When it comes to dogs, everyone thinks they are an expert, but no one really is. In this regard, I suppose, dogs are no different than many other things.
We are all supposed to be experts at raising children too, but everyone is a little vague as to how that expertise is developed.
Child care is certainly not taught in our schools or at our job sites. Instead, we copy what our parents did (whether good or bad), while picking up a few stray tips gleaned on the fly from talk shows, advice columns, and parents standing on the sidelines at ball games.
The end result can be seen in our schools, in our malls, and in our prisons. Too often it's not a pretty sight.
Much the same can be said for dogs. Watch people walk their dogs down the street, and you will see a host of errors in motion. Sit in a veterinarian's office for a few hours, and you are likely to hear a parade of scams used to separate gullible people from their wallets. Walk through the aisles of a pet store and look at the dizzying array of nonsense products being sold, from unhealthy dog foods to bejeweled collars.
Go to the average book store and you find little practical common-sense advice for dog owners.
There are all-breed books, copied and plagiarized one from another, full of nonsense potted histories and breed descriptions. There are breed-specific books that puff out these histories even more, while filling as many pages as possible with glossy pictures designed to obscure the fact that the training information is sparse, and the health information so general as to be useless.
There are many dog training books, each based on one theory or another, and each quick to explain why the other books on the shelf are somehow defective or out-of-date. And, of course, there are various picture books, doggy-memoires, and rustic romances. But a practical guide to dog ownership that explains why there are so many voices in conflict and the best way forward? It's not really there, is it?
Of course, maybe it's a case that people really do not want practical advice. Imagine a book entitled "Ten Sure-fire Ways to Live Longer," which spelled out the obvious: "Don't smoke, don't drink, lose weight, drive slower, eat fresh foods in season, exercise more, take your medications as prescribed, get regular cancer checks (breast, colon, prostate, uterine), find a hobby you enjoy, and try to be of service to others." Would that be a big seller? Probably not.
Folks don't want a list of common-sense advice. What they want is a fast-track to easy wealth, rapid weight loss, and pain-free hedonism.
What people want is "secret knowledge."
They want the "secret knowledge" of how to eat as much as they want and stay supermodel thin. They want the secret of dressing well without paying much money for the privilege, and the "secret" to owning massive amounts of real estate "for no money down."
What's funny, however, is that there really are secrets about dogs that most people do not know.
Dogs have a secret history, for example, and that history impacts nearly every dog in America.
Veterinarians really do have secret ways of ripping off their customers, and those secrets are costing most dog owners a lot of money over the life of a dog.
And, of course, there really are dog training secrets independent of the endless debates between coercion- and bribery-based canine training systems.
In fact, one does not need to spend too much time around dogs to observe a number of paradoxes.
One cannot find a Rhodesian Ridgeback that has ever chased a lion, a fox terrier that has ever bolted a fox, or an Old English Sheepdog that has ever herded sheep.
Puppies sell like hot cakes in classified ads at the back of the newspaper, even as two million dogs a year are killed in our pounds.
The building that says it’s a "shelter" at the front, is killing dogs and cats wholesale in the back.
The English Bulldog that is the mascot of the US Marine Corps and the British Empire, can barely breathe and hardly walk. The Great Danes is dead at age seven, and the Scottish Terrier is a cancer bomb on four legs.
Meanwhile, veterinarians present owners with astounding bills, but stand silent about the cause of the dysfunction.
And what about dog training? The shrill and discordant voices in this arena are enough to set one's teeth on edge.
Is it really that hard to get a dog to sit?
What's going on here?
The short short story is that the world of dogs is a bit like a fancy restaurant -- however sophisticated it may look like from the front of the house, behind the kitchen wall it's a parade of personality disorders, mouse turds in the corner, and ray fin being punched out with a cookie cutter and sold as scallops.
To be clear, so far as I can see, no one in the world of dogs has set off to do anything wrong. This is not a simple tale of good dogs and bad people.
Instead, it is about something more subtle and perhaps a little more sinister -- a story of how people have made a thousand small and very human decisions, and how those decisions have shaped the lives of dogs, sometimes for the better, but too often for the worse.
The wonder then, is not that there are so many wrecked and miserable dogs, but that there are so many good dogs with happy lives.
And the reason for that, of course, is the plastic and people-pleasing nature of the beast.
Dogs really do forgive a lot.