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The Dangers of Too Much Information

By: John Van Olden

Every dog owner wants to make sure they are completely educated and that they understand how to take care of their dog. It could be about knowing what types of foods not to feed dogs, how to break up dog fights, or finding the correct training program for the dog. While it is good to be broad-minded, I have found that sometimes having too much information could end up being a detriment rather than a benefit.

In 1988, I began my dog training career as a military dog trainer, and then as a trainer of pet dogs. During the mid 1990’s, I noticed two particular things happening that I feel affected dogs profoundly–their behavior and their people’s behavior. The first change involved a new approach to dog training that was a complete opposite of what was then called “traditional” training. Through many circumstances, this also led to a proliferation of so-called “professional” dog trainers hanging out their shingle.

The second is that the Internet became much more user friendly, hitting a tipping point where a growing majority of households were getting online. People were able to post content easily and quickly, which began to lead to many, many trainers posting training –tips, advice, “do’s” and more often than not, “not to do’s”–regardless of their experience.

Back then during this period in the 1990’s, I can honestly tell you that I never encountered the level of behavioral issues that I run into today. With the information revolution, there was no shortage of advice, help or access to professionals who can help people with their dogs and their behavioral issues. In fact, I often wonder what the ratio of professional trainers to dogs is today, versus 20 years ago. You’d think I’d be seeing less behavioral issues rather than more.

I believe one of the leading causes of behavioral problems in dogs is inconsistency. This can cause tremendous anxiety issues, which comes out in the form of aggression and other behavior issues. I’ve had many clients call saying they have used a trainer, but in addition to the trainer’s advice, the client is also researching and utilizing methods that directly contradict the training techniques they are using for their dog! The massive amount of (often conflicting) information that is now available to dog owners is one of the leading causes of this inconsistency, therefore a leading cause of the increase in behavior problems I see as a professional trainer. One could continue down the slippery slope and say that this may cause the increase in surrenders, the dramatic increase of dog rescues, etc. I find it safe to say also that no dog training at all, rather than the wrong, inconsistent training approach, might even be better for many dogs.

As a professional dog trainer, I am committed to continuously learn about other techniques and theories (whether I agree with them or not). However, I always first help my clients in understanding and processing the massive amount of information that’s out there, as well as the advice they’ve been given. I feel this is always the first step before I set up a situation to help them correct their dog’s issues in a permanent, life-long way, and I believe that this is one of the main reasons why I have had the type of training success that I’d have over the years.