Charles T. Snowden, a former President of the Animal Behavior Society once said, "The beauty of an animal includes its behavioral attributes." Since the early days of human existence, questions about why animals act the way they do – how they interact with each other and how they react to outside influence have always stimulated curiosity. It's due to this fact that many people dedicate their lives to the scientific study of Animal Behavior. And for those that wish to integrate their passion into a profession, they choose to learn how to become an Animal Behaviorist.
What is an Animal Behaviorist?
Animal behaviorists study the methods of behavior, what lead or causes certain behavioral traits and study the factors that can stimulate change in animal communities. Typically an Animal Behaviorist will specialize in studying a certain type of animal species including large animals, wild animals, livestock, birds, fish and even household pets.
Some of the behaviors that are examined by an Animal Behaviorist including:
According to the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, an Animal Behaviorist's primary goals is to ascertain facts that can help discover the rationale' behind the actions of animals by asking and answering common questions including what causes a certain behavior, or does the behavior adapt or change over a period of time or based on environmental changes.
There are several specialist groups that often serve as Animal Behaviorists for research facilities, universities, animal training, organizations who promote the welfare of animals and even companies that develop animal-related products. The most common study is known as Anthrozoology – which is the study of the way that people interact with animals. Individuals that choose to apply their talents to pet interaction are known as Applied Animal Behaviorists.
Scientists that choose to follow the Animal Behaviorist educational path fall into two disciplines; comparative psychology or Ethology. Comparative psychology focuses on the examining the 'why's' of Animal Behavior – whereas the Ethology discipline is dedicated to discovering the 'how's'. However, in order to successfully navigate through a highly competitive field of limited career choices, a smart candidate will study both.
Ethologists typically are trained in life sciences including zoology, biology, wildlife, entomology and additional animal life sciences. The comparative psychology platform is completed in general psychology. Comparative psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the study of animal behavior. In fact, modern research on the behavior of animals falls into this category with the evolutionary work of Charles Darwin. Today, many psychologists, ecologists, biologists, and anthropologists follow this educational path as a baseline. It's clear to see that these two disciplines tend to conflict in the discovery of 'truth' – which is what makes the choice to become an Animal Behaviorist an intriguing decision.
Understanding the Educational Requirements for Becoming an Animal Behaviorist
In regards to the level of education that is required to become an Animal Behaviorist, there are two schools of thought. There are some jobs in this sector that only require a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. However, just like in any other competitive field, those that accelerate their learning curve to include advanced degrees – such as Master of Arts or Science, Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine tends to be more advantageous to finding the perfect vocation.
Earning such advanced degrees requires a very good undergraduate background, good grades, high motivation, hard work, and intelligence. Many colleges and universities in North America offer graduate training programs in animal behavior.
Step by Step Educational Path of an Animal Behaviorist
Pre-Graduate School Bachelor Degree
In order to become an Animal Behaviorist it is recommended by The Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior to first complete a Bachelor Degree program from an accredited college or university. Students should apply to schools that offer specialized programs for the study of Animal Behavior and focus on two primary areas of education:
As the job of an Animal Behaviorist is to examine and document their findings about the behavior of animals in general, it's also recommended that candidates focus on writing and communication courses. Some of the ancillary course guidelines for this professional include:
Earn a Graduate Degree
If completing research on animal behavior and working as a primary curator at an animal museum or zoo is the goal, a post-graduate or doctorate degree is recommended. There are several areas of study that are unique to specific Animal Behaviorist vocations including:
In order to become an educator, a Ph.D. is required. An outstanding source of information for students looking to become an Animal Behaviorist is The Animal Behavior Society. In fact, they offer a certification program to students and provide directory services of animal behavior training programs to qualified candidates.
Career Options for Animal Behaviorists
The career options for Animal Behaviorists are primarily restricted to one of two areas; academia and private research. Most individuals that choose to become animal behaviorists act as researchers in psychology or biology departments at major universities. However, there are some positions available in the private sector – especially working with companies that conduct advanced research on animal such as livestock producers, pest control companies and pharmaceutical. Typically the career path in the private sector begins as part-time or full time research assistants and grows into further positions as they become open.
One of the more intriguing career options for animal behaviorists is working in city or private zoos or animal sanctuaries. Larger zoos tend to hire animal behaviorists and assistants to serve as curators, conduct research, monitor behavior, create educational displays and design appropriate environments for the animals. Another part of this job is education and speaking with the public about animal behavior.
Due to the fact that the career options for Animal Behaviorists are extremely diverse, it's very difficult to pinpoint a salary for this particular vocation. For the most part, Animal Behaviorists who work in the private sector, such as pharmaceutical or research companies tend to earn a higher average salary that those that work for non-profit organizations. According to the Zoological Association of America, the salary range for Animal Behaviorists can range from $35,000 annually to $90,000. Typically the higher salaries are reserved for administrators and curators.
For people who are passionate about learning the why's and how's of animal behavior, becoming an Animal Behaviorist is an exceptional career choice. This position requires extensive dedication to observation, a keen ability to document and articulate findings and a strong will to work in less than perfect job conditions and surroundings. However, for those that choose this career path, working to help improve the quality of life for animals is truly rewarding.