Wednesday, November 3

Beware of the Dog Blogger

Beware of Bloggers. Especially ones that talk about dog behavior.
And welcome to the (somewhat) Revised Edition.
Disclaimer!  I am not referring to Jana (@DawgBlogger on twitter) when I say "Beware of the Dog Blogger."
 Why? Because though I am talking about dog people who blog, she is more than exempt from what we'll talk about below. Check out DawgBusiness. It's a site about dog health, training, and more.
Unfortunately for me, I can't change how the world thinks about dogs, how the world thinks about dog-related information, or how the world thinks about information in general. (Yet again, 5 points to you if you caught the OCD compulsion.)

Because of this, I have a fairly simple question for you, dear reader:
Are you a skeptic?
If not, you may consider becoming one.

Think that's one heck of a strange statement?
Consider this: Just because an author I respect makes a conclusion that she finds to be factual doesn't mean that I accept it as such. I'm always thinking
  • are there any alternative explanations? And if so, does the author state them - or at least state that there are, in fact, alternatives?
  • is the author using the Principle of Parsimony? (Meaning is she using the simplest explanation available and not over-complicating things with something like anthropomorphism?)
  • does she site sources from her colleagues or other reputable sources?
If the answer to any of those questions is "No," I may consider filing the presented information under, "It's a little fishy..."
Just as an example, a few dog trainers, behaviorists, and published - and widely popular - authors I know use a term called calming or cut-off signals and go on to say that these are part of a dog's agonistic language. 
Here's the trick: If we go by the scientific definition of communication, the exchange has to involve two parties: one party sending the message and another to receive it.
Yawning, according to these authors, would be classified as a cut-off signal - a way of telling another dog, "I am not a threat." However, if your dog - nervous and uncomfortable - yawns when she is alone can it honestly be classified as a communication? Remember, cut-off signals are communications that tell another being that the dog sending the message is not a threat.

I must make a note that in this article, I'm making light of a well-researched hypothesis that has a lot more merit than I am giving credit to. Turid Rugaas basically led the frontier in this research. By the way, check her out. Make a decision for yourself.
[And thank Hilary of FangShuiCanines for pointing out that I didn't give enough credit to the research behind the subject of calming signals.]

Just a thought.
...And that thought doesn't mean that they're wrong or that I'm wrong - it simply means that there's too much that we don't know.

So don't fall victim to that ever-annoying nominal fallacy - just because you name it doesn't mean you've explained it, and it certainly doesn't mean that you're right.

We do this all the time with labels.
Apply a label to a situation and you've got it covered - the whole mess is explained, we can all take a deep breath and go home knowing that...
...Absolutely nothing has been accomplished.

So, with that, beware of dog bloggers and dog professionals who claim to have the answers.
When it comes to the doggy-dog world, there's more that we don't know than that we do know.

And it's okay to say these next few words, 
Do you know why some dogs urine mark?
Do you know why some dogs walk in circles before lying down?

If you answered "Why YES, in fact, I do!" I would beg that you re-read this blog and reconsider your answer. Most of the "answers" to the above-mentioned questions are based on misinformation.
And, on top of that, no matter what information is out there, doesn't it always depend on the individual dog?

So, in conclusion:
  • Take it with a grain of salt. No one will blame you.
  • We know less about dogs than we give ourselves credit for knowing.
  • Not knowing all of the answers is okay
And, most importantly,
  • Don't put too much faith in the behavioral information you read online - or in books.


  1. I really like what you said here.

    When I was young and naive I was the type to believe every published word as The Ultimate Truth. If a person said something in a book or magazine it must be the way things are. Full stop.

    Thankfully I've gotten over that and now I find myself questioning everything. Which has served me much better.

  2. wow are really getting ridiculously good at this :-)

    your posts are getting better and better, both stylistically, visually and content wise.

    The alternative explanation point. Its something that anyone presenting their thesis should include. Not only is it the right thing to do but it helps the author maintain credibility if proven wrong. Which almost always happens lol

    Principle of Parsimony is also known as Occam's razor...just tossing that out there :-)

    Good point regarding yawning too. Here is something few trainers will tell you. Sometimes dogs yawn cuz they are sleepy lol

    Lastly ...sheesh, Im getting long winded..sorry...

    I was at a party few weeks ago where I met a lady calling her self a violent Buddhist. But thats not the interesting part of the story....well, not this story anyway...

    She has a dog and knows my background so she asked me to explain a behavior. Why is my dog doing xyz (I dont even remember what it was).

    In these situations I usually give them my card but this happens ALL THE TIME. And sometimes Im forced to say...why dont we focus on what you want your dog to do, not on why the dog is doing what s/he's doing.

    What am I? A mind reader? Sure..sometimes you can tell whats driving the behavior but its almost always a waste of time.

    Just tell me what you want your dog to do. Nevermind why hes doing what hes doing...oy vey lol

    anyway...great post...keep it up :-)

  3. @Kristine I know how you feel! I used to think I was pretty darned smart, and there wasn't much I didn't know. Now, I realize that what I know is hardly interesting compared to what I don't. And...if I listen, I learn even more. =]

    Always a good thing to ask questions!

  4. @Dino Thank you for the long-winded comment. Like I said on twitter... I LOVE long comments; they give me more to think about! <--another sentence ended in a preposition...yeesh. What is the world coming to? <--did it again.

    TY! I'm glad you think my posts are getting better - especially considering that if it weren't for you, I wouldn't find blogging interesting in the first place. You're kind of what got me into the game. I love the way you write, the way you think, etc! So if you approve, I say YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY. =]

    I know about Occam's Razor from ... idk. I remember hearing it on House and going I KNOW THAT! (and scaring everyone because I shouted it out. That's another story.)

    Since I revised this post (a little) I thought about added that a yawn could be... a yawn. And that maybe we go a little too far into the why, as you said.... but I think that's for another post.

    Wanna be the one to write it? ;] I pay in cookies! =D

    Psychoanalysis does little for our dogs. I wish clients could get that.

    And isn't it terrible when you mention you're a dog trainer - or someone knows - in an informal context. People try to get advice all the time. LoL. Kills me dead.

    TY for the comment. Much appreciated.

    By the way, I think my reply is longer than your comment! AHHHH!

  5. Thank you for the disclaimer :-)

    You are getting to be one cool blogger, hon.

  6. @Jana Any time! And TY for the serious compliment. I'm trying to get better. Most of the stuff I get is from you, from Kenzo, and from Dino. (Though I almost wrote "Viva" because I was thinking of the puppies... Don't tell Dino...) Meaning inspiration to write, thoughts, and content. You guys have some serious stuff going on - each of you has a niche within a niche, and you all write so nicely.

    I'm jealous. *huffs*

    But thank you! =]