Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Dog Whisperer

There is this girl on a message board I'm one who gives loads of advice on just about everything dog related. She's an expert on everything dog related -- food, training, behaviour, breeds and breeding, what to look for when you adopt or buy a dog, how to find a good breeder, etc. She will weigh in on nearly every dog subject and is very confident and sure of herself. People even ask her for advice and of course she is quite willing to dispense it. Many people are thrilled to have such an expert in their midst -- one even said "you're like a Dog Whisperer!" and that got loads of agreement.

However (you knew there was going to be a however, didn't you?), this girl's (she's only 21 or 22) practical knowledge of dogs is limited to some contact with her uncles dogs (but always when the uncles were there) and walking dogs at the humane society at most once a week since this January or February. She's never owned or even cared for a dog for any length of time at all. I'm trying to figure out how she can be an expert on dogs with so very little contact with them. I can understand that she may have read a lot of information, but "I read this" isn't how she couches her advice.

I remember reading some of her accounts of walking the humane society dogs and "training" them and "correcting" their behaviour, and I couldn't help thinking "Oh honey, you are cruising for a bruising." Sure enough, not long after thinking that she wrote where one of the dogs jumped on her and started snapping one day. His teeth didn't puncture her skin anywhere, but he did leave several bruises. I realise it sounds mean but I couldn't help but think as I read her account of that incident that if I'd been the dog I would have attacked her too. She doesn't know enough to be training and correcting the dogs behaviour. All she's doing is irritating them and that dog had obviously had enough, and she doesn't even know dogs well enough to know that she had pushed too far.

It reminds me a lot of the people who take horseback riding lessons every week for a year and even go to selected shows with several other students (and an instructor of course) from the same stable (some of those riding instructors with their string of pupils did a great job of monopolising the warm up time before classes. Those of us on our own had to learn to just shove in because they wouldn't let others have their turn -- even though they were supposed to -- unless you just bulled your way in). Anyway, often these students did pretty well at these shows on their school horses, and somewhere down the line they (well, their parents, of course, since the riders were kids) decided to buy their own horse. A few would buy a particular favourite school horse, most others would have a trainer/instructor help them find and buy a horse. So for the most part these kids still had horses that were well trained for a beginning rider -- the type of horse that would take anyone around an easy hunter course.

You would think they would continue right where they left off when they were riding the stable's school horse, especially if it was the same horse, wouldn't you? Well, they usually did -- at the beginning. But then it almost invariably began to fall apart. Think about the school horse. When it was owned by the riding stable it was used for lessons and was constantly ridden under the supervision of an instructor. If problems arose, the horse would be ridden by an experienced rider who could correct the behaviour and get it back on track. So the horse is constantly getting trained, even when he has an inexperienced rider.

However, when the horse is sold to the student, even if the student keeps up the weekly riding lessons, things often start going awry. First off chances are the horse is getting less riding overall. That in itself can be a problem as it won't be as fit or responsive. Chances are also good that the new owner will ride the horse other times -- not just in lessons. And let's face it, the owner is still a beginner -- capable of riding fairly well on a very well trained, very obedient horse, but nothing takes the place of experience when dealing with animals and this beginning rider doesn't have it. Minor problems that crop up don't even get noticed until they become fairly major ones, and the beginning rider has no clue what to do to correct the problem. I've seen horses that would take the greenest rider around a hunter course with no hesitation change into a horse that becomes a habitual stopper.

Usually one of two things happen -- the new rider either toughs it out, spends the time riding and working with the horse, and learns, or she (girls who ride far out number boys) quits. With any luck no one gets seriously hurt in the process, although that does happen sometimes too.

So I think the little Dog Whisperer is like that beginning rider on a school horse with an instructor always at hand. She thinks she knows far more than she really does. With any luck over time she will actually learn what she thinks she already knows.


Blogger veleska1970 said...

oh, experts~~doncha love 'em?? to me, people who claim to be an expert on something rank right up there with a "know-it-all". i think the word "expert" is a fallacy~~there's no way anybody can possibly know everything there is to know about a particular subject. it is impossible. i mean, i know quite a bit about a lot of things, but i don't purport to be an expert.

i share your hope that the whisperer will learn about her expertise. ;)

11:57 AM  

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