How to Become an Animal Behaviorist

Three Parts:Choosing Your Career PathGaining Education and Practical ExperienceFinding Job Opportunities

Animal behaviorists are professionals who study the relationship of animals to their physical environment and other animals.[1] Animal behaviorists come from different academic backgrounds including zoology or ethology, biology, psychology, and veterinary medicine and can work in a variety of settings including labs and private residences.[2] If you are considering pursuing a career as an animal behaviorist, you will likely need extensive academic training and practical experience. But by seriously considering this path, meeting academic and professional requirements, you can have a rewarding career as an animal behaviorist!

Part 1
Choosing Your Career Path

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    Learn about being an animal behaviorist. Animal behaviorists investigate the causes, functions, development and evolution of behaviors of a specific animal or groups of animals.[3] If you like working with animals, this might be a rewarding career path for you.
    • Investigate the different types of work you could do. These include government agencies or other public and private institutions such as universities or museums, or even with pets.[4]
    • Helping animals, their owners, and participating in research projects that help animals or even humans can be incredibly rewarding and make this career path seem less like a “job.”
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    Interview an animal behaviorist. Before you decide to pursue becoming an animal behaviorist, consider meeting someone who is already one. This may help answer questions you have and get you started on the right path, but also guide your goals for the future.[5]
    • Ask questions about how she pursued her career. Inquire about her education and any practical experience she had.[6] If you enjoy learning and striving for specific goals, being an animal behaviorist could be a great option for you.
    • Ask her if it would benefit you to work or volunteer in places such as zoos, research labs, or at vets’ offices.[7]
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    Consider your personality and goals. Consider the ways in which being an animal behaviorist fits into your lifestyle. Factors such as your ultimate goals, time, location, potential demands, and salary may help guide your decision and shape your career path. You might want to ask yourself some of the following questions:
    • Are there physical demands? Depending on your work location and environment, you may be sitting or standing for long hours.[8]
    • Are there emotional demands? If you get easily attached to animals, you may want to consider if it will be easy to separate yourself from the animal in order to do your job effectively.
    • Does being an animal behaviorist fit your personality? Working with animals, their owners, colleagues, authorities or public organizations can be a significant part of your job. If you’re interested in working as a researcher, you may spend significant amounts of time by yourself in a lab.
    • Ask yourself if you prefer to have day-to-day contact with animals and their owners, or if you'd be happier working strictly with animals and other scientists, such as in a research facility.[9]
    • What is the compensation? Animal behaviorists earn on average $61,640.[10] This amount can differ according to your experience and location. Be aware that there may be strong competition for jobs as animal behaviorists, especially within academia.[11]

Part 2
Gaining Education and Practical Experience

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    Finish your Bachelor’s degree. You will need to finish your Bachelor’s degree to pursue a graduate degree or career as an animal behaviorist. Take courses specific to a major in animal behavior or get a degree in a related field such as biology, zoology, psychology, neural sciences, or anthropology.[12]
    • Some universities offer programs towards a Bachelor’s degree in animal behavior science.
    • If your university doesn't have a degree program in animal behavior science, consider getting your education in one of the two fields most directly involved with being an animal behaviorist: ethology and comparative psychology.[13] Ethologists, who are often considered a sub-branch of zoology, specifically study animal behavior, and usually receive training in university departments such as biology, zoology, entomology, or other animal sciences.[14]
    • Other fields closely associated with animal behaviorists are behavioral ecology and anthropology.[15]
    • Take classes that complement being an animal behaviorist. For example, if you are a biology major, you may also want to take classes in psychology and anthropology to expand your understanding of the field.
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    Obtain additional education. Most positions as animal behaviorists require advanced degrees such as a Master of Arts or Science (MA or MS), a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) once you’ve finished your Bachelor’s degree.[16] Getting the right education ensures that you have mastered the required information to optimally perform the job of being an animal behaviorist.[17]
    • Get a graduate degree. Since most animal behavior scientists teach and do research at universities or colleges or in government labs or other institutions, you will probably want to get a graduate degree. Most of these institutions require a PhD, though some may only ask for an MA or MS.[18]
    • Be aware that some universities, such as Indiana University, offer programs specific to becoming an animal behaviorist.[19]
    • The Animal Behavior Society offers a guide to educational programs and other opportunities in animal behavior studies and related fields at
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    Pursue practical experience. Either while you’re obtaining your education or immediately thereafter, consider getting an internship or job that will add practical experience to your coursework.[20] Your university or college can help you find an internship or a residency to complement your education.[21]
    • Understand that many degree programs and employers may require internships or residencies to graduate or start a job.[22]
    • Diversify your internship experiences. This will give you an overview of the different types of work you could do and help you figure out what suits you best. For example, you may want to work for your university lab and pursue an internship at a zoo or government institution for the summer.
    • You can find accredited educational and practical programs at the Animal Behavior Society’s website.[23]
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    Apply for grants and fellowships. If you are a student or have finished your education, submit applications for grants and fellowships. These can help you do any research or other work you may like as an animal behaviorist.
    • You can find grant and fellowship opportunities at different universities and colleges, research institutions, or independent groups. For example, inquire at your local university about fellowship opportunities or look at organizations such as the National Science Foundation or Animal Behavior Society.
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    Inform yourself about current research. Stay on top of current research in the field of animal behavior studies and related fields by attending conferences and reading journals and other trade publications. This can keep you informed of trends that may help you effectively do your job and can also make you attractive to potential employers. You may also be able to find a job through advertisements in publications.
    • Read journals from the field of animal behavior studies. The Association for the Study of Animal Behavior and Animal Behavior Society jointly publish the journal Animal Behavior.[24]
    • Subscribe to journals in fields related to your specific interest such as psychology, zoology, anthropology, or biology.
    • Attend conferences with other animal behaviorists and/ or specialists from related fields. For example, the Association for Animal Behavior holds an annual conference for animal behaviorists.[25] The Animal Behavior Society does as well.[26]

Part 3
Finding Job Opportunities

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    Start your job search early. If you wait until you graduate to start seeking full-time work, you may have trouble securing a position. There is intense competition for many jobs, so the more prepared you are, the better chance you'll have. Start researching organizations with which you may be interested in working before you graduate.
    • Ask educators, colleagues, and friends about potential employers and their experiences.
    • Search online listings, research at a local career center, and attend job fairs at conferences to find other opportunities.
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    Apply for academic jobs. Many of the jobs as an animal behaviorist are at places like universities and research institutions. Because competition for academic positions is strong, apply to several positions that may interest you.[27]
    • Consider options in the following branches: government and private research institutions and universities and colleges.
    • Look at the websites or publications of professional academic associations. These often contain job listings.
    • In some cases, there are online listservs specific to finding jobs in certain fields.
    • Speak with your academic advisor or other colleagues about job openings about which they know.
    • Submit any information requested by the job advertisement. For academic positions, you may need a cover letter, CV, writing samples, and proof of ability to win funding.
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    Market yourself for professional positions. You may prefer a professional position to an academic job. There are many options for animal behaviorists at places such as zoos, aquariums, museums, conservation groups, veterinary offices, and private homes.[28]
    • You may be able to find advertisements for professional positions in academic publications, so check these in addition to other job listings in newspapers and professional recruiting sites. Asking headhunters is also a good idea.
    • Send letters of interest and inquire about internships and full-time animal behaviorist career opportunities to places that interest you.
    • Ask to set up an informational interview with someone who can tell you what the institution looks for in employees and the working environment.
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    Work with pets. You may want to use your skills as an animal behaviorist with pets. You can do this either for a company or a veterinary office or you may want to consider setting up your own company.
    • People who work with pets are called Applied Animal Behaviorists.[29] You will need at least a Master’s degree to pursue this field: Associate Applied Animal Behaviorists have a Master’s degree, while Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists have PhDs.[30]
    • Work with a vet’s office or on your own if you want to be an applied animal behaviorist.
    • If you want to be a vet and treat pets’ behavior, you will need to get a DVM and specialize in treating behavioral problems. Some universities offer specific programs for this field.[31]
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    Network with other professionals. Meeting and talking with other animal behaviorists or professionals from related disciplines can greatly expand your ability to find a job and increase your education. Attend conferences, set up local seminars, and join professional organizations to network with other animal behaviorists.
    • Become a member of organizations such as the Animal Behavior Society or the Association for the Study of Animal Behavior. You may also want to join an organization in your specific discipline.
    • Attend conferences including panels and any social events offered. These can often help you meet new people who may share your interests.
    • Set up a seminar or regular meeting for other animal behaviorists in your local area.

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Categories: Animal Care and Wildlife Occupations