Animal Trainer

Are you good with animals? Have you been able to teach the family dog to sit or stay or fetch? Good. Now it's time to move on to the next step: teaching the family mountain lion to attack and kill an actor on cue. Well, actually to make it look as if the lion is attacking and killing the actor without harming either. That's the job of an animal trainer.

Animal training is a highly specialized field. Not only do you have to know how to talk to the animals, but you have to know how to talk to a lot of different animals. Once you're talking, though, it's not over. You have to be able to teach whatever animal you're working with the tricks, or behaviors, requested by the director or script.

If the script calls for our friendly neighborhood mountain lion to defend the human family he's adopted, then that's just what the lion has to do. The director may want the lion to jump down on the bad guys from the roof of the family's house, then run around and corner the bad guy against the wall, but not actually attack until the bad guy makes a run for it. The trainer may spend weeks walking the animal through the scene, acclimating it to what it is supposed to do. Once the animal knows its routine, then the actor is brought in to rehearse the scene. Even though these animals, especially the big cats, seem friendly and tame, they are still wild, and accidents have been known to happen. The trainer, who knows the animal better than anyone, is on the set whenever the animal is and is the one who walks the actor through the scene with the animal. As long as there are no surprises to the animal, everything should go off exactly as planned.

It takes years to be a trainer. There are some schools throughout the country that offer specialized courses in animal care and training, but one of the most effective ways to discover if you're cut out for the field is to work directly with the animals. In Hollywood and its outlying areas, there are several animal ranches that provide critters for all types of film and television work. The trainers here are happy to answer questions from people who love and respect animals as much as they do.

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