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:
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:
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.
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.
There is no single recognised entry route, but entrants can consider three main routes:
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.
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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A companion animal behaviourist should:
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.
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)
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.