Adult male rhesus macaque stands for injectionTraining, using positive reinforcement techniques which reward desired behaviour, is a valuable tool for the humane and effective use and management of laboratory animals, especially when combined with appropriate socialisation, habituation and desensitisation. Accordingly, training is recommended as good practice by legislative and professional guidelines on laboratory animal use and care.

Non-human primates, dogs, cats, pigs, rodents, farm species and birds can be trained in a variety of situations and for a variety of purposes. The larger laboratory animal species, such as non-human primates, can be trained to co-operate voluntarily in scientific or veterinary procedures, which reduces the need for physical restraint and/or anaesthesia and thus the accompanying risks associated with those events. Experience has shown that trained animals maintain a high degree of reliability in participating in such events and are less stressed while doing so. Such refinement not only benefits animal welfare, but can also enhance the quality of research. Suffering in animals can result in physiological changes that are, at least, likely to increase variability in experimental data and, at worst, may invalidate the research. Techniques that reduce sources of variability also have the potential of reducing the number of animals required in a given protocol.Beagles interacting with their carer during their socialisation period.

Training also provides the means to:

  • Improve husbandry and veterinary care
  • Reduce abnormal and stereotypic behaviour
  • Reduce aggression
  • Improve socialisation
  • Enhance enrichment programmes
  • Improve psychological-wellbeing

The principle cost with training is the initial time investment involved with educating staff and implementing the behaviour modification process, but this is often less than anticipated and can be recouped later since training can improve the ease, speed and safety with which procedures can be performed.

Although there is a need for resources to help laboratory personnel develop and implement appropriate training programmes, there is some guidance available (see References), in particular for non-human primates and dogs. The NC3Rs is active in developing further guidance on training of non-human primates, including guidance on refining the use of food or fluid control as motivational tool for macaques used in behavioural neuroscience (see Non-Human Primates).

Marmoset standing on a weighing scaleA primate that is trained to follow a target can be requested to sit on a weighing scale in the home cage, thereby avoiding capture, restraint and removal from the cage which can be stressful. Here a female common marmoset sits on a weighing scale holding her (white) target, whilst her mate waits until his (black) target is presented.




  • EUPRIM-Net (2008), Training laboratory primates DVD
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  • Pryor K (2002), Don't shoot the dog: The new art of teaching and training (Revised Ed.). Gloucestershire, : Ringpress Books. 

  • Laule G  (1999), Training laboratory animals. UFAW Handbook on the Care and Management of Laboratory Animals, 7th Edition, Volume 1 – Terrestrial Vertebrates . Oxford, (Poole T): Blackwell Science.  pp 21-27

  • Training nonhuman primates using positive reinforcement techniques. 
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  • Training laboratory-housed non-human primates, part 2: Resources for developing and implementing training programmes. 
    View PDF (1.20MB)
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  • Modern concepts of socialisation for dogs: implications for their behaviour, welfare and use in scientific procedures . 
    View PDF (62KB)

  • Training laboratory-housed non-human primates, part 1: a UK survey. 
    View PDF
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  • Preparation of animals for use in the laboratory. 
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  • LAREF - Laboratory Animal Refinement and Enrichment Forum -- For exchange of experiences about ways to improve the conditions under which laboratory animals are housed and handled.
    Open Link

  • AZA Animal Training List Serve -- List serve of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association
    Open Link

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