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Animal Behaviorist


Animal Behaviorist

The study of animal behavior is also known as ethology. Animal behaviorists can work in a wide variety of fields such as animal training, academic research, teaching, publishing, and advertising.


Animal behaviorists apply the principles of animal behavior science while studying how animals relate to each other and to their environment. 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 particular problematic behavior developed. Their goal is to investigate whether the behavior is a normal one simply being exhibited at inappropriate times or if it is the result of a prior negative experience. To resolve the problem, the behaviorist may suggest various forms of 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 wild animals. Many animal behaviorists working in the companion animal training fields are self-employed.

Animal behaviorists with a Ph.D. may work at colleges or universities as professors and researchers. Additional research opportunities not necessarily requiring a Ph.D. may 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 will pursue an undergraduate degree in one of these areas first, and then go on to seek 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. Additional benefits to members include a subscription to the international journal Animal Behaviour, a quarterly ABS newsletter, and conference invitations.

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.


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

According to SimplyHired.com, the national average salary for an animal behaviorist is $36,000. In some cities, the average is significantly higher, with San Francisco averaging about $49,000 and New York about $43,000.

Indeed.com cites a much higher average salary of $64,000, with San Francisco at $78,000 and New York $74,400.

The variation in average salary may be due to the data included; some salary calculators may or may not include certain job titles used by animal behaviorists such as trainer, veterinarian, or animal scientist.

Job Outlook

While the Bureau of Labor and Statistics does not separate the specific career of Animal Behaviorist from the category of Animal Care and Service, the outlook for career growth in related fields is expected to be excellent. In fact, the specific subgroup of “animal trainers” on the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook has a projected growth rate of 20% from 2008 to 2018.

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