Learn about ethology and understand the effects of biology on behavior. See what your career choices are in this field and what education is required to obtain a job. Find out about areas of academic specialization available to you and what people in this career field earn.
Ethology is the biological study of behavior, both in animals and humans. Job titles for those working in ethology fields include psychologist, teacher, researcher, animal trainer, zoologist and veterinarian. Depending on the job, you may work in a kennel, stable, zoo, veterinary clinic, school or lab.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for a few different ethology careers was positive for the period 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). Employment of veterinarians was expected to increase by 12%, while that of animal trainers was projected to grow 15%. Predicted job growth for zoologists and wildlife biologists was slower than average, however, with 5% growth projected during the same period. If you want to focus on human ethology, you might like to know that the expected employment growth of psychologists was 12%.
As of May 2012, the yearly median salary for psychologists was $69,280. Veterinarians earned a median annual wage of $84,460, and zoologists and wildlife biologists made $57,710. Animal trainers took home a median yearly salary of $25,270, all per the BLS.
Many ethology-related jobs require an advanced degree; however, you may qualify for some jobs, such as animal trainer, with a high school diploma and on-the-job training. In this career, you might train pets to be obedient, show horses to carry riders or dogs to assist blind individuals.
If you'd like to pursue formal education, you might begin with a bachelor's degree in animal behavior. Coursework may cover topics like animal cognition, neuroethology and behavioral ecology. Classes focusing on behavior among primates, birds or insects may also be available. If your school doesn't offer this major, you may find a bachelor's degree in zoology, biology or psychology to be a helpful starting point. Courses in these programs might include chemistry, calculus and neuroscience. If you can't major in ethology, you might at least be able to enroll in some courses; these may cover how genetics, migration, predation and cognitive processes affect animal behavior.
If you'd like to attain an ethology-related graduate degree, you can pursue a master's degree or Ph.D. in zoology or psychology; some previous training in the biological sciences and social sciences, respectively, is typically required for entrance. With a science-related undergraduate education, you could also go after a Ph.D. in Veterinary Science or a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).
Some of the courses you may take as a zoology graduate student are ecology, ichthyology, biogeography and animal physiology. In an advanced-level program in psychology, you may be able to choose from animal behavior, clinical psychology and developmental psychology concentration options.
To become a veterinarian, you'll need to earn a DVM. Coursework may cover both biomedical and clinical aspects of animal care, covering topics such as bacteriology, parasitology, immunology, anesthesiology, cardiology and diagnostic imaging. If you're more interested in conducting research or educating others on animal behavior, you could pursue a Ph.D. and seek a career in academia.