Animal Psychologists

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Is there such a thing as an animal psychologist, and if there is, what does an animal psychologist do? What kind of a degree would you have to have to be an animal psychologist?

Answer: Yes. There are animal psychologists. For years psychologist have worked with animals, but primarily in labs, studying animal behavior with the intent to generalize what is learned to humans. Particularly, they might be thought of as working with rats in a lab. However, I suspect, you are wondering if there are psychologists that might be thought of as veterinary psychologists.

Animal psychologists work in zoos, on nature reserves, and other animal parks to observe, study, and promote animal welfare. In zoos, they have adopted techniques from research psychology by developing enrichment programs for animals that include toys, games, and problem-solving puzzles. This has developed as a result of a concern for the wellbeing of animals in captivity.

As one might expect, in some cases, they are working alongside veterinarians, treating the emotional side of animals. As in human psychology, animal psychologists make observations and develop treatment plans for the psychological welfare of animals under their care.

As far as educational requirement, I poked around on the Internet, but was unable to locate a specific program of study in animal psychology. I found programs in animal behavior, but not specifically in animal psychology. I assume that in order to call oneself an animal psychologist, you would have to obtain a Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D that met the requirements for licensure as a psychologist in the jurisdiction in which you want to practice.

In addition to that, you would have to specialize in animal behavior. There are title acts in most jurisdictions that forbid the use of the term “psychologist” outside of an educational institution unless one is licensed as a psychologist, regardless of specialty. I hope this provides you with the kind of information you were looking for.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].

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