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"Cutting Edge" vs. "Old School" Pet Professionals

Updated on September 3, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.


Quite Often Philosophies Differ But Results Don't

I didn't get my first pet until I was 45, but I’ve always been interested in animals; more from a scientific angle, though. As a teenager in the 60’s I used to love watching the animal documentaries on television. I thank Marlin Perkins for igniting my interest in animals.

Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, many of them were anthropomorphic. I think that even today some of the wildlife documentaries blur the line between emotion and science.

And I loved reading books by scientists who studied wild animals in the field.

The feed & grain store we owned from 2003 through 2011.
The feed & grain store we owned from 2003 through 2011. | Source

In the early 90s I trained and served as a docent at the local AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoo. There I learned more about the wild behavior of our animals, some of which we were able to work with during zoo-mobiles and other educational programs conducted on-site and at schools and other venues.

Simultaneously, I began working at a feed and grain store, which I bought 11 years later. By then farms had virtually disappeared from the local landscape, so the store reinvented itself into more of a pet supply store that also featured wild bird and lawn & garden products.

The first time I saw someone drop $30 for a bag of dog food in 1992, I was hit right between the eyes by the concept of the human-animal bond. I became an avid observer of the phenomenon, and continue to be so nearly thirty years later.

That bond has taken on a new life in the pet supply industry, where it's known as "the humanization of pets." If you'll notice, pretty much all of the packaging and advertising now appeals to the emotional aspect of owning animals, very little appeals to the scientist in us.

In an environment full of inconsistencies, conflicting data, and various means to achieve the same ends, I’ve observed one constant: animal people make up a special group.

I’ve been exposed to the pet mentality, the livestock mentality, and the wildlife mentality and each has its own standards and protocols regarding animal husbandry.


I got a kick out of seeing the livestock people roll their eyes at the pet people because their pets are raised in the lap of luxury ("You're actually paying $9.99 for a one pound jar of doggie peanut butter?") - and the pet people wrinkle their noses and scowl at the livestock people, because their livestock isn't raised in the lap of luxury ("What do you mean the barn doesn't have central air?").


But the common thread is the love and respect that is shown for the animals by all involved.

I find that animal people are easy to talk to, fun to be around, and provide valuable lessons in patience, empathy and other admirable qualities.

There Are Studies, And Then There Are Studies

Much of today’s literature is peppered with references to studies…some directly, others obscurely.

Studies can be valid and studies can be manipulated to accommodate an agenda.

How do we know which is which?

Take dog training, for example. It’s a subject that interests me, although I’ve never entertained the idea of becoming a trainer. I just find the subject very interesting.

Trainers provide a valuable service to dog owners; and in doing so save the lives of countless dogs that may otherwise be euthanized as incorrigible.

By helping owners connect the dots, they enable the owners to maximize the benefits of owning a dog, and to experience to its full potential, the special relationship that dogs offer.

But the industry is full of conflicting methods and philosophies that often produce the same results.

That’s the way it is regarding just about every aspect of animal husbandry.


Veterinarians, for instance, can differ on their treatment plan for a certain condition, yet they achieve the same results.

They all have similar training, but each has different real-world experiences and observations that influence their approach to problem solving.

Today’s dog trainers, I’ll call them “cutting edge trainers,” embrace whole new philosophies and theories when compared with what I’ll call “old school trainers.”

Cutting edge trainers believe that certain behaviors have been misinterpreted over the years.

They say, “Based on new studies, which changes everything, here’s what those behaviors really mean.”

Many of the cutting edge folks regard old school folks as affable knuckle draggers.

Yet, both styles work.

The Bottom Line

There have always been, and probably always will be, disagreement among and between trainers, behaviorists, nutritionists, veterinarians, etc.

The reality check is that success does occur even when using new practices and philosophies that are in conflict with established protocols. Maybe the new ways work, but so do the old ways. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.

As professions become stagnant and overcrowded, they'll continue to reinvent themselves to stimulate economic growth and to appear to be at the cutting edge. There will be new studies, new theories, new papers and new curricula. But there is one constant that's predictable: since there isn’t much in this world that sits still for very long; today’s cutting edge practitioners will be tomorrow’s affable knuckle draggers.


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