Animal Behavior Degree Program Overviews

Oct 10, 2019

Students can complete bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in animal behavior. Explore each program, common coursework and employment opportunities.

Essential Information

Individuals interested in working with animals, without completing doctoral veterinary medicine programs, can enroll in a degree program in animal behavior. Bachelor's and master's degrees are offered in the field, as well as Ph.D. programs. Bachelor's programs offer the opportunity to observe and investigate animals and their behaviors. Master's programs in the field are more research-focused and are typically designed for specialization in particular subsets of animal behavior. Doctoral programs are rigorous and also research intensive with biological and psychological factors of animal behavior closely examined. These programs often take five to seven years to complete.

Each program level has its own set of requirements for admission and graduation. Applicants to a bachelor's program must have a high school diploma. These programs often require internships prior to graduation. Applicants to master's and doctoral programs need to have a bachelor's degree, GRE scores and previous coursework in biology, psychology and statistics. Master's degree programs often require a thesis for graduation, while doctoral students are required to have a dissertation.

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior

Students study animal behavior by examining the way animals interact, obtain food, reproduce, attempt dominance and respond to unknown intrusions. Students explore how animal instincts are influenced by external factors and how animals adapt to those factors. Since animal observation and interaction is a focal point of this degree program, real-world animal experiences and internships in zoos, animal shelters, wildlife preserves or other animal settings are mandatory. In addition to general education courses, bachelor's degree programs in animal behavior can focus heavily on courses in biology and psychology. Some other topics include:

  • Biological theories of behavior
  • Animal cognitive studies
  • Primate social behavior
  • Animal communication
  • Adaptive responses in mammals
  • Neurobiology

Master of Science in Animal Behavior

Master's degree programs in animal behavior are uncommon. Some master's degree programs are only offered in conjunction with animal behavior Ph.D. programs. Schools that offer this option require students to complete additional coursework, usually 20-30 semester hours. Master's programs focus on extensive research and include lab work. Students conduct experiments to test and analyze animal responses to various situations or stimuli. A large portion of a student's educational hours are usually spent in laboratory settings or conducting field work. Coursework includes topics like:

  • Animal welfare
  • Physiological influences on animal behavior
  • Evolutionary effects in social insects
  • Analysis of primate behavior
  • Adaptive behavior in pack animals
  • Physiology of mammals

Ph.D. in Animal Behavior

The Ph.D. degree program in animal behavior involves research and training with a wide range of species. Students explore evolutionary reasoning behind animal behavior, as well as adaptive bases that affect animals' responses. This program examines the biology of what causes an animal to react, as well as the psychological factors influencing an animal's behavior. Students typically choose a particular specialization of interest as the degree program progresses, such as applied animal behavior, physiological research or evolutionary studies. Although classroom work is typically part of this degree program, a large portion of coursework is undertaken in laboratories, zoos and natural animal habitats. Some possible course topics include:

  • Wild animal conservation
  • Mammalian behavior
  • Behavior in relation to genetics
  • Developmental biology
  • Evolutionary factors in animal behavior
  • Adaptive behavior in social animals

Popular Career Options

A bachelor's degree program in animal behavior can prepare a student for further academic studies in a Ph.D. program, veterinary school or research work. For individuals interested in entering the workforce upon graduation, possible careers may include:

  • Zoological researcher
  • Animal caretaker
  • Veterinary clinic behavior advisor

With a master's degree in animal behavior, an individual may find work conducting animal research, training and care. Positions such as these could be found in professional settings like:

  • Wildlife reserves
  • Animal shelters
  • Zoos
  • Aquariums

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Animal behaviorists can choose from a wide range of career opportunities, including animal research, field work, government studies, animal rehabilitation and education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that a 5% increase in employment opportunities is expected over the 2018-2028 period for zoologist and wildlife biologists. These occupations made an average yearly salary of $67,760 in 2018 (

Student interested in studying animal behavior can pursue degrees at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels. Graduates of these programs can work as researchers, zoologists or wildlife biologists.

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