Skip to main content

Unit information: Unit 2: Ethology, genetics and the development of behaviour in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Unit 2: Ethology, genetics and the development of behaviour
Unit code VETS10007
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Rooney
Open unit status Not open

The five units of this course will run in sequential order. Students must achieve a minimum of 40% overall for assessments on the study skills unit(Unit1) before attending subsequent units (no compensation).

Students must achieve a minimum of 40% on Units 2 and 3 prior to progressing to Units 4 and 5. Students must achieve a minimum of 40% on Unit 4 before commencing Unit 5.

Students failing to achieve 40% in units 2-5 will be given the option of resitting the unit before the start of the subsequent unit, or the end of the academic year.

  • Unit 1: Study skills


School/department Bristol Veterinary School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences


This unit introduces students to the principles of animal ethology, genetics and behavioural development. Focussing on the commonly owned companion animal species, the unit investigates how the evolution of ancestral species impacts on behaviour, and examines the important changes brought about through the process of domestication. The knowledge about ‘normal’ behaviour is used to enable students to understand the different elements which impact on the ultimate behavioural signs shown by individual animals. This includes genetic influences on behaviour, such as breed effects, and personality characteristics. In addition, the importance of the developmental period on behavioural signs will be examined in this unit, ensuring that students have a good understanding of the degree of behavioural plasticity arising from sensitive periods for learning. The knowledge acquired in this unit will be applied to work-relevant situations, such as the practicalities of ensuring young animals receive experiences appropriate to living in the domestic environment.

This unit aims to:

  • Give students knowledge of the concepts and principles underlying companion animal ethology, genetics and behavioural development.
  • Enable students to evaluate and interpret this knowledge in the context of the rehoming centre environment, such that they are able to make policy and assessment judgements based on sound theories.
  • Provide students with the skills to practically implement the knowledge obtained in the context of their work-place.
  • Develop students’ study skills, and introduce them to the support facilities available to them

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit students should be able to:

1)Demonstrate an understanding of the basic principles underlying behavioural genetics, companion animal ethology and behavioural development. 2) Evaluate different theories and concepts relating to the ethology of companion animal species which they may come across in their working environment, including the use of temperament testing. 3) Develop practical skills in observing, and interpreting, a range of communication signals given by companion animals in different situations. 4) Communicate their knowledge effectively and reliably, including explaining how principles relate to the behaviour of individual animals in their care.

Teaching details

The unit is made up of 7.5 days of contact time with students (5 days at University of Bristol and 2.5 days at Dogs Trust training centre, Evesham) and the remaining time is self-directed study and preparation of assessed material. During contact with lecturing staff, teaching methods include formal lectures, however the emphasis is very much on discussion based seminar and tutorial sessions, where material is related to students’ own work-based experiences, and practical sessions where techniques are demonstrated and students are able to develop their skills. Out with the contact periods, students are directed to access materials available on-line, and via existing library resources in order to complete both formative and summative assessments. The distance learning elements of the unit will be facilitated using online materials produced specifically for the students on this course.

As the unit involves a significant proportion of work-based learning, accessible support from tutors and unit organisers will be essential. At the beginning of the course structured access to tutors and unit organisers will be outlined to students. This will specify appropriate means of communication with tutors (e.g. email), in addition to informing the students of how soon they can expect a reply (e.g. 48hrs) and specific times during the week when their tutors will be available (e.g. Monday mornings).

Students will be allocated a personal tutor and pastoral tutor (programme director) at the start of the first unit (Unit1: Study skills).

Assessment Details

Formative assessment

  • Online MCQs on domestication
  • 2000 word essay on development of social behaviour in dogs

Summative assessment

  • Online MCQ examination (30%)
  • 2500 word essay (50%)
  • Development of a socialisation protocol, suitable for use in the work-place, based on knowledge acquired in the unit (20%) (1500 words)

Summative assessments will take place and feedback will be provided prior to the student attending the subsequent unit

Reading and References

  • Bradshaw, J.W.S., Blackwell, E.J. and Casey, R.A. Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit? (2009) Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 4, 135-144
  • Appleby, D., Bradshaw, J.W.S. and Casey R. A. (2002) Relationship between aggressive and avoidance behaviour by dogs and their experience in the first six months of life. Veterinary Record, 150, 434-438
  • The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. James Serpell (Ed). Cambridge University Press, Cambs, UK.
  • Handbook of applied dog behaviour and training: Principles of Behavioural Adaption and Learning Vol 1. Steven Lindsay. Wiley Blackwell, Oxford, UK.
  • The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour (2nd Edition). Dennis Turner and Patrick Bateson (Eds). Cambridge University Press, Cambs, UK.
  • The behaviour of the domestic cat. John Bradshaw. CAB International, Oxon, UK.