Pet owners today have access to massive amounts of infor-mation related to the training, health, everyday care and general management of their pets. There are more books, magazines and newsletters available than ever before – on every conceivable as-pect of pet ownership. Popular television shows feature charis-matic experts, and the market is full of video and DVD productions offering methods and products “guaranteed” to improve the be-havior and health of America’s pets. The Internet is an even big-ger source, with easily found web sites and discussion groups offering information on just about everything.

Having this much access to technology, media and the writ-ten 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.

As a dog trainer and training class instructor I encounter peo-ple 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 peo-ple who make an effort to learn all they can about the hu-mane care and training of their dogs, but when their “facts” are based on information that is shaky at best, is incom-pletely presented, or is limited to a single source presenting itself to be the only real authority on the matter it can be a challenge to work with them.

How can you tell if the source you’re using is pro-viding 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 pro-duce a professional-looking web site, video, DVD, book or publication. Just because what you’re look-ing at appears to be professional and slick it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best source of infor-mation. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to be a bit of a skeptic at times. What are the pre-senter’s credentials? What experience does the “expert” have? How long has he or she been prac-ticing in this particular field? Is the person provid-ing the information truly an expert on the matter, or is it an actor paid for the performance? Are the presenters trying to sell you a product or service, hoping you will choose theirs and not one of the many others competing on the market? How does this information compare to that provided by other sources? Do the claims being made sound reasonable? Does the presenter claim to have the only good 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? Remember also that what you read or see may only be a summary of a much bigger process. This is particularly true when watching televi-sion 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 work, usually taking weeks or months, necessary to produce the final product.

A place to be particularly cautious is the internet forum or discussion group. Groups that are affiliated with profes-sional organizations are often excellent, but information pre-sented on some other discussion lists can be suspicious. Some participants in these groups use them as their personal soapboxes, dishing out opinions, airing grievances, and giv-ing out bits and pieces of information that may be incom-plete 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 breeder, 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.

By Dorothy Miner