Animal psychology, also called animal behavior and psychobiology, is an interdisciplinary field that involves studying both biology and psychology. Degree programs in animal behavior are found at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels.
Bachelor's degree programs take four years to complete, and other than having a high school diploma, applicants may need to achieve strong scores on the ACT or SAT. Master's programs take about 2-3 years to complete, and may require a thesis. Doctoral programs focus on research, take about 5-7 years to complete and may require a dissertation. Applicants to graduate programs need at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field.
Bachelor's Degree in Animal Behavior
Animal behaviorists work with animal welfare organizations and teach animal control techniques. Undergraduate degree programs educate students on the ecology and adaptive behaviors of different animals. Animal behaviorists learn to read animal body language by cross-referencing anomalous tics with animal behavior. Coursework includes:
- Behavioral statistics
- Comparative animal psychology
Master's Degree in Animal Behavior
Animal behaviorists create healthy habitats for animals in zoos and labs, and help pet owners care for their pets' emotional needs. Graduate students in animal behavior programs learn how to apply advanced research methods to the analysis of animal behavior. Some work experience may be beneficial for applicants. Graduate programs in animal behavior focus on animal behavior techniques and research. The curriculum includes courses in:
- Behavior in captivity and the wild
- Comparative psychology
- Psychology of learning
- Research methods
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Doctoral Degree in Animal Behavior
Doctoral students studying animal behavior focus on research ranging from anthropology to neurobiology. Graduates from this program are qualified to conduct research on primates and work in conservation efforts. Applicants to doctoral programs should have completed some coursework in ecology, evolution, genetics, physiology and statistics. Doctoral level students specialize in an area of academic interest, while learning statistics and the history of psychology. Core coursework includes:
- Behavioral genetics
- Comparative cognition
- Developmental neuropathology
- Evolutionary psychology
- Learning and memory
Most careers in animal behavior require that applicants have earned an advanced degree in this field. Because of this, most animal behaviorists need to continue their studies at the graduate level.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 241,600 animal care and service workers employed in 2014 (www.bls.gov). Work at this level is found in animal rescue leagues, boarding kennels, grooming shops and stables. Entry-level careers in this field include:
- Animal caretaker
- Companion animal trainer
- Pet store worker
- Research assistant
With a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior, employment opportunities can be found with agribusiness companies, research laboratories, non-profit organizations and the government. Positions include:
- Applied animal behaviorist
- Animal behaviorist researcher
- Animal welfare organization director
- Field conservation director
- Laboratory animal consultant
According to the BLS, the number of jobs in the field of animal care and service workers is predicted to increase 11% from 2014-2024. This projection puts job growth in this field faster than the forecasted national job growth for the same time period. The field of animal care and service workers includes animal trainers and non-farm animal caretakers.
Continuing Education Information and Certification
The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) runs a certification program for applied animal behaviorists (www.certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com). The certified applied animal behaviorist credential is open to individuals with a graduate level degree in a behavioral science that focuses on animal behavior.
Students interested in animal behavior and working as animal care and service workers can earn a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree in the field. Graduates can expect positive job growth and those with a master's or doctorate can pursue certification.