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How to Become an Animal Behaviorist

An animal behaviorist is an expert in understanding and modifying animal behavior, from household pets to wildlife, improving their well-being.

These professionals play a vital role in animal care, addressing behavior issues, conservation, and captive animal rehabilitation.

This step-by-step guide will lead you toward a fulfilling career as an animal behaviorist. We’ll cover roles, education, experience, and certifications, offering a roadmap to make a positive impact on animals’ lives.

1. Step 1: Understand the Role of an Animal Behaviorist

A. Responsibilities and Duties

Animal behaviorists are responsible for a wide range of tasks aimed at enhancing the behavior and well-being of animals.

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Their duties may include assessing and diagnosing behavioral issues in animals, developing and implementing behavior modification plans, and providing guidance to pet owners or animal care facilities.

They often collaborate with veterinarians to address medical and behavioral issues, ensuring a holistic approach to animal health.

In essence, animal behaviorists are the problem solvers when it comes to understanding and improving animal behavior, whether it’s addressing anxiety in a family dog or developing enrichment programs for animals in captivity.

B. Types of Animals Behaviorists Work With

Animal behaviorists work with a diverse array of animals, from domestic pets to wildlife. They may specialize in companion animals like dogs and cats, helping to resolve behavioral issues such as aggression, anxiety, or phobias.

Some focus on working with exotic animals, like zoo animals or marine mammals, where they address issues related to captivity and environmental enrichment.

Wildlife behaviorists may engage in conservation efforts, studying and preserving the natural behavior of wild animals.

The types of animals behaviorists work with are incredibly varied, making this field exciting and rewarding for those with a passion for animals.

C. Work Settings

Animal behaviorists can be found working in a variety of settings, each offering unique challenges and opportunities.

Many animal behaviorists work in private practice, providing consultations to pet owners seeking guidance on their pets’ behavior.

Others find employment in animal shelters, helping to assess and rehabilitate animals in need of behavioral intervention to increase their chances of adoption.

Some work in zoos and aquariums, enhancing the well-being of captive animals and developing enrichment programs.

Research institutions and conservation organizations also employ animal behaviorists to study and protect wildlife.

The versatility of work settings allows aspiring behaviorists to choose the environment that aligns with their interests and passions, making this field incredibly versatile.

2. Step 2: Educational Requirements

A. Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Field

To embark on a career as an animal behaviorist, the first step is typically obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Common majors include animal science, biology, psychology, zoology, and ethology.

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These programs provide a foundational understanding of animal biology and behavior, setting the stage for more specialized knowledge in later stages of education.

During your undergraduate studies, it’s crucial to take courses that delve into animal behavior, as this knowledge will form the basis of your future work as an animal behaviorist.

B. Pursuing a Master’s Degree

While a bachelor’s degree is the starting point, many aspiring animal behaviorists opt to pursue a master’s degree to gain more specialized knowledge and hands-on experience.

Master’s programs in animal behavior offer in-depth coursework and research opportunities, enabling students to explore a variety of species and behavioral issues.

This advanced education equips individuals with the skills and expertise necessary to address complex animal behavior problems and conduct original research in the field.

Furthermore, a master’s degree can enhance your career prospects and make you a more competitive candidate for job opportunities.

C. Doctoral Programs and Specializations

For those with a deep passion for animal behavior and a desire to become experts in their chosen field, doctoral programs provide the highest level of education and specialization.

Doctoral programs, such as a Ph.D. in animal behavior, allow you to conduct extensive research and contribute to the advancement of the field.

These programs often offer opportunities for specialization, enabling you to focus on specific areas of animal behavior, whether it’s working with certain species or delving into particular behavioral issues.

Specializations can open doors to more niche career opportunities and research projects, making you a sought-after professional in the animal behaviorist community.

3. Step 3: Gain Relevant Experience

A. Internships and Volunteer Work

Internships and volunteer opportunities are invaluable for aspiring animal behaviorists. These experiences allow you to work directly with animals and apply the knowledge you’ve gained through your educational journey.

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Look for opportunities with animal shelters, rescue organizations, or research institutions that focus on animal behavior. These roles offer hands-on experience in assessing, training, and working with a variety of animals.

Additionally, internships and volunteer work help you build a network of contacts in the field, which can be instrumental in securing future job opportunities.

B. Shadowing an Experienced Animal Behaviorist

Shadowing experienced animal behaviorists can provide unique insights and mentorship in the field. This hands-on approach allows you to observe professionals as they interact with animals, assess behavior, and implement training techniques.

It’s an opportunity to learn from those who have been working in the field for years and gain practical knowledge that goes beyond what textbooks can provide.

By shadowing seasoned experts, you can better understand the nuances of working with animals and develop essential skills that will serve you well in your career as an animal behaviorist.

C. Building a Portfolio

As you accumulate experience, it’s essential to build a portfolio that showcases your work and accomplishments. Include case studies, before-and-after documentation of behavior modification, and any research projects you’ve undertaken.

A strong portfolio not only demonstrates your expertise to potential employers but also serves as a record of your growth and capabilities as an animal behaviorist.

Whether you’re seeking job opportunities or considering self-employment, a well-organized portfolio can be a powerful tool in illustrating your skills and the positive impact you’ve had on animals’ lives.

4. Step 4: Develop Animal Behaviorist Skills and Knowledge

A. Understanding Animal Behavior

One of the fundamental pillars of becoming a successful animal behaviorist is a deep understanding of animal behavior. This involves not only the ability to interpret the actions and reactions of animals but also to comprehend the underlying scientific principles.

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As you progress in your education and career, take the time to study various animal species, their natural behaviors, and how they adapt to different environments.

Understanding the intricacies of animal behavior will enable you to identify issues and devise effective strategies for behavior modification and enrichment.

B. Learning Training and Conditioning Techniques

Training and conditioning techniques are at the core of an animal behaviorist’s toolkit. These skills are vital for modifying behavior, whether you’re working with a pet dog, a captive dolphin, or any other animal.

As you advance in your journey, you’ll need to master various training methods, including positive reinforcement, clicker training, and operant conditioning.

Learning these techniques is essential for guiding animals toward desired behaviors, resolving behavior problems, and promoting positive interactions.

Additionally, staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in training and conditioning methods is crucial to providing the best care and support for the animals you work with.

C. Animal Behaviorist Communication Skills

Effective communication is key to success as an animal behaviorist. Not only do you need to understand and interpret animal behavior, but you also must convey your insights and recommendations to pet owners, caregivers, and other stakeholders.

Strong interpersonal skills are essential for building trust and facilitating cooperation with clients. The ability to explain complex behavioral concepts in a way that is easily understood is a valuable asset.

Additionally, collaboration with other professionals, such as veterinarians, requires clear and concise communication to ensure the well-being of animals.

Developing your communication skills is an integral part of your journey to becoming a proficient and respected animal behaviorist.

5. Step 5: Networking and Professional Associations

A. Joining Relevant Associations

Joining relevant professional associations is a crucial step in your journey to becoming a successful animal behaviorist.

These organizations, such as the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) or the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), provide a wealth of resources, networking opportunities, and access to the latest industry trends.

Being a member of these associations can enhance your credibility and provide you with a supportive community of like-minded individuals.

These connections can be invaluable in your career, offering mentorship and guidance while helping you stay up-to-date with the ever-evolving field of animal behavior.

B. Attending Conferences and Seminars

Attending conferences and seminars in the field of animal behavior is an excellent way to deepen your knowledge and expand your professional network.

These events bring together experts, researchers, and fellow animal behaviorists, creating a platform for sharing insights and discoveries.

By participating in conferences and seminars, you can stay informed about cutting-edge research, best practices, and emerging trends.

Moreover, these gatherings offer a chance to engage in meaningful discussions and learn from the experiences of seasoned professionals, fostering personal and career growth.

C. Building a Professional Network

Building a robust professional network is a cornerstone of success in the field of animal behavior. Connect with colleagues, mentors, and other professionals who share your passion for animals and behavior.

Networking can lead to job opportunities, collaborations on research projects, and invaluable guidance as you navigate your career.

Foster relationships with veterinarians, animal trainers, and caregivers, as these connections can lead to referrals and partnerships.

The support and insights you gain from your network can be a valuable asset in your journey to becoming a respected and influential animal behaviorist.

6. Step 6: Obtaining Certification

A. Available Certifications

Obtaining certification in animal behavior is a significant milestone for aspiring professionals. Several reputable organizations offer certifications that can boost your credibility and career prospects.

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Notable certifications include the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) from the Animal Behavior Society, the Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, and the Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) from the International Association of Canine Professionals.

These certifications cover a wide range of species and behavioral issues, allowing you to specialize in the area that aligns with your interests and expertise.

B. Animal Behaviorist Requirements and Exams

Each certification program comes with its own set of requirements and exams that you must fulfill to earn your certification. These typically include a combination of educational prerequisites, hands-on experience, and a rigorous examination process.

The exams are designed to assess your knowledge, skills, and ability to apply behavior modification techniques effectively.

By meeting these requirements and successfully passing the exams, you demonstrate your commitment to professionalism and your readiness to address complex behavioral challenges.

C. Benefits of Certification as An Animal Behaviorist

Earning a certification in animal behavior offers a multitude of benefits. Firstly, it enhances your credibility and demonstrates your commitment to ethical practices and continuing education.

Certified professionals are more attractive to potential employers, clients, and organizations seeking expertise in animal behavior.

Additionally, certification can lead to higher earning potential and increased job opportunities. It also provides a sense of accomplishment, as you join a community of certified professionals dedicated to improving the lives of animals.

By holding a certification, you position yourself as a trusted and knowledgeable expert in the field, ultimately contributing to the welfare of animals and your own career success.

7. Step 7: Job Search and Application

A. Preparing a Resume and Cover Letter

Crafting a compelling resume and cover letter is the first step in your job search as an animal behaviorist.

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Your resume should highlight your education, experience, certifications, and any specialized training. Tailor your cover letter to the specific job you’re applying for, emphasizing how your skills and knowledge align with the requirements of the position.

Use action words and quantify your achievements where possible. A well-crafted resume and cover letter can make a strong first impression on potential employers and set you apart from other candidates.

B. Animal Behaviorist Job Search Strategies

When searching for job opportunities as an animal behaviorist, cast a wide net. Explore job boards, university websites, and professional association resources. Don’t limit your search to one geographic area; the field offers opportunities globally.

Networking can be a powerful strategy; reach out to colleagues, mentors, and professionals you’ve met during your journey.

Join relevant online forums and groups to stay updated on job openings and connect with potential employers.

Be proactive in your job search, regularly checking for new positions and submitting applications to maximize your chances of landing your ideal job.

C. Interview Tips

Interviews are your chance to shine and demonstrate your passion for animal behavior. Before the interview, thoroughly research the organization and the specific role you’re applying for.

Be prepared to discuss your education, experience, and how your skills align with the job requirements.

Expect questions about your approach to behavior modification and ethical considerations. Showcase your communication skills, as they are vital in this field.

Finally, bring a portfolio showcasing your work and achievements. Be confident, professional, and enthusiastic during the interview, and don’t forget to ask questions to learn more about the organization and the team you might be joining.

Following up with a thank-you note or email after the interview is a professional courtesy that can leave a positive impression.

8. Step 8: Continuing Education

A. Importance of Staying Current

In the dynamic field of animal behavior, staying current with the latest developments and research is crucial. As an animal behaviorist, it’s vital to continuously update your knowledge to provide the best possible care for animals.

The understanding of animal behavior is an ever-evolving science, and new insights into behavior modification techniques are continually emerging.

By staying current, you can ensure that your methods are up-to-date, ethical, and in line with the best practices in the field.

B. Workshops, Webinars, and Courses

Continuing education opportunities abound for animal behaviorists. Workshops, webinars, and courses provide accessible ways to expand your knowledge and skills.

These resources cover a wide range of topics, from specific species and behavioral issues to advanced training techniques and the latest research findings.

Online platforms and institutions offer a variety of options, allowing you to choose the courses that best match your interests and career goals.

Engaging in these learning opportunities not only enhances your expertise but also demonstrates your commitment to professional growth.

C. Specializations and Advanced Training

As you progress in your career, consider exploring specializations and advanced training to further hone your skills and stand out in the field.

Specializations can range from working with specific animal species, such as dogs, cats, or exotic animals, to addressing particular behavioral issues, like aggression or phobias.

Advanced training may include pursuing a Ph.D. in animal behavior or delving into emerging areas of study. These specializations and advanced training open doors to more niche career opportunities and enable you to become a recognized expert in your chosen area.

By continually advancing your education, you not only enrich your understanding of animal behavior but also increase your value and impact as an animal behaviorist.

9. Step 9: Starting Your Animal Behaviorist Career

A. Job Opportunities

As you embark on your animal behaviorist career, you’ll find a wide range of job opportunities awaiting you.

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You can seek employment in animal shelters, rescue organizations, and pet training centers where you’ll work with pet owners to address behavior issues in companion animals.

Zoos, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and aquariums often employ animal behaviorists to enhance the well-being of captive animals.

Opportunities also exist in academic and research settings, allowing you to contribute to our understanding of animal behavior through studies and experiments.

By exploring these job opportunities, you can begin making a meaningful impact on animals’ lives.

B. Self-Employment and Consulting

Self-employment and consulting are appealing options for animal behaviorists who desire more independence and flexibility in their careers.

You can establish your own practice, offering behavior modification and training services to pet owners or organizations. Running a consulting business allows you to tailor your services to your specific expertise and interests.

Additionally, it can be a fulfilling way to make a difference in the lives of animals while managing your own schedule.

Self-employment and consulting offer a dynamic career path where you have the freedom to grow your practice and develop a loyal clientele.

C. Career Growth

The field of animal behavior offers ample opportunities for career growth and advancement. As you gain experience and reputation, you can take on more challenging cases, work with a broader range of species, or become a specialist in a particular niche.

Leadership roles, such as becoming the head behaviorist in an organization, or teaching and mentoring the next generation of animal behaviorists are also potential career growth options.

Furthermore, pursuing a Ph.D. and contributing to academic research can lead to groundbreaking discoveries and academic achievements.

The animal behaviorist profession is not only rewarding in its impact on animals but also in its potential for professional growth and development.

D. Animal Behaviorist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, animal behaviorists earned an annual median salary of $58,040 in May 2016. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,240, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,640.

Most animal behaviorists work in veterinary clinics or offices, research laboratories, or zoos. Some may also be self-employed.

Animal behaviorists typically have a doctoral degree in animal behavior or a related field. They must be able to understand and interpret scientific data on the behavior of animals.

They must also be able to communicate with people who own or work with animals. Animal behaviorists often conduct research on new ways to train and handle animals.

10. Step 10: Resources and Tools for Animal Behaviorists

A. Recommended Books and Journals

To excel as an animal behaviorist, it’s essential to have access to a wealth of knowledge. Recommended books and journals can be your best companions on this journey.

Texts like “The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior, and Interactions with People” by James Serpell and “Don’t Shoot the Dog!” by Karen Pryor offer in-depth insights into animal behavior and training.

Scientific journals such as the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science provide the latest research findings.

These resources can be invaluable for staying updated, enhancing your understanding, and honing your skills.

B. Useful Websites and Software

In the digital age, staying informed and efficient is easier than ever with the help of websites and software designed for animal behaviorists.

Websites like the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) offer valuable information, guidelines, and networking opportunities.

Software tools like data analysis programs, video recording, and analysis software, and even behavioral tracking applications can aid in research and practical work.

Leveraging these resources can streamline your work and help you stay organized and informed.

C. Equipment and Tools

For hands-on work with animals, the right equipment and tools are essential. Animal behaviorists often require tools like clickers, training aids, and behavioral modification equipment.

For those working with exotic animals, specialized tools like handling equipment or remote-operated cameras may be necessary.

When working with dogs, collars, and harnesses designed for training and safety are crucial. Proper equipment not only ensures your safety and the animals’ well-being but also contributes to effective behavior modification.

Investing in quality equipment and tools is an integral part of your role as an animal behaviorist.

11. Frequently Asked Questions about Animal Behaviorists

What is an animal behaviorist?

An animal behaviorist is a professional who specializes in understanding, analyzing, and modifying the behavior of animals. They work with a wide range of species, addressing behavioral issues and enhancing the well-being of animals in various settings.

What types of animals do animal behaviorists work with?

Animal behaviorists work with a diverse array of animals, including companion animals (e.g., dogs and cats), exotic animals (e.g., zoo animals and marine mammals), and wildlife. Their expertise is applied to pets, captive animals, and animals in the wild.

How do I become an animal behaviorist?

To become an animal behaviorist, you typically start with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, followed by pursuing a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in animal behavior. Gaining hands-on experience through internships and volunteering is also crucial. Certification and continuing education further enhance your qualifications.

What are the responsibilities of an animal behaviorist?

Animal behaviorists are responsible for assessing and diagnosing behavioral issues in animals, developing behavior modification plans, and implementing training techniques. They work closely with pet owners, caregivers, and organizations to improve and enrich the lives of animals.

Can I consult with an animal behaviorist for my pet’s behavior problems?

Yes, consulting with an animal behaviorist is an excellent option if your pet is experiencing behavior problems. They can assess the issue, develop a customized plan, and provide guidance to help you and your pet address and overcome the problem.

What are the benefits of consulting with an animal behaviorist?

Consulting with an animal behaviorist can help you understand and manage your pet’s behavior issues, leading to a happier and healthier relationship with your animal companion. Their expertise can often resolve problems that might otherwise lead to rehoming or relinquishment.

Are there certifications for animal behaviorists?

Yes, there are certifications available for animal behaviorists, such as the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). Earning these certifications demonstrates a commitment to professionalism and expertise in the field.

Where can I find an animal behaviorist in my area?

You can find local animal behaviorists through online directories, animal behaviorist associations, or by asking your veterinarian for recommendations. Many animal behaviorists also offer remote consultations if you cannot find one locally.

Do animal behaviorists work with wildlife or only domestic animals?

Animal behaviorists work with both domestic and wild animals. Some specialize in wildlife conservation and research, while others focus on companion animals and exotic species in captivity.

What qualifications should I look for in an animal behaviorist?

When seeking an animal behaviorist, look for qualifications such as relevant degrees, certifications, and practical experience. It’s essential to choose a behaviorist who specializes in the type of animal and specific issues you need assistance with.


Animal behaviorists play a vital role in understanding and improving the lives of animals, whether they are companion pets, exotic animals in captivity, or wildlife in the wild.

With their expertise, they address behavioral issues, enhance well-being, and contribute to animal welfare.

By following a comprehensive path of education, experience, and professional development, aspiring animal behaviorists can make a positive impact on the world of animals and provide solutions to a wide range of behavioral challenges.

Their dedication and commitment to the field ensure that animals receive the care and attention they deserve.

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