Animal Behaviorists


Exploring this Job

Prepare for a career as an animal behaviorist by taking as many biology and psychology classes as possible. Hands on experience working with animals is a must. Look for volunteer positions or part time jobs in shelters, sanctuaries, zoos, and vet offices. These will give you opportunities to work with animals and observe interactions between animals and people. Internships with veterinarians or dog trainers might also be helpful as will internships with other animal behaviorists.

The Job

Animal behaviorists are scientists who study and observe the way animals behave. This information is then used in a variety of ways including research and coming up with ways to change or modify animal behaviors.

The job of animal behaviorists combines animal physiology, psychology, and the environment. Many feel that behaviorists who work with animals are similar to psychologists who work with people.

Animal behaviorists may specialize in studying specific types of animals. They may, for example, specialize in the study of the behavior of birds, fish, reptiles, wild animals, livestock, household pets, etc. Individuals observe animals and study their environment. Information gathered can often show causes of behavioral issues. Once these are determined, the animal behaviorist may be able to find ways to direct the animal toward a different or more effective behavior.

There are a number of different types of animal behaviorists. While each type has its own specialty, they all are interested in studying and analyzing the behavior of animals. One type of animal behaviorist is called an applied animal behaviorist. These individuals observe and treat behavior problems in animals. Ecologists are animal behaviorists who observe and study animals in their natural environments. Bio-psychologists or psycho-biologists study the physiological and neurological behavior of animals.

Specific duties of animal behaviorists depend on their employment situation. Some individuals teach in various departments of colleges or universities such as wildlife biology, entomology, ecology, anthropology, sociology and animal sciences. Some teach at medical and veterinary colleges. Some do research. Others are veterinarians who may want to help change the behavior of their patients. Some work in shelters and refuges helping animals that have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

Once animal behaviorists can identify behaviors they must try to determine what caused the behaviors. Sometimes this is easy to figure out. Other times it may be more difficult. They must determine if there are factors or situations influencing behavior. They must decide if the behavior is innate or learned. They want to know if the behavior changes over time or if it is constant. These are all questions that the animal behaviorist must answer at one time or another in his or her job. Just as many things can influence the way people at, many things can influence the ways animals act. Animal behaviors are expected to look at factors that influence animal behaviors. These might include hunger, illnesses, the weather or the presence of predators or potential predators among other things.

Animal behaviorists specializing in companion animals and pet behavior as noted previously, are called applied animal behaviorists. These individuals often visit pet owners in their home and observe the family’s interactions with their pet. They are expected to determine why a pet may be exhibiting certain behaviors. After the animal behaviorist sees the interactions, he or she can often make suggestions on how the family can make changes to their behavior so that the pet’s behavior changes for the better. One of the best known animal behaviorists of this type is Cesar Millan, better known to many as the Dog Whisperer.

Animal behaviorists may be called in for any number of reasons. Dogs or cats may exhibit signs of aggression to family members or other animals. Others may exhibit destructive behavior, separation anxiety or obsessive compulsive behaviors. Some animals may have fears or phobias that stop them from having a normal, happy life. Some animals are difficult to walk or will bark and jump continuously. Whatever the problem, animal behaviorist often use positive training technologies and behavior modifications to help change the situation.

Animal behaviorists investigate the relationship of animals to one another and to their environment. They may, for example, explore ways that animals find food and protect that food from other animals. They look at how animals mate, reproduce, and take care of their young. 

This information can prove important for many reasons depending on the specific situation. In some cases it can help save animals from extinction. In others, it can help animals in zoos or other facilities become better adjusted. Animal behaviorists can help animals breed better livestock and help hens lay more eggs. Their work can help pets from being turned over to shelters because of behavior problems and help keep animals calm in research labs. It can give researchers important answers to why animals act as they do and often provide insight into making life better for humans as well.