What To Expect In An Animal Behaviorist School

The interdisciplinary field of animal behavior combines biology and psychology for the translation of animal actions and movements into a way that humans can understand.

Individuals who enjoy working with animals can choose to become animal behaviorists, allowing them to study the intricacies of species’ behaviors within a natural habitat.

Aspiring animal behaviorists need to take the necessary courses at an accredited college in order to increase their competitive edge and career opportunities in this industry.

What to Expect

animal behavioristIndividuals who specialize in the field of animal behavior will need to understand how to successfully examine the mannerisms and actions of animal species around the world, from single-celled organisms to massive mammals.

As scientists who research the interaction of animals, animal behaviorists need to become disciplined in overlapping studies, including:

  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Ecology
  • Ethology
  • Anthropology

Those who are interested in beginning a new career as an animal behaviorist can earn an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or a doctorate at an accredited college or university. Some courses cover the learning process, eating habits, and adaptation of animals, while others focus specifically on companion, wild, or zoo animals.

Educational Prerequisites

Because animal behaviorists need to have a thorough knowledge of reading and writing, colleges require them to fulfill certain educational prerequisites before they are eligible for enrollment. Associate’s degree programs admit applicants who have earned their high school diploma or GED, while some more stringent colleges require potential students to have taken advancement placement courses in high school, such as biology, physics, and chemistry.

Individuals who are interested in enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program need to fulfill additional prerequisites before they are accepted into the program. Programs that offer a bachelor’s degree in animal behavior prefer students to have completed high school algebra, chemistry, and biology. Many programs go a step further and require students to provide their college entrance exam scores.

Applicants for the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs need to present a bachelor or master’s degree in animal science or ecology before admittance is permitted. Ph.D. programs prefer students to understand the basic concepts of genetics, ecology, statistics, and physiology. Some require students to present their GRE scores, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation when applying for enrollment.

Educational Requirements

Aspiring animal behaviorists can choose between an Associate of Applied Science, Bachelor of Science, or Doctor of Philosophy degree program in animal behavior.

Students need to plan on taking two to three years of full-time courses to complete an associate’s degree, four to five years for a bachelor’s degree, and eight years for a doctorate degree.

Associate of Applied Science in Small Animal Care

Some accredited colleges offer an Associate of Applied Science degree for individuals who wish to enter into small animal care. Students learn about practical, scientific, and theoretical concepts for animal care, allowing student to obtain the necessary hands-on experience. Associate’s degree programs focus on the grooming, training, breeding, and feeding of domesticated animals, and coursework includes:

  • Domestic animal physiology
  • Laboratory animal care
  • Small animal care
  • Animal science

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior

For those who wish to learn in-depth about animal behavior, earning a Bachelor of Science degree combines the biological principles and psychological theories needed to succeed in this industry. Students learn effective animal behavior control in a classroom setting and laboratory experimentation, allowing them to study animal behavior in its natural habitat. Coursework may include:

  • Animal eating behavior
  • Animal neurobiology
  • Adaptive behavior
  • Behavior of primates

Doctor of Philosophy in Animal Behavior

Doctorate programs focus on animal adaptation and evolvement in new environments, preparing aspiring animal behaviorists for research positions. Students learn about biology, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, and ecology, taking a more multidisciplinary role for animal behavior research. Required coursework includes:

  • Animal neuroscience
  • Animal observation
  • Animal behavior research methodology
  • Statistical analysis in animal behavior


Even though certification is not required for animal behaviorists to work legally in the United States, some positions hinge on proper certification. Animal behaviorists who want to increase their competitive edge and job opportunities in a specialized sector of this industry should take the Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist exam by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). Individuals who are interested in becoming certified need to have:

  • A minimum of two years of work experience
  • A master’s degree with an animal behavior emphasis
  • Three letters of endorsement

Animal behaviorists who do not have a master’s or doctorate degree in this industry can be certified through other organizations, such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), or the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB).

Career Outlook

Depending on prior experience and educational training, animal behaviorists can find employment in a research setting or as animal trainers, allowing them to work in the entertainment or circus industry. According to a 2012 report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 232,100 animal behaviorists are employed throughout the nation, with this industry’s employment outlook predicted to increase by 15 percent by 2020.

As of 2012, the BLS reports that animal trainers make an annual median wage of $25,270, which can quickly increase with the appropriate credentials and work experience. From training K-9 dogs and service animals to offering obedience training programs, available positions include:

  • Animal Behavior Specialists – $57,710 annual median wage
  • Pet Psychologists – $84,460 annual median wage
  • Zoologists – $57,710 annual median wage
  • Zoo curators – $44,410 annual median wage

With humans continually striving to learn about the behaviors and mannerisms of animals, earning a degree in animal behavior opens many career opportunities in this industry. Individuals who wish to become animal behaviorists can look forward to job stability throughout their careers.

Schools Below That Provide Animal Behaviorist Schooling. Some Provide Other Animal Related Career Training.

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