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.

AABP Ethics Committee

Hears complaints about violations of the AABP Professional Practices Guidelines


Debra Millikan

Jo Jacques

Dede Crough

John Watson, Co-Chair

Natalie Watson, Co-Chair

Christina Bond

Tessa Gaskell

Scroll down for complaint procedure

Minimally Aversive Contingency Management Planning (updated July 2, 2020)

Methodological Stance

General Statement

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


1. The dignity and individual responsibility of the subject of contingency engineering activities, no matter what species they belong to, deserves respect. Highly aversive stimulation is morally repugnant and unacceptable.


2. Non-aversive methods are more effective than highly intrusive methods. Added-reinforcement-based methods are the most effective and efficient, and least risky and harmful methods to use in animal training and contingency engineering, 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 (MACMP) 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 June 25, 2020)




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 reinforcing 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 dignity and moral rights of all others. These core ethical principles and Professional Practice Guidelines help us promote this principle of professionalism.


The Guiding Principle


Professional animal behavior technologists conduct themselves with respect for the dignity and moral rights 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, psychological, or ethological) orientation in order to predict, explain, and change specific, observable, measurable behaviors and avoid nonscientific approaches or approaches counterproductive to the level of analysis appropriate to changing the behavior of an individual organism, such as with medical model approaches or ethological notions).


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 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 Professional's recommendations in this regard and cannot be dissuaded from that course of action, the Professional terminates 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, procedures, 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 abusive 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 at large about credentials they possess and act to correct misunderstandings or misrepresentations that occur. In no case shall a Professional use an illegal or unearned credential or imply irrelevant credentials are authoritative in professional contingency engineering 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 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 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.


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 (see above) enforces these professional practice guidelines.

Procedures for Handling Ethical Complaints about AABP Members

A complaint that an AABP Member (Respondent) committed an alleged infraction of the AABP Professional Practice Guidelines may be filed in accordance with the procedures set forth in this document. Alleged infractions may only be related to specific principles and guidelines specified in the AABP Professional Practice Guidelines posted publicly at and only if the alleged infraction occurred while the principle or guideline was in effect and only if it has occurred within 1 year from the date that the complaint is made.

1. An individual filing a complaint that an AABP Member committed an infraction of the AABP Professional Practice Guidelines shall present the allegation filling out and mailing Ethics Form #001 to the AABP president through the contact page on this site. Once received, the complaint (Ethics Form #001) shall remain confidential in accordance with Item #26 and will be forwarded to the Ethics Committee Chair. If the Ethics Committee Chair has any conflicts of interest, The AABP President will be notified and the AABP Advisory Board will nominate an Advisory Board Member to occupy this role and carry out Ethics Chair duties with regards to processing the complaint and any reference below to the Ethics Committee Chair will refer to this nominee. If the complaint concerns the President or the President has any conflicts of interest with regards to the case, the Vice President shall occupy the President's role throughout the complain process, accepting and processing the complaint. If the Vice President also has conflicts of interest in the case, another Advisory Board Member with no conflicts of interest in the case will process the complaint.

2. The Ethics Committee Chair or nominee shall notify the Advisory Board that a complaint has been filed as soon as practicable. A case file will be opened by the Ethics Committee Chair and issued a case number.

3. The Ethics Committee Chair will review the complaint to ensure it is complete. If additional information is needed, the Ethics Committee Chair shall, at his or her discretion, investigate and obtain needed information for a complete file, which may include pursuing the information him or herself or requesting it from the individual filing the complaint.

4. The following information is necessary to process an alleged infraction complaint:

·      Full legal name of the Complainant and Respondent.

·      Clear identification by name and number of the specific portion of the Professional Practice Guidelines alleged to have been breached.

·      Clear identification of whether the person making the complaint elects to be the Complainant in the case or to remain anonymous as an Informant allowing the Ethics Committee to determine whether it will be the Complainant in the case.

·      Provide a specific and detailed written description of the incident or incidents that are alleged to be an infraction of the Professional Practice Guidelines, including any additional details or evidence that he or she believes may be important in support of the allegation. The date or dates that the alleged infraction occurred must be included.


5. The Ethics Committee Chair will acknowledge receipt of the alleged 
infraction and confirm whether the person filing the complaint will be the 
Informant or the Complainant or an informant. It will be explained that maintaining 
Informant anonymity may limit the information that can be considered in the
 case. The Ethics Committee Chair will notify the Complainant that the
 allegation details and the identity of the complainant will be disclosed to 
the Respondent, will request confirmation of this by the Complainant by
 completion of Ethics Form #002 and will confirm that the Complainant wishes 
to proceed with the allegation. The Ethics Committee Chair will notify the Informant/Complainant that the Ethics Committee Chair will act as the 
Complainant in the case should this be requested to maintain Informant 
anonymity and that the Committee may or may not elect to proceed as far as 
it determines appropriate, that the Ethics Committee Chair may request 
further information at some point, that the response from the Respondent
 will be confidential and that the Informant will not be notified 
once the case has been resolved, whether it was dismissed or sustained as 
per Item #26. Complainants will be notified once the case has been closed to the satisfaction of the Ethics Committee but the determination or reason for closing the file will not be disclosed.

6. The Complainant or Informant shall be notified that all proceedings shall be kept confidential and the Informant will be cautioned that while the AABP will make all reasonable efforts to maintain confidentiality, the AABP cannot guarantee that the Respondent will not be able to infer or otherwise determine the identity of the Informant as per Item #26. If confidentiality, as outlined herein, is breached, it may be determined to be an infraction of the AABP Professional Practice Guidelines.

7. Once the Ethics Committee Chair has insured that the complaint is complete with regard to required information, the Ethics Committee Chair shall review the complaint and may consult with the President at his or her discretion or request that the Advisory Board determine whether legal counsel shall be consulted. If approved by Advisory Board, legal counsel may be consulted for advice.

8. If additional information is needed to facilitate an initial review, the Complainant will be notified by the Ethics Committee Chair of the required information or, the Ethics Committee Chair will obtain said information from Informants or other sources as appropriate. Any gathered information will be placed in the case file—the complaint edited by the Ethics Committee Chair as appropriate to maintain Informant confidentiality. Removed information may not be considered in the Ethics Committee review process.

9. If the initial review indicates, on the face of it, that the complaint does not likely (balance of probability standard, which states that a preponderance of the evidence suggests it is more likely than not that the infraction occurred) constitute an infraction of the Professional Practice Guidelines or there is inadequate evidence to support the complaint, the Complainant shall be notified that no investigation will be pursued unless further evidence is made available. Said notification shall be sent in writing by the Ethics Committee Chair.

10. If the Ethics Committee Chair deems that there are (balance of probability standard) grounds for Ethics Committee review as a result of the complaint, the Respondent shall be notified that a complaint has been filed with Ethics Form #005, the names of the Complainants and the details of the allegation in full and they will be provided 30 days for the opportunity to reply to the allegation. The Complainant shall be given the opportunity of 14 days to provide additional information with regard to the reply of the Respondent. The Respondent shall be notified and provided with the Complainant’s reply and provided 14 days for the opportunity to reply within 1 week. This will be the final opportunity for both parties to provide information that they believe should be considered as the complaint is reviewed. If a reply is not provided within the appropriate timeframe, the case will proceed with the information already in AABP possession. The Ethics Committee Chair shall receive the replies and replies will be included in the case file. Once all information is received, the Ethics Committee Chair will review the case again to determine if the complaint merits, on a balance of probability standard, proceedings and determination by the Ethics Committee. If appropriate, the complaint will then be referred to the Ethics Committee and they will investigate as required, review and make a determination as to whether the complaint is dismissed or sustained and sanction imposed.

Review and Determination by AABP Ethics Committee

11. Once the Respondent is notified that the Ethics Committee will investigate, review and make a determination and parties indicated in Item #10 have provided responses as stipulated, the Ethics Committee shall review the allegation, any replies and any further evidence in the case file, investigate any further areas requiring clarity and resolve the allegation by way of dismissal of the complaint or sustaining it. If an AABP Ethics Committee member (not to be confused with the Ethics Committee itself as a whole being the complainant) is the Complainant or Respondent is involved with either party in a manner that would constitute a conflict of interests, he or she shall not be involved in that Ethics Committee Proceeding for the case in question as per Item #28.

12. The Ethics Committee will be presented with all information and evidence presented by the Complainants or Informants or through investigation and the information and comments provided in response by the Respondent that is the subject of the complaint.

13. The Ethics Committee may continue to gather information from any source deemed pertinent and may request additional information or comment from the Complainants, Informants or the Respondent.

14. The Ethics Committee Chair may consult with legal counsel with approval of the AABP Advisory Board and enter that information into the case file.

15. If, in order to provide for a fair determination, the Ethics Committee needs more than 60 days to make a determination, the Ethics Committee will notify the Complainant and Respondent that an extension will be needed. The Ethics Committee will state the length of the extension.

16. The Ethics Committee shall conduct its review and provide a determination based solely on the information in the case file, within 90 days of being presented with the case for review.

17. The Ethics Committee will make a determination by a majority vote based on a reasonable doubt standard (meaning, that no other reasonable conclusion may be arrived at than that the Respondent committed the infraction in question; this is a higher standard than balance of probability standard used to determine whether a case is reviewed by the Ethics Committee) of those participating. In the event of a tie vote, the case will be forwarded to the Advisory Board for consideration and determination by majority vote. Where a tie occurs in the Advisory Board vote, the President’s vote determines the result, where the President abstains the Vice President’s vote determines the result and where both the President and Vice President abstain, a tie vote results in dismissal of the case.

18. The Ethics Committee will notify the Complainants and Respondents in writing of its determination. Notification to the Complainants, via Ethics Form #003, will contain only the determination that the complaint has been dismissed for lack of evidence or sustained. Notice to the Respondent, via Ethics Form #004, shall also include a reminder that the nature of the determination will remain confidential as per see Item #26.

19. If the Ethics Committee dismisses the complaint, the file will be maintained by the President but will be kept confidential although it may be used, only where relevant, in any future cases involving the Respondent (within the context of the 1 year policy). If the Ethics Committee sustains the complaint, determining that an infraction of the AABP Professional Practice Guidelines has likely occurred, the Ethics Committee shall determine and impose appropriate sanction. The sanction shall remain confidential as per Item #26.

20. Sanctions may include any of the following:

·      Conditions on Membership: Advice on how to avoid committing such infractions in the future or rectifying the present one and what actions the Respondent must take in that regard by a specified time. If the Respondent declines to meet the conditions placed on their membership, they may be suspended or excluded.

·      Suspension: From 1 week up to 1 year may be imposed, the Respondent being removed from email lists and the directory of members for that time period and will not be considered a Member in Good Standing during that time.

·      Exclusion: Termination of membership privileges and removal of any certification, professional designations or other considerations.

21. A Respondent sanctioned will be notified, via Ethics Form #004, of their right to appeal at the same time as they are notified of the determination of the Ethics Committee.

22. The sanctioned Respondent will be allowed 30 days from the date the determination was delivered to present an appeal to the Advisory Board, providing reasons why the Ethics Committee reached an erroneous decision.

Appeal or Referral to the AABP Advisory Board

23. Grounds for appeal include erroneous decisions based on mistakes made by the Ethics Committee as per these procedures. Grounds for appeal do not include further evidence on the alleged infraction itself (which was to be included in the responses) except where it relates to how the Ethics Committee arrived at an erroneous decision. If a sanctioned Respondent requests an appeal to the Advisory Board, all materials considered by the Ethics Committee will be given to the Advisory Board. If an error in procedure has occurred, the Advisory Board may send the case back to the Ethics Committee or the Advisory Board may overturn or modify the determination of the Ethics Committee. 

The Advisory Board may confer with legal counsel as deemed necessary throughout the appeal process.

24. If the case has been referred to the Advisory Board because the Ethics Committee could not reach a majority decision as per Item #17, the Advisory Board will consider the complaint, make a determination, and notify the Ethics Committee, the Respondent and Complainant.

25. The Advisory Board shall make its determination within 30 days. If the Advisory Board determines that more than 30 days are required to make a fair determination, the deadline may be extended by the Advisory Board with notice to all parties.


26. Confidentiality shall be maintained throughout the complaint process. For the purpose of these procedures, confidentiality will refer to the following. The Complainants will be provided the Respondent’s initial reply if one is made available and upon resolution of the complaint, they shall be informed regarding whether the complaint was sustained and an infraction (the specific principle or guideline is not specified) was determined to have been committed, or dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence of said infraction beyond a reasonable doubt. The Informants will not be provided with any Respondent responses, other information pertinent to the case; nor will they be notified as to whether the case is dismissed or sustained. The AABP will take reasonable steps to ensure confidentiality, but persons providing information to the Ethics Committee as Informants acknowledge that the AABP cannot guarantee that Respondents or others will not infer or otherwise determine, in some manner, the identity of the Informant. The Respondent will receive the name of the Complainants and any report or description of evidence provided by them or Complainants replies. They will also receive notification of the determination arrived at and their right to appeal the determination. The details of the case may be shared within the Advisory Board, Ethics Committee and legal counsel minus any individuals within these groups identifying any conflicts of interest in the case or who are Complainants as individuals. A closed Yahoo Group email list and/or secure per-to-person email (not email accounts that are accessible to anyone other than the members involved) will be used during the review process. The AABP cannot guarantee the security of information in these mediums although they will take all reasonable steps to ensure the information remains confidential. The details of the complaint or determination will not be shared outside of the Advisory Board, Ethics Committee, legal counsel and Respondent except where required by law. If a seeming violation of law has occurred, any and all information may be provided to appropriate law enforcement agencies, regulatory agencies or courts.

27. Infraction of confidentiality by any member of the Advisory Board, Ethics Committee or legal counsel may be considered an infraction of the Professional Practice Guidelines.

Ineligibility of members of AABP Advisory Board or Ethics Committee to Participate

28. If an Advisory Board member or Ethics Committee member is a Complainant as an individual or Respondent, or related to the case in some other substantive manner, or they have a conflict of interests in the case, he or she shall not be involved as a decision maker at any level in this process. Individuals are responsible to disclose possible conflicts of interest. If they are not sure whether a conflict of interests exists, they should disclose the nature of the possible conflict to the President, who will review the matter with the Advisory Board for majority vote determination, the President’s vote breaking ties. Where appropriate the Advisory Board member or Ethics Committee member in question shall either merely be asked to refrain from participating in case discussion and/or voting or the President or Ethics Committee Chair may establish a separate email list for discussion and resolution of the case and the Advisory Board member or Ethics Committee member in question shall not be subscribed to that list. When the case is resolved, the President will delete the email list and maintain the transcript of the case confidentially.