The science of animal behavior is a multi-facet discipline concerned with the objective analysis of the behavior of animals in naturalistic settings and laboratory environments. it is an area of study taught at most universities, and doctoral degrees are awarded in this discipline. The leading professional society in North America representing this discipline is the Animal Behavior Society. The society traditionally has been comprised of PhD academics, but in recent years academically trained PhD’s have taken their knowledge of this discipline and started applying it to analyze the behavior of dogs and cats.
Animal behavior has traditionally been an observational science; that is, the behavior of an animal is carefully observed and measured, and then tied to factors which have a causal influence on the behavior under study. Many notions currently used to explain dog behavior, such as territoriality, dominance, learning principles, submissive behavior, pack mentality, rank order, different kinds of aggression, genetic influence on behavioral traits, critical periods, amongst others, are concepts that were originally developed through the scientific study of animal behavior.
Animal behaviorist have learned that the behavior an animal displays is is best understood when analyzed in the context in which it happens. Therefore, when applying animal behavior science to the domestic dog, a common approach is to use the observations of owners and others familiar with the dog to collect meaningful information about the behavior of the dog in a specified context. Surveys are done to collect this data, and questionnaires are presented to owners, and these collection techniques are then subjected to validity and reliability tests. Many examples of this approach can be found in recent scientific literature on dog and cat behavior. The reader should go to this page for a listing of journals were published literature can be found.
The collected observational data are then tied to a myriad of external and internal factors believed to influence behavior, such as neurological and physiological functioning, past experience of the animal, environmental conditions, medical condition, etc. The scientific analysis of dog behavior also incorporates explanations based on learning theory, cognition, early experience, and genetics. Analyzing a dog bite case with this perspective is essential because it creates a standard consistent with scientific knowledge. Moreover, when a dog bites a person, the injury inflicted is the result of the dog’s behavior; hence, analysis of the factors which influence behavior may be used to address common issues in dog bite cases, such as the temperament of the dog, whether provocation occurred, and whether a dog was capable of displaying a given behavior in a particular context.
Those interested in receiving electronic copies of dog bite and dog aggression literature for educational purposes only should contact Dr. Polsky for details. Enrollment in a recently developed distance learning program entitled “Dog aggression and dog bite analysis” will be required.