Is becoming a comparative animal psychologist right for me?

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What do comparative animal psychologists do?

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How to become a Comparative Animal Psychologist

In addition to a passion for working with animals, becoming a comparative animal psychologist requires a combination of formal education, training, and practical experience in the field of animal behavior and psychology. Here is an overview of the pathway to the career:

High School Diploma or Equivalent
Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. High school education provides a foundation in basic communication and math and organizational skills, and it lays the groundwork for further learning.

Bachelor's Degree
The minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions in comparative animal psychology is a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Options include psychology, biology, zoology, animal sciences, and neuroscience. During undergraduate studies, coursework typically covers topics such as animal behavior, psychology, biology, genetics, ecology, statistics, and research methods.

Graduate Education
Typically, a master’s or doctoral degree is required to progress in the field. Students will find that senior research positions, project directorships, teaching roles, and clinical practices are open to those with graduate level education.

A master's program in areas that vary from animal sciences to psychology and zoology provides advanced training in research methodologies, data analysis, and specialized topics in comparative animal psychology. Some programs may also offer opportunities for teaching or conducting independent research projects.

At the doctoral level, common degrees for aspiring comparative animal psychologists include a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) in psychology, with a focus on comparative psychology, ethology, or animal behavior. These programs usually involve coursework, comprehensive exams, dissertation research, and clinical or research practicum experiences. Another option is a DVM or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

Research / Teaching Experience
Throughout undergraduate and graduate studies, seek out opportunities to work with animals in settings like farms, zoos, and wildlife rehabilitation centers. Obtain experience through internships, lab rotations, or research assistant positions related to animal behavior, cognition, or welfare. This is crucial for identifying particular areas of interest and developing observational techniques, field methodologies, experimental design skills, statistical modeling techniques, and data analysis capabilities.

If you’re interested in pursuing academic positions, seek out teaching assistant (TA) roles while earning your master’s or doctorate.

Choose a specialization within comparative animal psychology based on your interests and career goals. Among the options are behavioral ecology, cognitive ethology, neuroethology, and evolutionary psychology. For a complete list of specializations in the field, please refer to the What does a Comparative Animal Psychologist do? section in the career overview.

Fellowship or Postdoctoral Training (Optional)
After earning their master’s or doctoral degree, graduates may pursue a fellowship or postdoctoral position. These are temporary positions that allow graduates to work with leading researchers in the field, collaborate on interdisciplinary projects, and prepare for independent research or academic positions. Generally, fellowships and postdocs come from three sources: colleges and universities, government agencies, and foundations. However, some may be available in private industry.

Continuing Education and Research Publication
Stay informed about the latest research and advancements in comparative animal psychology. Attend workshops, conferences, and seminars to present your work, and participate in professional development and networking activities to keep your knowledge current.

As you progress in your academic journey, aim to publish your research findings in peer-reviewed journals. Building a strong publication record and establishing yourself as a contributor to the field of comparative animal psychology will enhance your credibility and visibility within the scientific community.

Certification and Professional Organizations
There isn't a specific certification widely recognized as a standard credential for comparative animal psychologists. Instead, qualifications and credentials are primarily based on their educational background, research experience, and expertise in specific areas of animal behavior and psychology. There are, however, professional certifications and training programs related to skills or methodologies that animal psychologists might find useful, depending on their focus or specialization. Here’s a sampling:

  • Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) – Offered by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the CAAB credential is designed for individuals who have a graduate degree in a biological or behavioral science and specialized training and experience in animal behavior. CAABs demonstrate expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of behavior problems in animals, consulting with pet owners, and developing behavior modification plans.
  • Certified Clinical Animal Behaviorist (CCAB) – The CCAB credential is offered by CCAB Certification Ltd. to professionals with a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine or a related field, specialized training in animal behavior, and clinical experience in diagnosing and treating behavior problems in animals.
  • Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) – The CPDT credential is offered by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) to professionals who have demonstrated knowledge and skills in dog training and behavior management through experience, education, and passing a certification examination.
  • Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) – The CDBC credential is offered by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) to professionals with a combination of education, training, and experience in animal behavior consulting, specializing in dogs and their behavior issues.
  • Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (CCBC) – The CCBC credential is also offered by the IAABC to professionals who have specialized training, education, and experience in cat behavior consulting and management of feline behavior issues.
  • Certified Horse Behavior Consultant (CHBC) – The CHBC credential is offered by the IAABC to professionals with specialized knowledge, training, and experience in horse behavior consulting and equine behavior management.
  • Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant (CPBC) – The CPBC credential is offered by the IAABC to professionals who specialize in parrot behavior consulting and management of parrot behavior issues, demonstrating expertise in avian behavior and welfare.
  • Board Certification in Veterinary Behavior (Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, DACVB) – For veterinarians interested in specializing in animal behavior, board certification through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) is an option. This credential requires completion of a veterinary behavior residency program, publication of research in the field, and passing a rigorous examination to demonstrate expertise in veterinary behavior medicine.
  • Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB) – Offered by The Wildlife Society (TWS), the CWB credential is designed for professionals specializing in wildlife biology and management, including those involved in research, conservation, and management of wildlife populations and habitats.
  • Zookeeping and Husbandry Certifications – For comparative animal psychologists working in zoos or focusing on captive animal behavior, certifications related to zookeeping, animal husbandry, or enrichment strategies may be relevant. These certifications are often provided by organizations like the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK).
  • Ethics and Compliance Training – Given the ethical considerations involved in animal research, animal psychologists may undergo training in research ethics, animal welfare regulations, and laboratory safety protocols. While not certifications in the traditional sense, completion of such training programs may be required by institutions or funding agencies.
  • Research Methodology and Statistics – Psychologists often use statistical methods and research methodologies. Courses or certifications in statistics, experimental design, or specific data analysis tools, such as R or Python, could be beneficial.

In addition to these certifying bodies, the following organizations also support the animal psychology community, providing advocacy, access to resources, and platforms for networking, information exchange and collaboration, and continuing education and professional development:

  • International Society for Comparative Psychology (ISCP)
  • International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ)
  • American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)
  • Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB)
  • European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP)