Companion Animal Behaviour: Listening to and understanding animals

Course summary

  • Fri 26 May 2017 to Sun 28 May 2017
  • 6.15pm Fri - 12.45pm Sun
  • Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA
  • From £132.00
  • Course code O16P172BIR
  • 01865 270 368
  • Course ended

Companion Animal Behaviour: Listening to and understanding animals


How do animals, specifically small companion animals who live alongside people, communicate with them? And do their humans really understand them?

In this course, we will look at how the domestic dog, cat and rabbit, communicate with their own species and other species, including humans. More importantly, do humans, and specifically dog, cat and rabbit owners, actually understand their pets? Or do they infer from their observations and anthropomorphise, i.e. ascribe human attributes to their pets and interpret their behaviour as they would human behaviour?


This short weekend course will explore:

  • The fundamentals of animal communication and signalling; animal vs human communication and the role of anthropomorphism.
  • The communication systems of the domestic dog, cat and rabbit, including sight, sound, scent, chemical signalling, vocalisations and body language – and their role in social behaviour.
  • What humans see and how they interpret canine, feline and leporine behaviours, including common myths and misconceptions, and what our pets are really saying.
  • The differences and contrasts in the social structure and communication systems of the dog, cat and rabbit.
  • The importance of understanding those communication systems in terms of companion animal welfare, and the implications of misinterpreting signals between the same species, in between species, and between companion animals and humans: the pitfalls of miscommunication, misconceptions, and unrealistic expectations; unsuitable and unsafe inter and intra-animal species interactions; and unsuitable and unsafe animal-human interactions.

Students will be introduced to above concepts and up-to-date behavioural research. The course is open to anyone with an interest in dog, cat and rabbit behaviour, and is suitable as an introduction for those considering companion animal behaviour as a career, those with a general interest wishing to expand their knowledge, or people who simply want to better understand their pets.

Programme details

Friday 26 May 2017

6.15pm Registration

6.45pm Dinner

7.45pm Registration for those who have not booked dinner

8.00pm Introduction to animal communication systems Dr Muriel Brasseur

Saturday 27 May 2017

8.15am Breakfast (residents only)

9.00am The canine communication system – How do dogs communicate? Dr Muriel Brasseur

10.00am Understanding dogs Dr Brasseur

11.00am Tea/Coffee

11.30am The feline communication system - How do cats communicate? Celia Haddon

12.30pm Discussion

12.45pm Lunch

2.00pm Understanding cats  Celia Haddon

3.00pm Free time to explore Oxford

6.30pm Dinner

8.00pm The leporine communication system - How do rabbits communicate? Dr Muriel Brasseur

Sunday 28 May 2017

8.15am Breakfast (residents only)

9.00am Understanding rabbits Dr Brasseur

10.00am Comparison of canine, feline and leporine communication and signalling M. Brasseur & C. Haddon

11.00am Tea/Coffee

11.30am Communication and Welfare – What are the implications of not understanding our companion animals? M. Brasseur & C. Haddon

12.30pm Discussion

12.45pm Lunch and course disperses

Recommended reading

Bradbury, J. W. Vehrencamp, S. L. Principles of Animal Communication (Sinauer Associates; 2nd edition, 2011)

Appleby, D. The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour (Souvenir Press Ltd; 2nd edition, 2010)


Accommodation can be booked at Rewley House for Friday and Saturday together. Depending on availability it may also be possible to extend your stay, please enquire at the time of booking for availability and prices. All bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished rooms, all with tea/coffee making facilities, TV, telephone and private bath or shower rooms. Unfortunately it is not yet possible to book twin room accommodation online, so if you wish to book a twin room, please send in your completed enrolment form or contact the Day & Weekend Events Office, Email:; Telephone: + 44 (0) 1865 270380 / 270368.


Tuition (includes coffee/tea): £132.00
Single B&B (Fri & Sat night): £145.20
Twin B&B (Fri & Sat night) per person: £104.20


If you are in receipt of a state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Thomas Hesselberg


Dr Thomas Hesselberg is  Departmental Lecturer in Environmental Science and Director of Studies for Biological Sciences at OUDCE . He is an experienced tutor in zoology and teaches face-to-face and online courses in zoology and statistics for the department. In addition he teaches and supervises undergraduate students. His research is on web-building behaviour in spiders.

Dr Muriel Brasseur


Dr Brasseur BSc (Hons) PhD, is a zoologist and animal behaviourist with a PhD in Animal Behaviour and Genetics. She has conducted studies and research in a variety of species including canids and marine mammals, and has taught at the undergraduate level. She has a thorough understanding of the differences in behaviour and communication between species and specialises in companion animals.

Ms Celia Haddon


Celia Haddon is a British journalist and author. Her 40 published books include a series of best-selling small books about cats including One Hundred Ways for a Cat to Train its Human (Hodder & Stoughton 2001) and The Joy of Cats (Hodder & Stoughton, 2008). From 1996 to 2007 she wrote a weekly column as 'pet agony aunt' for the British daily newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. For her services to animal welfare she won the Blue Cross Award of 1997.