“Science”: You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means

“Science”: You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means

Questions for my balanced trainer friends:
“Do you think the earth is flat?”
“Do you think your ecollar works by magic, good intentions?”
“Do you think this message is reaching you via the internet fairy?”


I hope you answered “no” to all of those questions.
You know what those things all have in common?


The correct answers are rooted in science. Yes, the thing so many balanced trainers love to scoff at and say it doesn’t matter.


But it matters.


The youtube videos you watch telling you that science is unnecessary? Yup, made possible by science.


That factory that builds your leashes, prong collars, clickers, bait pouches, tug toys, training vests, or whatever piece of equipment you might use? All made possible by science.


Your smart phone, computer, wi-fi router, hell, the damned internet itself, yup .. science.


Here’s the thing about science … It works.


No, scientific discoveries aren’t always correct. In fact, the wrong conclusions are often drawn and passed along for years before the error is discovered. So you’re absolutely correct to say that science is sometimes wrong. No one understands the fallibility of science better than scientists. But the fact is, in the history of the planet, no better way of discovering how and why things work has ever been devised than science.


We live in an age of scientific discovery that is allowing for global communication on a level that was unthinkable even when I was child. All of this progress is possible because of the rigorous pursuit of development through science.


The problem we are having with science in the dog training world is not that science is bad, it’s that much what is being called “science” in dog training isn’t science at all. It doesn’t follow the rules of science. 


At the end of the day, science is nothing more or less than testing ideas with measurable data.
If you have tried two different methods of training, and realized that one seemed more effective with most dogs. That’s the essence of science. 


But when researchers allow their ideals, or expectations color their results, then the science goes bad. The point of good science (or just “science” because so-called “bad science” isn’t actually science at all) is to create a situation where the researcher’s bias doesn’t affect the results. This can be quite hard to do under the best circumstances. It’s even harder when it comes to behavior though.


So much of what passes for science isn’t actually science. But rather than blame science, let’s put the blame where it belongs, on bad scientists and bad authors treating junk like science.


If you saw a video of someone lighting a dog up on an ecollar with bad timing and no context leaving the dog terrified and shut down, would you conclude the ecollars are obviously bad? Would you correct your friend if they saw that video and made the same conclusion?


Many balanced trainer spend a great deal of time dispelling myths about their training tools that are often founded based on something someone saw a bad trainer do with that tool. Well, don’t discount science because you’ve seen some junk science.


There is value in the sciences related to behavior, if you you’re willing to examine it, and a lot of it supports good balanced dog training.


But there are some who say, “That’s all well and good, but I just train dogs, I don’t need all that fancy mumbo jumbo. It’s a distraction.” I agree. You don’t need science to be a great trainer. But there’s still benefit. I’ll talk about that more in my next blog.


Until then … Happy training … and … never stop learning!

Leave a reply

Menu Title