Pet owners today have access to massive amounts of information related to the training, behavior, health, everyday care and general management of their pets. There are more books, magazines and newsletters available than ever before — on every conceivable aspect of pet ownership. Popular television shows feature charismatic experts, and the market is full of video and DVD productions offering methods and products “guaranteed” to improve the behavior and health of America’s pets. The internet is an even bigger source, with easily found websites, downloads, YouTube videos and discussion groups offering information on just about everything.
Having this much access to technology, media and the written word can be a mixed blessing. Finding information is easy. Weeding out the misinformation, fraudulent claims, biased opinions and incomplete information is the hard part. “Google” a topic and you’ll come up with loads of differing opinions. Finding good advice can be a challenge at times.
As a dog trainer and class instructor I often work with clients who have formed strong opinions on training methods and equipment based on what they have read on the internet, saw on a television show or read in a book. I appreciate people who make an effort to learn all they can about the humane care and training of their dogs, but when their “facts” are based on information that is shaky at best, is incompletely presented, or is limited to a single source presenting itself to be the only real authority on the matter, it can be frustrating.
How can you tell if the source you’re using is providing good information? First of all, don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of believing everything you read, see or hear. Pretty much anyone can produce a professional-looking web site, video, DVD, book or publication. Just because what you’re looking at appears to be professional and slick it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best source of information.
Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to be a bit of a skeptic at times. What are the presenter’s credentials? What experience does the “expert” have? How long has he or she been practicing in this particular field? Are his or her opinions based on working with a small number of dogs of the same breed, or a large number of animals covering many breeds and combinations?
Are the presenters trying to sell you a product or service? Do the claims being made sound reasonable? Does the presenter claim to have the only true knowledge of the subject, openly rejecting any differing opinion or method as being inhumane and archaic? Do they rely heavily on testimonials, with little actual proof of effectiveness? Do the methods, products or advice seem drastically different from that of others in the field?
Be aware that what you read or see is likely to be a summary of a much bigger process. This is particularly true when watching television programs which must conform to tight time limits and which are carefully edited keep their viewers’ interest. Only the impressive highlights may be presented, without showing the time-consuming grunt work, usually taking weeks or months, necessary to produce the final product. Information provided by reputable professional organizations is usually excellent, but it pays to be thoughtful anyway.
Use your brain when studying advice presented in discussion groups or forums and on social media. Some participants in these groups use them as their personal soapboxes, dishing out opinions, airing grievances, and giving out bits and pieces of information that may be incomplete or unfounded.
More good information than ever is available to a person willing to do a bit of research. There are great books and other publications, wonderful and informative web sites and discussion groups. Just use a good bit of common sense when sifting through all the information you find and don’t be afraid to ask your local dog trainer, veterinarian, groomer or other pet professional what they think. An owner armed with better-than-average knowledge of pet care, health, nutrition, training and behavior will have a much better-than-average relationship with the beloved pet.
Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog obedience and tracking instructor, judge of canine events, and author. She also teaches weekly classes for the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution’s PETS Program.