DO YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR ANIMAL IS THINKING?
This course is relevant to pet owners, veterinary assistants, or people who work with animals on farms, zoos, pet shops and trainers.. In understanding animal behaviour, we extend our basis for understanding human behaviour, and as such, the course may also be valuable for anyone studying general psychology. Lessons cover influences and motivation, animal perception and behaviour, environmental affects on behaviour, instinct and learning, socialisation, handling animals and problem behaviour.
Animal behaviour provides a foundation for animal training, or more generally, animal care. It also provides very real insights and a foundation for understanding human behaviour.
This course focuses 75% on understanding how animals think (all types). The remainder has more of a practical application, looking at things such as training, handling and dealing with abnormal behaviours.
There are 8 lessons in this course:
- Introduction: Influences and motivation.
- What is behaviour
- Causes of behaviour (eg. genetics, learning, external and internal influences)
- Reactive, active and cognitive behaviour
- Genetics and Behaviour.
- Understanding biology
- Natural selection
- Genetic variation
- Development of behaviour
- Behavioural genetics
- Animal Perception and Behaviour.
- How animals perceive things
- What stimulates them and how do those stimuli function
- Neural control
- Sensory processes, sight, sound, hearing etc.
- Behaviour and the Environment.
- Circadian rhythms
- Biological clocks
- Reproductive cycles etc.
- Social Behaviour.
- Animal Societies
- Social constraints
- Social order
- Biological clocks
- Instinct and Learning.
- Conditioning and learning
- Extinction and habituation
- Instrumental learning
- Operant behaviour
- Biological and cognitive aspects of learning
- Handling Animals.
- Psychological affects of different handling techniques
- Training animals (horses, cats, dogs, etc).
- The student has a choice of which types of animals to focus on, though a variety will still be covered.
- Behavioural Problems.
- Abnormal behaviour (eg. Psychotic, neurotic);
- Domestication of animals
- Reducing human contact
- Reducing human dependence
Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.
Why Study Animal Behaviour?
It is assumed that all animal behaviour is an adaptation designed to support survival, either directly or indirectly. However, this is not always the case. Animals can behave self-destructively, out of habit, or out of boredom, just as humans can.
When you understand animals, you then have a foundation for handling or training them.
To better understand the behaviour, we should also consider what motivates it.
What Motivates Behaviour?
Genetics is of prime importance (ie. inherited characteristics). Genetic characteristics are also sometimes referred to as “inborn”, “innate” or “instinctive”. Most animals are genetically programmed to act in certain ways in certain situations.
Experience (ie. learned characteristics). Experience may encompass terms including: “acquired”, “experiential” or “environmental”. Behaviours can be learned through the experience of interacting with the environment (which includes the people or other creatures in it), or it can be learned through personal, subjective experience (perceptions, thoughts and feelings). In the case of animals, these latter factors are usually difficult to identify.
Since genetic and environmental factors both influence behaviour, it is impossible to distinguish particular causes for a behaviour. Particularly in regard to animals, no behaviour can ever be characterised as totally instinctive or totally learned. Even though learned and genetic factors both play a role in all behaviours, the relative significance of each is variable.
Some behaviours in animals can be relatively unlearned and therefore, almost impossible to modify. In such cases, we can determine that genetics is the major influence. Other behaviours are relatively easy to modify, thus mostly learned. In such cases, we can determine that genetics has a minor influence.
KINDS OF BEHAVIOUR
Three general categories of behaviour are reactive behaviours, active behaviours, and cognitive behaviours.
Reactive behaviour includes stereotypic behaviour which is largely automatic. These are the most primitive types of behaviours which have been fully established in the animal well before it is born. Animal tropisms (automatic orientation responses) such as balancing and positioning are reactive behaviours. Other tropisms include things such as breathing, avoiding heat or opening the eyes.
Active behaviours are developed from inherited potentials. The animal is born with a tendency to act a certain way, but a degree of learning must occur for that behaviour to develop. The process is a little like a computer which delivers pre-programmed responses on demand; the way to act might be built into the animal’s genetic make-up, but it requires a certain stimulus before the action happens. These behaviours in part occur through parental training (eg. flying, walking, grooming). This is a more elaborate type of behaviour than reactive behaviour. It is believed to occur only in more advanced animals (ie. arthropods and vertebrates), though there is some evidence that lower order animals can also learn behaviour.
Cognitive behaviours are the most advanced forms of behaviour. Genetics provides only a very general influence, and the actual behaviour is more influenced by the environment and experience. Cognitive behaviour is more or less “deliberate” activity. The animal doesn’t just respond to stimuli; it can also “invent” its own actions. Simple cognitive behaviours are encountered in many (but not all) arthropods, and all vertebrates.
Exploration is a simple cognitive behaviour which allows an animal to familiarize itself with new conditions in the environment. Objects are approached, inspected and then moved away from. This action is generally repeated, but with reduced frequency. The most complex environmental factors tend to stimulate the greatest exploratory activity. If mammals are prevented from exploration for long periods, their behaviour can become abnormal.
Play is a more advanced type of cognitive behaviour which occurs to some degree in most vertebrates; but more so in mammals. Play may involve more complex and diverse activity than exploration. Play and exploration together help animals adapt to both their physical and social environment. Lack of play in young animals can lead to social problems later in life (ie. they make poor parents or don’t react well with other animals). Another more complex cognitive behaviour seen in mammals is manipulative behaviour.
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