In a recent discussion on a previous article I’d written, I was told that I was paying too much attention to semantics on a particular topic. While I disagreed, it made me pause for thought about just how many terms and synonyms are used to describe various tools and techniques; in particular, how many are used misleadingly, whether intentionally or not. The dog training world is chock-full of these terms.
In my experience, the main “culprits” are those trying to mask aversive tools and methods as something less unpleasant than they are, in order to justify their use or sell said tools and methods to clients. I’m not talking about people who use terms incorrectly, oftentimes unknowingly, but the terms and adjectives that intentionally misrepresent what they actually are.
I’m not going to get into all the terms, mainly because I’m sure that they vary from region to region, going beyond the ones that have made it onto the internet. The point of this post is to warn people who are looking to learn more about dog training — online, through books or by hiring a dog trainer — that you need to really understand what each word means, and if you couldn’t define it yourself, you may be signing up for something you don’t want.
Here are some examples, do you recognize any of these? I’m considered a balanced dog trainer by the definition commonly agreed upon, but so are many trainers who use methods I don’t agree with. A balanced dog trainer is one who doesn’t use solely positive reinforcement to train dogs. I use collar corrections, ‘time-outs,’ removing prized resources, among other techniques, as well as positive reinforcement. Some dog trainers who claim to be balanced, and by definition I suppose they are, will use pain, fear and intimidation in an attempt to curb unwanted behaviours. With such a vast difference, you’re going to want more information. Did you notice the term “correction?” By definition, it’s an act that corrects, but that can mean a slight pop (yup, there’s another one!) all the way to the appalling technique known as helicoptering a dog. I’ve heard of eclectic dog training, motivation-based and science-based. I associate with eclectic, motivation- and science-based dog training, but what does that mean to you?
Simple semantics? Perhaps. But considering that words are so important to us, we might want to be a little more discerning when choosing a dog trainer — and not only.
Good luck, and happy training!