Training Dogs with Science or with Nature? An Exploration of Trainers’ Word Use, Gender, and Certification Across Dog-Training Methods

Anamarie C. Johnson, Clive D.L. Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dog trainers’ word choice may provide information about how a trainer understands and relates to the dogs they work with. To date, there has been little analysis of the words trainers use or whether specific words or phrases can readily differentiate the type of training methodology practiced. We gathered demographic and educational information and the stated training philosophy from the websites of 100 dog trainers from 10 US cities, identified by a popular consumer review site, to determine whether there was a difference in word use between training methodologies, if women practiced non-aversive techniques more than men, and if non-aversive trainers were more often certified than aversive trainers. Trainers were identified as using either non-aversive methods (utilizing positive reinforcement and no use of aversive leash tools) or aversive methods (may use positive reinforcement but will also utilize aversive methods to punish) by trainer self-identification or training-tool use. We then qualitatively analyzed the website texts outlining training philosophy using the text analysis software MAXQDA. Specific words or phrases that were selected based on their importance within training were turned into 20 codes that were examined for their context and frequency of use across the 100 philosophies. Some codes differentiated between training methodologies, particularly those related to training-tool use. For example, aversive trainers referred to corrective collars as “electronic collars” and explained their use; non-aversive trainers called the same tool a “shock collar” and stated that it was never used in their training. We found women practiced positive reinforcement training significantly more often than men ((Formula presented.) = 12.79, p < 0.05). Positive reinforcement trainers were also significantly more likely to be certified than balanced trainers ((Formula presented.) = 18.75, p < 0.01). This shows that there is a wide variability in word use by dog trainers, which leads to inconsistencies in information provided to the public. The low rate of certification also raises concerns about the scarcity of licensing and lax oversight of dog trainers in the USA leading to potential safety risks for both owners and dogs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-51
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • Dog training
  • human–animal interaction
  • human–dog relationships
  • word-based analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Anthropology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary (miscalleneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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