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Old 09-01-2009, 09:23 AM
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How to become an Animal Behaviorist

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I have been asked how one might pursue training in animal behavior. Perhaps this will be useful information for others so I will post it on the forum.

First let me clarify, while I work in animal behavior and hope that I can have useful input on that subject I do not have any official certifications as an animal behaviorist and certainly not as an avian behaviorist.

I started in animal behavior when I was a military working dog handler which is a bit like police K9. I spent most of my free time educating myself by reading anything and everything I could on animal behavior. After my enlistment I went back to school and earned a bachelors degree in biology and animal behavior. Now I am pursuing a PhD in a behavioral field. In the meantime I have been working as a pet trainer - primarily dogs.

The term "animal behaviorist" can have various meanings - or sometimes no meaning at all. It can refer to specific training and qualifications or it can refer simply to a field of study or a perspective on working with animals. I would say I utilize the tools and training of a behaviorist, and I would say I am working in the field of animal behavior, but I would not claim any official certification as a behaviorist. There are only two such certifications that are meaningful.

First is certification in Applied Animal Behavior through the Animal Behavior Society (Animal Behavior Society Web Site) of which there are two levels either full or associate certification either of which requires graduate level training and many years of experience. The other is for veterinarians and is offered by the AVMA - this is in America, most other nations do have similar programs through their veterinary boards. All vets receive some basic training in animal behavior, though it is quite minimal - so one should not, in general, look to a vet for behavioral advice. The AVMA certification in behavior though is quite thorough and if you happen to have a vet so certified then definitely you should pick their brain about behavioral issues.

As an aside I always got a laugh when some fool pet owner would talk down to me when it came up that I was a pet trainer, often they would say something along the lines of "Are you a veterinarian? If not why should I listen to you?!" I had to laugh on the inside as most of the veterinarians in town came to me to help train their own pets.

I myself will be applying for certification through the Animal Behavior Society, but this will take quite some time yet.

There are many other groups that offer what I would call pseudo-credentials. One of the most popular is CCPT for dog trainers. There may be many quite competent and well educated trainers who are CCPT certified, but the certification itself is meaningless. To paraphrase Tim Minchin these people are behaviorists in the same way my buddy Steve is a pharmacist.

These organizations charge a fee for certification and then they advertise that consumers should only go to trainers certified by their group. It's basically the pet trainer mafia. There are several dozen such certifications that I qualify for, but I am not paying them a boat-load of money so I can put more letters after my name.

Now, if you are just interested in learning about animal behavior for your own edification or to build your relationship with your pets then I can offer many suggestions on reading materials. You can learn much from good book, but you also miss much by not working actively in the field. It doesn't matter how motivated I am and how many texts and manuals I read - I cannot be a part time heart surgeon. But just the same if you truly wish to learn I'd be happy to offer recommendations. Or, particularly for younger members (or I suppose for older ones who wish to start a new career) I can offer advice on how to start a legitimate career in the field of animal behavior.

Before offering any such recommendations however it would be useful to know the background of the interested parties: have you had university level coursework in biology or psychology, and if so how much? Given that, I could point you in the direction of many great sources.

Last edited by Auggie's Dad; 09-01-2009 at 09:36 AM.
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Old 09-01-2009, 06:33 PM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

I really appreciate your explainations on this topic. I am interested in your recommendations for reading material on the subject of African Greys and other parrots and their behavior/communication. For a long time I have been facinated with KOKO the signing gorilla & Dr. Patterson who works with KOKO. Also our beloved Alex. Have your read Alex and me? I am a semi retired nurse and a die hard animal lover. Oh, Rosie, my Timneh has my cat's meow down pat now. No words yet but even if she does not talk I plan to be in communication with her just like my small dog. What do you think of Cesar Milan the dog whisperer? I saw him in person and feel that he has God given talents with dogs. Anyway, I have read several books on parrots and feel like a sponge to learn more. Thanks and I look forward to any help you can give me. So far, Rosie has no behavior problems and she ate a few pellets today!! Dianne

Last edited by Spiritbird; 09-01-2009 at 06:37 PM.
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Old 09-01-2009, 07:13 PM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

I haven't read any of Pepperberg's books, but I am familiar with her work. If you are looking for a very enjoyable read that delves into the basics of animal behavior I can recommend nothing better than Robert Triver's "Social Evolution." I suspect you would also enjoy Vicki Hearne's "Adam's Task" (
Amazon.com: Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name (9781602390027): Vicki Hearne, Donald McCaig: Books Amazon.com: Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name (9781602390027): Vicki Hearne, Donald McCaig: Books
this may actually be better to read first.

Cesar is pretty good with dogs - some of his 'techniques' however are just a short term benefit to make him look good when in the long run they make things worse. He is also not very good with people. A few of my clients had worked with him previously: their dogs behaved wonderfully for him, but he never taught them how to work with their pets. For me pet training is not pet training, it is owner training.

Last edited by Auggie's Dad; 09-01-2009 at 07:17 PM.
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Old 09-02-2009, 05:53 PM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

Appreciate your suggestions and I will check them out of the library. I am so happy to see the result of everything I have read and learned about being the grey guardian with Rosie. I only wish I had done this a long time ago and took in a rescue. My house was always full of too many cats and now there is just one. My cat is getting trained without me even trying. When I set things up to bring Rosie out of the cage, cat goes into the bedroom where she knows she will be for a while. Thanks again.
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Old 09-28-2010, 12:39 PM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

have you any credentials to golden-capped conures? I'd like to know more, being that i've been with my bird for 15 years and that my age is 23. Any suggestions?
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Old 09-28-2010, 01:29 PM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

Wow, here's a thread I have not seen in quite some time. I'm not sure I understand your question:
Quote: Originally Posted by Vivica View Post
have you any credentials to golden-capped conures?
Do you mean do I know of any credentials for golden-capped conures? That's rather specific, I doubt any legitimate behavioral training would be species specific. A good behaviorist must know about the species in question to fully understand or influence a behavior, but no one specializes in the behavior of one species (okay, psychologists do, but I think they're all nuts!) )

Quote: Originally Posted by Vivica View Post
I'd like to know more, being that i've been with my bird for 15 years and that my age is 23. Any suggestions?
What would you like to know. I could give many suggestions, but it rather depends on what you're shooting for.
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Old 09-29-2010, 05:24 AM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

Quote: Originally Posted by Auggie's Dad View Post
Wow, here's a thread I have not seen in quite some time. I'm not sure I understand your question:
Quote: Originally Posted by Vivica View Post
have you any credentials to golden-capped conures?
Do you mean do I know of any credentials for golden-capped conures? That's rather specific, I doubt any legitimate behavioral training would be species specific. A good behaviorist must know about the species in question to fully understand or influence a behavior, but no one specializes in the behavior of one species (okay, psychologists do, but I think they're all nuts!) )

Quote: Originally Posted by Vivica View Post
I'd like to know more, being that i've been with my bird for 15 years and that my age is 23. Any suggestions?
What would you like to know. I could give many suggestions, but it rather depends on what you're shooting for.
I forget what I was trying to say. LOL
Thanks anyway!
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Old 10-27-2011, 11:55 PM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

Appreciate your suggestions and I will check them out of the library. I am so happy to see the result of everything I have read and learned about being the grey guardian with Rosie. I only wish I had done this a long time ago and took in a rescue. My house was always full of too many cats and now there is just one. My cat is getting trained without me even trying. When I set things up to bring Rosie out of the cage, cat goes into the bedroom where she knows she will be for a while. Thanks again.
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Old 12-11-2011, 11:05 AM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

I, too, am fascinated with Irene Pepperberg's work with Alex, and also with Koko the gorilla. I definitely have a fascination for studying animal intelligence. I admit, I have been amateur experimenting with my cat now that I'm home all day. I suspect cats can understand as many words and phrases as birds do, although the birds are a bit easier to study, lol!

I've always been a huge animal lover and even taught my rodents to do tricks as a child. Most of my animal training though has been with horses.

I am one of those people though that animals really like. I often get comments in other people's homes about one of their pets liking me that will never go to strangers. I've also managed to get on many horses that were considered untrainable or unrideable by others.

Maybe I should get involved in this. I do need something new to do with my life now that I'm not capable of working any kind of job with a set schedule. It would be a rewarding thing to do for animals and their owners. I used to be a teacher and have a strong need to do things that are rewarding.
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Old 06-03-2012, 07:23 AM
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Re: How to become an Animal Behaviorist

Well i ordered the two books. When it comes to being a behaviorist, of something like parrots,how could that learning process be complete without studying parrots in the wild?
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