Do you want to work as an animal behaviourist?
READ: This page helps you to read about the career and the info you need to decide on whether this is indeed the career you want to follow.
RESEARCH: Learn about the skills required and minimum subjects to enter this career, as well as the places where you can study further after school.
PREPARE: If you want to plan and prepare for the career, then join the OZT Community! Members have access to tools, while chatting with other students and experts from around the world. Prepare to be amazed!
UPDATED: 31 August 2020
1. What is an animal behaviourist?
An Animal Behaviourist studies the way animals behave and tries to determine what causes certain types of behaviour and what factors can prompt behaviour change.
They usually specialize in specific kinds of species, whether it’s fish, birds, large animals, insects, livestock or household pets.
2. What does an Animal Behaviourist do?
The Animal Behaviourist career can be found in the following career categories:
- Marine Conservation
- Wildlife Conservation
- Zoos, Aquariums, Theme Parks and Museums
What does an Animal Behaviourist focus on?
Animal behaviourists study the behaviour of an animal and give advise to it’s owner or handler as to what might be wrong and how to rectify negative behaviour.
Some Animal Behaviourists focus on the evolution of animal behaviour over a period of time based on their environment. For example, they may study how an elephant’s behaviour changes after being brought into a zoo. An applied animal behaviourist compiles a case study to determine how an animal’s problematic behaviour developed. Their goal is to investigate whether the behaviour is a normal one simply being exhibited at inappropriate times or if it is the result of a prior negative experience. To resolve the problem, the behaviourist may suggest various forms of treatment including conditioning, behaviour modification, and training.
Animal behaviourists identify behaviours and try to ask questions, such as:
- What caused the animal to perform the behaviour at this particular moment?
- When does the animal first perform it, and does it require learning?
- What is the function or purpose of the behaviour?
- Can we track the animal to see how or if it’s behaviour has changed?
What are the daily tasks of an Animal Behaviourist?
- Discuss brief with clients
- Observe the animal over days, months or even years
- Collects statistics
- Takes detailed notes and photographs
- Collects specimens and samples for laboratory work
- Writes reports
- Attends conferences
- Talks to other scientists
- Communicates with the animal’s owner
- Works with both animal and the owner on a solution
- Liaises with vets
- Give lectures to students
- Supervise lab activities, and conduct and publish their own research
- Travel to observe animals in the wild if relevant to their studies
- Administration and filing
3. The working environment of an Animal Behaviourist
Where does an Animal Behaviourist work?
They can work equal amounts in- as well as outdoors.
Places of Employment –
Animal behaviourists work in a variety of settings, including universities and research facilities, zoos, animal training facilities, animal shelters, companies that make pet products, organizations that promote animal welfare and in private practice, helping pet and livestock owners better understand and care for their animals. Most animal behaviourists who focus on pets tend to start their own consulting businesses.
Animal behaviourists who specialize in behavior change work in private practice, zoos, animal shelters or in the veterinary field. Some train animals to perform as entertainment, or serve as companion animals. Animal behaviorists may also be hired by government agencies to monitor wild populations or to inspect facilities that house animals.
Because veterinary medicine is a continuously growing field, there are no shortage of jobs for the animal behaviorist. With the proper schooling and a commitment to the health and well being of animals, an animal behaviorist can expect a positive job outlook and a rewarding career in the field.
This is a female dominated industry with 62.5% of Companion Animal Trainer and Behaviourists being women and 37.5% male.
What is the average annual salary of an Animal Behaviourist?
Animal behaviorists working in private practice or for private companies typically earn more than researchers or those working for government and nonprofit organizations, such as zoos. Typical entry-level jobs in zoos or shelters could start at less than US$30,000 per year. At higher levels, or in industry, salaries can average around US$65,000 per year.
Can an Animal Behaviourist be promoted?
Animal Behaviourists working for specific institutions (whether public or private) may open their own private practice. The general line of promotion in large businesses:
Junior Behaviourist -> Senior Behaviourist -> Manager
What difficulties can an Animal Behaviourist face?
The greatest difficulty of being an Animal Behaviorist is the time it takes to specialize in the knowledge of specific species. Generally, most employers would want new employees to have at least three to five years experience in working with the species, before they can even consider being hired. There are many organizations where you can start at an entry level career, and then study towards being an Animal Behaviorist while you work with a specific animal. This is in-house training and exposure, and helps tremendously.
Companion Animal Trainers and Behaviourists work an average of 46.8 hours a week which is 5.7 hours more than the average for all occupations.
Another difficulty is the hours spent in the field, studying the animals, as well as the fact that most posts are not highly paid. This is a career that most people pursue out of the love and passion they have for animals.
Future growth and Possibilities
On average the industry is expected to grow by around 5% annually, with jobs in established companies growing slightly slower than those who choose to start their own businesses. Those that specialize in pets will see a higher rate of growth, with opportunities opening in combining behaviourist and trainer careers.
4. Which Skills are required by an Animal Behaviourist?
The skills required for a career as an animal behaviourist can be divided into two very important groups. The first is the group containing life skills, which are the core skills that are necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life. The second group is career skills, or the specific skills required to allow a person to enter and operate effectively within a specific career. Some or maybe even all of the life skills can assist in strengthening the career skills, and they might even be the same for specific careers.
- Critical thinking
- Creative thinking
- Decision making
- Problem Solving
- Effective communication
- Interpersonal relationship
- Good business knowledge
- Good animal care skills
- Basic customer service skills
- Good health and physical fitness
- Excellent computer literacy
5. Which Subjects must I have at School to prepare for this career?
The subjects you choose at school are important as they lay the foundation for further studies at college or university. While still at school, it’s also important to learn more about the animals you will work with, as well as gain some experience.
OZT has a list of various tertiary institutions where you can study further, after school. Each of these institutions also have their own Group page on OZT where you will find the exact subjects they require of you to have passed in school. Keep these requirements in mind, and discuss it with your school, guidance counselor and parents to ensure that you are prepared!
6. What will I need to Study to become an Animal Behaviourist?
To become an Animal Behaviourist you need to decide with which animals you will be working with. There are less advanced animal behaviour and management courses if you do decide to start your own consultancy business, and work with domesticated animals. But if you are thinking of following a more advanced career, then you will need a minimum of a Bachelors Degree at a certified University. Most positions available when working with wildlife require an additional Degree (Masters or Doctoral) and at least a few years of experience in the field.
The majority of workers employed in this profession have a High School Certificate (29.9%) or are at Diploma level (28%). The other 44.4% have a Certificate III or higher (3% have Degrees).
It is possible to become an Animal Behaviourist by studying related fields such as biology, zoology, psychology, neural sciences, or anthropology.
Short Courses –
There are many short courses that will assist you in the basics of animal behaviour. Courses in animal anatomy will also be good.
The duration of College and Bachelor’s Degrees can be up to 3 or 4 years. Short Courses are usually between a few weeks and a year.
Possible Career Preparation Paths
If this is your dream career that you want to pursue, then it’s important to plan the way forward.
Why is planning important?
To ensure that you understand the requirements for your career, and that you are always prepared for the next step on the road towards your dream. A Preparation Path is like your road map to where you want to be.
Possible Combined Career Paths
It is possible to sometimes combine two or more related careers. This normally happens when you study and practice a specific main career, but the knowledge and experience gained also help you to have a paying hobby or secondary income career.
Possible Alternatives (there are a lot more):
Stepping Stone Career
Being an animal behaviourist can also be used as a stepping stone career. A stepping stone career is one which is used to help you get to another career, normally because the other career is too difficult to reach (sometimes due to things like high fees etc).
You can begin as an intern animal cartoonist after basic short courses and expert guidance (maybe working under a mentor). The money made can then be used to pay for studies towards a promotion or another career, and the experience helps in gaining knowledge. One paying to help get to the other.
Some of the possible paths:
Training and apprenticeship:
Even though it is important to study to get into most of the animal health and food careers, most of the skills you will need as a behaviourist will be acquired through practice. This means that you will learn how to perform some of the daily tasks by actually doing it a few times and learning the steps.
In some cases entry level positions require training sessions even before you are allowed to actually perform your job duties. These sessions are offered by the place of employment, after you have successfully applied.
Apprenticeship is also possible where you need to learn skills from a more senior wildlife behaviourist.
Join the Animal Behaviourists Group in STEP 8 to learn more and even interact with the educational institutions that will help you secure your dream career!
Average level of education of all the people who enter the career
7. Licenses, Certificate, Registration and Professional Associations
Certain animal careers require some form of legal certification to prove that you can indeed do the work, and work with the necessary equipment.
Although not required by law, certifications may help workers establish their credentials and enhance their skills.
Learn more about requirements by joining the OZT Community.
8. Where can I study further?
All of the above information will help you understand more about the Career, including the fact that there are different paths to take to reach it. But if you are almost done with High School (Grades 11 or 12), you also need to start thinking about further studies, and WHERE you will study.
See the List of Universities, Colleges and Online Training Academies who offer courses towards animal behaviour.
Join our OZT community and Animal Behaviourist Group
Join us as a special member and learn more about becoming an animal behaviourist.
Members of the Platform have special access to:
- Info on the best places where you can study (colleges, universities and online)
- Expertly designed advice to prepare you for the career, and links to places where you can gain valuable experience. For some career experience is necessary, otherwise you wont get the job!
- Top notch info on each of the different species you will work with
- Make friends around the world and share knowledge
- Compete and win points, badges, games, prizes and certificates. Be the best of the best, while you learn and prepare!
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