Companion Animal Behaviourist

The Job and What's Involved

Animal behaviourists assess 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 with companion animals (pets).

Companion animal behaviourists work with companion animals, such as dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and horses. The majority will specialise to work with one species, dogs being the most common.

The problems they deal with include:

  • Owner control and training problems.
  • Aggression towards people or other animals.
  • Destructiveness.
  • 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 and other fearful behaviours.
  • General control.

Companion animal behaviourists work with pet owners and their animals that may have been referred to them by veterinary surgeons. Their work involves working alongside veterinary surgeons and other animal-related professionals. They see owners and their pets in a variety of environments including the owner's home, at veterinary practices or outside.

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.
  • Developing and implementing a training plan.
  • Liaising with other animal-related professionals.
  • 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.

Companion animal behaviourists are responsible for the health and safety of pets, owners, themselves and other people when handling animals and recommending treatment plans. This is important because some animals can be aggressive.

Some behaviourists may also offer animal training.

Most companion animal behaviourists are self-employed and run their own business. This involves keeping records and accounts, marketing and good customer care.

Most are self-employed and have no set working hours. They may work during evenings and weekends when clients are more likely to be available. Employed companion animal behaviourists are likely to work 35 to 40 hours a week, which may include shift work to cover weekends and holidays.

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 work to be done outdoors, in all weather conditions.

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

Self-employed companion animal behaviourists charge for each consultation. 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.

Newly qualified companion animal behaviourists may earn around £15,000 a year. An experienced companion animal behaviourist employee may earn around £25,000 a year.

The highest earning companion animal behaviourists may earn more than £35,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The animal behaviourist field is small, although the number of companion animal behaviourists is actually growing and there are now about 200 working full time in the UK. Many more work part time combining this with another related role. Although most companion animal behaviourists are self-employed, a few are employed by some of the larger welfare charities, such as Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and the PDSA.

Education and Training

There is no single recognised entry route, but entrants can consider three main routes:

  • Related degree courses are offered by many higher education institutions and specialised training is completed after graduation. Entry to a degree course usually requires a minimum of two A levels (often including biology and/or other science subjects) and five GCSE's (A*-C), including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.
  • Employment within the animal care industry, particularly the animal welfare sector, may offer opportunities for progression into specialised training related to animal behaviour and training.
  • The third option is a specialist course with one of the related organisations.

Whichever route is chosen, all require extensive supervised training as well as a significant practical, hands-on experience of working with animals. Examples include working in kennels, a cattery, stables or a veterinary practice, or one of the animal welfare societies.

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

A Few More Exams You Might Need

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.

Companion 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

A companion animal behaviourist should:

  • Have good communication skills, both spoken and written.
  • Be able to build a relationship of trust with clients.
  • Have patience and empathy.
  • Have good observation and interpretation skills of animal and human behaviour.
  • Be able to handle difficult animals calmly.
  • Be able to motivate and stimulate pet owners.
  • Have good skills in animal training.
  • Have good coaching skills.
  • Be tactful when advising owners.
  • Observe animal welfare legislation at all times.
  • Be able to keep records and accounts.
  • Have management and business skills.
  • Have an interest in science.
  • Be aware of their own limitations and the importance of involving other animal-related professionals when required.
  • Be committed to ongoing professional learning and development.

Your Long Term Prospects

Prospects for self-employed companion animal behaviourists depend on their ability to attract business. Opportunities for specialism may occur, depending on the areas of interest or demand for services.

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

Get Further Information

The Academy of Dog Training & Behaviour

Association for the Study of
Animal Behaviour (ASAB).Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

The Association of Intuitive Natural Training for Owners and Dogs (INTOdogs)

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

Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT),
PO Box 17, Kempsford GL7 4WZ
Tel: 01285 810811

The British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers,
PO Box 5984, Milton Keynes MK10 1FJ
Tel: 01908 526856

The Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training,
Applewood House, Ringshall Road, Dagnall, Berkhamsted HP4 1RN
Tel: 01442 843187

The Canine and Feline Behaviour Association,
Applewood House, Ringshall Road, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire HP4 1RN
Tel: 0845 6445993

Centre of Applied Pet Ethology,
PO Box 6, Fortrose, Ross-shire IV10 8WB
Tel: 0800 783 0817

Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC),
The Dene, Old North Road, Bourn, Cambridge CB23 2TZ
Tel: 01954 718882

The Guild of Dog Trainers,
14 Jasmine Close, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP21 9SH
Tel: 01296 690230

The Kennel Club, 1-5 Clarges Street, Piccadilly, London W1J 8AB
Tel: Telephone: 0844 463 3980

National Association of Security Dog Users,
Unit 11, Boundary Business Centre, Boundary Way, Woking, Surrey GU21 5DH
Tel: 01483 888588

Professional Association of Applied Canine Trainers (PAACT)

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