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Services for Professionals: Career Counseling

Certification Frequently Asked Questions




Who can use the professional title "Animal Behaviorist"?

There is no standard terminology for describing people who help with animal behavior problems. Titles such as animal behaviorist, applied animal behaviorist, pet behavior counselor or animal behavior consultant are all used by people doing this sort of work. At present, there is no licensure for these titles so anyone can call themselves an animal behaviorist, etc. with no training or experience in the field.

When we use the terms “applied animal behaviorist” or “animal behaviorist” we are referring to people who have graduate degrees in animal behavior. Throughout the rest of this section we will simply talk about applied animal behaviorists (AAB). (top)

Do Animal Behaviorists only work with companion animals?

The professional field of animal behavior is not limited to the study of companion animals. In fact, it’s been only in the past twenty-five or thirty years that professional animal behaviorists have shown greater interest in studying domestic animals.

The study of animal behavior began to be formalized in the early 1900’s Historically, animal behaviorists such as Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, were more interested in studying the behavior of wild animals. Their goals were to better understand their behavior and what these animals need to exist.

Most animal behaviorists teach at colleges and universities. Applied animal behaviorists take scientific knowledge about animal behavior and apply it to real-life issues. In addition to working directly with pet owners, applied animal behaviorists may work in zoos, in research laboratories to improve the quality of life of animals held there, and in animal shelters to evaluate the behavior of sheltered animals, improve their quality of life, and provide post adoption support. (top)

How can I do what you do?

If you want to be an applied animal behaviorist you need a sound background in the science of animal behavior. This generally means advanced training in graduate or professional schools including specific courses in animal behavior, animal learning, neurobiology and psychopharmacology. (top)

How can I find graduate programs and courses in Animal Behavior?

The best place to start is with your local university. Ask for a list of courses in zoology, biology or psychology. Look for courses in animal behavior and learning. Visit the Animal Behavior Society’s website, for a list of graduate programs in animal behavior available in North America.

You’ll need to find a graduate advisor (faculty member) who is willing to work with students who have an interest in applied animal behavior and companion animals. You may need to talk to faculty members directly. (top)

What is certification and how do I get certified?

The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) certifies Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs). Certified behaviorists have meet all the academic, experiential, and ethical requirements set forth by the Society, including completing a master’s degree or Ph.D. degree in a behavioral science with specific courses in animal learning, ethology and behavior. A DVM and advanced training in animal behavior can also meet the criteria for certification by the ABS. Visit the Animal Behavior Society's website to read more about the ABS certification program. Visit CertifiedAnimalBehaviorist.com to see how CAABS help pets and people and work with veterinarians, and what steps to take if you are interested in becoming a behaviorist.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) certifies veterinary behaviorists through its College of Veterinary Behavior. Certification requirements include but are not limited to a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and completion of an approved residency. (top)

A letter from the Chair of the Animal Behavior Society's Board of Professional Certification

Certified applied animal behaviorists come from a variety of different backgrounds and include veterinarians who have had additional training in applied animal behavior. In general however, they all have a broad background in animal behavior theory, as well as application. Many of those who are certified did not do their graduate research in the area of companion animal behavior, though they generally had an interest in the area. It is important to recognize that the educational background required is broad, and addresses a wide range of general behavior processes.

The general approach in education would be to earn a BA/BS in either biology, zoology or psychology and then an M.S. or Ph.D. in Animal Behavior. There are many graduate programs in animal behavior in nearly every part of the country. These may be in Biology, Psychology, Ethology or another department. While few of them will offer specific courses or opportunities in companion animal behavior, they will provide the broad basic background needed in animal behavior principles, including Learning Theory, Comparative Psychology, Ethology, Experimental Psychology and Physiology. The graduate program should also include a strong background in research methods and analysis. The most important element in choosing a graduate program will be to find a faculty member willing to support an applied approach, and flexibility in taking interdisciplinary courses.

The Animal Behavior Society website at: www.animalbehavior.org has a listing of animal behavior graduate programs. The site also has information on applying for certification as an applied animal behaviorist.

Certification is still a fairly new process and there are a limited number of certified individuals. As a result, certification for applied animal behaviorists is not well known.

It is difficult to make predictions about the future of the profession. At this time it is clear that animal behavior problems play a significant role in the breakdown of the human-companion animal bond in pet owning families. New people coming into the field have been successful in starting their careers and businesses. However, they have had to work hard, long hours to make things happen.

Financial obligations depend on where one attends graduate school, and whether financial assistance is available. Normal start up costs for a business should be expected.

Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D.
Chairman, Board of Professional Certification
Animal Behavior Society (top)

Aren't there other organizations that offer certification?

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers offers a certification program for trainers. Criteria for certification include 5 years of experience plus a passing score on an examination. To view the complete certification requirements, click here.

Private companies and training schools also offer certification programs that, for the most part, are based on successful completion of their own training programs. These types of certification programs have little credibility. The educational requirements are not as rigorous as the scientific courses in graduate programs at accredited universities required for certification by professional societies and organizations. (top)

Can't I get the education I need with courses or seminars offered by Animal Behaviorists, Dog Trainers or Veterinarians?

You can take these courses, some of which are quite good, but they vary in quality and you should investigate their content and the credentials of the instructors thoroughly. However, these are not the same as university courses, and don’t count toward certification. (top)

How do I get the experience working as an Applied Animal Behaviorist?

The best way is to apprentice with a certified applied animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist. Not all of these individuals have apprenticeships. Contact applied animal behaviorists from the certified list at the ABS website.

The ASPCA in New York City also has a post-doctoral fellowship program in applied animal behavior if you’ve completed your graduate degree and need a way to acquire “hands on” experience. These fellowships are posted on the Animal Behavior Society’s website when they become available. (top)

Couldn't you train me to be an Applied Animal Behaviorist?

Yes, if your background meets, or is close to meeting, the criteria for certification by the ABS. If you have a strong academic background and want to gain experience in preparation for certification, we sometimes have openings for people to study with us as apprentices. After looking at the ABS’s certification criteria, if you think you qualify, and would like more information about instructional fees and programs, email us at info@AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com or call us at 303-932-9095. We require all behaviorists who work for us as paid employees to be certified, or eligible for certification. (top)

Can I talk to you one-on-one about a career in Applied Animal Behavior?

Yes, we offer individual career counseling services. We can discuss your background with you, and help you decide what would be the next best steps for you to take to pursue a career in animal behavior.

Career counseling is $100/hour. Most consultations take about half an hour, but can go longer depending on your needs and what questions you have for us. Email us at info@AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com or call our office at 303-932-9095 to schedule an appointment time. (top)

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