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NC3Rs: National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research
Office-led project

Training using positive reinforcement

At a glance

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  • Refinement
Marmoset being handfed as part of positive reinforcement training


We have built on previous work to demonstrate the benefits to animal welfare and scientific outcomes provided by training laboratory primates to cooperate with scientific procedures and husbandry using positive reinforcement techniques, where a reward is provided on performance of a desired behaviour.

Identifying training resource needs

We have published a survey on the use of positive reinforcement techniques at UK establishments. This demonstrated that awareness of the benefits of positive reinforcement is high, but the techniques are not widely used because of a lack of staff time and confidence in training abilities, and a perceived lack of information and resources on training methods.

To support greater adoption we have published a review of the literature, together with guidance on developing and implementing a training programme, and a sample training protocol (e.g. enter a transport container on request). Practical support has been provided through a dedicated workshop in 2012 to bring together expert animal trainers and practitioners and a NACWO network. Related to this, we have also produced guidance on refining the use of food and fluid control as motivational tools in neuroscience studies and chair restraint training.

An automated system for positive reinforcement training

Dr Andrew Jackson at Newcastle University was awarded an NC3Rs pilot study grant to develop a fully-automated system for positive reinforcement training of group-housed macaques. This system enables initial training of the monkeys without restricting food or fluids, or using isolation or restraint.

Drs James Butler and Steve Kennerley at University College London have developed a tablet-based system with similar advantages.

A common marmoset trained to enter a transport box on request, and to remain relaxed whilst shut in the box and transported to another location (e.g. during cage cleaning, for health inspection or scientific procedures). The monkey is first trained to touch the target (white spoon) which is then used to encourage the individual animal into the box.


  1. Prescott MJ, Buchanan-Smith HM (2007) Training laboratory-housed non-human primates, Part 1: A UK survey Animal Welfare 16: 21-26 ISSN 0962-7286
  2. Prescott MJ, Bowell VA, Buchanan-Smith HM (2005) Training laboratory-housed non-human primates, Part 2: Resources for developing and implementing training programmes Animal Technology and Welfare 4: 133-148