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Animal Behavior and Ethology

Program Description

Just the Facts

Animal Behavior and Ethology. A program that focuses on the scientific study of the psychological and neurological bases of animal sensation, perception, cognition, behavior, and behavioral interactions within and outside the species. Includes instruction in ethology, behavioral neuroscience, neurobiology, behavioral evolution, cognition and sensory perception, motivators, learning and instinct, hormonal controls, reproductive and developmental biology, community ecology, functional behavior, and applications to specific behaviors and patterns as well as to specific phyla and species.

This program is available in these options:

  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

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Additional Information

Why don't bulls like red flags? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Animal behavior students learn the answers to these and other questions about why animals act the way they do.

Animal behavior is offered mainly at the graduate and postgraduate degree levels. Students commonly get a bachelor's degree in a field such as zoology or psychology, then take a master's degree in animal behavior.

Animal behavior programs vary widely between schools, and go by many different names. This area of study is also known as ethology, animal psychology, comparative psychology and behavioral ecology.

Often, it's combined with other areas of study or folded into other departments, such as psychology or anthropology. Where it's classified says a lot about a school's approach to the topic. For example, if animal behavior courses are offered under a school's biology or zoology program, the program will take a biological point of view.

On the other hand, if a school offers these courses under its psychology or anthropology department, the emphasis may be more on social science, though biology will still be an important factor.

Grades matter when it comes to being accepted into a graduate program. The courses you take as an undergraduate also count for a lot. "We're particularly interested in the extent to which they have taken some initiative in getting themselves involved in research," says Donald Owings. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis.

Lawrence Dill is the director of a university's behavioural ecology research group. He recommends high school students take all the basic science courses, especially biology and math. It's also important to get some practical experience. "One of the best things students can do is try to get some kind of experience, even if it means volunteering with researchers," says Dill.

Involvement in a bird-watching club is also helpful. Anything that makes you familiar with the biology of birds or other animals are excellent things to be involved in, Owings says. Hiking and getting to know the wildlife in your area is also a good primer for ethological studies.

Besides tuition and books, other costs may include lab fees and a good pair of binoculars.

In graduate school, most of a student's costs for research and materials are covered. At this level, students are funded by either a research supervisor or by scholarships.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
Find more information related to this field of study

Animal Behavior Society
Devoted to the study of animal behavior

Zoo Animals
Read about this animal behaviorist's on-the-job experiences

Science of Emotions -- Inside the Animal Mind
Do animals experience emotions?


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