Careers in Animal Psychology: Job Options and Requirements

Animal psychology is an emerging career field for students looking to study animal biology and behavior. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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Veterinarians, animal trainers and animal scientists all work with animal psychology. It is important that these professionals understand animals and their behavior to work safely and effectively with them.

Essential Information

For those who enjoy animals and want to pursue working with them as a career, studying animal psychology is a good option. This field prepares students for many careers. Students looking to become veterinary behaviorists study human-animal relations to diagnose and treat disorders. Students need to complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program and earn a license to obtain this job title. An animal trainer works to domesticate and train horses, dogs and other mammals. Community colleges offer courses for this career. Lastly, students studying animal psychology in the wild can become animal scientist.

Career Veterinarian Animal Trainer Animal Scientist
Education Requirements Doctor of Veterinary Medicine High school diploma or equivalent Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Licensure required Certifications available Observation skills a plus
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9% 11% 4% (for zoologists and wildlife biologists)
Mean Salary (2015)* $99,000 $33,600 $71,830

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Animal psychology degrees get students ready to work hands-on with many types of animals. Below are overviews and descriptions of three career options for animal psychology graduates.

Veterinary Behaviorist

Veterinary behaviorists analyze human-animal and animal-animal interactions patterns to properly diagnose animal disorders. Pet disorders may range from anxiety to aggressive behavior. In order to provide proper treatments, veterinary behaviorists work with pet owners to better understand the nature of the animals' problems and then prescribe medication or behavior therapy.

Entering this field requires completing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) program and earning a veterinary license. Once licensed, aspiring veterinary behaviorists must complete additional post-doctoral educational, research and work experience requirements in order to be eligible for specialty certification by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. After these requirements are completed, candidates may sit for the certification exam to become board-certified veterinary behaviorists.

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  • Animal Behavior
  • Animal Physiology
  • Entomology
  • Wildlife Biology

Animal Trainer

Animal trainers work with dogs, horses and aquatic mammals, among other animals. These professionals use varying techniques to train animals to follow commands, which may be used by pet owners in everyday interaction or animal trainers during performances. Animal trainers may also assist medical professionals to provide veterinary care for animals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), requirements for animal trainers vary substantially based on the occupation (www.bls.gov). While most dog trainers may become trained by enrolling in community college courses, marine animal trainers typically need to earn bachelor's degrees in marine biology, animal science or a related field. Although coursework may differ by major, programs generally cover topics in animal psychology, physiology and behavior. Most animal trainers receive at least some on-the-job training from more experienced peers.

Animal Scientist

Animal scientists, also known as zoological researchers, study animals in controlled areas like zoos and laboratories, as well as in their natural habitats. In addition to conducting biological and chemical research on animals, these professionals may also monitor animal characteristics, relationships and developmental processes. Duties may range from collecting animal tissues to understanding the effects of environmental changes on populations.

Although some aspiring animal researchers with bachelor's or master's degrees may work in applied research, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is typically necessary for research at academic institutions. Ph.D. coursework in zoology and animal science provides instruction on animal growth, nutrition and breeding. These four-year programs often include a research project, dissertation and oral defense on a topic in zoology or animal science.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The BLS states that employment of veterinarians is estimated to increase by 9% between 2014 and 2024, which is just above the average for all occupations within the United States. Veterinarians are also estimated to earn a mean salary of $99,000 per year as of May 2015. In addition, animal trainers should see an 11% increase in employment opportunities during the same time frame. The BLS lists the mean annual salary of animal trainers as $33,600 and the mean annual salary of animal scientists as $71,830 in 2015.

Animal trainers do not necessarily need postsecondary training, although those working with marine animals will need a bachelor's degree in marine biology or a related field. Advanced animal scientist positions require a Ph.D., and veterinarians need to complete a doctor of veterinary medicine. A bachelor's or master's degree is needed to qualify for entry-level animal scientist positions.

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