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What is an Animal Behaviorist?: Study Animal Behavior for a Living

Becoming an animal behaviorist can be a personally and financially rewarding career path for someone who enjoys working with animals. Animal behavior experts can work in a number of specialties so there are many possible avenues for employment.

What Animal Behaviorists Do

Some animal behaviorists work in research and study how new medications affect animal behavior. They may examine links between different diseases and behavior or help human researchers understand physiology and psychology better. Other animal behaviorists make their living by teaching at colleges and universities. These professionals also are often involved in research programs. Some animal behaviorists work with humans and animals together, striving to create a better relationship between the two species. Animal behaviorists can work with domestic animals or wildlife in a variety of sub-specialties.

Where an Animal Behavior Specialist Works

Any facility involved in animal research can employ animal behaviorists. Government and private research institutions are common workplaces. Colleges and universities also employ animal behaviorists for teaching and research. Animal behaviorists can also work independently and help people with their pets in a home environment. Zoos, wildlife foundations, aquariums and museums are other typical workplaces for behaviorists. Animal behaviorists in this field focus on research or developing habitats for animals in zoos or aquariums.

Fields of Study in Animal Behavior

The study of behavior of animals fall into five broad fields. Ethology is a branch of zoology that studies animals in their natural habitats. Comparative psychology explores animals’ thinking processes. Behavioral ecology studies the ecological and evolutionary reasons for animal behavior. Animal anthropology examines social relationships in animals. Applied animal behavior experts work with people to gain a better understanding of pet behavior and improve the relationship between humans and animals.

Courses of Study for Animal Behaviorists

The course of study required for animal behaviorists depends on the field they choose to work in. Psychology and animal anthropology specialties usually pursue related degrees. Ethologists and behavioral ecologists can study biology, zoology, wildlife studies or animal science. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association recommends undergraduate studies in animal science, biology, or zoology for future animal behaviorists. While a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for some positions, most require a master’s degree. The majority of animal behaviorists have a doctorate or are veterinarians.


Animal Behaviorist Salary

Because of the variety of animal behavior careers, a typical salary is difficult to pinpoint. Salaries vary depending on the type of work the behaviorists does, where they are employed, and their geographic area. Average salary across the field ranges from $35,000 to $90,000 annually. The highest-paying careers in animal behavior are those with administrative or supervisory roles. Corporate jobs typically pay higher than those at public institutions like colleges and universities.

The Pros and Cons of Studying Animal Behavior

People who become animal behaviorists do so because they want to help people and animals. This career path can be rewarding on many levels. Though the need for secondary education can delay entry to the workforce, the options available for study allow potential students flexibility. In addition, the work environment for animal behaviorists is also flexible, depending on the specialty. Overall, this career path is ideal for the person who is passionate about animals and enjoys learning.


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