Four Reasons Why You Should Study Animal Behaviour

By Vicky Protopapadaki, Tutor, ADL Online Education on March 29, 2016 in Animals & Pets | comments
Have you ever wondered why your cat looks hypnotised for a second or two after she smells something interesting? (hint: it is called the Flehmen response) Or why your dog likes burying bones? Do you think chimpanzees smile because they are happy? The answer may surprise you.

Animals are captivating. They have their own unique ways of communicating their thoughts, feelings and intentions to their conspecifics and members of other species, including humans. While we may be fascinated by animal behaviour we are often at a loss as to how to interpret it. 

Here is where Ethology comes into play. Ethology is the scientific study of animal behaviour. It helps us understand animals better. But what are some of the practical benefits of studying animal behaviour and improving our understanding of animals? Here are four reasons why the study of animal behaviour is important:

If you work with animals
Everyone who works directly with animals should have at least some basic knowledge of animal behaviour. Whether you are a veterinary technician, zookeeper, pet groomer or work at an animal shelter, knowledge of animal behaviour will improve your work in many ways. For instance, the ability to recognise signs of aggressive behaviour can minimise the risk of both you and the animals getting injured. Furthermore, being able to identify and fulfil the behavioural needs of the animals you work with will prevent them from feeling fear or stress and will improve their life quality. 

If you want to work with animals

If you aspire to work with animals, a degree in animal behaviour is one way to go about it. If you want to be an animal behaviourist, trainer or zoologist, knowledge of animal behaviour is imperative. Specific knowledge of the behaviour of the species you work most closely with will help you become even more competent in your field. For example, a good dog trainer is not only knowledgeable in the fundamentals of animal behaviour, but is, first and foremost, a highly specialised professional in canine behaviour. 

It improves the lives of your pets 
The results of a study (Salman et al, 2000) showed that, among other reasons, behavioural reasons of relinquishment of dogs and cats to animal shelters were quite common. Some of the most common behavioural problems that led to relinquishment were biting, aggressive behaviour, soiling the house and not getting along with other pets. 

While many of us share our lives with animals, not all of us understand why they behave a certain way or what problem could be lurking behind what we consider to be a problematic behaviour. This lack of understanding may lead, as was mentioned above, to abandoning an animal altogether or, quite commonly, to a life of frustration for the animal. For example, a dog that is chained 24/7, is leading a life of stress and suffering. Lack of socialisation and exercise are detrimental to the dog’s welfare. While tethering dogs is prohibited in many countries, many dog owners resort to this for various reasons e.g. maybe the dog is too aggressive or maybe he is soiling the house. 

All of these are, however, behavioural problems that are easily solved. With the appropriate knowledge and/or acquisition of help from a specialist, we can understand our pets’ behavioural needs better and improve their lives. 

It can improve your life as well
Research (O’Haire, 2010) has shown that association with animals can enhance our physical and psychological well-being. Pet owners are less likely to suffer from conditions such as depression, high blood pressure or heart disease. Engaging in play activities with your pets or simply cuddling with them elevates the production of endorphins which improve your mood and make you feel well. 

In order to reap the many benefits of associating with animals, we must ensure that we have a harmonious relationship with them. This can only happen if we understand them well and use this knowledge to create a safe and happy environment where they can thrive. 

If you are interested in studying animal behaviour, ADL offers an excellent online course in the topic, with unlimited tutor support. Whatever your reason for studying animal behaviour is, this course is a great starting point to gain an insight into animals’ minds.  

O'Haire, M., 2010. Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: clinical applications and research, 5(5), pp.226-234.
Salman, M.D., Hutchison, J., Ruch-Gallie, R., Kogan, L., New Jr, J.C., Kass, P.H. and Scarlett, J.M., 2000. Behavioral reasons for relinquishment of dogs and cats to 12 shelters. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science,3(2), pp.93-106.