5 – Freedom to Express Normal Behavior

This week we will be discussing the last of the Five Freedoms: the freedom to express normal behaviour. This freedom is all about providing an animal with an environment that allows for behaviour that promotes their well-being. This is accomplished by providing the animal with sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of their own kind. Read the following blog with your students to learn more!

What is considered to be “normal” behavior varies from species to species. For example, coprophagy, the act of eating feces, is a very normal and essential behavior in rabbits however, it would be considered an abnormal behavior for cats. Similarly, chattering, the act of making a chirping sound at birds, is a completely normal behavior in cat but it would be considered an odd behavior if a horse was found chattering at birds! Therefore, it is important to do your research on what is considered normal behavior for your animal species. By knowing what your animal’s normal behavior is and allowing them to express it, you will be helping to improve their well-being. In addition, knowing what is an abnormal behavior for your animal will allow you to recognize when something is wrong, whether it is a result of stress, sickness, or general discontent.

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It is important that animals are given the opportunity to be able to express their natural behaviors. If an animal is not able to express their natural behaviors, they may suffer emotionally and physically. Although these behaviors may seem simple and pointless to us, they can be very important for an animal to perform. For instance, dust bathing is a natural behavior performed by chickens several times per day. It occurs when a chicken finds a dirt patch and digs themselves into it, covering their entire bodies with dirt. To humans, this behavior might seem odd. Why would you want to get yourself dirty over and over again? Well, the opposite is actually happening. Dust bathing helps keep chickens clean, and is an important part of their hygiene routine. By covering themselves in dirt, chickens can get rid of various parasites as the dirt is able to prevent the parasites from breathing, thereby killing them. In fact, this behavior is so well ingrained in chickens, that they will still attempt to perform the behavior even if they are not provided with any dirt or dust. This is called “sham” dusting. The fact that sham dusting occurs shows just how important this behavior is and how it has been passed down to generations and generations of chickens. We can compare dust bathing in chickens to showering in humans, as both behaviors serve a hygienic purpose. How would you feel if you were unable to shower or bathe for weeks at a time? After a while, you would become very frustrated, just like a chicken does if they are unable to dust bathe.

One important aspect of meeting this freedom is making sure that your animals have enough space to perform their natural behaviors. At minimum, an animal needs enough space to be able to stand up, turn around, lie down, groom itself, and stretch its limbs. However, even if this minimum amount of space is provided, there still may not be enough room for an animal to perform all of its natural behaviors. For example, horses often have enough room in their stalls to be able to perform the behaviors mentioned above. However, they do not have room to walk or run off their excess energy, so they would need an opportunity to do that outside of their stalls.

Another aspect of this freedom is making sure that you are providing your animals with the proper facilities to be able to perform their natural behaviors. For example, cats have a very natural scratching behavior. Therefore, you need to provide your cat with a scratching post so that they can remove old material from their claws, stretch and mark the area with their scent glands. Otherwise, your cat will start scratching your furniture! Every animal is different and it is important to do your research to make sure you are providing the proper facilities for your animals to be able to perform their natural behaviors.

The last aspect of this freedom is all about providing the animal with company of their own kind. This means that if your species of animal prefers to interact with other animals, it has the opportunity to do so. Just like us, many animals would feel lonely if they didn’t have an opportunity to socialize and be with other animals. For example, gold fish prefer the company of another goldfish, and dogs like to socialize with other dogs. Most hamster species on the other hand, are territorial and prefer to be alone.

These 3 main aspects are very important for ensuring that your animal has the freedom to express normal behavior. In addition, behavioural enrichment can also be beneficial and help improve an animal’s welfare. Enrichment is all about improving the animal’s life through mental stimulation. Allowing animals to explore their environment, or solve fun puzzles helps to keep the animal from boredom and helps improve their overall well-being. Enrichment can be provided through the environment, through toys, or through treats and food. For example, providing tigers with access to a pool is an environmental enrichment. Food enrichment can also be provided by freezing treats in water. Lastly, enrichment can also be provided through toys. Cat toys such as laser pointers and teasers allow cats to perform natural “hunting” behaviors. Overall, enrichment is a very good way to improve your animal’s quality of life.

That’s the end of our Five Freedoms journey! Thank you for joining us in learning how to be a responsible and compassionate animal owner. Make sure to remember these freedoms and share them with your family and friends!

Discussion Questions:
1.What are the three aspects discussed in the blog that help to provide animals the opportunity to express their natural behaviours?
Providing enough space, proper facilities, company of their own kind (if they need it!)
2. What are natural behaviours that kids your age have? How do they differ from an animal’s natural behaviours?
3. Which of the five freedoms do you think is the most important? Why?
Answers can vary, but all of the freedoms are important for well-being.

Classroom Activities:
1. Making enrichment toys!
Braided T-Shirt toys – Each student (or the teacher) brings in a couple of old t-shirts that they don’t want anymore. With the teachers help, they can cut these shirts up and braid them together to make a toss-able toy for dogs.  These toys could then be donated to a shelter, or the students could take them home for their own pets.

You can donate these to a local shelter or rescue group! They will definitely appreciate it!

2. Research some other enrichment that pets may like! (ie: toilet paper rolls for hamsters), collect or make items and offer them to a local shelter.

3. What are some natural behaviours of domestic animals? Pick an animal (pet or farm animal) and research some of their natural behaviours.

4. Guess the mystery animal: Have each student select an animal (pet, farm or zoo) and tell them to not share their ‘mystery animal’ with others.
Students can then spend sometime researching how each of the five freedoms would be met for their ‘mystery animal’. In groups or as a class, have students present their research  five freedoms for their animal (powerpoint, poster, or orally) and based on that information the other students in the group or class guess the ‘mystery animal’.

Thanks to Kelsey Neill for her work on this blog series! Learn more about Kelsey here. 

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