A central issue in animal welfare research is how to assess the welfare state of animals objectively and scientifically. I argue that this issue can be approached by asking two key questions: 1) is the animal physically healthy and 2) does the animal have what it wants? Behaviour is used to answer both of these questions. In the assessment of physical health, it can be used for clinical and pre-clinical diagnosis. In the assessment of what animals want, it has a major role through choice and preference testing. It is particularly important that applied ethologists develop methods for assessing welfare in situ in the places where concern for animal welfare is greatest such as on farms and in zoos.