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Chapter 6 Animal behavior.

Chapter Objectives

* Understand primary classifications of animal behavior

* Explain the importance of animal behavior in animal management

There are a variety of labels or perspectives on the role of animals in society. Most people are somewhere along the continuum between the belief in animal rights, that humans should not use animals for food, entertainment, or any other purpose; and a utilitarian belief, that humans should be able to use animals for anything they wish, regardless of any pain or suffering on the part of the animal (see Figure 6-1). Most people believe in the importance of animal welfare, and believe that it is acceptable to use animals for food and entertainment, and other benefits, but that as stewards of the animals, humans have an obligation to meet the animals' physical and psychological needs, and ensure minimum pain and suffering throughout the animals' lives.


The study of animal behavior plays an important role in understanding how human activity and management impacts animals. This area is of growing interest around the world, and concerns about animal treatment have significantly affected policies and laws regarding how people treat and handle their animals, both in production agriculture and ownership of companion animals.

The following are several approaches to the study of animal behavior:

Behavioral ecology (be-hav-yer-ahl e-kahl-eh-je) The study of how the behavior of a species interacts with its environment. This environment is not only the physical environment, but also the social and biological environment.

Comparative psychology (cahm-par-ah-tihv si-kahl-eh-je) The study of the components that control behavior.

Ethology (e-thohl-ah-je) The study of an animal's behavior within its environment. This can be their natural environment, or the environment in which they currently live, such as a farm or zoo. The focus in ethology is often on learned or adaptive behaviors, and is less focused on the interactions between the animal and the environment than behavioral ecology.

Sociobiology The study of how behavior is related to biology, especially how behaviors may have developed to ensure species survival.


Many animal behaviors are rooted in the evolution of the animal, and are innate (ihn-nat) behaviors that occur regardless of human intervention. It is important to realize that many behaviors that humans find frustrating in animals are normal behaviors for the animal. Changes in normal behavior are often one of the first signals that something is not right with the animal. The following are normal behaviors in animals:

Aggression Any behavior that poses potential danger or harm to another. Aggression can be either toward members of the same species (conspecific), or members of different species. Aggression can also be either defensive, to protect oneself, or offensive, to attack. It is important to understand the different types of aggression that animals may display. The following are types of aggression:

Fear aggression A type of defensive aggression.

Fear aggression occurs when an animal feels it needs to be aggressive to protect itself. Many dog bites are based in fear-aggressive behavior. Animals that are fear-aggressive usually show body language that has a combination of submissive and aggressive characteristics, such as cowering in the corner and growling.

Maternal aggression Aggressive behavior resulting from a mother's instinct to protect her young. Maternal aggression usually decreases as the offspring becomes more independent.

Territorial aggression Aggressive behavior resulting from an animal's protection of its territory. Territorial aggression is seen most often in predatory-type animals, such as dogs. Territorial aggression often includes vocalization and offensive movements.

Possessive aggression Aggressive behaviors resulting from protecting a limited resource from others. Food protection is the most common display of possessive aggression. However, animals may also protect shelter or other resources that are valued.


Critical period Developmental times in the lives of animals when they are most likely to retain experiences, either positive or negative, that will affect their behavior.

Dominance Relative ranking in the social order. Animals that exert dominance are higher-ranking than other animals. Some behaviors and postures are associated with dominance within the social structure (see Figure 6-2). For example, the dog in Figure 6-2 with the raised tail and raised head is in a dominant position.

Eliminative behavior Behaviors associated with elimination of bodily waste. Examples include burial of waste by cats, and urination and defecation to mark territory. Within species, different genders may demonstrate different eliminative behaviors.

Ethogram (e-tho-gram) A record that indicates all of the behaviors that an animal exhibits in its environment.

Fear A natural response in any animal to anything that is considered a threat. Animals respond to fear by either fight or flight, standing and fighting off whatever is causing the fear, or fleeing from the fearful situation (see Figure 6-3). The choice to flee or fight varies with species and by situation. Even species that have a preference for flight will fight when threatened if they cannot escape.

Flight zone The distance to which an unknown individual can approach an animal before it flees (see Figure 6-4). Flight zones are largest in wild animals, and smaller in domestic animals.

Flocking/herding instinct The instinct in some types of animals to stay together in groups.

Hierarchy (hi-er-ahr-ke) Also known as "pecking order," hierarchy describes the structure of the social group relative to the degree of dominance. The order may be linear, or nonlinear, where more than one animal may have the same relative rank (see Figure 6-5).



Ingestive Behaviors associated with the consumption of food and water.

Predatory (prehd-ah-to-r-e-) Behavior associated with stalking and killing prey. Predatory behavior differs from aggressive behavior in that it is generally silent.

Sexual behavior Behavior related to the successful attraction of a mate and mating. Sexual behaviors vary greatly among species. Sexual behaviors include those that indicate that a female is receptive to breeding (see Figure 6-6), and those of a male attempting to attract the attention of a female.

Socialization The process of acclimating an animal to its environment, and to the wide range of stimulus it may experience later in life. Socialization is especially critical with companion animals that live in close contact with people. Socialization is most effective when it occurs early in an animal's life.

Social behavior The behaviors that are exhibited among animals as they interact with one another. In herd animals, social behaviors help solidify the structure of the herd. An example of an animal social behavior is the act of grooming one another.

Stimulus (stihm-yoo-luhs) Anything that causes a response in an animal. Novel stimuli are anything new or unusual with which the animal is not familiar.

Stress Any stimulus that result in a change in the body's normal state. Stress is not always a result of negative stimulus; positive stimulus can also result in increased stress for an animal.

Submission Behavior of an individual that is lower in the hierarchy, or behavior that indicates a lack of relative power. Young offspring often exhibit submissive behaviors toward their dams and toward older animals in the social group.

Temperament An individual animal's behavioral response to its environment. Temperament is a combination of genetics and previous experiences an animal has had.


Animals exhibit a wide range of abnormal behaviors. Determining the source of a behavior is vital to determining how to minimize or eliminate a behavior. Vices are abnormal behaviors that create management or health problems. Often, vices and abnormal behaviors develop as ways for animals to cope with stress. This stress often results from an inability to express normal behaviors. Abnormal behaviors that are repetitive and have no apparent purpose are known as stereotypic behaviors. The following are stereotypic behaviors:

Anorexia (ahn-o-rehck-se-ah) A refusal to eat. Cannibalism The consumption of an animal of the same species that can occur in a variety of species. Young animals are most often the victims of cannibalism, although chickens will peck and cannibalize pen mates.



Cribbing A compulsive behavior in horses in which they grasp a solid object with their upper teeth and inhale air (see Figure 6-7). Cribbing is a very undesirable behavior that can lead to serious health problems, such as colic.

Coprophagy (kop-ro-fah-je) The eating of fecal material, either of the same species or of different species. In some young animals, coprophagy is normal as it inoculates the gastrointestinal tract with necessary microbes. However, coprophagy in adult animals is abnormal, and may be indicative of a lack in their diet.

Phobia (fo-be-ah) Extreme fear of something.


Pica (pi-kah) Ingestion of inappropriate materials. Please note that pica is the consumption of materials that are not normal feedstuffs. For a dog, removing tasty scraps from the trash is a very normal behavior, not an example of pica.

Stereotypy (star-e-eh-the-pe) A repetitive, nonproductive behavior with no apparent purpose or intent. The following are examples of stereotypic behaviors: Stall weaving In horses, this is a behavior in which a horse stands in a stall and shifts its weight back and forth from one front leg to the other. In extreme cases, the horse takes sideways steps with the front legs. Also known as weaving.


Tongue rolling Extension and rolling of the tongue for no apparent purpose.

Wood chewing Often in horses, the consumption of wood fences or walls (see Figure 6-8). This differs from cribbing in that they don't inhale air.

Wool chewing In sheep, chewing and eating the wool until they have bald spots.

Wool sucking A behavior in cats during which they imitate the nursing and kneading behaviors of kittens after weaning.


Behavioral modification refers to efforts to mold animal behavior to better suit human purposes. Behavioral modification is also known as training. Behavioral modification has a growing place in animal management as people strive to minimize stress in the lives of animals. Behavioral modification is very important for companion animals and horses because of the close interaction between humans and the animals. The following are terms related to behavior modification:

Aversive (ah-vers-ehv) A negative stimulus that the animal will wish to avoid in the future.

Clicker training A method of behavioral modification using operant conditioning that links the click of a plastic cricket with the promise of a reward. The click can then be used to identify desirable behaviors, and stimulate repetition of those behaviors as the animal seeks the reward. This method of training was first developed for use with marine mammals, and has become very popular for use with dogs, horses, and other species.

Conditioning The learning of a behavior in response to a stimulus. The following are different methods of conditioning:

Classical The linking of a stimulus to an action, resulting in a physical response. A classic example is how Pavlov linked a ringing bell to feeding dogs, and eventually, the ringing bell stimulated salivation without the presence of food.

Operant The linking of a stimuluswith a response. Rewards are often used to create the link between a stimulus and a desired response. The reward needs to be something that the animal values. Food is a common reward, but some animals are more driven by play or other rewards than by food.

Counterconditioning Teaching a behavior that is incompatible with the undesirable behavior. For example, if a dog runs barking at the door every time someone knocks, teach the dog to lie on its bed every time there is a knock at the door. Running to the door and lying on the bed are incompatible behaviors. If the dog associates lying on its bed with receiving a desired award, the dog will select the desired behavior.

Extinction Eliminating a behavior by not reinforcing it. It is important to note that any attention for a behavior provides reinforcement. When combined with attention for desirable behaviors, extinction can effectively eliminate some undesirable behaviors. For example, if a dog jumps on people, turning away and ignoring the dog provides no reinforcement. If the dog is ignored for jumping, but praised and petted when all feet are on the floor, the dog will quickly learn that not jumping gains attention, and jumping gains no attention. Extinction is only effective if the behavior is ignored; punishing or negatively reinforcing a behavior is not extinction. Punishment is a form of attention.

Habituation Also called desensitization, habituation involves an animal becoming sufficiently accustomed to a stimulus that no longer elicits a response. For example, if a train runs past a pasture of cattle, the cattle may flee the first few times, but eventually they learn that the train is not a threat, and ignore the train when it passes.

Imitative A behavior learned from copying another animal. Animals learn many behaviors as offspring, by imitating the behaviors of their mothers or littermates.

Imprinting A type of learning that occurs in an animal's first few hours of life. Imprinting is how animals identify their mothers and other individuals in their social group. In training some species, handlers use imprinting to introduce the animal to common management practices.

Learned A behavior that is not naturally occurring, but has been gained through behavior modification.

Punishment Modification of a behavior by creating an aversive situation when the behavior occurs. Punishment is the least effective method of behavior modification because it must occur instantly, and every time the behavior occurs to be effective. In addition, punishment may lead to fear of the individual giving the punishment, or may reinforce the animal's fear of a situation. If a horse is afraid to approach a puddle, punishing the horse will only reinforce the belief that the puddle is a danger.

Sensitization Increasing the response to a stimulus. When an animal is sensitized to a stimulus, decreasing intensity of the stimulus will result in a desired behavior. For example, sensitization can occur in training an animal with leg cues when being ridden. With training, an animal can become so sensitized to the stimulus that it is barely discernible.

Reinforcement A use of positive or negative actions to increase or decrease a behavior. Positive reinforcement is giving an animal something desirable to encourage repetition of a behavior. Negative reinforcement takes away something bad when a desired behavior occurs. For example, a rider puts a spur in a horse's side to encourage it to move, and then removes the spur from the side when the animal moves away.

Intermittent reinforcement Once a desired behavior is learned, it no longer needs to be reinforced every time it occurs. A schedule of reinforcing the behavior occasionally is known as intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement can be at a fixed or variable interval. Fixed interval is when the behavior is reinforced every X times it occurs, and variable interval is when there is no set number of times that behavior must occur to be reinforced. Intermittent reinforcement is a very strong reinforcer of behaviors.

Successive approximation Also known as shaping behavior, successive approximation modifies behavior by rewarding animals as they make attempts toward the desired behavior. As successive approximation proceeds, the animal must perform a behavior more and more similar to the desired behavior. For example, when teaching a cow to enter a milking parlor, the cow is rewarded each time it gets closer to the parlor. Eventually, the cow has to enter the parlor to be rewarded. Successive approximation is an extremely effective way to overcome fear of places or objects. It is important with successive approximation to reward every bit of progress toward the desired goal to keep the animal trying to achieve the desired behavior.


Animals communicate in many ways. A good animal handler needs to be aware of this communication, and pay attention to the messages. It is very important to look at all of the messages that an animal sends, as drawing conclusions from one or two pieces of information may lead to an inaccurate interpretation of the signals. Research indicates that children who grow up with animals are more socially successful upon entering school; one theory is that those children have learned to read body language and other nonverbal communication through their interactions with animals.

Auditory Communication

Auditory (aw-dih-tor-e) Communication is vocal. Each species makes unique sounds. The variation of those sounds is a method of communication. The following list includes some of the sounds each species makes.


Moo (moo) Basic vocalization used to call offspring, or to communicate with herd mates.


Bark Sharp vocalization that can announce the presence of a newcomer or indicate excitement. Wolves have a much higher bark threshold than domestic dogs, and are much less likely to bark.

Bay A deep-throated howl-like sound in some breeds of hounds, primarily those that hunt by scent. Baying occurs when the prey is located.

Growl A low and deep vocalization in the chest. Usually indicates either defensive or offensive aggression.

Grunt A sound of satisfaction and contentment.

Howl Believed to be a way for dogs to find their pack mates. Wolves often howl if they become separated from their pack.

Whine Relatively high-pitched vocalization that usually signals discomfort or distress, such as hunger, loneliness, or attention seeking.


Growl A low, sound deep in the chest indicating aggression.

Hiss A defensive vocalization that occurs when the cat is feeling threatened. In extreme cases, a hiss may be accompanied by spitting (see Figure 6-9).


Mating call A loud, carrying vocalization that is used to attract the attention of males. Cats are solitary animals, so they must announce their reproductive status to males.

Meow The basic feline sound that seems to be used primarily to communicate with people, not with other cats.

Purr A sound made deeply in the chest. Purring is generally associated with pleasure and contentment, but cats will also purr when sick or injured.

Olfactory Communication

Olfactory (ohl-fahck-tor-e) Communication is very important to animals. Many animals identify each other by smell. Animals also mark their territories by defecating, urinating, or scratching to release scents into an area. Scents left by an animal give other animals information on the species, gender, and reproductive status.

Body Language

Body language is also an important form of communication for animals. To anticipate how animals will react to a situation, it is important to understand the messages they send. An understanding of animal body language allows safer and more productive interactions with animals. Each part of the animal's body can be used to communicate. To understand what the animal is communicating, all of the information the animal is providing must be gathered. The following are examples of body language:

Bunting A behavior in cats in which they rub their heads on objects to leave a scent mark. Cats exhibit this behavior on stationary objects, and on people.

Ear position Ear position provides important information. An animal with ears up and forward is paying attention to what the ears are pointing toward (see Figure 6-10). If the ears are flat to the head, the animal is agitated.

Piloerection (pi-lo-e-rehck-shuhn) Commonly called "raised hackles," the raising of the hair over the neck and shoulders often accompanies growling, barking, or hissing.

Striking Most often seen in horses, striking is kicking out with the front leg. This behavior indicates irritation or upset, and may also accompany sexual behavior.



Animal behavior is a growing field of research in the animal sciences. Researchers are studying how management affects behavior, and making recommendations for management to maximize the well-being of animals. In addition, understanding animal behavior plays a vital role in our interactions with animals. We often wish to modify the behavior of animals, either to a great degree, such as with training horses and dogs, or to a moderate degree in regard to routine handling of production animals. Behaviors can be successfully modified with any animal if the animal's natural responses are considered, and reinforcement is timely and consistent. When seeking to modify behaviors, it must be remembered that the reinforcement must occur within three seconds of the behavior being modified. It is especially important to have impeccable timing if using punishment or the wrong behaviors will be reinforced, and the animal may become fearful and more difficult to handle. In most cases, rewarding positive behaviors will result in a longer-lasting, more consistent change in the behavior of the animal than attempting to punish for undesirable behaviors.


1. What are the major approaches to the study of animal behavior?

2. What is a stereotypy? Give an example.

3. How does successive approximation modify behavior?

4. Why is it difficult to modify behavior successfully using punishment?

5. What can you learn from an animal's body language?

6. What message is a cat sending when its ears are flattened to its head?

7. What is anorexia?

8. On the Internet, find pictures of a species of your choice exhibiting different body language. Print the pictures and describe the message the animal is sending.

9. Make an ethogram of your day.
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Author:Brady, Colleen
Publication:An Illustrated Guide to Animal Science Terminology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Chapter 5 Animal nutrition.
Next Article:Chapter 7 Animal disease and parasites.

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