Learn About Being an Animal Behaviorist

An animal behaviorist in a training facility teaching a dog to shake hands.

Hero Images / Getty Images

Animal behaviorists, also called ethologists, can work in a wide variety of fields such as animal training, academic research, teaching, publishing, and advertising.

Animal Behaviorist Duties

Animal behaviorists apply principles of animal behavior science while studying how animals interact with each other and their environments. They may research an animal’s methods of communication, instinctual responses, learning methods, psychology, and group interaction skills.

An applied animal behaviorist compiles a case study to determine how an animal’s problematic behavior developed. Their goal is to investigate whether the behavior is a normal one being exhibited at inappropriate times or if it is the result of previous negative experience. To resolve the problem, the behaviorist may suggest various forms of treatment including conditioning, behavior modification, and training.

Animal behaviorists in academia may give lectures to students, supervise lab activities, and conduct and publish their own research projects. They may also collaborate with other researchers and travel to observe animals in the wild if relevant to their studies.

Career Options

Many animal behaviorists work in the area of applied animal behavior, primarily training domestic animals and assisting with the modification of behavioral problems. Applied animal behaviorists may work with companion animals, livestock, laboratory animals, and wildlife. Many animal behaviorists who work in the companion animal training fields are self-employed.

Animal behaviorists with a doctorate may work at colleges or universities as professors and researchers. Additional research opportunities that do not necessarily require a Ph.D. can be found with private health companies, laboratories, the federal government, zoos, aquariums, and museums.

Other career paths for animal behaviorists include media-related options such as working in broadcasting, film, writing, and advertising.

Education and Training

Animal behaviorists generally have a background in biology, psychology, zoology, or animal science. Usually, animal behaviorists pursue an undergraduate degree in one of these areas before seeking an advanced degree in biology or psychology with a concentration in animal behavior. Advanced coursework at the graduate level tends to include learning theory, comparative and experimental psychology, and physiology.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) offers board specialty certification to veterinarians through its American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB). Certification involves a two-year residency program under the supervision of a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and a comprehensive board exam.

The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) offers certification as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) to members who have completed an advanced degree (Masters or Ph.D.) in the behavioral sciences and can document at least five years of practical experience in the field.

Dog trainers also work as animal behaviorists, and while they may not necessarily have advanced degrees, they do tend to have a strong background in canine learning and conditioning techniques. Many are certified through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) or other national groups.

Animal Behaviorist Typical Salary Range

The salary an animal behaviorist earns can vary based on factors such as the type of employment, job location, years of experience, and level of education.

According to SimplyHired.com, the national average salary (as of January 22, 2019) for an animal behaviorist is $69,751, though the salary varies by location, as professional jobs in large cities with high living costs tend to pay more.

Job Outlook

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate out data specifically for animal behaviorists, the outlook for career growth in related fields is expected to be fairly solid. Animal care and service positions are expected to grow at a rate of about 22 percent over the decade from 2016 to 2026, while agricultural and animal science positions will grow at a rate of about 7 percent over the same period, on par with the average profession.

The public's growing interest in animal behavior, specifically as it relates to their own pets, may also push this specific niche career path to grow at an even higher rate.