|Art by the always-terrific Kevin Brockbank for the July 2011 issue of Dogs Today.|
The Dunning-Kruger Effect in the World of Dogs
If one were looking to study the Dunning-Kruger Effect, you could find no better place than the world of dogs.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect? What’s that?
The Dunning–Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which a significant percent of the incompetent and ignorant suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average -- much higher than it actually is. By contrast, the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority -- the exact opposite.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect can be seen all around us, and not just in the world of dogs. For example, look at who runs for elected office. Most of the time, it's the ego-besotted and the barely-competent who put up their own names. The folks who actually understand the intricacies of energy policy, foreign policy, and economics are pretty sure they are not the right sort for public office -- or they have better jobs to start with.
In the Kennel Club, however, the Dunning-Kruger Effect has found a particularly rich vein. In the world of Border Collies, for example you can find instant-experts breeding dogs left and right, and never mind that their own animals have yet to even see a sheep! No problem there, they will tell you.
Then, you have the retriever experts who do not hunt, and whose own dogs will not return a tennis ball, much less a bird. They have strong opinions on proper coat color, however!
And then, of course, you have the Border and Parson Russell Terrier breeders who do not own a locator collar and have never so much as sunk a hole to plant a rose bush. But do they have puppies to sell? Yes they do!
Of course, it does not stop with the breeders and the dog dealers, does it?
There are the instant experts who decry chain slip collars, and who do not even know how to put one on. There are the instant experts on electronic training collars who have never owed one, used one, or even seen a dog being trained with one.
And then, of course, there are the 23-year old experts. Here's a hint: If you are 23 years old, you are probably not a real expert in anything.
But of course, there is no-stopping folks.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect means the least competent and least experienced are often the most certain they are right, and that they are also quite certain they doing a better-than-average job at most of the tasks they are doing.
What's that mean for dogs?
Well, for one, it means the least competent breeders are often the ones who are most certain they are quite excellent.
Conversely, the most competent and most knowledgeable dog men and dog women are often filled with self-doubt to the point they may go a lifetime without breeding a litter.
And so it goes, round and round, in an almost never-ending circle of dysfunction.
Is it any wonder the world of dogs (and the world in general) is in such a mess?
And it does not stop at dog training and dog breeding, does it? No!
Brennen McKenzie, a California veterinarian, recently took an unblinking look at the 'raw versus commercial' dog food debate. McKenzie has found a lot of puffery, bloviating, conspiracy, philosophy, and paranoia from the raw folks, but not much science to support their claims, and quite a bit of evidence that commercial dog foods are more than just fine -- they are probably safer and more nutritious as well.
The argument that dogs are designed by their evolutionary history to eat raw meat based diets is riddled with errors and fallacies and ignores the impact of tens of thousands of years of domestication and cohabitation with humans ... The accusations that commercial dog foods are nutritionally inadequate or unsafe are not supported by any objective or scientific evidence, only anecdotes, intuition, and conspiracy theories. There is, in contrast, significant evidence that commercial dog foods are nutritious and healthy and that they have contributed to greater longevity and reduced nutritional and infectious disease morbidity of dogs fed these diets.
The benefits promised by advocates of BARF [Bones and Raw Food] diets for dogs are numerous... However, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these claims. BARF proponents have no shortage of opinions and anecdotes to demonstrate the benefits of their diets, but they have a severe shortage of data.
The risks of raw meat based diets, however, are well-documented. Homemade diets and commercial BARF diets are often demonstrable unbalanced and have severe nutritional deficiencies or excesses....
So with a dodgy theory behind it, no sound evidence of benefits, and clear risks, there is no justification for recommending raw meat based diets for dogs.
Of course not everyone agrees! You will hear cautions from some people.
No problem there, but be sure to look down the leash before listening too closely.
Pearls of Wisdom
Do these same raw-food proselytizers own a cancer-prone breed like a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Scottish Terrier, an Irish Wolfhound, or a Flatcoated Retriever?
Do they own a giant breed like a Great Dane or a Scottish Deerhound, which is likely to die from gastric torsion or heart disease?
Do they own a toy breed whose jaws are too crowded to hold its teeth, or do they own a heavily inbred rare breed with a gene pool that was closed with less than 50 dogs?
Now ask yourself this: are you really going to listen to these people when it comes to the health risks associated with dog food, when these same people so clearly ignored the more obvious and well-documented risks associated with breed selection?!
Do you also ask bankrupts for their business plans, three-time divorcees for marital advice, and the obese for dieting tips?
If a person does not know enough about dogs to stay away from a famously unhealthy breed, why would you think they know enough about dog food (or relative risk) to give advice?
Bottom line: Be aware of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the world of dogs. The wisest and most experienced hands in the world of dogs are often less cock-sure than those who are twenty-five minutes on the scene!