Degree programs in animal care, general animal behavior and animal science prepare graduates for careers working with animals in a variety of settings, from farms to veterinary offices. Degrees relevant to applied animal behavior are available at the associate's, bachelor's and doctoral levels. Most programs require classroom work as well as hands-on experiences in clinical care or for research. Some online programs and courses are available.
Prerequisites for the associate's and bachelor's degree programs include a high school diploma or GED, standardized test scores, and a background in science. The doctoral programs usually require a bachelor's or master's degree in ecology or animal science, as well as GRE scores and a background in statistics, genetics, physiology, and ecology.
Associate's Degree in Small Animal Care
Some community colleges offer Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree programs in small animal care. Students in these programs learn about scientific, practical and theoretical concepts related to caring for animals, and often these programs allow students to gain hands-on experience. These programs emphasize breeding, grooming, training, feeding for pets and other domesticated animals. Students interested in animal behavior can learn about the influence of genetics and training on how animals act.
The classes offered in animal care AAS degree programs prepare graduates to work with pets and livestock. Students learn about animal nutrition, the economics of animal care and the techniques used to keep animals healthy. The courses below are usually offered:
- Domestic animal physiology
- Small animal care
- Laboratory animal care
- Animal science
- Business aspects of animals
Bachelor's Degree in Animal Behavior
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree programs combine psychological theories with biological principles to explain how animals act. Students learn to control animal behavior through classroom instruction and laboratory experiments. Programs also cover the methods used to study how animals behave in their natural habitats. Students often conduct original research using lab animals prior to graduation.
A significant portion of the coursework in animal behavior bachelor's degree programs emphasizes ethology, the study of natural animal behavior. Programs also discuss how an animal's ecology affects its behavior. Students usually take classes on the topics below:
- Animal eating behavior
- Behavior of laboratory animals
- Adaptive behavior
- Animal neurobiology
- Behavior of primates
Doctoral Degree in Animal Behavior
It is exceptionally uncommon for schools to offer degree programs that award a terminal master's degree in animal behavior, so graduate students enroll in doctorate programs instead. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs emphasize how animals adapt to new environments and evolve over time. Students take a multidisciplinary approach to researching animal behavior, incorporating ideas from biology, psychology, ecology, neuroscience and anthropology.
Ph.D. program coursework in animal behavior emphasizes research methodology and statistical analysis of objective data. Students are expected to conduct unique research and complete a dissertation project. The subjects noted below are often required:
- Evolution and animal behavior
- Animal neuroscience
- Statistical analysis in animal behavior
- Animal behavior research methodology
- Animal observation
Popular Career Options
Earning an AAS in small animal care prepares graduates for entry-level careers in several industries. People who enter the workforce directly after earning an associate's degree usually need further education to move to advanced careers, regardless of their employment experience. The careers noted below are popular options:
- Animal boarding assistant
- Veterinary assistant
- Animal groomer
People who earn an animal behavior bachelor's degree often observe animals in both manipulated and natural settings. Since students learn the methods used to control animal behavior, they often conduct original research. Students often enter the following careers:
Animal behavior Ph.D. programs teach the skills necessary for a variety of careers. Graduates often choose the careers mentioned below:
- University professor
- Animal behavior field researcher
- Experimental animal behavior researcher
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts an employment growth of 4% for zoologists and wildlife biologists for the years 2014 through 2024. The BLS also notes that the median annual wage for these workers was $59,680 in 2015.
A very limited number of people become Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists through the Animal Behavior Society. People interested in certification need a doctorate and must have at least five years of work experience in the discipline.
Animal behavior and animal science degrees are most common at the associate's, bachelor's, and doctorate levels. Students will study animal behavior and care to prepare them for careers in research, education or veterinary settings.