Thursday, April 27, 2017

In the Land of the Blind the One-Eyed Dog is King

A repost from October 2011

While at coffee today, I read an article on Slate penned by Gene Lyons.

The article was about a fellow who bought a 5-year old German shepherd protection dog, sight unseen, for $7,500, and then tried to return it.

It's a good read; check it out.

Buried in the article was this little line:

Almost as puzzling as dog haters are people who keep pets but have no earthly idea how the animals think and feel.

Cesar Milan has made a handsome living off dog owners whose cluelessness makes “The Dog Whisperer” one of the funniest things on TV.

The word clueless leaped out at me, as some years ago David Dunning used this word to describe why people so often think weird things, a topic I am flipping around in my brain these days.

Recalling Dunning's diagram, I drew a slightly modified version on a napkin, with an added circle to show what people might actually know about dogs, and a second circle to encompass ignorance, which I think is quite different from cluelessness.

The smallest circle, in yellow, is denial. This is the stuff about dogs that is too painful for us to confront for whatever reason. Sometimes this is about dogs in general or a breed in particular, but often as not it is about the owner and his or her own need to work out his or her own psychological issues through a canine surrogate.

The next largest circle, in white, is actual knowledge about dogs. Here we have the sum total of what an owner may have read about dogs, been told about dogs, or actually experienced or seen with their own eyes with their own dog. This is a surprisingly small circle with most people, and it is probably way over-represented in this drawing.

The next largest circle, the one in orange, is self-deception or what Dunning describes as "rationalization, wishful thinking, defensive processing, self-delusion, and motivated reasoning." This is the circle that encompasses all the falsities we tenaciously hang on to, or refuse to reexamine because re-examining them is not very convenient. How many people position their dog food or dog training choices as the only ones that work, and never mind the evidence to the contrary? How many people blame the dog for their failure to be clear and consistent? How many people are breed or kennel blind? How many think they exercise their dog when they walk it around the block? How many people think they know all about dogs even though they have never read a book or bothered to teach a dog a simple trick?

The next ring is ignorance. These are the things we know we do not know. We may not know how to teach a dog how to climb a ladder, for example, or how to close a barbed wire flesh wound, but we know it can be done and it can be learned.

Finally, on the very outside, and encircling all in purple, we have cluelessness. This is the stuff that we do not know that we do not know. This is the eternal mystery of dogs. Humans do not smell the world as dogs do, nor do we see the world in the same visual spectrum, nor do we see the world from the same angle. We do not hear what a dog hears, and we do not have the same internal drives or all of the same motivations. When a dog throws a sign, we generally do not know how read it or even that it is being given, much less how to send it back (or that we should) with a wag of our tail or a slight movement of our ears, or a curve in our gait.

We have no idea. 

In the world of the dog, we humans seem to bump around blind, deaf, loud, incoherent, manic and stupid.

Look at what is in white versus the sum of what is colored, and remember that knowledge is probably over-represented here!

Now is there really any wonder why so many people think strange things about dogs?

Self-deception alone has made us blind to the large numbers of deformed dogs paraded around Kennel Club rings. Self-deception is what enables us to call a place a "shelter" when 75 percent of the dogs admitted are summarily killed.

Denial is what enables English Bull Dog owners to claim their dogs are fit for function and Pit Bull owners to tell each other that their dogs are exactly the same as all the others.

And as for knowledge, it is not that easy to get, is it?

The all-breed books are packed with invented stories from dog dealers, while so many of the dog training books are either autobiographies or tips on how to train a dog to do a trick. Veterinarians seem to be more interested in bill padding than setting the world straight on how to breed healthier dogs. And how much of what we read or are told is nonsense copied from one autodidact to another?

And, of course, book learning will only take you part way. You cannot really know dogs until you have spent a lot of time in action with them and observing them, and not just one dog, but many.

If you truly want to know about dogs, you have to take them out into the elements for which they were created. And even then, there will be mysteries.

While you may be able to shrink the denial circle, and expand the knowledge circle, there will always be the vast land of Clueless lying just over the horizon.


BeachDog said...

Every time I read your blog my white circle of knowledge gets a little bigger.

Donald McCaig said...

Ralph Pulfer had been training, trialing, importing and breeding sheepdogs for fifty years when, at a trial in the last year of his life someone said,
"Ralph, how much you figure you know about this stuff?"

Pulfer went to his motorhome to think it over. At this time he'd probably won more sheepdog trials than any other North American.

When he returned to his questioner he said, "I reckon about fifteen percent."

Donald McCaig

PBurns said...

I love that story Donald.

One of the great joys I get from both dogs and Mother Nature is that they always have a lot to teach. With every walk in forest, field or hedge, I either get to learn something new, or I get to practice or remember something old. Even in the best of circumstances, however, I am reminded of how little I know and how small my place is in the scheme of things. Dogs will keep your right-sized if you will let them.


seeker said...

Dogs have a bad habit of wanting to please us. They let us call them odd things, put clothes on them and generally go along with our stupidity. Unfortunately by doing this they convince us that they actually want to be treated like babies, or monsters or even super pals.
Then we start to get these odd ideas about them. They wuv us, they wuv other animals, they wuv to live in an apartment. They don't. They are only trying to survive in a weird world. Most dogs are happy to be safe, warm and full of food. But humans are seriously into overkill. Beds, cooked meat,& costumes are required to keep Twinkie happy.
The poor vets are stuck. They probably really want to help animals but get caught in the keep the owner happy/make a buck world of daily bill paying. If the Georgia Bulldog shows up drooling and gasping but his owner loves him for his Noble demeanor, who are they to say your dog is dying and you're the one killing it. Meanwhile, a patient in the waiting room is introducing a JRT to a gerbil because they will be friends.
It's a dog eat dog world out there. WE know that our little feists are homocidal maniacs who will kill themselves in a burrow while after prey, but Geez, aren't they cute chasing the ball and sleeping so sweetly on our laps.
They really can't help their facial structure being so deceiving. (See Puss In Boots Appealing look in Shreck.)

They're not bad, they're just drawn that way.

Debi and the TX JRTs.

Ella St. Germain said...

Thank you for another fine scramble across that mucky field where my personal ignorance and cultural ramifications meet. Again you leave me better for the discomfort, pondering larger implications and, tonight, humming a tune.

PBurns said...

Glad people like this one. Any time I start drawing on napkins there's a 90 percent chance I am starting to get a little too abstract and the proper response is "less coffee for you!"

Buenzlihund said...

If dogs and horses have taught me one thing, it is not to assume I know anything. In hindsight I often realise how painfully wrong I was. But I was (and am) often lucky. Pretty good at guessing my way through a life with animals and nature.... less so in he human world.