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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.