Learn to decode animal behaviour and improve your animal management skills!
How do horses show fear? What's the difference in horse perception and dog perception? Why are some animals so keyed to changes in smell?
In this course, you'll study the biological foundations of how animals think and act. Learning the differences between innate, native, and conditioned behaviours, you'll build a solid understanding of how to work with your animals rather than against them. Understanding animal communication -- and the differences between communication and language -- will also help you interpret emotional responses, needs, and more. Excellent for wildlife workers and rehabilitators, trainers, agriculturalists, vet assistants, pet care workers, and more.
This course has eight lessons. Each lesson has a corresponding online self-assessment test.
Lesson 1: Introduction to Animal Behaviour
Lesson 2: Animal Perception and Cognition
- Interpreting Animal Behaviour
- Descriptions of Animal Behaviour
- Factors that Influence Behaviour
- Additional Reading (Goats, Cats, Dogs)
Lesson 3: Innate or Native Behaviours
- Additional Reading (Animal Perception, Types of Stimuli)
Lesson 4: How Animals Learn
- Innate Behaviours
- Fixed Action Patterns
- Innate Releasing Mechanisms
- Ritualised Behaviours
- Feeding Behaviour
- Other Eating and Drinking Adaptations
- Biological Rhythms
- Sexual Behaviour
- Additional Reading (Feeding Cats, Dog and Cat Obesity, Sexual Behaviour, What Animals Eat)
Lesson 5: Specific Types of Animal Behaviour
- What is the Point of Learning?
- Types of Animal Learning
- Environment and Learning
- How Instincts and Learnt Behaviour are Related
- Animal Attachments
- Animal Parenting
- Additional Reading (Why Animals Learn, Equine Behaviour, Conditioning)
Lesson 6 How Animals Communicate
- Social Behaviour
- Additional Reading (Social Behaviours, Horse Temperament, Aggression in Dogs)
Lesson 7 Animal Mentality
- What is Communication?
- Types of Animal Communication
- Do Animals Understand Human Language?
- How Animals Communicate
- Additional Reading (Communication in Dogs, Understanding Cat Behaviour)
Lesson 8 Managing Animal Behaviour
- Animal Intelligence
- Animal Emotion
- Animal Psychopathology
- Additional Reading (Dog Depression, Bird Behaviour Problems, Five Ways to Ensure a Happy Pet)
- Our Need to Manage Animal Behaviour
- Why Do We Domesticate Animals?
- Canines - Managing their Behaviour
- Felines - Domestic and Wild Cats
- Equines - Training Horses
- Training Wild Animals in Captive Environments
- Additional Reading (Equine Therapy and Rehabilitation, Dog Problems)
Animal behaviour is more than just what an animal does.
Although it might be a response to a stimulus, a reflex or a nervous system action, like humans, its behaviour may also link to what an animal thinks or feels. If a human raises an eyebrow it might suggest that they are being quizzical or disbelieving. However, we do not know this for sure by observing them. We just assume this because universally a raised eyebrow tends to mean this. However, this behaviour is not a normal action in a dog or other animal so we certainly couldn't imbue them with the ability to question things.
Smiling is a universal human behaviour. If a human smiles, we would most likely think they were happy and perhaps amused, friendly or welcoming. However, a human can also smile in a deceptive manner. A smile, therefore, does not necessarily mean they are happy - only that they are outwardly projecting this emotional state. If a monkey smiles, it is usually a sign of aggression, and it is also recognised as a sign of aggression by humans - rather than a “happy” smile. Apes grin and bear their teeth to show their opponent that they are expressing hostility.
Whilst there are similarities between human and animal behaviour there are also many differences. We cannot interpret how an animal thinks from observing their behaviour, but we can get a reasonable idea. When a dog “smiles” it is often a representation that they are “happy”, whereas if they bear their teeth they are most likely preparing to bite or attack. Often this behaviour is accompanied by a growl.
When attempting to understand animal behaviour, or human behaviour, through observations we should therefore adopt a degree of caution. Although we may have some understanding of the behaviour e.g. we think a human smiling means they are happy, or a monkey smiling means it is aggressive, we do not always know exactly what it means.
when we observe animals we are very often tempted to ascribe human thoughts and feelings onto their behaviour. Most animal owners have probably done this at some time or other, and some may think of their animals in human terms all the time. In fact, it can be very difficult not to ascribe human characteristics and thought patterns to animals given we are so familiar with looking inwardly to understand our own behaviour. However, this anthropomorphism may actually hinder us from truly understanding animal behaviour for what it is. One of the challenges of comparative psychology has been to study how animals behave and think without using human terms - to try and study them impartially without making human inferences.
Descriptions of Animal Behaviour
Given the problems associated with of attributing human characteristics to animals, animal behaviour has often been described in terms of:
- Patterns of movements - e.g. walking, fornicating
- Effect on the environment - e.g. feeding, hunting
Another way of describing animal behaviour which has been widely used is Lloyd Morgan's canon. Morgan suggested that any behaviour should be explained in terms of basic or lower psychological processes where it is possible to explain it in this way. He considered habits and learning to be lower level processes which were more primitive, whereas reasoning and understanding would be higher level processes. According to Morgan, animals were evolutionarily more primitive than humans and so had more primitive psychological processes. As such, their behaviour can always be described in terms of lower level psychological processes, which avoids the use of anthropomorphic terms.
However, it doesn't always make sense to describe animal behaviour in terms of lower level psychological processes. In fact, there are many examples of advanced animal behaviours which are best described in terms of higher level processes.