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How to Become an Animal Care and Service Worker

Most animal care and service workers 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 one of 50 state-licensed grooming schools. 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. 

Dog trainers and horse trainers typically qualify by taking courses at community colleges or vocational and private training schools. 


Most animal care and service workers 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 care and service workers may receive training before they enter their position. For example, caretakers in shelters can attend training programs through the Humane Society of the United States and the American Humane Association. Pet groomers often learn their trade by completing an informal apprenticeship, usually lasting 12 to 20 weeks, under the guidance of an experienced groomer.   


Although not required, certifications available in many of these occupations may help workers establish their credentials and enhance their skills. For example, several professional associations and hundreds of private vocational and state-approved trade schools offer certification for dog trainers. The National Dog Groomers Association of America offers certification for master status as a groomer. Both the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International offer a home-study certification program for pet sitters. Marine mammal trainers should be certified in SCUBA. 

Work Experience

For many caretaker positions, it helps to have experience working with animals. Nearly all animal trainer and zookeeper positions require candidates to have experience with animals. 

Important Qualities

Compassion. All workers must be compassionate when dealing with animals and their owners. They should like animals and must treat them with kindness.

Customer-service skills. Animal care and service workers should understand pet owners’ needs so they can provide services that leave the owners satisfied. Some animal care and service workers 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.

Detail oriented. Workers must be detail oriented because they are often responsible for keeping animals on a strict diet, maintaining records, and monitoring changes in animals’ behavior. 

Patience. Many animal caretakers and all animal trainers need to be patient when teaching or dealing with animals that do not respond to commands.

Problem-solving skills. 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. Stamina is important for animal care and service workers because their work often involves kneeling, crawling, bending, and, occasionally, lifting heavy supplies, such as bags of food.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition