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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.

Find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

Become an Applied Animal Behaviorist

What is Applied Animal Behavior?

Applied animal behavior is a field focused on applying our understanding of animal behavior to:
  • Improve the welfare and care of animals
  • Help humans have a better understanding of animal behavior as it may apply to their everyday lives
  • Advance research in deeper scholarly understanding of animal behavior as it applies to animals in wild, captivity, laboratories

Who are Applied Animal Behaviorists?

Applied animal behaviorists are scientists, educators, or other animal professionals with an advanced academic background in the principles of animal behavior. Applied animal behaviorists may have a background in fields as diverse as psychology, biology, zoology, veterinary medicine, or animal sciences. They may work in laboratories, zoos, farms, animal shelters, universities, corporations, or as private consultants (and beyond!). What applied animal behaviorists have in common is the application of scientific principles to improving the care, management and welfare of animals in captivity and the wild.

To promote the field of applied animal behavior, the Animal Behavior Society:
  • Hosts an applied behavior symposium at its yearly conference.
  • Offers public education programs during the yearly conference.
  • Publishes research related to applied animal behavior through its journal.
  • Offers a certification program for applied animal behavior professionals.
  • Act as a resource for media inquiries and speaking engagements.

Thank you to Dr. Briana Gaskill, Dr. Allison Greggor, Dr. Stephen Ross, and Dr. Lydia Hopper for contributing content.

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

Field Research

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.

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.


The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) is proud to be a source of information about animals and their behavior. The ABS, however, does not endorse any products or services and assumes no liability whatsoever for the use or content of any product or service contained at this web site.

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