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Animal Behavior Society
Animal Behavior Society

Working towards a better understanding of animal behavior

Applied Animal Behavior

The field of Applied Animal Behavior specializes in the behavior of companion animals, the behavior of farm, zoo and laboratory animals and studies of the behavior of wild animals when these studies are relevant from an applied perspective, as well as methodological studies.

Applied Animal Behavior for Companion Animals:

Applied animal behaviorists may work in clinical, animal rescue and sheltering organizations, or private practice. In these settings, applied animal behaviorists use behavior and learning theory to evaluate, enrich, monitor, and resolve behavior problems. Some applied animal behaviorists, such as veterinary behaviorists or applied behavior analysts, may also have other certifications or advanced degrees. Most problem behaviors in companion animals (for example, dogs, cats, parrots, mini-pigs, horses, etc.) are natural behaviors displayed in an abnormal context. After a detailed case history is taken, intervention with behavior modification is planned and executed to resolve or reduce the problem behavior.

Some examples of how/where Applied Animal Behaviorists work:

  • Forensic behavior
  • Corporate consulting
  • Serving as expert witnesses
  • Working with families
  • Conducting research

Applied Laboratory Animal Behavior

Applied Animal Behavior for Laboratory Animals: It is crucial that laboratory personnel understand the behavioral needs of each specific species to maintain integrity of research. Applied animal behaviorists can guide development of appropriate enrichment and behavior programs.

Understanding the behavioral needs and drives of laboratory animals is important ethically and scientifically. Natural behavior can be used as the central theory behind a behavioral test to assess a potential new drug or tell us when an animal isn’t feeling well. If animals are not able to engage in highly motivated behaviors, this can affect scientific data as well as their wellbeing. While rats and mice are still the predominant species found in laboratories, this principle holds true for any species in a typical laboratory animal vivarium: cats, sheep, pigs, nonhuman primates, or even axolotls. This wide variety of species makes applied animal behavior for laboratory animals that much more intellectually stimulating and challenging to study.

Online Resources:

  1. AALAS learning library (
  2. AALAS webinars (
  3. OLAW website ( or (
  4. International Society for applied ethology (

Guide Books:

Field Research

    Applying Animal Behavior in Conservation Management: An understanding of animal behavior can help conserve wild animal populations. Broadly the applications of animal behavior in conservation can fall into one of three categories.

  1. Animal behavior can serve as an indicator of the status, population viability or activity of a given wild species.
  2. Animal behavior can be used to explain the mechanism underlying increases or decreases in species' populations in light of human-induced changes to the environment.
  3. Animal behavior can be used a tool to aid the recovery of threatened or endangered species or their habitats. From using bird song to survey population numbers to promoting breeding in conservation facilities, animal behavior can help in many contexts. As a sub-field of applied animal behavior, conservation behavior is an area of growing and active research. download/Committees/ABSConservation/index.html

Applied Animal Behavior in Zoo Settings

Applied animal behaviorists in zoo settings have a number of different duties. Zoos, sanctuaries, and exotic animal facilities present unique challenges. These include behavioral mechanisms that can affect zoo animal welfare, species survival plans for endangered species, research on behavior and cognition that have both zoo and field behavior applications. Applied animal behaviorists in zoos:

  1. Help design and advise on the development of zoo animal enrichment and species- typical behavior programs to enhance zoo animal physical and psychological welfare.
  2. Conduct behavioral research on the effects of internal or external variables (for example, psychological wellbeing and visitor exposure types) on the behavior, cognition and wellbeing of animals in managed settings (eg., zoos, sanctuaries, laboratories).
  3. Help design and advise on animal habitats, animal/human (staff and visitor) interactions.
  4. Conduct behavioral research for zoo applications, field applications, and basic research (better understanding of behavioral mechanisms in different species).
  5. Problem solve for behavior issues that arise between conspecifics, cross-species behavior, and animal/human interactions within the zoo.