To make this exercise easier, join me in an imaginary world where we can quantify knowledge (in this case, animal training knowledge). Imagine a scale from 0 to 10 in which 0 is a person that knows absolutely nothing about animal training and 10 is the person that knows everything there is to know on the topic. I can think of a few people that would be a 9 on this scale and many of them would be the influential trainers that have been showing the world that using a carrot is better than using a stick, backing it up with anecdotal and scientific data. In my opinion, the 10 is impossible to achieve because there is always stuff to be learned, but more on that later.
Going back to my opening sentence, imagine that the trainer posting the article or video is a level 3 trainer and gets the “correction” from a level 6 trainer. Probably, the level 6 trainer finds it very basic information and too irrelevant to be shared. Perhaps that specific community has many trainers that are at a higher level than the level 3 trainer. But here is the important piece of information: all the level 6 trainers were level 3 one day. Actually, there was a moment in which they were level 1 or 2 and knew less than this person does at the moment. More importantly, perhaps there are people in that group that are level 1 or 2 at the moment and that can learn from the content that the level 3 person shared.
Many fields related to the biological sciences have been evolving a lot and animal training is especially prone to new information. For many of us the evolution is constant and very fast paced. Let me give you an example in the first person: I offer a lot of free animal training videos on my Youtube channel. Many times, I shoot the video and by the time I start with the editing it has become obsolete in my view. I would change several things if I was to do it again. When I look back at videos that I have done a couple of years ago then my general thought is “what the heck was I thinking when I did that”? That is probably the case for many of my fellow friends and animal trainers. I do not believe however that this is a bad thing. It is evidence that we are trying to learn and evolve each and every day. It shows that a given trainer’s current approach is an improved one when compared with the one he/she was using in the past.
Why do we criticize the “already known” or “not ideal technique” then? Well, perhaps it is a hard wired behavior that evolved to make us survive, to get a competitive edge over others. It makes some intuitive sense that if we devalue someone else's work we might be valued instead. The problem is that we might discourage the level 3 trainer from becoming level 6 and who knows, perhaps one day becoming level 9. We do need force free trainers out there. We do need modern training techniques to be the mainstream information out there.
Some years ago I had a few younger colleagues starting to be given responsibilities that up until that point were only my responsibility or of some older, more experienced colleagues. When this happened, my first natural inclination was to find mistakes and criticize them. I had seen other people using this approach, so certainly that was the normal thing to do, right? Well, I was fortunate enough to follow the lead of some amazing people that would take on the success of younger colleagues and celebrate it as if it was their own success. More impressively, they would even try to learn from younger colleagues. Obviously, they would take most of their new knowledge from international references, but it was still remarkable that they would learn some bits with less experienced people.
Experience is important, but I believe that even more important than experience is a desire to hunt for new knowledge and ideas. I have met some very well experienced animal trainers that ended up stagnating their careers because they did not actively tried to acquire new knowledge. The best animal trainers in the word (the level 9 ones) are always trying to learn more stuff and sometimes they refer to “less knowledgeable people”. Let’s embrace new information even if it comes from newcomers and let’s make the world a more force free place.