Why do you need to understand Animal Behaviour?


The study of animal behaviour provides a foundation for animal training, or more generally, animal care. Gain an understanding of animal psychology so that you can work with animals more effectively or even manage undesirable pet behaviour better.


The study of 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. If you wish, you may focus on a particular animal or group of animals. Let your tutor know your preference.

Animals do share some behavioural characteristics with people but it can be dangerous to assume too much similarity. Animal behaviour is far less affected by choices reached through reasoning.


Behaviour is any externally observable activity of an animal. In general, it includes:
• Movement of parts of the body
• Stopping expected movement
• Secretions from the body
• Changes in body colour.

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. To better understand the behaviour, we should also consider what motivates it.

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 displayed 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.




We can help you LEARN about Animal Behaviour



ACS offers a range of animal behaviour courses, including:

  • Animal Behaviour -a broad based course

  • Equine Behaviour

  • Dog Behaviour and Training

  • Cat Behaviour and Training



ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR COURSE (BAG203) (click to enrol)


from ACS Distance Education


This course develops an understanding and ability to modify the behaviour of domestic animals.  


Duration:100 hours (Nominal duration)


Course Aim


To develop your understanding of animal behaviour, and your ability to apply that to the handling of a variety of different types of animals.


Course Structure


There are eight lessons in this course, as follows:

  1. Introduction: Influences and motivation.What is behaviour; causes of behaviour (eg. genetics; learning; external and internal influences); reactive, active and cognitive behaviour; conditioning.

  2. Genetics and Behaviour.Understanding biology; natural selection; genetic variation; development of behaviour; behavioural genetics.

  3. Animal Perception and Behaviour.How animals perceive things; what stimulates them and how do those stimuli function; instinct; neural control; sensory processes: sight, sound, hearing etc.

  4. Behaviour and the Environment. Coordination; orientation; homeostasis; acclimatisation; circadian rhythms; biological clocks; reproductive cycles; etc.

  5. Social Behaviour.Animal societies; aggression; social constraints; social order; play; sexual behaviour; communication.

  6. Instinct and Learning.Conditioning and learning; extinction and habituation; instrumental learning; reinforcement; operant behaviour; biological and cognitive aspects of learning.

  7. Handling Animals.Psychological affects of different handling techniques.Training animals (horses, cats, dogs, etc). The student can choose which animals to focus on, though a variety are covered.

  8. Behavioural Problems.Abnormal behaviour (eg. Psychotic; neurotic); domestication of animals; reducing human contact/dependence.

Examples of what you will do in this course:  

  • Observe an animal in the zoo, in the wild, or a domestic animal.Try to observe what you consider to be an example of operant conditioning.Make notes.

  • Talk with an animal breeder (amateur or professional). This may be a pet owner whose cat or dog has given birth; or it may be a farmer, dog breeder, horse breeder, bird breeder or some other animal breeder.

  • Write a paragraph describing the behaviour of an animal (real or contrived) which utilizes the different words you learnt under “terminology” in this lesson

  • Classify the following animals according to whether they are endo-therms or ecto-therms; a dog, a penguin, a single celled protozoa, a lizard.How is heat lost from endo-therms to the environment, and how can this heat loss be reduced?

  • Observe an animal while it is on its own.Make notes of how it behaves. Observe the same animal or species of animal in a group situation or in the presence of one other animal of the same species.Make notes on its behaviour and pay attention to any noticeable differences compared to its solitary behaviour.

  • Visit a zoo, wildlife park or farm where animals are being confined in some way, and observe the behaviour of one particular type of animal over the course of an hour. This can be any animal you choose to study. Make notes on its behaviour, and any problems that you would anticipate with handling