Certificate in Animal Psychology

A foundation for better management of pets, livestock or wild animals, to benefit anyone working with animals. Are you interested in training animals? Would you like to learn the principles of psychology and animal behaviour?

Course CodeVAG114
Fee CodeCT
Duration (approx)600 hours

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Study animal psychology with help from our expert tutors - all highly experienced and qualified in the field of animal psychology.
Learn the principles of animal psychology.
A great course for anyone wanting  to -
  • Improve their knowledge of animal psychology
  • Train animals
  • Understand why animals behave the way they do.
  • Start a new job or business in animal behaviour.


Core ModulesThese modules provide foundation knowledge for the Certificate in Animal Psychology.
 Introduction to Psychology BPS101
 Animal Behaviour BAG203
 Cat Psychology and Training BAG222
 Dog Psychology and Training BAG221
 Equine Behaviour BAG216
Elective ModulesIn addition to the core modules, students study any 1 of the following 7 modules.
 Animal Anatomy And Physiology (Animal Husbandry I) BAG101
 Animal Health Care VAG100
 Horse Care I BAG102
 Pet Care AAG100
 Horse Care II BAG204
 Natural Health Care for Animals BAG218
 Horse Care III BAG302

Note that each module in the Certificate in Animal Psychology is a short course in its own right, and may be studied separately.

Career Opportunities

Study alone can never guarantee career success; but a good education is an important starting point.

Success in a career depends upon many things. A course like this is an excellent starting point because it provides a foundation for continued learning, and the means of understanding and dealing with issues you encounter in the workplace.

When you have completed an ACS course, you will have not only learnt about the subject, but you will have been prompted to start networking with experts in the discipline and shown how to approach problems that confront you in this field.

This and every other industry in today’s world is developing in unforeseen ways; and while that is unsettling for anyone who wants to be guaranteed a particular job at the end of a particular course; for others, this rapidly changing career environment is offering new and exciting opportunities almost every month.

If you want to do the best that you can in this industry, you need to recognise that the opportunities that confront you at the end of a course, are probably different to anything that has even been thought of when you commence a course.


How Dog Behavioural Traits Develop

Behaviours are strongly influenced by the genetics of an animal. Some breeds will have a tendency to act differently to others and some behaviour will tend to occur naturally unless there is a strong intervention to control the behaviour manifesting. We will look more at how this affects certain breeds later in the lesson.

  • Nature is the effect which the genetic make up has upon behaviour
  • Nurture is the influence on behaviour by the environment (including people and other animals)

Most psychologists believe any behaviour is a mixture of nature and nurture, but there are particularly important periods, where the impact of the environment on the dog’s nature can be significant.

Sensitive Periods

Newborn puppies are completely dependent on their mother but as they develop physically they become more independent and aware of their surroundings.

The stages of development can be divided into distinct phases:

  • neonatal
  • transitional
  • socialisation
  • juvenile Period

The Neonatal Period

  • spans the first two weeks of life
  • are completely dependent on their mother
  • sensitive to touch, taste and smell but movement is limited
  • eyes and ears are still closed
  • main activities are sleeping and feeding

The Transitional Period

  • occurs during third week
  • period of rapid development from total dependence on dam to a degree of independence
  • eyes and ears open and respond to stimuli
  • start crawling backwards and forwards
  • able to stand and lap milk from a saucer
  • will defecate and urinate away from its bedding and its mother
  • start play fighting with litter mates
  • start to display social signs such as tail-wagging and growling

The Socialisation Period

  • occurs from end of third week up to week 10
  • critical period for formation of social relationships
  • begin to learn about their environment
  • will interact with each other and with humans
  • may initiate play with raised paw or tail wagging
  • will learn to control biting through play experience
  • dominant and subordinate puppies will become apparent
  • may show prey killing and sexual behaviour e.g. mounting other puppies 

The Juvenile Period

  • extends from 10 weeks to sexual maturity
  • gradual improvement in motor skills
  • learn relevance of behaviours and which are appropriate to specific situations.
  • basic learning capacities are fully developed at start of this period but by about 4 months old previous learned tasks may interfere with new learning
  • may still not be trained to do difficult tasks due to their short attention span

Neurological Development

Very young puppies cannot learn as well as older ones. The brain takes a matter of weeks to get to the point of being capable to learn as you might expect.

No emotional development or learning takes place during the Neo-natal period; the puppies’ brain waves remain constant whether they are sleeping or awake. They do exhibit innate reflex reactions to hunger, cold, and touch; they will squeeze together to generate warmth or move away from one another if they are too hot but they cannot independently regulate their body temperature by shivering or panting as an adult would.

During the transitional period the puppy becomes aware of its surroundings and begins to become more mobile. Brain activity increases at this time as the puppy begins to processes sights and sounds within its environment and begins to develop spatial awareness.

Between 21 and 28 days of life rapid sensory development occurs and significant changes in the puppy’s brain follow. The puppy is very aware of sights and sounds in its environment and can be easily startled. Care needs to be taken at this stage to ensure that negative experiences are not ‘imprinted’ on the puppies brain that may negatively affect it in later life. At this stage, it has been shown puppies are able to learn from their experiences and also to retain what they have learned. You may remember in lesson 1, that it was found to be harder to train wolves after they are 21 days old than previously so with this rapid development during this week, it can make training harder with dogs and wolves.

Between 28 and 49 days of life, brain development is nearing completion and physical co-ordination is greatly improving. The puppy is beginning to develop problem solving abilities and social awareness.

Between 49 days and 12 weeks the puppy’s brain and mental abilities are fully formed, but the puppy lacks ‘life experience’. Current Research has shown that behaviours can be shaped and modified most easily at this time when learning is occurring most quickly. Training is thought to increase the capacity to learn by increasing numbers of brain cells in the appropriate regions of the brain.



This is a relatively comprehensive course that will teach you beyond what you might learn about animal behaviour in higher courses elsewhere.

Six hundred hours of study that focuses very heavily on animal behaviour will change the way you look at animals

If you take the foundation that this course provides and build on that foundation, you have as good a start as you can get anywhere, to becoming an expert on the subject.
Your knowledge and skills will be a distinct advantage working anywhere in the pet industry; and by adding experience to what you learn, your capacity to train animals and advise owners will only continue to strengthen.



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Dr. Gareth Pearce

Veterinary scientist and surgeon with expertise in agriculture and environmental science, with over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand
Cheryl Wilson

Cheryl has spent two decades working in agriculture, equine and education industries, across England, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. She graduated with a B.Sc.(Hons), HND Horse Mgt, C&G Teaching Cert. For several years, Cheryl managed the distance
Alison Pearce

Alison brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to ACS students. She has worked as a University Lecturer, has also run a veterinary operating theatre; responsible for animal anaesthesia, instrument preparation, and assistance with surgical techniqu
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