We are a society quick to lend our opinion. Go to any social media platform where questions get asked and you’ll see what I mean. Within seconds of a question being posed, there are usually answers coming in one after the next.
Maybe it is because we really do want to help. Maybe it is because we want to feed our egos as a purveyor of knowledge. In most cases, I imagine both reasons come into play.
Regardless of the reasons that people chime in, the receiver is going to have to sift through those answers and make decisions about what, if any, advice to act on.
A critical piece of information the receiver ought to have would be knowledge of what lens the advisor was looking through when they gave the advice. Without some idea about the provider’s actual experience, how is one to know if the advice is sound or not? How do we know if the suggested course of action is actually a good fit?
Here’s a hypothetical example of why the lens matters:
Larry jumps on social media to pose a question to his friends.
“Hey, I have a new puppy and she is biting my kids a lot. It seems like it is just because she wants to play, but it’s scaring them. How can I get her to stop?
Within moments those little dot icons are spinning. Larry’s friends are hot on it to offer their help.
Answers keep coming in. Larry’s not quite sure what to think. He thanks everyone, but realizes he’s got a lot of conflicting advice. Maybe he’ll just start at the top and work through the suggestions until he finds one that works…
He is pretty confused about what to do. That means Larry’s dog is going to end up pretty confused too…
…because confusion always travels down the leash!
So what does all this lens stuff mean?
How does perspective and experience impact the advice we give and recieve?
Before we take a deeper look, it’s important to recognize that people are generally sincere in their effort to help. I doubt they are jumping in to the conversation because they have ill intent. They are just sharing their experience and what worked for them.
The down side is; what works for one, may not work for the next. The solution may actually be a really poor fit because most people don’t bother to ask questions before they start doling out advice. They make assumptions that everyone’s lens is the same as theirs.
And you know what they say about making assumptions. 😳
Let’s take a look at each of our advisor’s lens.
Iheartdoggies is the owner of the elusive, Bordeaux, Chihuahua/Dachshund, Poodle mix. She paid a pretty penny for it, and it did only minimal biting as pup. By the time the adult teeth were all in, there wasn’t any play biting at all. The owner is being completely honest.
But she has failed to realize that the genetic mix created a disaster of a jaw line, (not to mention a few other health issues) so this dog really can’t put much mouth pressure on anything…including solid food. The connection between the genetic factors and the behavioral ones don’t occur to her. She genuinely believes puppies just grow out of the play biting phase.
It isn’t Mallys4ever’s first rodeo. She has raised numerous dogs in her time. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and she’s excited to help other dog lovers. Almost as excited as she is about her new found passion for competitive dog obedience. She’s just finished a course with an accomplished world class competitor in the field of dog bite sports. The take on how to work with puppy biting IS fantastic. It isn’t about stopping the biting, it’s about directing it to the outlet of a tug toy and teaching the pup how to play with his teeth when allowed, but not using those teeth when not invited to do so. This technique works, it works smooth as butter!!
But it should be mentioned that the world class competitor is also working with world class dogs. Dogs that don’t live in the house as pets with small children roaming about. They live a structured life in a kennel and get structured training sessions each and every day under the tutelage of those expert hands. It is a wonderful set up for success and Mallys4ever is able to replicate most of that set up. She lives alone with her two dogs. Works from home and is pretty much the perfect pet owner. Dogs that end up in her care have struck gold!
Larry, however, works full time outside the home. His wife juggles a part time, home based career while also managing the two children (both under 5 years of age). Their pup is a nice little Labrador purchased from a friend whose dog had a litter, 4 males, 3 females. This family took one of the black females. She’s a pretty soft pup overall but gets excited when the kids are in high gear. Larry is also hoping to do a little hunting with his pup when she matures…He has heard that teaching her to tug might not be a good idea.
Bigbruno is a good guy. He’s a Boxer breeder and a good one at that. He breeds and raises resilient, bounce back, lovable knuckle heads that are well on their way to being over the biting stage before he even turns the pups over to their new homes at 9 weeks of age. The guy is big hearted, fair, and puts out some pretty great dogs.
He’s happy to offer experienced advice. But he doesn’t know that Larry has a somewhat soft natured pup and has already tried a couple swats. After just a couple times the pup starting getting a little hand shy. Plus, Larry’s 5 year old starting mimicking the swatting and now the pup is getting defensive and starting to lift a lip at the kids.
Scigal has two older dogs she got from a rescue. She hasn’t ever actually raised a puppy. She reads a lot and knows that dogs like to chase things that are moving. Children, with their high pitched voices, combined with the excitement of jumping, running and playing…well, it’s pretty hard for a puppy to not want to get involved in that kind of game, so she knows that stopping the running will help. She also knows that reinforcing the right behavior will get more of that same behavior.
But she doesn’t realize that Larry’s kids are both under 5. If you’ve ever spent much time trying to get toddlers to cooperate, you know that it’s only slightly more difficult to successfully nail jello to a tree.
What does all of this mean to those of us in the dog training profession?
It means we bear a responsibility to be mindful of our lens when people ask us for advice.
We should be asking a LOT of questions to ensure we adequately understand the situation the dog is living in. It means we need to know if what we propose is actually reproducible for the owner/dog combo in question. And it means we need to refer out when our lens is too narrow in scope to actually provide a meaningful solution to the people seeking help.
Pet dog trainer, field dog trainer, working k9 handler, service dog trainer, competitive bite sports decoy, competition obedience master… The list of areas of expertise is long in our profession. Many areas overlap and intersect – but sometimes important nuances don’t. It is important we keep that in mind when people ask us for advice.
We all have a lens through which we filter information, what’s yours?
This is a brilliant post, highlighting very clearly the common dilemmas associated with advice on dog training. I never offer advice until I have met and assessed both the handler and the dog and spent enough time with them to assess what approach is likeliest to succeed. There are way too many variables at both ends of the leash.I think it’s a good idea to start with how to manage problems (i.e. crating, supervision), and then learning how to train through the situation, usually in a planned, graduated, trial-and-error approach. There are no quick fixes. Whenever possible I like to demonstrate a technique, observe the handler’s efforts, and then follow up to review and consolidate the achievement. My lens is that of an experienced trainer, sometimes competitor, who loves the challenge of high-energy dogs. Lately, I’ve been working mainly individually with “COVID dogs”, mainly rescues, some of them with first-time dog owners.
Thank you Ted. I appreciate you sharing your experience and chiming in on the topic. We share a passion for helping people and this great profession!!