Animal Behaviorist

What is an Animal Behaviorist?

An animal behaviorist is a person who studies all the actions and behaviors of an animal. Any animal, from single celled organisms to large mammals can be studied. Animal behaviorists seek to understand the interactions between animals and their environments, including their mating and reproduction habits, feed gathering methods, and how they raise their offspring.

Animal behaviorists are generally trying to answer one of four questions, called “Tinbergen’s Quesitions”, so called after Niko Tinbergen who first detailed them. These questions are:

1.What is the cause of the behavior?
a.What mechanism is underlying it?
b.What caused the behavior at a specific moment?
2.How does the behavior change over an individual lifespan?
3.What function(s) does the behavior serve?
4.How did the behavior evolve over time?

What type of education is required?

Animal behaviorists are typically divided into four broad categories: ethology (the study of animal behaviors), comparative psychology, behavioral ecology, and sociobiology.  Ethologists and psychologists focus their studies on the animal’s control of the behavior, and what the behavior serves to do.  Behavioral ecologists focus more on how behavior relates to the animal’s environment and social conditions.  Training for these jobs can be done in biology, zoology, ecology, evolution, entomology, wildlife, psychology, or other sciences like sociology.

To attain a job as an animal behaviorist, an advanced degree like a Ph.D, M.A., or M.S. is necessary.  Some jobs require only a B.A. or B.S. though most require a Ph.D.  Pursuing further education after acquiring an undergraduate degree will allow for specialized training in the area of animal behavior that is most appealing.  Focused studies will prepare the student for the job of an animal behaviorist with more specificity than an undergraduate degree would.   Job candidates with higher-level degrees will also receive higher starting salaries and be more competitive job applicants.

What is the expected salary?

Entry-level salaries range from $18,000 to $35,000.  Higher level jobs can bring in a salary of up to $90,000. The national average salary is $69,751.

How can I prepare myself for a job as an Animal Behaviorist while at NC State?

Understanding the different elements of an animal’s life and development will help prepare you for being able to identify animal behaviors and try to determine the cause of that certain behavior and the factors that provoked
that behavior to be displayed. Taking NC State courses that are aimed towards animal behavior, development, and life cycles will set you up for better understanding the causes for exhibiting specific behaviors.

What kind of experience is required?

A large collection of knowledge and experience within Animal Behavior is preferred. This typically is attained through participating in focused courses surrounding the subject Animal Behavior such as ZO410 or participating in internships or study abroad courses such as ANS 395 United Kingdom: Introduction to Animal Behavior and Veterinary Physiotherapy study abroad.

Where can I find more information?

A booklet detailing the current training programs in North America is available through the Animal Behavior Society.
Other websites include: and

Career Opportunities

A wide variety of career opportunities are available within this career working in a variety of settings such as at a university/research facility, zoo, or animal training facility.