Posts Tagged ‘dog expert’


I have come around to a simple conclusion:  I am not really a “dog expert,” as people normally define that term. I have never corrected a severe behavior problem in a dog, and I have never earned a single title on a dog.

I am a good academic. My background is in social science and historical research. I also can read peer-reviewed articles that use statistical methodology.

I also can communicate well. These things give me the veneer of being a “dog expert.” If you can communicate well enough to convey complex concepts that are documented in those obtuse article or in old tomes of dog lore, it leads the reader to believe that I might have some knowledge or expertise, but the truth is I am quite clueless about things.

The thing is I can use all those skills to write about any other animal on the planet, but with dogs, we’ve created this special condition for one to be considered a “dog expert.”  You must have skills to make dogs do stuff, and dogs must want to be with you over anyone else in the household.

I don’t know if any of those concepts applies to me. I have my own personal dog, and I can get her to obey a few commands. She’s of a breed that is generally supposed to be easy to train, but I do recognize my limitations as a pretty crappy dog trainer. I can’t always get a retrieve to hand, and because this dog has been passed around so much in her life, I have very little interest in doing traditional dog training methods with her.  I am not going to pinch her ears to get a solid retrieve. She listens well enough not be a nuisance, and I can walk her virtually anywhere off-lead. But that’s I’m a magically wonderful dog trainer. It’s that German shepherds generally don’t like to be out of view of the person they’ve decided to attach themselves to.

But now that you’ve read this, a certain percentage of you will discount anything else I have to say about dogs. I am not Ian Dunbar or Karen Pryor or one of those traditional dog trainers of yore. I am not a qualified animal behaviorist, and I am certainly no “dog whisperer.”

I grew up in a place where dog training was this:

If your coonhound runs opossums or deer, you put a shock collar on him.

And then you’ve got a coonhound.

I did not have access to real dog people anywhere, unless I wanted to do scenthound stuff. Most farms had English shepherds at them, but the dogs were almost never used to herd cattle or sheep. They were just there to guard the farm and maybe do some squirrel hunting.

I am only now able to have a dog that I feel is of the caliber that I could ever hope to train to do anything. I am way, way behind in my dog training skills, and this problem is made worse because the only dog training I’ve ever done is with food. Anka gets bored of food very quickly, so I have to reinvent everything I know to make a tossed ball an acceptable reward. So I do have an awfully trainable dog, but it’s like getting a Mac when I have only ever used PCs. It’s a nice machine, but it’s really a challenge for me to work with it.

Yes. I am a certified nerd. The things I am good at would probably bore almost anyone. I do not denigrate my skill, but I do want you to understand that these skills you’re appreciating by reading these posts are not substitutes for any real skill-based practical expertise.

I suppose I have to make this stuff clearer, because when it comes to dogs, we assume that people who have my particular skill-set must surely have the other one. And if that person lacks the other one, then one should never trust anything that comes from reading historical documents or peer-reviewed papers.

Of all the animals I write about, dogs are the one where this issue is quite problematic. If someone disagrees with my interpretation of a paper, all they have to do to ignore what I have to say is to talk about how much experience they have over me.

It’s why have tried to chance the main focus of my blog from being a “dog blog” to a nature blog that sometimes mentions dogs.

So I am not really a dog expert by the classic definition. I’m actually quite an idiot when it comes to putting titles on a dog or making them do stuff.

I’m sorry that we live in a culture of expertise that requires people have those skill-sets to be able to talk about things which have been gleaned from academic research.

And it has been difficult, if not impossible, for me to make peace with this conflict.

I suppose I will always feel inferior around actual dog people with skills, the same way I feel inferior around carpenters and plumbers and tradesmen who are good with their hands. I was born with little tiny hands and ten thumbs, and the hand-eye coordination of Mr. Magoo.  So I have had it has always been a mystery to me how people can build things.

And I am that way with people who can train dogs to high levels. I like to think that I can learn how to train a dog like that, but deep down, I lack the confidence to be of that level.

I guess I will always be the person from the backwoods, who never really had the best chance to learn “dogs.”

And no matter what happens, I think I will always be that person. It’s that much of a problem for me.

And all you have to do to shut me up is just start down this road of experience and skills. It is my Achilles’ heel.




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