75% of this course focuses on understanding how animals think (all types). The remainder has more of a practical application, looking at things such as training, handling and dealing with abnormal behaviours. Eight lessons include: Influences and motivation, Genetics & Behaviour, Animal Perception and Behaviour, Behaviour and the Environment, Social Behaviour, Instinct & Learning, Handling Animals, Behavioural Problems
There are 8 lessons in this course:
Introduction: Influences and motivation. What is behaviour; causes of behaviour (eg. genetics; learning; external and internal influences); reactive, active and cognitive behaviour; conditioning.
Genetics and Behaviour. Understanding biology; natural selection; genetic variation; development of behaviour; behavioural genetics.
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.
Behaviour and the Environment. Coordination; orientation; homeostasis; acclimatisation; circadian rhythms; biological clocks; reproductive cycles; etc.
Social Behaviour. Animal societies; aggression; social constraints; social order; play; sexual behaviour; communication.
Instinct and Learning. Conditioning and learning; extinction and habituation; instrumental learning; reinforcement; operant behaviour; biological and cognitive aspects of learning.
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.
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.
To develop your understanding of animal behaviour, and your ability to apply that to the handling of a variety of different types of animals.
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.
Some Sample Notes from The Course -
The Distance of Migrations
Migrations can involve travelling 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 animal’s 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.