Companion Animal Internships and Job-Shadowing Benefits and Tips

When looking for a companion animal-related career or applying to veterinary or graduate school, hands-on experience is often required. Internships can be a beneficial tool in preparing for the real-life work environment. It can be a great opportunity to gain experience in an area of interest or major and can teach career and life lessons. Having an internship experience will potentially improve your understanding of your career choices and help you decide what best fits you, as well as improve your chances of landing a job after graduation.

Job shadowing can be another experience builder that can aid in deciding on a career. Job shadowing is when you set up a time with someone in your career of interest and follow that person around for a day to learn the ins and outs of the business. It is a great way to see what day-to-day life in the occupation could potentially be like, and it allows for a better understanding of what you want out of your future career. 


Many college degrees require an internship opportunity to gain experiential learning. Here is a list of benefits that can be acquired from an internship or job-shadowing opportunity:

  • Develop skills for course performance:
    • Better time management
    • Better communication skills
    • Better self-discipline
  • Create networking opportunities for potential jobs
  • Focus career choice
  • Improve focus on job skills
  • Potential job recommendations from previous employer


Many different areas that are related to companion animals can get you the experience you need. Some examples include:

  • Humane Societies/”rescue” organizations
  • Veterinary clinics
  • Dog-training facilities
  • Companion animal food companies (Nestlé Purina, Iams, etc.)
  • Pet stores (PetSmart, Petco, etc.)
  • Dog and cat boarding
  • Research laboratories
  • Dog grooming
  • 4-H companion animal programs
  • Zoos


Each internship experience is different; however, in order to ensure that you get the most out of your opportunity, here are some simple tips to landing an internship and how to act during one:

  • Apply for internships early. It is best to start applying for internships after your sophomore year of college. Some will require applications to be turned in a year in advance, so make sure you know the deadlines for the internships you are most interested in.
  • Get to know your professors. They may know of internship opportunities and can help write good recommendations.
  • Get the most out of the experience. Ask questions and consult with your supervisor often.
  • Understand the expectations for the internship.
  • Keep a positive attitude toward clients and co-workers.
  • Dress and speak professionally. 
  • Accept constructive criticism and learn from it.
  • Upon completion, ask your supervisor for a recommendation for future job applications.

An internship can be an eye-opening experience and could potentially help pave the way for a future career opportunity. “This internship definitely reaffirmed my passion for working with animals and people, and my desire to work as a zookeeper after I graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,” UNL student Natalie Wertz said of her internship at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska. If interested in exploring your passion, speak with your school’s career services and talk to your adviser and professors about potential internship opportunities. 

Lisa Karr-Lilienthal, Ph.D. & Stacy Selko – University of Nebraska-Lincoln


UNL Career Services:
Planning and Documenting Your Internship

University of California Berkeley Internship Tips:
Tips for Internship Success