How behaviour management improves animal welfare

Behaviour Management

In 2017, I held my senior lecturer’s exam lecture (docentfรถrelรคsning).

It was a 45 minute long lecture, where I introduced the concept of behaviour management and how that relates to animal welfare.

Behaviour management is a melting pot of different perspectives, theoretical frameworks and practical, hands-on techniques. I know, I was in over my head trying to discuss something so diverse in under an hour.

Anyway, I filmed it.

I’m guessing you probably don’t have time for a 45 minute lecture. So I divided it into four pieces, thinking that might increase the likelihood that you’ll at least get started.

Scroll down to find all four parts of the lecture!

Part 1 – what is welfare?

Here are the first seven minutes where I talk about how different people prioritize different animal welfare perspectives. When you watch it, think to yourself: “Which of those three welfare perspectives would I vote for?”

Let us know in the comments where you cast your vote! If you find the choice difficult, get some more insight here, where you get to choose which cat to save…!

So, there are three perspectives from which we can manage behaviour to improve animal welfare.

Part 2 – applied ethology

Arranging the environment to allow animals to carry out natural escape-related behaviours – and reducing aggression.

Part 3 – the impact of emotions on welfare

In part 3, I introduce the seven core emotions and focus on one that I think has a huge impact on animal welfare. There are two huge potential problems when animals become fearful – and two solutions.

In this lecture, I didn’t have time to go into muchย detail on any of the topics – there was a strict 45 minute limit. If you want to learn more about emotions, check out my Animal Emotions course – it opens for enrollment every January!

Part 4 – using training to improve welfare

There are three different learning mechanisms we can tap into to reduce the risk that fear becomes a problem for animals: latent inhibition, counter conditioning and systematic desensitization.

Did you learn anything useful from this lecture? If so, please share it!


This was a live lecture, but most of the teaching that I do nowadays is online. My courses go deep into the subjects I touched on in this lecture – but they’re only open for admission for a short while, typically. Sign upย  below to get notified – and I’ll also keep you posted on free webinars, summits and new blog posts!

49 Replies to “How behaviour management improves animal welfare”

  1. Hi, very interesting lecture. To me, it is absolutely clear which one is the most important part of welfare and it’s having the life nature intended each species to have. If any animal could live to his purpose, I’m sure he would be happy doing so and that would make it more healthy. It’s like giving species-appropriate food to an animal, that makes that animal happier and more healthy than giving some kind of food nature didn’t intend to be fed to that animal.

    1. Hi Ulrike, and thanks for sharing your thoughts! ๐Ÿ™‚ I find it fascinating that people think so differently about this – and that we change how we think over time. I certainly have! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. This was a very nice summary. I truly enjoyed the systematic approach and the explanations.
    As a nutritionist, my preference towards health was dominant for many years. This course has greatly shifted my perspective towards a more inclusive point of view. Great learning experience!

  3. Enjoying the lecture, thank you Karolina ( and for breaking it into time manageable chunks). After the first part my choice went with emotions, but good health was quite a strong contender too. Your follow on cat example was really helpful in clarifying my choice with beautiful but fear living Ada coming to my aid.

  4. Thank you once again for an informative lecture.
    I think all 3 of the perspectives have almost equal relevance, but if I was forced to choose one it would have to be the happiness of my animals.

  5. Another enlightening lecture, thank you Karolina.
    I was thinking about what makes me happy: the sun shining, having a good walk with my dogs and running into nice people along the way, feeling no aches and pains. Emotional well being of my dogs is very important to me. You can see happiness in their faces when you play with them. Or when I scatter treats around the yard and they get to search for them or when we play โ€œFind Itโ€. Also giving them the time to smell all of those glorious smells on our walks is so vital plus its calming. It seems to me like the environment has a lot to do with our pets having a happy go-lucky mental state. One of my dogs is terrific at home and loves going to the vets but is fearful on walks, he doesnโ€™t like bikes, is reserved towards strangers and some other dogs. There was a time when he didnโ€™t even want to go for walks and when I brought out the leash he would play keep away. Nowadays he will go for a small walk, he will stop walking and look at me when he has had enough. These small walks are all about sniffing for him and a chance for some counter conditioning when we see triggers.

    1. Sounds like you’re really taking the time to observe and discover what your animal likes – love that! ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Thank you.
        I typically have difficulty writing down my thoughts (called monkey brain) and by now you can tell that I am the opposite of โ€œnerdyโ€…lol. I guess my point was that it would be ideal to have all three or at least some of each to provide the best opportunity for a happy life.
        For instance, animals will try to hide pain and sickness and if their health is compromised their emotional state will be affected too. Or if home was a tiny cage in a puppy mill?!
        Stop talking Donna….

        1. I can relate to the monkey brain syndrome..! ๐Ÿ˜‰ And yes, I think the puppy mill environment compromises all kinds of welfare…

  6. Thanks for sharing!
    Of course all three aspects are needed to have the best possible life, but if I had to choose, I would say happiness is the most important, as being happy makes life worth while. One can be healthy and miserable at the same time. A “natural” life on itself is also no guarantee for being happy. I think being happy is the ultimate goal.

  7. Hi Karolina, the lecture was just fine.

    One thing though, mentor carries the meaning of giving advice. And the advice can be good or bad as judged by third parties. I could advise a fellow gang member on how best to commit a crime. I would be mentoring the individual.

    I don’t think animals actually give advice. So, the term mentor is a misnomer in the context under consideration.

    I think what you mean to say is the other indiviual set a poor or a good example.

    I mention this not to critcise. But to aid clear communication of all on this thread who might desire to use the term dementor when talking to another animal trainer.

  8. I would vote for happiness or emotional wellbeing. Having said that, I think that for an animal to experience emotional wellbeing they will need to be in reasonably good health or free from pain and they will need the opportunity to express natural behaviour. So focusing on emotional wellbeing requires one to look at those things which lead to emotional wellbeing i.e. health and opportunity for natural behaviour.

  9. I feel that happiness would be the ultimate goal, as perhaps the other 3 would fall in organically if the animal is happy. I feel that emotions take a huge role in our physical being as it’s been proven that chronic negative emotions will cause ill affects in our health. Would it be true that if the animal is happy we’re doing a pretty good job at meeting their other needs?

  10. I donโ€™t think one aspect improves animal welfare over the other. They all inter connected. At one time I would have voted for happy. But how can an animal be happy if unhealthy or in pain. And if an animal is unhappy they probably will not serve their purpose. And vice- versa. If they are unable to serve their purpose they will be unhappy.

  11. I would vote for giving a confined animal as close to natural environment as possible – this then ensures that they can be happy and so then they will be healthy.

  12. I agree with everything Roby said, and she says it so well! I vote ethology. Temple Grandin has made her living designing facilities for cattle slaughter that don’t scare them. When she does an inspection she notices the smallest thing that might upset them and developed a checklist based on knowing why they behave the way they do. It turns out the meat of animals who are fearful when slaughtered has a different taste!

    What did I learn?
    That I’ve been doing counter conditioning with the vet and the farrier, yeah! I reinforce calmness with a clicker and a treat during blood draws and shots and if he keeps chewing I know that we have not reached a fear threshhold. A fearful animal can’t learn. He lives in a field with one other horse (2 horses per field with a run-in shed), but now I wonder if this is the optimal number for a social grouping given the space.

    I have seen many examples of a bad living situation in zoos, where natural behavior is displaced with a obsessive/compulsive activity. Thankfully the pacing bears are no longer at the zoo. It was obvious they were unhappy.

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  14. Particularly the effects of environmental choices or setup sparked ideas to increase confidence and decrease avoidance and reactivity at our dog training facility. Thank you. I will look more into this.

  15. A beautifully delivered lecture – easy to follow, well paced and fascinating content. Really enjoyed listening, thank you.

  16. I suspect that choosing one aspect of welfare is not actually possible. It seems to me that each of the three aspects presented is dependent upon the other two. You cannot be happy for instance if you are not healthy and doing what you evolved to do; and you cannot be truly healthy if you are not happy and doing what you evolved to do. Finally you cannot do what you evolved to do if you are not healthy enough to carry that out, or if you are so significantly unhappy that you cannot act. Thusly, I think that it is important to address each of the three aspects that you present as an overall approach to animal welfare.

    1. Sue, I fully agree with you. It’s just that when ranking those in order of importance, people choose differently..!

  17. Very interesting subject! I’ve only seen part 1 so far, but before watching the following sequences, I would vote for “natural behavior”. Of course, physical health is important, but I definately believe that happiness will follow if the animal have full access to their natural environment.

  18. Thank you for sharing, Karolina. I would vote for “mental health” – which is what is meant by “happiness”? Not sure if mental health is possible without being physically pretty healthy (not being in constant pain, or unable to perform natural behaviors). An animal could be physically healthy without being mentally healthy/happy, but not vice versa. And “natural behavior” could be substituted with other activities. I think I would define mental health as being mostly in the positive emotional systems.

    1. I think we can all agree that if one of the systems is severely compromised then that would have to be addressed. The question really becomes interesting when we’re at or just “below” neutral. If everything is OK as in no severe suffering, which should be prioritized? ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. I vote happiness although all three are important. Thank you for making your lectures available. Your research helps me in my non paid work with animals, and also in my paid work with child welfare. Thank you for making the world a better place through education.

    1. Glad you like what I’m sharing! I think these topics are equally important for humans..! ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Could you share the name of the woodchuck-flight distance-study? Thank you for publishing your lecture Karolina!

  21. Fascinating topic. I have just been confronted with animal rescue from Puerto Rico. Many animals seemed quite content living in the wild and did not show signs of stress. However, the rescuers felt that all animals would be better off in captivity under the care of humans. Some animals were in bad shape and in need of intervention but in my gut I felt it was wrong to remove the animals that seemed content. Many of them ended up in small cages, sometimes for months until they found a suitable foster situation. The lack of emotional support for these cats and dogs was apparent too by just looking at their isolated living conditions. The shift in looking at the welfare of an animal from their perspective and not from ours will hopefully change the focus of rescue in the future.

  22. to answer your question in your email when sending part 2 – I would say “behaving naturally” as if the animal is “allowed” and able to do that he will normally be healthy and happy .

  23. I am looking forward to the next installment! Really difficult to vote as all three choices are so dependant on each other. . But I guess I would have to vote for emotional wellbeing as without that there is no point to life as far as I can see. Thank you Karolina.

    1. they are co-dependent, and we didn’t even discuss the short-term versus long-term perspective..! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  24. So interesting, Karolina! We are at the beginning of a paradigm shift. It is so important for animals to be understood in the context of their species, how they evolved, and for what purpose, but also to be seen on the continuum of evolution, and our human relationship to nonhuman animals, how much more alike than different we all are- how many biological, neurological, psychological, structural characteristics we share in common with other species. It isn’t enough to ensure that animals are healthy, or happy in their surroundings. They also need to be able to live as closely to the life that they evolved to including relationships, lifestyle and habitat. I vote ethology.

  25. Thank you this is interesting. All three are important so it is hard to answer. I think purpose wpuld bring the best balence in terms of promoting health and happiness also. So that is what I am picking.

  26. great Karolina I am enjoying this and congratulations- I think I would have voted differently years ago – now I feel happiness is what I would choose if I was forced (also my animals would not be happy if any health was impacting their lives that much and if they are not able to adapt to their domestic ‘purpose’ again their happiness would not be evident in their lives). Years ago I would have voted health only

    1. I think you’re not alone in this shift of perspectives. I think we’re living in a paradigm shift..! ๐Ÿ™‚

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