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If you ask me: A professional and successful animal trainer

People often ask me how to become a professional and successful animal trainer. I’ve learnt a few essential building blocks that I would love to share with you.

☛ Optimal animal welfare is promoted with sensitivity to the individual, and with the realisation that learning happens. No matter whether it’s planned or not, whether we like it or not, when we are present or not. As such we need to always consider this, and give due attention, preferably using data of different kind e.g. behaviour, use of areas, to make evidence-based decisions.

A compassionate, empathetic and successful trainer will know and recognise this, and will share and promote this philosophy this with others. Together we can move forward in a positive and connective way.

Sabrina interacting with Jade, a young Asian elephant, in 2010.

Being an animal trainer means being an animal caregiver. It means your job revolves around the care and welfare and connection to the animals you care for. Together with many other program aspects such as nutrition, an appropriate and engaging environment and attention to social needs and preferences, training is one of the ways that you provide and promote predominantly positive animal welfare.

Being connected in a healthy and happy manner, revolving around care, empathy and compassion, for all involved, including yourself and others you work with. Care for self is key, more on this in a separate post.

An animal trainer should be connected with the direct team, as good record keeping, communication, and evidence-based decision-making and evaluations are at the core of animal care and welfare programs, including animal training. These programs are guided by a strategic plan reflecting contemporary scientific knowledge and animals’ first philosophy.

A good animal trainer is open and listens with all their senses, with the head and heart, and asks if this is the best that they can be, and importantly, letting the student in them never die, to maintain an open attitude to learning and a growth mindset. A good animal trainer recognises that she/he/they have to be and stay coachable, by the animals, and by other people. They have to be able to ask critical questions and challenge the status quo.

Every day ask yourself, "Did I enrich a life today?" Enriching the lives of the animals, your live, and of those around you. Enriching lives through understanding theory and best practice, compassion, empathy and ethics.


The essential building blocks to me are:

✦ Growth mindset

✦ Empathy and compassion

✦ Science & evidence-based

✦ Ethics

which together make you into a caring and successful trainer.

What do you think? Can you relate to these building blocks? Do you have specific building blocks of your own? Let me know!


Who is Sabrina?

Sabrina Brando is owner and director of AnimalConcepts, manages 247 Animal Welfare and is Primate Care Training Program Coordinator with the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance. Her favourite job title however is ‘I am in the business of animal happiness’. For the last 27 years she has been working in and with the global zoo and wildlife profession, including zoos, aquariums, wildlife centres and sanctuaries. Sabrina has a BSc. in Psychology and has a MSc. in Animal Studies, and is currently a PhD student at the University of Stirling in Scotland on the topic of “24/7 across lifespan: zoo animal and human wellbeing”.

Sabrina loves storytelling and writing - particularly about animals, the human-animal connection, and the natural world. She often wears a button with “I love stories”. The button sparks a lot of great conversations and storytelling about animals among many other topics, from people she meets at a conference, to a stranger on a plane. Do you have a story you want to share about the animal(s) you care(d) for, a special friendship you have with your favourite animal, a great action for animals or the planet you were involved in, or anything else that makes your heart sing concerning animals and nature, Sabrina would love to hear from you.

Find out more about Sabrina's work here.


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