We live in an age of conflicting information. It’s something that surrounds us from all angles and reminds us that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. But even before this dilemma ran rampant, there was already a lot of conflicting information about animal behavior, especially dog training. That leads to a question that we hear almost every day from frustrated pet owners:
Why is there so much conflicting information about animal behavior and training out there?
Trust me, it’s frustrating for us, too. A joke in the dog training world is that the only thing two trainers can agree on is that a third trainer is wrong. Different camps are pitted against each other. Oftentimes we read of two completely opposite approaches that say the other is detrimental. It’s no wonder that the average pet owner struggles to find appropriate help for their pet. How can they know who to trust?! Let’s dive into a few reasons why you might see conflicting information about how to train your pet.
There are a lot of ways to do something right.
One of the amazing things about training is that there are many techniques and tips that can help your pet in an empathetic and empowering way. There are a lot of ways to do something “right”. The caveat to that, though, is that different camps and factions form from those different techniques. As a professional, it’s easy to get stuck in what we normally do and dismiss other equally appropriate techniques. It happens to me occasionally, too.
For the average pet owner who isn’t familiar with those techniques and the science behind them, it can be quite difficult to see how similar they are. Many are actually using the same underlying approach but look different in the execution. Unfortunately, the only way to know all of that is by having a thorough understanding of behavior science and learning theory which is not something we expect from most people.
The lingo is cumbersome and not always used in the same way.
Recently, Emily was telling me some takeaways from a seminar she attended. I couldn’t get past one of the points she was saying and I explained why I didn’t agree. After a minute of back and forth she said, “Oh! We’re using this term differently. This is the way it was used in the seminar which is different than how it’s used in the book you’re thinking of.” With that new piece of the puzzle I was able to easily agree with her and we moved on.
Here we were disagreeing about a training technique simply because we were defining the term differently; and this happened with someone that I talk with almost every single day. Imagine how much miscommunication happens amongst trainers in general then! One of the difficult things about the lingo is that it often means different things to different professionals and oftentimes the science lingo gets warped when it enters the animal training world. I’ve seen some funky definitions for “counterconditioning” out there and some even funkier applications that would make Pavlov roll in his grave.
Many of the techniques have the same or similar sounding names, too. For instance, you can use LAT, BAT, or CAT for reactivity. And, yes, they are all different. Did your trainer recommend teaching a relaxation protocol? Which one? Dr. Overall’s or Suzanne Clothier’s? Many pet owners get tripped up on the lingo because many professionals use them differently.
There’s no regulation in the animal training field.
This one is probably the biggest reason I see diametrically opposing recommendations. There is no regulation in the animal training field. Anyone is able to start a training business and start charging clients, regardless of their skill-level or knowledge-base. The only even mildly regulatory thing is that you need an upper-level degree in one of the animal behavior fields to call yourself a behaviorist; however, most people and many professionals are unaware of that stipulation as well which means the term is misused (this is why we refer to ourselves as behavior consultants). The only title that is well-established and regulated is “Veterinary Behaviorist”: vets who’ve gone through additional schooling and graduated from a VB program.
One of the most frustrating parts of an unregulated field, in my eyes, is that it makes it seem as though all training philosophies are valid and viable options. The very notion of “training philosophies” comes about because it’s unregulated! In truth, behavior science is comprised of several well-established scientific fields. There are options like ethology, learning theory, applied behavior analysis, and more. There are decades of studies that look into different training and learning techniques and time and again show similar results. Unfortunately, trainers and consultants are not required to study behavior science (no matter how popular or well-known they are) before entering the field. This is a very large reason for conflicting information.
- Do your research on trainers. Look for those who’ve gone through additional schooling, routinely attend continuing education options, and have completed certifications. Ask for studies that they routinely reference. None of this is a guarantee but you’ll be a bit closer!
- Look at the resources for trusted professionals, like Patrica McConnell, Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Dr. Karen Overall, Dr. Sophia Yin, Suzanne Clothier, and Victoria Stilwell. Resources that are trusted by professionals like these are likely a safe bet. You can check out our resources section, too!
- If you can’t find what you’re looking for them reach out to a trusted professional. They’ll likely be able to point you in the right direction.