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Schools for Aspiring Animal Behavior Specialists: How to Choose

Animal behavior specialists may act as counselors for animals displaying undesirable habits by identifying the cause of an animal's behavior, examining an animal's behavioral patterns and designing a treatment regimen. They often work with cats, dogs and laboratory animals.

Colleges and universities across the U.S. offer bachelor's, master's and doctorate programs in animal behavior, as well as post-doctoral residency training programs. Veterinary behaviorists are individuals with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) who've completed a residency focusing on animal behavior, and many have successfully passed the veterinary behaviorist exam offered by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), but there are also relevant educational offerings in the field at lower levels.

Animal Behavior Specialist Schools

Animal behavior specialist programs in the United States are offered at a number of institutions, including those listed here.

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Tuition and Fees (2015-2016)*
University of California-Davis Davis, CA 4-year, public Master's, Doctoral In-state $13,164; Out-of-state $28,266 (graduate)
Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA 4-year, private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's $50,152 (undergrad); $21,900 (graduate)
Canisius College Buffalo, NY 4-year, private not-for-profit Bachelor's $34,690 (undergrad)
Carroll University Waukesha, WI 4-year, private not-for-profit Bachelor's $29,535 (undergrad)
Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA 4-year, private not-for-profit Bachelor's $50,400 (undergrad)
Hampshire College Amherst, MA 4-year, private not-for-profit Courses $49,048 (undergrad)
Southwestern University Georgetown, TX 4-year, private not-for-profit Bachelor's $37,560 (undergrad)
University of New England Biddeford, ME 4-year, private not-for-profit Bachelor's $34,760 (undergrad)

Sources: *National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

School Selection Criteria

There are a number of considerations for students planning to study animal behavior.

  • Students interested in working directly with animals may prefer programs in applied animal behavior or behavior counseling, which include field experience trips to animal shelters and hospitals, where students learn to use training equipment and perform behavior assessments.
  • Students who have completed a DVM program may receive specialized training in animal behavior through post-DVM residency programs.
  • Students with a DVM may look for residency programs that require interaction with animals other than cats and dogs, like horses or exotic birds.
  • When considering programs that require research, prospective students may want to find out if there are faculty at the school with whom they share research interests in animal behavior-related topics, as they may act as advisors and supervisors.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Undergraduate students can earn either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in animal behavior. These programs begin with foundational coursework in the sciences, including biology, psychology and chemistry. From there, graduates can take more advanced courses in topics such as animal cognition and behavioral neuroscience. Prior to graduation, students may be required to submit a capstone research project.

Master of Science in Animal Behavior

Master's degree programs may offer concentrations, including applied animal behavior or evolutionary foundations of animal behavior. Completion of a research-based thesis paper or final project is often required. In some cases, courses required for a master's degree program may be applicable toward a doctorate degree. With a master's degree and two years of professional experience, an individual can apply for the Associate Applied Animal Behaviorist certification through the Animal Behavior Society (ABS).

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Animal Behavior

Ph.D. candidates complete a dissertation relating to their field. Students should consider school characteristics when selecting a Ph.D. program, like access to faculty and affiliated animal clinics. The ABS offers a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists credential to individuals who have earned a Ph.D. and completed five years of professional experience.

Post-DVM Residency Programs

Students with a DVM who seek additional training in animal behavior can find residency programs that focus on behavioral therapy and rehabilitation. Students work in school-sponsored animal clinics or shelters under the guidance of a faculty member. Many residency programs require completion of a peer-reviewed paper or research project.

Animal behaviorists assess and treat undesirable behaviors of animals. They can prepare for their career by pursuing studies at a public or private institution, and typically complete a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree.


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