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Animal Behaviour

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

Why do animals behave the way they do?

Do you want to understand more about animal behaviour?

If the answer is yes, then this is the course for you!
  • Learn more about influences and motivation on animal behaviour
  • The impact of genetics and the environment on how an animal behaves
  • Animal perception
  • Social Behaviour in animals
  • Aggression
  • Learning
  • Appropriate handling of animals
  • Dealing with difficult behaviour
  • Eight lessons include: Influences and motivation, Genetics & Behaviour, Animal Perception and Behaviour, Behaviour and the Environment, Social Behaviour, Instinct & Learning, Handling Animals, Behavioural Problems
  • Tutored by highly experienced and qualified staff who can help you learn much, much more about animals and how they think.

Many jobs involve caring for animals. Many of us have animals in our own homes.

This course provides you with detailed knowledge of animal behaviour.
  • Improve your job prospects in animal care and behaviour
  • Set up your own business in animal behaviour
  • Increase your career potential by increasing your knowledge of how animals behave.
  • A useful qualification for people working as -
  • veterinary assistants
  • animal caretakers at zoos, universities, and research institutions
  • animal psychologists
  • companion animal trainers
  • pet store workers
  • animal control officers

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  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.

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.


  • Develop your understanding of animal behaviour, and your ability to apply that to the handling of a variety of different types of animals.
  • 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 behaviour.
  • 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 (e.g. psychotic, neurotic behaviour) and ways to reduce dependence on humans.

What You Will Do

  • 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.

Why Do Animals Migrate?

Migrations can involve traveling short distances or long (across half the world).

The Arctic tern flies 8000 km from the Arctic to Antarctic, and back every year. Such long distance migrants use their fat deposits as fuel, making stops to feed along their route. Many questions remain unanswered regarding bird migration. We do know that weather patterns can affect the particular time when a migratory flight starts, and how long the flight will last before the bird needs to rest & feed. It is also known that birds use navigational aids such as:

  • Star patterns
  • The sun
  • Topographical features they fly over
  • The magnetic grid of the earth

It seems that like so many other behavioural patterns in fish, mammals and birds, the urge and ability to migrate is innate, or instinctive, to all those who migrate.

Reasons for Migration:

  • To avoid unfavorable conditions
  • To avoid over-population
  • Reproductive advantages
  • Seasonal changes.


Animals live both in water (the sea, lakes, rivers) and on land. Compared with land environments, conditions such as temperature are relatively more stable in the ocean. Simple marine animals do not need to regulate their homeostasis to any significant degree, because their environment is so stable.

The habitat which any animal can live and function in will be limited by its tolerance to variations in the conditions of that environment. If its zone of tolerance is pushed to the limits, behaviour may be affected and become abnormal. When environmental conditions move beyond tolerance, populations diminish, and when conditions become intolerable, populations within that habitat can disappear. Animals may, over time, adapt to tolerance limits. (These adaptations are called resistance adaptations.)


This is a form of physiological adaptation, where the animal alters its tolerance to certain environmental conditions. Acclimation is a term used in laboratory studies which look at adaptation to single environmental factors such as temperature. Acclimatisation is used in natural and more complex situations –where a range of different environmental factors are of concern. Acclimatisation is a slow process when compared with physiological changes that occur on a seasonal basis. Acclimatisation to cold for instance might be counteracted by the tendency for the animal to select a warmer climate or environment.


This is an adaptation where the animals metabolism and activity will slow during a period of adverse environmental conditions; then activate when conditions become more favourable. Some rodents from desert climates will become inactive during hot summers. True hibernation is strictly different to partial dormancy though. The European Brown Bear for instance is a true hibernator, its body temperature dropping from normally in the 30’s to as low as 2 degrees Celsius while hibernating. With true hibernation, body temperature may fall very low.


Seasonal changes (particularly temperature), have a strong influence on reproductive behaviour in many types of animals. Many mammals tend to become pregnant and deliver young during particular seasons each year. Some, however, may reproduce at any time. For birds, the availability of food appears the most important factor in breeding success.

Reproductive physiology in most vertebrates involves the production of gonadotrophic hormones in the pituitary gland, as a result of environmental factors. These hormones in turn cause activity in the ovaries and testes; which in turn produces sex hormones.

Reproductive patterns in many species will also be affected by photo period factors (ie. day length and light intensity). Species from colder climates (eg. the Arctic) tend to be affected more by photoperiod. Those living in the tropics are not affected much, if at all, by this consideration. Sexual activity in desert animals may be affected by rainfall.

Is this  the course for you?

  • Do you want to learn more about animals and why they behave the way they do?
  • Do you want to understand how to help animals who are showing behavioural difficulties?
  • Do you want to understand why animals are aggressive or insecure or anxious?
  • Do you want to work with animals and understand their behaviour?
  • Do you are considering setting up as an animal behaviour consultant?
  • Do you have animals and want to understand why they behave the way they do and train them in an effective way?
  • Do you want to work with highly qualified, highly experienced and FRIENDLY tutors who will help you every step of the way?
  • Do you want to study in the comfort of your own home, and begin your fascinating journey into animal behaviour?
If you are answering YES to these questions, then what is stopping you? Enrol Now

Meet some of our academics

Alison PearceUniversity 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 managed veterinary operating theatre, responsible for animal anesthesia, instrument preparation, and assistance with surgical techniques and procedures.
Dr. Gareth PearceVeterinary 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. Post-graduate qualifications in Education, Wildlife Conservation Medicine, Aquatic Veterinary Studies and Wildlife Biology & Conservation. Gareth has a B.Sc.(Hons), B.V.Sc., M.A., M.Vet.S,. PhD, Grad. Cert. Ed.(HE), Post-Grad.Cert. Aq.Vet.Sc., Post-Grad. Cert. WLBio&Cons., Dipl. ECPHM, MRCVS.
Tracey JonesWidely 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 (Learning Disability Studies).

Check out our eBooks

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Caring for DogsThis book is jam packed full of practical advice and up to the minute information every dog owner needs! You will explore fundamentals of nutrition and health; parasites and illness; breeds and reproduction; training and behaviour management! Understand how your dog thinks and what your dog wants you to know. Try techniques to overcome behaviour problems! This is a book for dog owners, students and anyone interested in working with dogs. 79 pages