An animal trainer is a person who trains animals to perform specific acts in response to conditions or stimuli. Training may be for the purpose of companionship, detection, protection, or entertainment.
An animal trainer will usually use the control of food or other rewards desired by the animal to condition to the animal to respond in a desired way. Generally, animals are selected for training to make maximum advantage of their natural attributes, sometimes far in excess of those of humans. For example, the very sensitive olfactory (sense of smell) abilities make dogs excellent candidates to train for hunting or search and rescue functions.
Seeing eye dogs, and other types of service dogs, are carefully trained to utilize both their sensory skills and the protective instincts of dogs (as pack animals) to bond with a human and help that person to offset a disability in daily life. The use of service animals, especially dogs, is an every-growing field, with wide range of special adaptations.
Organizations such as the American Humane Association monitor the training and use of animals such as those used in the entertainment industry. The Patsy Award (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) was originated by the Hollywood office of the in 1939. They decided to honor animal performers after a horse was killed in an on-set accident during the filming of the Tyrone Power film Jesse James.
The award now covers both film and television and is separated into four categories: canine, equine, wild and special. The special category encompasses everything from goats to cats to pigs. One famous animal trainer, Frank Inn, was the proud owner of over 40 Patsy awards.
Patience and repetition are critical components of successful animal training.
Inn's most famous animal was Higgins, who came from the
Burbank, California Animal Shelter. Inn began training animals while incapacitated due to an automobile accident. Higgins starred in the Petticoat Junction sitcom in the 1960s and the first two Benji films in 1974 and 1977.
In the United States, use of selected inmates in prisons to train service dogs has proved a valuable resource to service animal agencies. In addition to adding to the short-supply of service animals, such programs have produced benefits in improved socialization skills and behavior of inmates.
Lifetime bonds are often made between trainers and animals. The ashes of Higgins were buried with trainer Inn when he died in 2002.