Words Matter: The Impact of Language Choice

As a social species, we recognize and acknowledge that thoughtful word choice is important within our interactions with others. Words can exacerbate a difficult circumstance, or bring peace to a situation if handled with care. Words have power. In a shelter environment, the words we use can have a significant impact on staff, animals, and adopters. Traditionally, the vocabulary used in a shelter environment is, often quite unintentionally, unhelpful to the shelter’s mission and the interests of its stakeholders.

In this Session, Lindsay will be proposing and discussing a vocabulary rich with language that is both accurate and neutral, and that is rooted in descriptions of observable characteristics of behavior. For example, using “barrier frustration” as opposed to “barrier aggression” for an expression of behaviors often observed in shelters and addressed in behavior consultations promotes a fuller understanding of the behavioral condition, and does not imply a personality trait or flaw of the animal.

Discussion of language impact will focus on behavioral examples within the shelter environment. The behaviors described and the language applied are drawn from Lindsay’s experience as a certified applied animal behaviorist as well as a shelter director. The behavior and language are applicable for both arenas. 

The goal is not to create “politically correct” vocabulary in the shelter, but to use words that are scientifically accurate and accessible to consultants, shelter staff, and owners. Accurate is not “soft” or “harsh.” It’s simply accurate! Come learn a new vocabulary… in a language you already know!

Lindsay Wood Brown

Lindsay Wood Brown is a board-certified applied animal behaviorist (ACAAB) with a master's degree in animal behavior. Lindsay is a Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) course developer and has served as a KPA faculty member since 2012. Lindsay’s goal is to help behavior consultants and shelter professionals apply behavior-change science to their everyday professional lives. Her focus is on stripping labels, flipping prevailing ideas on their sides for a better view, and honing in on systematic ways to advance strategies.

Lindsay consults for animal shelters across the country and provides 1:1 mentorship opportunities for behavior consultants. She previously served as the Director of Operations for Lynchburg Humane Society in Virginia and as the Director of Animal Training and Behavior for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Boulder, Colorado.