Behavioural medicine is a branch of science that deals with the study of animal behavior, whether they are humans, insects, birds, and fish. The study of animal behavior is all about understanding how and why animals behave the way they do i.e. the causes, functions and history of this behavior. This action and subsequent reaction to the immediate environment is what is known as behavior, and it is influenced by the animal’s endocrine and nervous system. The level of complexity of an animal’s nervous system is what determines the corresponding complexity of the animal’s behavior. It is a well known fact that animals that have well developed nervous systems have a greater ability to learn new responses and adapt their behavior accordingly.
There are numerous factors and stimuli that can have a direct bearing on the behavior of any animal. Some of these include hereditary predisposition, physiology, surroundings, experience and learning. There have been multiple studies on dog’s that have proven that a dog’s behavior can be passed down genetically, from mother to puppy. These maternal factors can influence the animal’s character and temperament. For example, puppies are more likely to be timid if their mother is also a timid dog. If the puppies are taken away and raised away from this mother, they are less likely to be timid than if they were left her. A dog’s behavior is also affected by the amount and style they are handled, other puppies in the litter, and introduction to novel experiences and objects. Character and conduct are also heavily influenced by the brain and related neurotransmitters. Unusually high or low levels of certain hormones can play a role in some forms of violent behavior or fear.
It is important to first understand the how and the why of behavioral problems in order to form a logical basis for an animal’s treatment. Although our next group of articles places emphasis on the abnormal conduct of dogs, the degree of such abnormality is dependent on the deviation from what is seen to be ‘normal’, or how much of a threat this particular problem poses for the owner.