Animal Behaviorist

Animal behaviorists specialize in animal behavior and conduct research to identify factors affecting behavioral changes. They typically specialize in either livestock, domesticated animals, wild animals, birds, fish, or reptiles. Some specialize in specific animal behaviors, which could include mating, hibernating, or hunting.

Animal behavior is affected by weather, mating, hormones, disease, hunger, and other factors. Animal behaviorists recognize behaviors and attempt to answer these questions:

  • What factors affect behavior?
  • Is animal behavior learned or instinctive?
  • What's the purpose of certain behaviors?
  • Can behavior be modified over time?

Many animal behaviorists focus exclusively on anthrozoology, (the study of how people and animals associate), but they're usually not considered animal behaviorists. Individuals specializing in behavior of domesticated animals are called Applied Animal Behaviorists. These experts alter animal behaviors by modifying aspects of animal and human interactions. For instance, a family with a misbehaving pet may consult with an applied animal behaviorist to identify what factors are influencing it, and what can be done to modify the animal's behavior.

Working Conditions

Animal behaviorists usually conduct research and teach at college/university psychology or biology departments. Some conduct research on animals at various organizations, including pharmaceutical companies. It's not uncommon for animal behaviorists to begin as research assistants.

Animal behaviorists also work at zoos conducting research, designing animal living environments, analyzing behavior, and answering guest questions.

Behaviorists specializing in behavior modification are employed at veterinary clinics, animal shelters, zoos, and private clinics. Certain animal behaviorists train animals seen in movies, performances, and other forms of entertainment.

Career Training and Education

Animal behaviorists typically hold undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, biology, and zoology.

To enter this field, find summer jobs where you can observe and interact with animals, network with animal behaviorists, and volunteer with non-profit organizations that raise awareness about animal behavior.

To specialize in research, you should obtain a doctorate degree in ornithology, sociobiology, behavioral ecology, comparative psychology, ethology, animal husbandry, or veterinary medicine. Most university researchers hold doctorate degrees. Contact the Animal Behavior Society to learn more about animal behavior careers and training programs.

If behavior modification interests you, earn a graduate degree in animal behavior. Applied Animal Behaviorists hold master's degrees, while Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists hold doctorate degrees.

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