If you are passionate about animals and a dedicated student of their behavior, a Ph.D. in animal behavior could be an ideal degree. This degree can prepare you for a career in animal behavior research, animal training, conservation or zookeeping. The right program will depend upon your specific research interests.

Program Variations

There are a wide variety of animal behavior programs. At some schools, you'll study psychology with a concentration in animal behavior. You might also choose to study a specific animal's behavior by pursuing marine biology or primatology. Ethology, applied animal behavior and behavioral evolution all involve studying animal behavior. At some schools, you can also concentrate in animal behavior if you're pursuing zoology, neurobiology, neuroscience, genetics or biology.


Many schools offer animal behavior programs. For budding primatologists, Central Washington University offers a program in primate behavior and ecology, as well as the opportunity to work with chimpanzees who speak sign language. The University of Montana and University of California, Davis, offer generalized animal behavior Ph.D. programs, while the University of Arizona describes a joint Ph.D. program in evolutionary psychology and ethology, the study of animal behavior.

Sample Courses

Your courses will vary significantly depending upon your area of concentration. Generally, you'll be expected to take courses in biology, statistics and data analysis, animal cognition, psychology and zoology. If you specialize in a particular class of animal, you'll also take a significant number of courses about that class. Future marine biologists, for example, will take a hefty load of marine biology courses.

Completing Your Ph.D.

In addition to your coursework, you'll also have to complete a dissertation presenting novel research in the field you have chosen. This often requires hands-on experience. You might, for example, do fieldwork studying chimpanzees, observe lions in a zoo setting or work with a professor to study laboratory animals. Your dissertation topic will have to be approved, and you'll have to defend it before a committee of your peers. You might also be required to teach core classes in animal behavior to graduate students or undergraduates. An internship can help you gain real-world experience, making you more employable.