Background Guilloux et al. introduced: integrated behavioral z-scoring, a method for behavioral phenotyping of mice. Using this method multiple ethological variables can be combined to show an overall description of a certain behavioral dimension or motivational system. However, a problem may occur when the control group used for the calculation has a standard deviation of zero or when no control group is present to act as a reference group. New method In order to solve these problems, an improved procedure is suggested: taking the pooled data as reference. For this purpose a behavioral study with male mice from three inbred strains was carried out. The integrated behavioral z-scoring methodology was applied, thereby taking five different reference group options. The outcome regarding statistical significance and practical importance was compared. Results Significant effects and effect sizes were influenced by the choice of the reference group. In some cases it was impossible to use a certain population and condition, because one or more behavioral variables in question had a standard deviation of zero. Based on the improved method, male mice from the three inbred strains differed regarding activity and anxiety. Comparison with existing method Taking the method described by Guilloux et al. as basis, the present procedure improved the generalizability to all types of experimental designs in animal behavioral research. Conclusions To solve the aforementioned problems and to avoid getting the diagnosis of data manipulation, the pooled data (combining the data from all experimental groups in a study) as reference option is recommended.