Animal Behaviour

Learn about animal psychology: conditioning, innate behaviour and survival. A foundation for working with pets, livestock or wildlife -or managing your own animals.

Course CodeBAG203
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Learn what Drives a Pets Behaviour

Understanding pet behaviour makes life much easier, not only for the pet themselves but also for pet owners and anyone who works or deals with pets; from breeders and pet shop staff, through to animal welfare officers, trainers and groomers.
This course provides you with an understanding of animals and what causes them to act the way they do. With this understanding you have a very sound foundation for dealing with animals in any situation.

Why Choose this Course?

1. It is Substantial - Our courses are 100 hours; many other colleges may have cheaper courses, but they are usually much shorter.
2. Students have Strong Support - We employ top teachers and have spent 35 years building resources to support them. Our tutors are accessible, with academics on duty in both Australia and the UK daily.
3.  Courses are revised and updated in response to feedback from every student who graduates. Few schools apply resources like this to improving their courses.
True learning is a process guided by expert teachers. Our teaching staff are a team of experts, spread across the world, all university trained and with real world experience. They include veterinary scientists, agricultural scientists, and behavioural scientists.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction: Influences and Motivation
    • Ethology
    • What is behaviour
    • Purpose of animal behaviour
    • What motivates behaviours
    • Behaviour types (Reactive, Active, Cognitive)
    • Learned behaviours (Classic conditioning, Reinforcement, Extinction, Operant Conditioning, Skinners experiments)
    • Other influences (external stimuli, internal stimuli, physiological responses, psychological responses)
    • Terminology
    • Observing animals
  2. Genetics and Behaviour
    • Understanding basics of genetics
    • Terminology (eg. alleles, allelomorphs, genes,phenotype, mitosis, homozygous, genotype, etc)
    • Environmental affect
    • Heritability
    • Epigenisis
    • Innate behaviour
    • Interaction between different species
    • Survival
    • Case study : Inherited traits in horse behaviour
  3. Animal Perception and Behaviour
    • Animal communication and perception
    • How animals perceive things
    • Imprinting
    • Types of stimuli; Visual, Auditory, Tactile, Chemical
    • Monocular and binocular vision
    • Terminology
    • Neural control
  4. Behaviour and the Environment
    • Orthokinesis
    • Klinokinesis
    • Navigation
    • Homeostasis
    • Thermoregulation
    • Motivation
    • Biological Clocks
    • Biological clocks
    • Sun Compass
    • Migration
    • Tolerance
    • Acclimatisation
    • Hibernation
    • Sexual and Reproductive behaviours
  5. Social Behaviour
    • Animal societies
    • Aggression
    • Fight or flight response
    • Social constraints
    • Sexual behaviour
    • Social order
    • Bonding
    • Courtship
    • Territorial behaviour
    • Feeding
    • Vocalisations
    • Case Studies; birds, dogs
    • Terminology
  6. Instinct and Learning
    • Shaping
    • Extinction and habituation
    • Instrumental learning
    • Thorndykes Law of Effect
    • Operant and respondant behaviour
    • Biological aspects of learning
    • Cognition
    • Associative learning
    • Case studies: early learning in dogs, early learning in cats
    • Comparative intelligence
  7. Handling Animals
    • Domestication of animals
    • Problems Handling animals
    • Psychological affects of different handling techniques
    • Preventing problems with pets
    • Training animals (examples: birds, rabbits, horses, cattle etc).
    • Terminology
    • The student has a choice of which types of animals to focus on, though a variety will still be covered
  8. Behavioural Problems
    • Abnormal behaviour (eg. psychotic, neurotic)
    • Domestication of animals
    • Diagnosing behaviour
    • Psychotic disorders
    • Case study; behavioural problems with cats; various types of aggression and other problems
    • Training cats
    • Case study; aggression and other problems with dogs
    • Training dogs
    • Case study; behavioural problems with pigs
    • Terminology

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.


  • Identify factors affecting animal behaviour.
  • Describe the influence of genes on animal behaviour.
  • Explain how animals perceive and how they respond to various stimuli.
  • Explain the influence of environment factors, such as circadian rhythms, on biological clocks, reproductive cycles, orientation and other animal behaviours.
  • Explain the social influences on animal aggression, play, sexual behaviour, communication and other behaviours.
  • Describe different ways that animals learn (such as conditioning and habituation) and some effects of learning on behaviour.
  • Discuss psychological implications of different handling techniques.
  • Identify abnormal animal behaviour (eg. psychotic, neurotic behaviour) and ways to reduce dependence on humans.


What Pet Is Best?

Choosing a pet can be a more significant decision than what most people realize. Pets can't just be discarded like a piece of furniture or clothing when your interest subsides.
Pets are living things, an to acquire one is acquiring a responsibility for it.

If you do not get a behavioural type to match your home situation, you are almost certain to be creating trouble for yourself, and your family. 

  • Some pets cost a lot more to keep than others (A large dog can cost tens of thousands of dollars over it's lifetime)
  • Some pets may affect your lifestyle (particularly indoor pets). Consider what you will do with the pet when you go on holidays. 
  • Some types of pets require more interaction with the owners than other pets.

Choosing a Pet Dog

  • Energetic breeds need to be walked daily or even more often. Are you committed to walking a dog regularly for 15 years?
  • Are holes being dug in your garden a problem?
  • Is a dog guarding your home in a more assertive way a problem?
  • Is a dog who is super loyal and needs to be physically close to you a problem?
  • Is a dog that nips at the heels of people a problem?

While many behaviours can be affected by training; these and some other behaviours are strongly affected by the genetics of a dog's breed. Choosing a breed based upon "cuteness" is not a good idea. 

Managing Animals Starts with Understanding Them
Learning animal behaviours can help you get a better insight into how animals think and act. When you know what prompts certain actions; you then have a basis for discouraging undesirable behaviour and encouraging preferred behaviour.

Cat Behaviour Can be Problematic

We want cats to catch and kill vermin; but we don't want them to attack protected wildlife or other pets. Unfortunately by themselves, cats don't really differentiate between a mouse and a small native mammal.
We may want cats to stay around our home; but it is in their DNA to prowl wider afield; and they are built to climb, hence difficult to keep confined.

Cats have two roles in human society, to be pets and to control pests.  Cats are very good hunters, hunting rodents, insects, birds, small rabbits and so on.   Research has shown that –

  • Cats with kittens will catch prey around every 1.5 hours
  • Cats without kittens will catch prey around twice a day
  • 40 – 65% of outdoor cats will have prey in their stomach

So cats are natural hunters, but this can cause distress to their owners, when they see their beloved pet chasing and killing birds and smaller creatures. Remember it is their natural instinct.  Cats do look cruel when they appear to “play” with their food, but researchers have argued that this is actually displacement behaviour, as when the cat catches the play, they may then start to believe the prey may fight back.  Hungry cats are less likely to play with their food, but this could also be because their hunger is greater than their fear that the prey will fight back.  

Some cats appear to hunt more than they need. Some suggest that ensuring the cat has enough to eat will stop them from hunting, but hunger and hunting do not appear to be related in cats.  Some experts believe this is because cats require variety in their diet, so they are motivated to hunt, even just after eating their prey.    But should we and can we stop a cat killing prey?
The most efficient way to do this is to keep cats indoors. But if the owner does this, then they will have to provide sufficient indoor exercise and mental stimulation.  

If the cat is not kept inside, owners can try walking them on a lead or build an outdoor enclosure.
It can be very hard to prevent a cat from hunting and killing, so it has been suggested that owners can approach this in a different way – rather than trying to change the cat’s behaviour, change the prey’s behaviour:

  • Do no put out bird tables or baths or anything that entices birds to the garden.
  • Keep deterrent devices that scare away birds
  • Put a bell on the cat’s collar, so prey can hear it coming
  • Get a collar with a sonic alert. This mimics a bird’s alarm call.
  • Keep the garden open so cats have fewer places to hide and wildlife and see cats easier.


 This course can help you with any of the following:

  • Learn to manage dogs, cats and other animals as pets or working animals
  • Help train working animals (eg. blind dogs, sniffer dogs, sheep dogs)
  • Get a job in a kennel, pet shop, on a farm or elsewhere
  • Start a business helping people with their animals (animal training, grooming, dog walking, etc.)
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter or charity; getting experience and laying a foundation for a career change.


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Alison Pearce

University Lecturer, Quality Assurance Manager, Writer and Research Technician. Alison originally graduated with an honors degree in science from university and beyond that has completed post graduate qualifications in education and eco-tourism. She has m
Tracey Jones

Widely published author, Psychologist, Manager and Lecturer. Over 10 years working with ACS and 25 years of industry experience. Qualifications include: B.Sc. (Hons) (Psychology), M.Soc.Sc (social work), Dip. SW (social work), PGCE (Education), PGD (Lear
Jacinda Cole

Psychologist, Educator, Author, Psychotherapist. B.Sc., Psych.Cert., M. Psych. Cert.Garden Design, MACA Jacinda has over 25 years of experience in psychology, in both Australia and England. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Psycholo
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