to “back-up” trainers. In addition, we were slave labor—building fences, enclosures, ponds, and taking tours through the facility.

The value of such efforts is that the animals get to know you and began to trust you…critical in my opinon. What this meant to me is that when I finally got to work with the animals we already had a foundational relationship.

Okay, did you come up with some ideas of why apprenticing is worthwhile? Here is my list—be sure to add yours by commenting below.

Apprenticing allows you to build a relationship with the animals.

Working this way also exposes your talents to those around you.

Small important nuances are revealed through your experiences—most of which cannot be learned through books or lectures.

Apprentices gain appreciation and realization of what is involved in the particular animal career.

Diana L Guerrero is an animal career specialist and has extensive experience in many areas of the animal world. A well known animal expert, she has worked professionally with animals for over thirty years. Guerrero is the author of several books and writes for a variety of websites including Ark Animals.

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