Animal Behavior

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13909

Dogs dig holes. Birds build nests. Spiders spin webs. Raccoons break into things. Do we know why animals behave the way they do? Find out here! You'll also learn why writers act the way they do!


Comprehension, Life Science

English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Do you think raccoons have problem-solving skills?

Watch the video below to find out!

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  • Was Rascal born with the skill of opening gates, or do you think she learned it?

Read on to learn more about how raccoons, and other animals, behave.

Rascal the raccoon did what raccoons often do — break into things so they can get to the food.

We call this normal animal behavior. Animal behavior is anything that animals do to interact with people, other animals, and their environment.

Writers also have behaviors that we can analyze and predict.

When you read an informational passage, be aware that the author has a purpose in writing it. Knowing that purpose will help you to better understand the passage.

Also remember that the author may take a certain point of view. If the author has a strongly positive or negative opinion on a topic, it will show through in their writing. As readers, it's good for us to be aware of that and use it to evaluate the information they present.

Read the following informational passage about animal behavior. While you're reading, try to put yourself in the author's place. Ask yourself:

  • Why did the author write this piece?
  • What was his or her purpose: to persuade, to entertain, or just to inform us?

Also, consider what point of view the author is taking. Notice any words that show he or she has an opinion about the subject. Sometimes authors try to stay neutral, meaning they don't express an opinion. Other times, writers will demonstrate how they feel about the topic, and it's important to notice that.

Animal Behavior

You watch your cat stalking a mouse. You observe a bird fly back and forth to gather twigs as she builds a nest. You may wonder why your dog always digs up the roses in your mother's garden or chews up your dad's slippers! We often wonder how animals know how to do things like building a nest, or we wonder why they do certain things like chewing things they're not supposed to.

puppy chewing slippers

Zoologists (the lucky people who get to study animals for a living) have learned many things about the why's and how's of animal behavior. They break animal behavior down into two main categories: innate behavior (also called instinct) and learned behavior. Innate means inborn, so these are behaviors that animals are born knowing how to do. Learned behavior, as you can guess, includes all the behaviors that have to be learned. Let's look at each category more closely.

Innate behaviors, or instincts, help animals to survive. Birds migrate to warmer weather in the winter. Spiders spin webs to catch prey. Tigers fight to defend their territory, their food, or their young. Moths, and many other insects, fly toward light because they navigate by the light of the moon. Bears hibernate to survive long, cold winters. Lizards, on the other hand, estivate, which means they lay low and conserve energy during times of high heat. Sea turtles dig a hole in the sand to lay their eggs so the babies will have a chance of surviving. All of these actions are examples of things animals are born knowing how to do.

green turtle

Learned behaviors help animals to change and adapt to their environment. Animals can learn things by trial and error, just as Rascal did while trying to open the different gates in the video. They can also be trained. After some training, most dogs will learn not to chew on Dad's slippers. A dog can also be trained to sit, roll over, beg, bark on command, and many other tricks.

There's another way of learning behavior called habituation. You can see the word habit in habituation, so you can guess it has to do with experiencing things over and over again. For example, wild animals have a natural fear of humans. But many wild animals can be tamed by prolonged exposure to people. That's why, in many state and national parks, you'll see signs that ask you not to feed the animals. If these animals get used to irresponsible people coming near and feeding them, it will change their behavior and make it less likely they will be able to survive.

do not feed waterfowl sign

Another interesting form of learned behavior is imprinting, which happens when a young bird or mammal recognizes its parent and follows the parent around, imitating and learning from them. The parent, usually the mother, protects and nurtures the young animal, and the youngster stays with the parent for safety. Imprinting is very important, so that a young cow or horse will recognize its mother among a herd of other cows or horses. A fascinating fact about imprinting is that ducks and geese have such a strong imprinting instinct that, if a young duck or geese sees a human being instead of its mother when it hatches, it will imprint on the person!

The last type of learned behavior is called conditioning. This occurs when an animal learns to associate two things. For example, when you open a can of cat food, and your clever cat comes running. Or when your wise dog sees his leash and runs to the door knowing it's time for a walk.

dog with a leash


  • Now that you've learned about animal behavior, are you ready to review what you've learned and analyze this writer's behavior?

Move on to the Got It? section now.

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