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This article is aimed at animal practitioners to help them better understand their clients, especially when they meet resistance, and how they can help their clients overcome this.

Pet owners often seek assistance from professionals in training and behaviour modification programmes to address their furry companions’ behavioural issues. However, implementing changes in pet owners’ behaviour and mindset can be met with resistance. This article delves into some of the reasons behind pet owner resistance to change and explores how cognitive biases play a role in this process. By understanding these dynamics, professionals can employ strategies to effectively navigate resistance and promote positive outcomes in training and behaviour modification programmes.

1. Fear of the Unknown

One primary reason for pet owner resistance to change is the fear of the unknown. Pet owners may feel apprehensive about the potential outcomes and consequences of altering their established routines or methods. The uncertainty associated with change can generate anxiety, making owners reluctant to embrace new techniques or approaches.

2. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that predisposes individuals to seek information that confirms their existing beliefs or preconceived notions. In the context of pet training and behaviour modification, owners may hold steadfast beliefs about their pets’ behaviours, attributing them to certain causes or motivations. This bias can hinder their willingness to consider alternative perspectives or approaches, impeding progress in the training process.

3. Status Quo Bias

Status quo bias refers to the preference for maintaining the existing state of affairs over embracing change. Pet owners may be accustomed to certain routines or patterns, even if they are not yielding desired results. This bias can create resistance to deviating from familiar practices, impeding their openness to adopting new training methods or modifying their own behavior.

Overcoming Resistance and Biases

To effectively address pet owner resistance to change and mitigate the influence of cognitive biases, professionals can employ various strategies:

a) Education and Information: Providing pet owners with accurate and evidence-based information can challenge their existing beliefs and help them gain a deeper understanding of effective training and behaviour modification techniques.

b) Empathy and Understanding: Professionals can foster a supportive environment by empathising with pet owners’ concerns and apprehensions. By acknowledging their fears and addressing them with compassion, professionals can establish a foundation of trust and collaboration.

c) Gradual Progression: Introducing changes in a gradual and incremental manner can help alleviate the fear of the unknown and make transitions more manageable for pet owners. Breaking down the training process into achievable steps can build confidence and motivate owners to embrace change.

d) Positive Reinforcement: Utilising positive reinforcement techniques with pet owners themselves can help reshape their behaviour and attitudes. Recognising and rewarding their efforts and progress can counterbalance negative biases and reinforce their motivation to adapt.

Understanding the reasons behind pet owner resistance to change and the influence of cognitive biases in training and behaviour modification programmes is crucial for professionals in the field. By addressing these challenges with empathy, education, and strategic approaches, professionals can support pet owners in embracing change, leading to more successful outcomes for both the owners and their beloved animal companions.

You can learn more about this and other factors that influence human-animal interactions, as well as ways animal practitioners can hone their client-consultant relationships by taking my Human Behaviour Change for Animal Practitioners course, launching soon! Keep an eye out on my online Learning Hub for this course.


  1. Lavis, C., & McGill, P. (2014). Why don’t we listen, learn, and implement? Understanding the diffusion of pet training knowledge. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9(5), 198-207.
  2. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185(4157), 1124-1131.
  3. Turner, D. C. (2015). Behavioral biology of dog training: Evidence-based training and behavior modification. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 45(2), 259-272.

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