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) and a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) with a master's degree in psychology and a concentration in animal behavior from Hunter College. Lindsay works at Karen Pryor Academy  as a Course Developer and has been a member of the  KPA faculty member since 2012. She specializes in resolving behavior conditions and consults for animal shelters on the design and implementation of behavior programs, effective modification methods for a range of behavior conditions, and development of robust operational strategies to achieve behavioral health within the shelter.

Lindsay served as the Director of Operations for Lynchburg Humane Society (LHS), an open-admissions animal shelter located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Her role at Lynchburg Humane included the oversight of all shelter operations, with a strong focus on behavior and behavior modification to increase the number of animal lives saved and rehomed successfully.

Prior to her role as Director of Operations in Virginia, Lindsay served as the Director of Animal Training and Behavior for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Boulder, Colorado. She developed Boulder Humane's Training and Behavior Department, including the curriculum for a wide array of positive reinforcement, clicker training classes for community members. Lindsay also developed the organization's comprehensive behavior modification program, which focuses on rehabilitating dogs with specific concerns, including food-guarding, fearful behavior, body-handling sensitivities, separation anxiety, and dog-dog aggression.