Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2023

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Environmental Studies


John Van Buren


This paper addresses the benefits of positive reinforcement training in zoos and aquariums across America, and why this form of training is best for both the animals and people. There is a long standing public debate about the appropriateness of keeping wild animals in zoos and aquariums and their treatment within these facilities. The way in which some animal care facilities have historically managed animal behavior using dominance-based training, which uses methods such as punishment and deprivation, has rightly come under criticism and has proven to provide poor animal welfare. This poor mis-management has fueled an anti-zoo and aquarium agenda for many people and organizations. Today, the method of positive reinforcement training has become the primary method of training in zoos and aquariums across the United States because of its benefits to animal welfare and to the general public. Positive reinforcement training refers to a style of training that uses desirable stimuli to increase wanted behavior. Positive reinforcement training is behind many of the presentations or shows you can see at zoos or aquariums across the country. Further, it provides a much deeper contribution to animals beyond the view of the public eye, including animal health care, mental stimulation, and the conservation of species. Chapter one uses quantitative data on the public perceptions of zoos and aquariums, and the methods of dominance based training and positive reinforcement training to provide a deeper understanding of how zoos and aquariums provide supporting and provisioning services to nonhuman animals. Chapter two delves into the contributions to animal welfare that training provides through an animal welfare perspective, using background such as animal-welfare laws in the US and animal welfare theory. Looking through the lens of conservation biology, Chapter three analyzes how husbandry training can increase the health and life expectancy of certain species. With an environmental education perspective, Chapter four explores the way in which positive reinforcement training helps to educate guests and visitors of these institutions about the importance of wildlife conservation. Ultimately, Chapter five addresses the current policies surrounding animal care, and my suggestions to increase positive reinforcement training in zoos and aquariums to benefit animal welfare and public education.