I’ve been lucky enough to be around and work with animals of all kinds for much of my life. This passion and love for animals is a big reason why I started this blog! There are so many ways to work hands-on with animals, whether it’s a career, a hobby, or volunteering. If you’re looking for a way to spend more time with animals, here are some potential careers and a few ways you can learn more.
Animal behavior is a fascinating field and professional animal behavioralists help folks manage, modify, and prevent problem behavior in pets. There are, unfortunately, times in which these professionals can really help, like if your parrot is plucking out all its feathers or your dog is reactive while on a leash. Animal behavioralists work with pet owners, family members, veterinarians, and others involved in the pet’s life to work on behavior problems that are disruptive, annoying, or even possibly dangerous.
Animal behavioralists will usually focus on the ‘why’ of a problem and will try to solve the root of the problem. There is a very clear divide between veterinarians and animal behavioralists, as the latter can be loosely described as animal psychologists. Those in the animal behavior field aren’t able to prescribe meds, run diagnostic tests, offer nutritional advice, or anything that deals with the physical well-being of an animal, as only veterinarians are allowed to do those things. But animal behavioralists are often able to offer possible reasons behind the behavior, some suggestions on what to ask your vet about, and can help you work on a behavior modification plan to hopefully reduce the problem behavior.
If you want to become an animal behavioralist, consider getting a degree in zoology, psychology, biology, or veterinary medicine. These fields will all provide a great foundation, as the field relies on knowing and understanding the science behind animal evolution, biology, and psychology. You’ll need more than just a Bachelor’s degree to be an effective animal behavioralist but the Animal Behavior Society has a guide to animal behavior programs in the United States.
Unfortunately, this field doesn’t really have a protected title and anyone can theoretically practice animal behavior consultancy. But organizations like the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the Animal Behavior Society have their own levels of certification that all require an extensive amount of education and experience. Plus, the title ‘Applied Animal Behaviorist’ is generally given to folks who have a Master’s or Ph.D. in animal behavior and the appropriate certifications.
Over on Instagram, there are so many photos shared every single day and many of these photos include animals of all kinds! There’s really no one right way to start an animal photography career but having some artistic skill is a big must! Some photographers sell prints or other products with their photos (think phone cases, shirts, etc) while others work with different publications to provide photos or work with owners to provide professional and beautiful photos of their animal(s). Becoming a full-time photographer can be difficult but there are many classes and workshops in different community colleges, online, and more.
Becoming an animal photographer will take a lot of skill and patience, especially if you’re trying to get a photo of a wild animal. Doing research on cameras and knowing how to best use the one you end up getting will be very helpful and knowing a bit about the animal you want to take a photo of will help too!
Many shelters and organizations all across the United States and the world work on finding forever homes for dogs, cats, and other pets. Some people work in shelters to care for animals while they’re waiting on new homes while other organizations have a network of foster homes that they support. Plus, there are organizations like Rescue Road Trips that help to transport pets from one area to another and some cat cafes work with local rescue groups! Catfe in Vancouver, BC, for example, works with BCSPCA and all the cats in their cafe are up for adoption and Neko Cat Cafe in Bellingham and Seattle works with the Whatcom Humane Society and the Regional Animal Services of King County.
If you’re thinking about going into the animal rescue business, I definitely recommend reading through Bernard Lima-Chavez’s piece about the five things he learned while working for an animal shelter. Doing animal rescue/welfare can be emotionally and physically taxing work, but placing a pet into a loving forever home is amazing. As someone who has had rescue dogs, I’m incredibly grateful for all the work that different rescue organizations have done.
For some people (and a certain fictional bear in the 100 Acre Woods), honey is a staple in their diet. This vicious and sweet substance is produced by bees and beekeepers who work to keep their hives healthy and productive all year round. Local beekeeping associations can provide a community of more experienced beekeepers if you’re just starting out and will generally have great educational resources, like workshops and events with experts. And the fun thing about beekeeping is that you can do it as a hobby if you don’t want to make a career out of it!
Selling honey and even beeswax is how most beekeepers make money, but you need to consider plenty of things before you start selling. Honey is considered a food product and different states in the US have different regulations beekeepers need to keep in mind before selling to the public. If you’re just producing honey for you and your family, you don’t have to worry but if not, the site ‘Local Honey Finder‘ has an entire page dedicated to what you need to know about selling honey in each state.
Bee removal is also important, as these insects have made hives under sheds, in the walls of homes, in attics, mailboxes, and so many other places where they’d come into regular contact with people. Several viral videos on TikTok have shown the beauty of safely removing and relocating beehives, like this video from a husband and wife duo or the many wonderful videos from Erika Thompson. By removing and relocating bees, we can keep those populations safe without needlessly killing any bees.
Unlike an animal behavioralist, a dog trainer generally works on teaching owners and dogs new skills. Trainers can teach a dog basic commands like sit, down, or stay, to navigate agility course, or tricks like play dead. Dog trainers work with both humans and dogs, as half the job is getting owners to understand and follow through on training. Obedience courses taught by trainers can be a great way for an owner and dog to bond and professional trainers may have some expert training tips you might not know!
There are no required licenses or certifications to become a dog trainer but having some education and training can go a long way in this field. Organizations like the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the Animal Behavior College provide certification and courses that can help further your dog training career.
If you are patient, detail orientated, creative, have good hand-eye coordination, and love dogs, consider becoming a professional dog groomer! Some breeds are excessive shedders and trips to a professional groomer can make things easier for owners. But there’s more to dog grooming than some tools and a love of dogs. You don’t need a license to be a dog groomer but training and education can really make a difference. The National Dog Groomers Association of America has workshops and certifications but some companies, like PetCo and PetSmart, offer on-the-job training and apprenticeships.
There is some general information that groomers do need to know, particularly since groomers can help spot potential health problems. Here’s a general list of things to know.
A veterinarian is one of the most well-known ways animal-centered careers. Becoming a veterinarian takes a lot of dedication and education, as you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M). It is also possible to get a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (a Ph.D. rather than a D.V.M) but even just aiming for a D.V.M means at least 8 years of school after high school (4 for undergrad and 4 for the D.V.M). There are only a handful of veterinary schools that are accredited by the American Veterinary Medicine Association around the world and only two are located in the Pacific Northwest (Washington State University and Oregon State University).
While veterinarians are well known, did you know that veterinarian technicians/assistants are also important in this field? Veterinarian technicians are similar to nurses in many ways and assist veterinarians in different settings. They help by observing the behavior and condition of animals, providing nursing care and first aid to animals, administer medicines or treatments prescribed by a vet, collect blood/urine/fecal samples, and so much more. If you’ve ever taken a pet into an actual veterinary hospital, a vet tech/assistant is usually (but not always) the person you first talk to in an exam room!
Becoming a veterinarian technician involves getting an Associate’s Degree from an accredited school and while it’ll be less time-intensive than going for a D.V.M or Ph.D., becoming a vet tech will still take time and dedication. There are currently seven AVMA accredited programs in the Pacific Northwest (two in Oregon and five in Washington).
Both veterinarians and veterinarian technicians can work in a variety of settings other than a veterinary hospital. Zoos, for example, will often have a veterinary team on staff to care for their animals.
Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator means caring for sick and/or injured wildlife, with the eventual goal of releasing the animal back into the wild! Federal and state laws make it illegal to rehabilitate wildlife without the right legal permits so in addition to the appropriate training and education, you’ll need to meet some requirements to get a permit. The organization PAWS has some great resources about becoming a wildlife rehabilitator and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife even has a manual on wildlife rehabilitation.
Zoos and aquariums have their own controversies but there are many jobs in any given zoo or aquarium that help keep the animals safe, healthy, and enriched. Some jobs at a zoo include zoo educator, public relations/marketing, curator of exhibits, education, horticulture, animal management specialist, and conservation biologist/zoologist.
Zookeepers have one of the most hands-on work with zoo animals, as their job entails feeding, enriching, and observing all the animals. This job also means cleaning different areas and in many cases, it’s a very physical job that involves being both inside and out all year round. The American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are both great places for resources on how to become an animal/zookeeper. Most places require some formal education in fields like biology, wildlife management, or zoology. Oregon State University has an online program where you can actually earn a BS in zoology!
Furthering Your Education
If you’re currently working with animals in any way and want to learn more, the good news is that there are plenty of ways you can do so! Here are some great animal-related educational programs you can join, even if you can’t return to school full time.
- University of Washington’s Certificate in Applied Animal Behavior
- An online program that takes 9 months to complete (one course for three quarters) and the cost is roughly $3,555.
- University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Certificate in Animal Welfare & Behavior
- An online program that will take about 6 months to complete (four courses that each take seven weeks) and the cost is roughly $3,500.
- University of Denver’s Institue for Human-Animal Connection actually has four different professional development certificate programs, including
These are just some of the many different ways you can work with animals and there are even more ways to volunteer your time if you don’t want to (or aren’t able to) change careers. Different nonprofits like zoos, rescue organizations, or organizations like Animals as Natural Therapy or Pasado’s Safe Haven often need volunteers to help things run smoothly! Working with and being around animals can be so beneficial for you, other people, and the animals you’re helping.