Applied Animal Behaviourist

The Job and What's Involved

Applied animal behaviourists diagnose and treat behavioural problems in animals. Although this includes working with animals in captivity, such as in zoos, the most common area of work is pet behaviour counselling.

Pet behaviour counsellors work with companion animals, such as dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and horses. The problems they deal with include:

  • Aggression towards people or other animals.
  • Destructiveness or self-mutilation.
  • Toileting problems.
  • Inappropriate vocal behaviour, such as excessive barking.
  • Chasing, for example livestock, cars or cyclists.
  • Repetitive behaviours, such as tail chasing.
  • Phobias.
  • General control.

Pet behaviour counsellors have pet owners referred to them by veterinary surgeons. They see owners and their pets at their own clinic, in veterinary surgeons' clinics or at the owner's home. The work involves:

  • Taking a detailed history of the problem from the owner, including medical information.
  • Observing and handling the animal to assess its response to different situations.
  • Establishing the cause of the behavioural problem.
  • Advising the owner on how to modify the animal's behaviour.
  • Writing a report outlining the behaviour modification plan and sending a copy of the report to the pet owner and to the veterinary surgeon.
  • Keeping in touch with the owner after consultation to assess progress and, if necessary, to modify advice depending on the progress made.

Pet behaviour counsellors are responsible for the health and safety of pets, owners, themselves and other people when handling animals and producing treatment plans. This is important because some animals can be aggressive.

Pet behaviour counsellors may specialise in one or more type of animal. Some also offer animal training.

Most applied animal behaviourists are self-employed and have no set working hours. They may work during evenings and weekends when clients are available. Employed animal behaviourists are likely to work 35 to 40 hours a week within normal office hours.

They spend much of their time in consultations in clinics or at clients' homes. Consultations usually take between 90 minutes and two hours. Observing animals may require some outdoors work, in all weather.

Most animal behaviourists spend some time travelling between clients or clinics. A driving licence may be useful.

Newly-qualified applied animal behaviourists may earn from around £15,000 a year. Earnings vary widely depending on charges, expenses and how much business is generated. Very few people make a full-time living from being a pet behaviour counsellor. Some supplement their income by writing articles, teaching and lecturing.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The animal behaviourist field is small, although the number of pet behaviour counsellors is actually growing and there are now about 100 to 200 in the UK. Although most applied animal behaviourists are self-employed, a few are employed by some of the larger welfare charities, such as Blue Cross and Dogs Trust.

Education and Training

There is no single recognised entry route, but to join the register of Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CCAB), (which is administered by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour), applicants need a degree or a postgraduate qualification in a biological or behavioural science.

The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) also requires a degree as the minimum level acceptable for membership. The APBC lists some relevant animal behaviour degree courses on its website.

In addition to relevant qualifications, entry to animal behaviourist work requires practical, hands-on experience of working with animals. Examples include working in kennels, a cattery, stables or a veterinary practice, or for one of the animal welfare societies.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Entry to a degree course is usually with at least two A levels/three H grades (often including biology and/or other science subjects) and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.

Postgraduate courses usually require a first degree in a relevant subject, such as animal science, biology, zoology, veterinary science or psychology.

There are a number of lower-level courses related to animal behaviour that may be useful as a foundation before progressing to a degree qualification, such as Foundation degrees, HNC's/HND's, BTEC/SQA national qualifications, NVQ's/SVQ's and other certificates or diplomas in animal behaviour. The APBC lists some of these courses on its website.

Animal behaviour courses vary considerably in content. Some deal only with companion animals, others also cover farm, laboratory or zoo animals. Courses tend to cover animal science (anatomy and physiology), health, psychology, behaviour, training and welfare.

To become an ASAB certificated clinical animal behaviourist requires at least:

  • A degree or postgraduate qualification in a relevant subject, plus specialist courses.
  • Three years' clinical experience, preferably under supervision.
  • Three references, including at least one from a practising veterinary surgeon.

To become a full member of the APBC, applicants need:

  • A degree in a biological discipline, such as biology or psychology.
  • To provide evidence of two years' professional practice, either independently or as an assistant in an APBC member practice (or one year's practice if in possession of a relevant higher degree).
  • To have attained a sufficiently high quality and quantity of relevant work (all work must have been referred by veterinary surgeons).

Pet behaviour counsellors who are ASAB certificated clinical animal behaviourists may also apply for full membership of the APBC.

Applied animal behaviourists continue learning throughout their career. They read research papers and journals, and attend seminars, workshops and conferences to keep up to date with the latest developments.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An applied animal behaviourist should:

  • Be good at science, particularly biology.
  • Have good communication skills, both spoken and written.
  • Be able to build a relationship of trust with clients.
  • Have patience and empathy.
  • Be able to handle difficult animals calmly.
  • Be able to motivate pet owners.
  • Be tactful when advising owners.
  • Observe animal welfare legislation at all times.
  • Be able to keep records and accounts.
  • Have management and business skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Prospects for self-employed applied animal behaviourists depend on their ability to attract business.

Experienced animal behaviourists may move into teaching or lecturing. They may also write articles on animal behaviour.

Get Further Information

Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC),
PO Box 46, Worcester WR8 9YS
Tel: 01386 751151

Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB),
Membership Secretary, 82A High Street, Sawston, Cambridge CB22 3HJ

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