One of the main reasons why people have studied animals is to learn more about humans. Our relationship with animals is largely dictated by our view of human nature as are many of our ideas about how human society should be organised. Often comparisons between human and animal behaviour are used to explain laws, policies, and social rules.
However, we don't only have to study animal behaviour merely so we can better understand human behaviour. The study of animal behaviour is also a fascinating subject regardless, and many people are attracted to it because it helps them to understand more of the natural animal world around us, as well as gain a greater insight into their own pet's or farm animals' behaviour.
Practical Applications of Understanding Animal Behaviour
People live in a world filled with animals and we need to understand animal behaviour in order to better manage all sorts of situations; for example:
- Pets can enhance the life of a person or family, if they behave in the way you desire; but an uncontrollable pet can make life a misery.
- Pest animals can at best become an inconvenience, and at worst, be destructive, transmit diseases and become a serious annoyance.
- Domesticated farm animals can be more productive, and the farm easier to manage, if the animals behave the way you desire.
- Some wild animals (e.g. large carnivores or animals that carry diseases) can be dangerous to human wellbeing and life.
- Some feral animals can threaten wildlife.
- Breeders of pets, threatened species, etc. need to understand sexual behaviour in order to better manage the reproduction and the offspring produced.
- Zoo keepers need to understand animal behaviour in order to detect signs of health issues, to manage feeding, etc.
- Wildlife photographers are better able to photograph wildlife when they understand animal behaviour.
- Ecotourism operators need to understand animal behaviour in order to best plan and conduct tours.
- Working dog trainers need to understand dog mentality to enable them to better train dogs for helping people who are blind, have hearing difficulties and so on.
- Horse trainers will use their understanding of animal behaviour to enable them to train their horses better.
- And there are many more reasons.
Understanding animals in any or all such situations can make their management far easier to control.
Ethical Treatment of Animals
In the past, animals were studied because it was accepted that animals could be used in experiments which could not be legally or ethically carried out using human subjects.
Also, research has used animals models to study behaviour in humans. For example, animals have been given drugs to see how they respond, before the drug was tested on humans. The difficulty with this is that a monkey is not a human. A human is not a dog and so on. So how a rat responds to a certain drug will not necessarily be the same as how a human does, so there has been much controversy regarding animal testing.
In recent years this view that animals can be experimented on has largely changed and far fewer animals are used in experiments which may be harmful to them. Instead, many would advocate that we can learn a lot about animal behaviour, and relate this to humans, by observing them in natural settings - which is what the ethology is all about. So ethology is the scientific study of animals in their natural settings, so observing their natural behaviours. Whereas experimental studies or behavioural studies will look at how animals behave in laboratories or in captivity. This, obviously, does not necessarily give us a clear indication of how the animal would behave in the wild.