These are just a few points addressed in our new eBook, Choosing your Ethical Compass in Pet Training and Behavior Consulting.

Defining Ethics vs. Morals

According to the Business Dictionary (2018), ethics speak to “the basic concepts and fundamental principles of decent human conduct.” Merriam-Webster (2018) refers to ethics as “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.”

Merriam-Webster (2018) also makes the distinction between ethics and morals:

“’Morals’ often describes one’s particular values concerning what is right and what is wrongWhile ‘ethics’ can refer broadly to moral principles, one often sees it applied to questions of correct behavior within a relatively narrow area of activity.”

Barry (2008) highlights the importance of not confusing the two, stating that, while they are often regarded as synonyms and many people use the terms interchangeably, when discussing personal matters of one’s own individual conscience, people tend to refer to morals while, when discussing external principles of conduct people tend to refer to ethics.

Action versus Reason

According to Grim (2005), there are “cases in which people do the right things for the wrong reasons. There are cases in which people do the wrong thing despite pure motives.” Grim (2005) also notes that, as individuals, we “evaluate things ethically at different levels.” Each individual has their own sense of right and wrong and their values will vary depending on cultural background, education, life experience, religious beliefs, and influencers. “We are shaped by how we filter stimuli and how we think and act are an output of our own individual experiences, assumptions and perceptions.” (Tudge, 2016).

Approaches To Ethics – Golden Rule and Silver Rule

The Golden Rule approach to ethics calls for the concept of reversibility, i.e.: “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” This is considered the most basic and useful ethical theory and was quoted by Confucius (500 B.C.): “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others,” Aristotle (325 B.C.): “We should behave to others as we wish them to behave to us,” from the Mahabharata (200 B.C.): “Do nothing to thy neighbor which thou wouldst not have him do to thee thereafter,” and Jesus Christ (30 A.D.): “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Josephson, 2002).

However, the Golden Rule is often said to fall short, as doing unto others what you would have done unto you does not consider the needs of the individual, nor does it help with ethical decision-making when dealing with groups of people.

The so-called Silver Rule offers a variation of this, focusing on “restraint and non-harm” (Puka, n.d.): “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” The Silver Rule has its own deficiencies, too, however, as it only requires an individual to not harm others and does not ask that person to engage in positive behavior. (Gonen, 2018).

Ethics in the Pet Industry

It is our view that dog trainers, behavior consultants and professional pet care providers are bound to pursue a philosophical approach that blends both the Golden and Silver Rules in that they have an ethical responsibility,

a) to do no harm to the animals in their care, and

b) to present their qualifications and experience truthfully with full transparency and disclosure.

According to Welfel (2012, p.3), professional ethics is about “being confident one has the correct combination of attributes, skills, and character.” But how does this apply in the field of animal training or behavior consulting? To answer, we must first address why professional ethics are significant both to the general public as well as to the professional.

According to Tudge (2010), professional ethics “cover the moral issues that can arise from the specialist knowledge that a professional body has. The industry’s ethics govern how this knowledge is used when providing a service.” The general public benefits from ethical policies through recognition of a professional individual’s autonomy and the right to be treated with respect and fairness. The individual professional, meanwhile, whose profession provides ethical guidelines and policies, benefits from the trust earned by being part of said professional body and an appropriate framework to operate within. Furthermore, a professional’s membership of a professional body may inspire confidence from their clients, as well as giving said professional the opportunity to continue to improve their skills and expand on their knowledge. Professional ethics bring credibility to the profession itself as the public assumes that those following a specific set of ethical guidelines or policies will act truthfully and competently (Tudge, 2010).

As such, business ethics are also important, and not just the ethics of how an actual professional’s services are planned and delivered. In the article, Defining ‘Business Ethics’: Like Nailing Jello to a Wall, Lewis (1985, p.377) states that: “Business ethics is a topic receiving much attention in the literature. However, the term ‘business ethics’ is not adequately defined. Typical definitions refer to the rightness or wrongness of behavior, but not everyone agrees on what is morally right or wrong, good or bad, ethical or unethical. To complicate the problem, nearly all available definitions exist at highly abstract levels.” However, according to Weinstein (2017), the ethical principles that allow us to solve problems in our daily lives are the same principles that provide guidance not only in business, but also health care, law and education. These principles are:

  • Do No Harm.
  • Make Things Better.
  • Respect Others.
  • Be Fair.
  • Care.


In any situation where an animal is the “client” (e.g. a training class, a behavior consultation, a trip to the groomer, or a stay in boarding or daycare), he rarely has any say in the situation or option to partake in informed consent. Nor is he in the position of being able to direct or take responsibility for his own welfare in such situations, making him highly vulnerable. It is essential, then, that the pet professional’s participation is beneficial to the animal. This is a “foundational principle of professional ethics.” (Tudge, 2010).

Ethics and the Detrimental Effect of Aversives

In the field of animal training and behavior, based on the body of scientific research and study available today, we now know much more about the fallout of aversive techniques and punishment, and we know that pet dogs trained with the use of positive punishment are no more obedient and exhibit increased numbers of potentially problematic behaviors than dogs trained by other means (Hiby, Rooney & Bradshaw, 2004).

There are many more studies of dogs that show the detrimental effects of aversives including, but not limited to:

  • Effects of inescapable shock upon subsequent escape and avoidance responding (Overmier & Seligman, 1967).
  • Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short- and long-term behavioral effects (Schilder & van der Borg, 2004).
  • The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs (Blackwell, Twells, Seawright & Casey, 2008).
  • Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors (Herron, Shofer & Reisner, 2009).
  • Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability (Rooney & Cowan, 2011).
  • The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review (Ziv, 2017).

Given the research, we are compelled to ask, how can we morally stand by and condone the use of training procedures based on force, fear, pain, threat or intimidation in the name of teaching or training? And how can a professional member association include the use of aversive tools and methods in their codes of ethics and ethical standards?

All professionals have an ethical obligation to be competent in their chosen field, meaning they are knowledgeable, schooled in current theory and research pertaining to their industry, and have the necessary skills and education to actually apply that field of knowledge to a working situation with their clients (Tudge, 2010). This is of critical importance. In the case of pet training and behavior consulting, a lack of competency can lead to a professional’s inability to effectively and successfully carry out a functional assessment and, thus, to implement an effective behavioral change program based on positive reinforcement, classical and operant conditioning, and management strategies.

The functional assessment is the behavior analytical approach to explaining, describing and controlling behavior. It does not rely on guesswork, trial and error tactics, or anecdotal recommendations, but systematically identifies the functional relationship a behavior has with the environment. When these relationships have been identified, then efficient and effective solutions can be developed. The intended final product of the functional assessment is a contingency statement that the behavior consultant has confidence in. The contingency statement details the antecedents, behaviors and consequences in simple and measurable terms (DogNostics Career Center, 2018). It is also known as the three-term, or ABC contingency

What this short book covers

Defining Ethics, Defining Morals
Theories on Ethics
Ethics in the Pet Industry
Ethics in Medicine
Ethical Principles of Psychologists
Breed Bias
Ethical Standards
The Place and Critical Need for Ethical Guidelines and Oversight
Ethics Across Professional Associations in an Unregulated Profession
Ethics and the Detrimental Effect of Aversives
Ethics within the Framework of Competency
Informed Consent


The complete bibliography can be found in the short ebook that can be found here.