Professional Practice Guidelines

Mission, Methodological Stance and Professional Practice Guidelines For AABP Members

The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (AABP) membership is dedicated to the highest standards in professionalism and standards of excellence. Professional animal behavior technology has the potential to achieve great benefits but also great harm, making it vitally important to make responsible choices regarding our professional conduct. The core ethical principles and guidelines provided here serve to inform the public regarding the AABP members’stance on ethical practice and to help guide members on making ethical professional decisions that are designed to benefit, them, the public and the profession. Below are the AABP Mission and Methodological Stance, followed by a set of professional guidelines. AABP does not condone any behavior in breech of these principles and guidelines.



The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (AABP) was founded to promote a strong dedication to animal-friendly methods and exceptionally high standards of excellence in skill proficiency and professionalism among behaviorologically oriented animal behavior technologists. The AABP seeks to establish a community of members aspiring to and sustaining these principles.

Click here for Ethics Committee

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Click here for the Minimally Aversive Contingency Management Planning Policy

Methodological Stance

General Statement

The AABP and its Members recognize the following two principles (the first, philosophical, the second, empirical):

1. The dignity and autonomy of the sentient subject, no matter what species they belong to, deserves respect. Highly aversive stimulation is morally repugnant and unacceptable.

2. Non-aversive methods are generally more effective than highly intrusive methods. Positive-reinforcement-based methods are the most effective and efficient, and least risky and harmful methods to use in animal training and behavior change programming, and most conducive to facilitating the human-animal bond. Aversive stimulation-based methods are generally inefficient, counterproductive, risk serious harm and are the most likely methods to deteriorate the human-animal bond.

Consequently, the AABP and its Members adopt the ethical stance that the Minimally Aversive Contingency Management Planning Policy (MAPMP) be utilized as a guiding principle in constructing behavior change programs. This is reflected in Principle 8.0 below.

Core Ethical Principles and Professional Practice Guidelines

(Last updated August 24, 2017)


The AABP Professional Practice Guidelines includes a set of guidelines and principles on which all AABP Members (hereafter referred to as Professionals) conduct themselves. The AABP Professional Practice Guidelines assures the public that AABP Members conduct themselves with the highest standards of professionalism. This public assurance likewise offers the Professional the confidence of the public. 

Professionals work to develop a valid and reliable body of scientific knowledge, based on research and apply that knowledge to helping companion animals and their guardians live together in mutually fulfilling relationships. They strive to help companion animal guardians develop informed choices concerning companion animal behavior and problem prevention and resolution. They carry out this objective in a manner that respects the autonomy and dignity of all others. These core ethical principles and professional practice guidelines help us promote this principle of professionalism.

The Guiding Principle

Professional animal trainers and behavior consultants conduct themselves with respect for the autonomy and dignity of others, be they human or nonhuman.

Principle 1. Competence: Professionals operate within their competencies with empirically supported behaviorally oriented methods.


1.01. Professionals work within the bounds of their competence. They provide only services for which they are demonstrably competent. Competence may be achieved through formal education and tested or formal professional consultation with competent educators. It is also ideal that the professional have supervised practice and evaluation in the area of claimed competence.


1.02. Professionals provide services in new behavior sets only after undertaking formal education and testing, or formal professional consultation in that area sufficient to understand fully the risks and benefits as well as proper application of the service. 


1.03. Professionals seek to use techniques that are empirically supported and are cautious of techniques or practices that are not empirically supported by research. 


1.04. Professionals refer clients to competent professionals when they, themselves, are not competent to accept a case and they do so as soon as practicable.

1.05. Professionals work with clients and/or their companion animals from a behaviorological (rather than medical-model) orientation in order to describe, explain and change specific, observable, measurable behaviors and avoid explaining behavior at other levels of analysis (e.g., speculation regarding underlying psychological disorders or syndromes).

1.06 Professionals do not utilize notions of social dominance or equivalent constructs in interpreting or explaining companion animal behavior. Nor do they base training or social interaction approaches on such constructs.


Principle 2. Nonmaleficence: Professionals are careful not to do harm to others and protect the interests of vulnerable parties in the professional relationship.


2.01. Professionals take reasonable steps to avoid harming animals or clients behaviorally, emotionally or physically.

2.02. Professionals recognize that the companion animal is the vulnerable part in the consultation relationship and therefore, where a true conflict of interest presents itself between the guardian's interests and the companion animal's interests, the Professional seeks to resolve the conflict in a way that satisfies both party's interests, and where this is not successful, the Professional makes the interests of the companion animal the priority and clarifies this priority to the client.

2.03. Professionals do not condone or facilitate client conduct toward their companion animal that is excessively intrusive / aversive with continued participation in its administration. If a client persists in ignoring the consultant's recommendations in this regard and cannot be dissuaded from that course of action, the Professional considers terminating the professional relationship.

2.04. Professionals do not participate in spreading untrue information about fellow professionals. Professionals ought to ensure that any discussion about a fellow professional be accurate and constructive.


Principle 3. Informed Consent: Professionals seek appropriate informed consent from clients.


3.01. Professionals obtain appropriate informed consent to consultation, using language that the client might reasonably be expected to understand and they confirm comprehension on an ongoing basis. The content of informed consent should include the following parameters of the relationship (a) confidentiality and its limitations, (b) fees and payment methods and schedules as well as consequences for failure to make payment for services rendered, (c) Professional's credentials and experience, (d) priority of the companion animal's interest over client's interests if a true conflict of interest arises, (e) goals, techniques, limitations, risks, and benefits of consultation, (f) methods of assessment, (g) client's right to refuse or question any part of assessment or training including any handling they believe is inappropriate and potential consequences of such refusal, (h) the client's right to ask further questions and be clear on all relevant details before consenting to the consultation relationship.


3.02. Professionals do not take inappropriate advantage of clients with open-ended professional relationships. They set specific quantifiable behavioral objectives and terminate the professional consulting relationship when the behavioral objectives have been achieved. Additional goals ought to be discussed and agreed to explicitly rather than assumed.


Principle 4. Confidentiality: Professionals maintain appropriate confidentiality except where necessary and inform clients of these exceptions.


4.01. Professionals inform clients that information regarding their consultation will be kept confidential to the best of the Professional's ability except for certain limits or exceptions. Exceptions include the following circumstances: (a) if the animal is dangerous to others or is likely to be in danger from inhumane treatment, in which case the Professional must report such danger if it cannot be managed and prevented, (b) if required by law to breech confidentiality.


4.02. Professionals will obtain a written release waiver of confidentiality if the professional wishes to discuss the case with a supervisor or colleague for purposes of advice and professional guidance, or to publish an account of the case.


Principle 5. Advertising and Marketing: Professionals are honest about their services and credentials and use their AABP member's logo appropriately.


5.01. Professionals are honest about the likely results of their services, which ought to be derived from empirical evidence, and do not promise that specific changes in behavior will occur. Professionals contract to provide their services and advice only, and may provide a contingency arrangement for non-achieved behavior goals rather than a promise to achieve them in the form of a blank guarantee.


5.02. Professionals are honest about their credentials and experience. They do not mislead clients or the public about credentials they possess and act to correct misunderstandings or misrepresentations that occur. In no case shall a Professional use an illegal credential or imply irrelevant credentials are authoritative in professional behavior change services provided.

5.03. Professionals only use the AABP logo corresponding to the membership type they possess; do not use it in a way that will likely give the impression that the AABP endorses a company or organization instead of recognizing the individual Professional's membership; and the logo is not used along with other logos or other information reflecting organizations described in guideline 8.03 of these guidelines.


Principle 6. Use of Animals in Research: Professionals do not perform harmful research on those whom they have not established direct informed consent (nonhuman animals cannot provide informed consent).


6.01. Professionals do not cause harm to animals that are subjects of research carried out by Professionals or for which Professionals participate. No distinction is made between humans and nonhumans in this regard. Arguments regarding how valuable the information will be are irrelevant. Note that this is a much higher standard than is common in the field. With regards to harm, broadly speaking, an animal is harmed if he or she is caused non-trivial aversion, distress, significant loss of opportunity, or behavioral, emotional or physical harm.

6.02. Full informed consent should be secured from adult human guardians of any animal used in any study by a Professional.


Principle 7. Resolving Ethical Issues: Professionals seek to objectively identify, resolve and prevent ethical dilemmas and maintain their dedication to these professional practice guidelines.


7.01. When a Professional is uncertain about whether a particular course of action would be a breech of this set of Professional Practice Guidelines, the Professional should consult other trusted Professionals or the AABP for guidance.


7.02. If the demands of an organization or client with which the Professional is affiliated conflicts with this set of Professional Practice Guidelines, Professionals clarify their ethical responsibilities and resolve the conflict in favor of upholding their ethical standards as outlined here. 

Principle 8. Aversive Stimulation: Professionals do not use, condone, endorse aversive stimulation that cannot be justified via the MACMP Policy.

Principle 9. Academic Ethics: Professionals maintain academic honesty.

9.01. Professionals never plagiarize; they cite sources appropriately, in any environment, where they use the words, or ideas of another individual, be it a direct quote or a paraphrase.

9.02. Professionals never cheat in any form in any educational undertaking.

Principle 10. Professional Boundaries: Professionals work with clients to change specific behaviors and avoid performing veterinary medical care or human counseling services unless they are licensed as appropriate.


10.01. Professionals do not perform veterinary services without a veterinary medical license. Professionals do not "diagnose," provide a "prognosis" or "treatment" for any medical condition and avoid use of the terms "diagnosis" or "prognosis" with regards to behavior in order to avoid confusion of the professional's services with medical services.

10.02. Professionals, who are not also licensed veterinarians, do not treat any medical conditions, including but not limited to disease or injury, except in emergency first aid situations as is allowed by law.

10.03. Professionals, who are not also licensed veterinarians, do not advise clients on prescription medications in such a way that may be seen as "prescribing" and where considering nonprescription substances (including but not limited to dietary supplements or additives), Professionals recommend that the use be reviewed by a veterinarian, veterinary nutritionist or other qualified nutrition consultants as appropriate before being implemented.

Principle 11. Upholding Professionalism: Professionals report observed breeches of these guidelines by fellow AABP members.


11.01. Professionals who become aware of a fellow professional member in breech of these professional practice guidelines reports the violation to the AABP. They may do so anonymously. 


The AABP Ethics Committee enforces these professional practice guidelines. The complaint procedure can be found here.

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