Behavioral Aspects

An understanding of the behavioral profile of species that were successfully domesticated leads to more knowledgeable management and handling of these animals today. Humans worldwide have captured the young of a huge range of species and kept them as pets, but this is not enough for domestication to occur. If it were, cheetahs, bears, and gazelles, to name but a few, would be domestic species. But much more beyond the taming of young animals is needed for full domestication.

In addition to the adaptability and hardiness already discussed, successful domestication virtually demands social behaviors based on a hierarchical structure within social groups. Individuals recognize each other and their status within the group, and have signaling systems that indicate dominance and submission, thus minimizing aggression and producing a stable society. Human managers become a part of that society and take the roles of dominant and leader individuals. This process is facilitated by behaviors that encourage bonding between parent and offspring and between peers in adult groups.

Behaviorally, the docile, dependent nature of domestic animals is characteristic of juveniles.[4] Even as mature adults, domestic animals retain such traits. They are also curious about novelty and willing to associate with individuals of other species. Typically, such behaviors are seen in the young of many wild species, but are lost with maturity. This group of juvenile behaviors was favored by domestication as it made animals much easier to manage. It is believed that selection favoring docile, dependent individuals led to genetic change in the rate of development so that domestic species began to reach sexual maturity before they fully completed their behavioral development. Hence, their behavior retains juvenile characteristics, a process referred to as neoteny.

The final stage in full domestication is a selective breeding program. For its success, reproductive behaviors that do not rely on tight pair bonds are desirable, as selected males are used to breed many females. Historically, it was desirable to keep fewer mature males as they tend to be more aggressive and difficult to manage. Modern systems often depend on artificial insemination, so important behaviors include ones that signify reproductive status and can be interpreted by human managers.

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