Can you become a trainer without the degree?

Dolphin Trainer

Can You Become a Trainer Without The Degree?

Is it possible to become a trainer without getting a degree in psychology or one of the life sciences (the preferred degrees of most facilities)? What if you have no degree? Can you get hired? The short answer is, yes!

Marine mammal trainers are very strong individuals. They possess a unique set of characteristics that allow them to achieve remarkable things. They do their best to set themselves up to succeed and don’t let anything deter them. This mindset is what has allowed many trainers with an unrelated degree or no degree at all, to have successful careers in the industry .

In 1964 Sea Life Park Hawaii and SeaWorld San Diego both opened their doors to the general public. They had the pools, they had the animals, but who was going to do the training? Park guests were ready to see an amazing show, which could only be accomplished through successful training. The pressure was on and people from all backgrounds jumped on board.

[Learn more about SeaWorld’s history]

Trainers in this era worked with a “trial-by-error” strategy. Try something, if it works – do it again, if it doesn’t – don’t do it again. Because nobody really knew what being a “good trainer” meant, people with different backgrounds we’re hired. There wasn’t a solid “trainer job description” because nobody new what the description would entail.

So the industry was created without the foundation we have today. That’s not uncommon, however. When something new begins, we encounter flaws and problems and improve on it. Marine mammal training will be completely different (and hopefully better) in fifty years. In 1964 and the years past, this new industry allowed college degree holders and non-college degree holders employment. If you were 18, could work hard, and had the desire, you were a qualified applicant.

As time progressed and the fundamentals of marine mammal training took shape, psychology became a popular background for new hires. However, because of the industry’s young age and it’s history with hiring a variety of people, many facilities still accept “non-psychology” degree holders. If you think about it, the people who started in 1964 are now running the companies you want to work for. Since they grew up in that culture, they are probably more willing to accept the graduate with an Economics Major.

Another reason it is possible to gain employment without a psychology degree is that it acts as only one of the deciding factors. Marine mammal trainers will always have to know how to train marine mammals. A degree in psychology can help them with this. However, more and more often we are seeing the role of the marine mammal trainer include dancing, acting, speaking, and acrobatic skills. A psychology major cannot help you with this. This degree also can’t help you if you don’t look the part! Marine facilities hire people who are physically fit and look good when their face is on the jumbo-tron. With public perception being a key factor in the company’s bottom line, a background in the arts, a nice physique, and beautiful face may prove more appealing than a piece of paper that says “BS in Psychology.”

There is also no consistent correlation with good animal trainers and psychology degree holders. Understanding animal psychology and behavior often occurs outside the classroom. In fact, we believe that the best type of learning is hands-on. Internships and volunteer opportunities put you in a position to expedite your understanding of operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. It is not the degree marine facilities are looking for, but what knowledge you have on the subject. There are plenty of incredible animal trainers who have never sat in a psychology class in their life.

So, now you know that you can become a trainer without the psych degree. However, if you want to have the best chance at becoming a marine animal trainer, you should, at the very least, include some psychology courses in your higher education. This coupled with the above-mentioned attributes will put you in a good position when it is time to apply.

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  • I’ve been on the hiring end many years, yes, you can get hired without a degree, but your swimming ability, marine mammal experience and work history must put you ahead all the others. If everything else was equal, the degreed person gets preference over non degreed

  • Hello! Thank you for your website, it’s very helpful! Given the opportunity between these two degrees, which do you recommend with the ultimate goal of being a dolphin/whale trainer: (1) animal behavior/ethology or (2) animal science, zoology. Thank you again!

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