Follow Your Passion: How to Become an Animal Behaviorist
I can tell you from personal experience that working with animals professionally is one of the absolute most rewarding career experiences one can choose. The delight and excitement they bring to my life everyday remind me all the time that I absolutely made the right career choice.
According to Indiana University Bloomington, “Animal behavior is the scientific study of everything animals do, whether the animals are single-celled organisms, insects, birds, mammals, fish, or humans. The field of animal behavior is concerned with understanding the causes, functions, development, and evolution of behavior.” So, on one hand, psychology is a form of animal behavior. Psychologist study the behavior of humans and humans are animals. You will find that many animal behaviorists have degrees in psychology.
I believe that an animal behaviorist is one that studies the behavior of animals and then uses that knowledge to improve the lives of all animals.
I get asked all the time not only what it’s like to be an animal behaviorist, but also how to become an animal behaviorist. While that is a tough question to answer because no two paths to any career are quite the same, here are a few must-follow steps to becoming successful in this field:
Step 1: You Must Love Animals (DUH!)
I know for some of you this is going to sound ridiculously redundant, but it’s true: to become a successful animal behaviorist you must actually love animals.
This kind of specialized work isn’t easy, and an almost infinite amount of patience is required to properly observe, train, condition, rescue, rehab, release, and cherish these magnificent creatures. In order to be successful, everything you do must be underlined by a love and respect for the animals you’re working with and working for. If you don’t have that, your chances of being successful are slim-to-none.
The “why” is more important than the “what” or “how.” If you love animals and you want to help them, protect them, serve them…if that is your “why” – then you will be an excellent animal behaviorist.
Step 2: Get an Education and Educate Yourself
You’ll notice that there are two parts to this step – and for good reason. Getting a degree in an animal-related field from a degree-granting university can be very beneficial, but is in actuality just part of how to properly prepare for the animal behaviorist career path.
The second critical part is to follow your passions and educate yourself wherever and however you can. This means spending as much time as possible exploring and volunteering at accredited zoos, aquariums, nature sanctuaries, rehab facilities, shelters – anywhere that will give you up-close experience and interaction with animals of all kinds and the professionals who help handle and train them. The experience of actually working in these kinds of situations directly with animals will give you the kind of education that no classroom ever could. Plus, it will give you an idea of what to expect once you make it out into the working world.
Step 3: Find The Career Path You Want and Jump In
Just like there is no exact path to becoming a professional animal behaviorist, there is also no set path for what you should do once you become one. Properly certified behaviorists can work anywhere from research laboratories and aquatic facilities to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world – it all depends on what kind of situation you want to work in and what kind of animals you want to work with.
Though many people tend to view choosing an initial career path as the biggest step they’ll ever make, you shouldn’t be too afraid of making a mistake as you can always try something new. However, it is a good idea to stick with what’s closest to your passions and education when starting out, as several years of experience on your resume before trying to make a career change could be beneficial.