This is Part 2 of the basics of animal welfare science. If you missed Part 1, you can read that post here!

Five domains model

A somewhat newer animal welfare model is the ‘Five domains model’. It is more modern in the sense that it incorporates positive animal welfare, where many of the other models looked primarily at aspects that might negatively affect animal welfare.

The first version of this model was published in 1994, and it has been updated several times, most recently in 2020. It was originally developed for assessing and grading the negative impacts of research, teaching and testing, unlike the other models that had originally focused on farm animals.

This model differs from the others in a few interesting ways.

First of all, the earlier versions used the word ‘distress’, similarly to the Five Freedoms, as well as much of the language in legislation, codes and other guidelines we have for caring for animals. Over several iterations, the authors then began to add more depth to this based on the wealth of welfare literature that has been published.

They developed two categories of negative affect, or negative feelings.

  1. Survival-critical negative affect. These measure internal imbalances in the animals, and help with survival of the animal.
    Eg. breathlessness, thirst, hunger, pain, nausea, dizziness, debility, weakness and sickness

  2. Situation-related negative affect. These are the experiences that the animal perceives from external circumstances, from the situation they are in.

    Eg. frustration, anger, helplessness, loneliness, boredom, depression, anxiety, fear, panic, hypervigilance

Next, the model includes the internal and external circumstances that may give rise to positive affect, or positive feelings. These are things that help to improve animal welfare, such as comfort, pleasure, interest, attachment, confidence, and a sense of being in control (an area that training has more recently been moving towards, especially with cooperative care).

This model consists of four domains, all of which feed into the fifth domain.

Domain 1 – Nutrition – Ensuring there is sufficient quality and quantity of food and water. In dogs, this could be continuous feeding of a dry nutrient-balanced food.

Domain 2 – Physical environment –  Having a comfortable, dry environment. A positive welfare example could include having the thermal pleasure of basking in the sun. This could also include concerns about sensory input that could be bothersome, such as sounds that a dog could hear repeatedly in the home.

Domain 3 – Health – Injury, disease and different levels of physical fitness. This can include everything from injury, health conditions, conditions due to genetics such as in brachycephalic breeds or breeds with limb deformities, as well as obesity and the factors that go along with that.

Domain 4 – Behavioral interactions – The animal’s perception of their external environment. This focuses on behavioural evidence of agency that is either hindered or enhanced when animals interact with 1) their environment, 2) other animals, and 3) with people. The authors define agency as the sense of being in control.

When thinking about our dogs and what we hear about frequently in training and behaviour, this could include some of the following:

  1. Dogs interacting with environment – confined environment with little variability and mental stimulation could lead to boredom; or alternatively providing an environment where a dog is able to make choices and explore can lead to calm, or focused attention.

  2. Dogs interacting with other animals – threats from another dog could lead to fear and anxiety, or the ability to play with another dog leads to excitation.

  3. Dogs interacting with people – attitude, voice, handling and aptitude or experience can all affect interactions between people and dogs. Someone who is domineering with an angry voice could lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, or hypervigilance. People with experience and calm demeanors and voices could lead to more relaxed and calm feelings in the dog.

This also includes human-animal interactions. In the paper describing the 2020 model, the authors specifically talk about training: “examples are the effects on agency of altered cues and contingencies of learned responses such as ambiguous signals, relentless tactile pressures and altered expectations of reward”.

The paper also offers some information about grading the impact of various aspects on animal welfare. One example given is of aversive training of companion animals.

(Mellor et al., 2020)

Positive interactions are also accounted for in this model, and examples of specific aspects of human-animal interactions are included.

(Mellor et al., 2020)

Domain 5
– Mental state – The overall welfare state of the animal, in terms of their subjective experience. The other five domains feed into this one.

Assessing animal welfare

Many of us working with animals do this subconsciously all the time, weighing different factors regarding the animals we’re working with.

One way of assessing animal welfare is to do it directly by using a model or framework, such as the 5 domains, and using that to measure welfare.

Animal welfare assessment programs

There are many different animal welfare assessment programs, especially for farm animals. This ranges from requirements for different industry groups for maintaining membership to 3rd party welfare audits that have their own proprietary systems. Many times these audits will allow for special welfare program labels on products, such as cheese and eggs.

Three three main areas often examined in welfare assessment programs include:

  1. Animal-based measures

    These measures look at the response of the animal to housing, procedures, treatment, or training protocols. This often includes health, physical condition, and of particular interest, behaviour. They are a direct measure of welfare of the animal, and can tell us if there is a welfare problem, but not what the problem is. This is where a majority of the research in animal welfare in dogs has been done.

  2. Resource-based measures

    These measures look at the resources available to the animals. This includes food, water, the area in which an animal is kept (which could include lighting, size, material, ventilation, and more). As an example in dogs, resource-based measures could look at different diets and their effect on dog health.

  3. Management-based measures

    These measures look at records of how the animals are kept, veterinary records, and others. For example, in large kennels or in shelters could be Standard Operating Procedures for cleaning.

Many of these things overlap with the frameworks we’ve gone through, they’re simply categorized differently to help make an audit more efficient.

Animal Welfare Assessment Training

Learning about animal welfare and it’s assessment can happen in a variety of ways. There are excellent courses and CE opportunities available to learn more. Additionally, many of the welfare auditing programs themselves provide education opportunities to staff to learn more about welfare and training on the specific audits or assessments used by that organization.

Finally, many universities and colleges offer animal welfare courses or programs.

Animal Welfare Assessment Competition

There is even a competition for undergraduate, graduate and veterinary students on assessing animal welfare organized by the American Veterinary Medical Association. At the competition, students are given scenarios with animals in different conditions and have to make assessments based on the scientific information available for that species. This is meant to increase awareness of animal welfare, and also allow students the opportunity to learn about assessment.

Why should we worry about animal welfare in dog training and behaviour?

Animal welfare is a huge component of our work in behaviour and training. Not only do we constantly assess and try to help people improve the welfare of their dogs, it’s a huge factor in my desire to work in this field. If you’re reading this, then I suspect you likely feel the same way.


Mellor, D.J., N.J. Beausoleil, K.E. Littlewood, A.N. McLean, P.D. McGreevy, B. Jones, & C. Wilkins. 2020. The 2020 Five Domains Model: Including Human–Animal Interactions in Assessments of Animal Welfare. Animals 10:1870.