The Distorted World of Hearsay Expertise:

I lived in the Pacific Northwest for enough years to know the area well. I went to college and managed a humane society in Corvallis, Oregon. I lived in Seattle and Everett, Washington and with the National Guard I routinely traveled up the Columbia Gorge to central Washington. If we have a conversation and you tell me that there is a restaurant at the top of the Space Needle at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, I’m going to do an instant brain freeze. I already know that you are either mistaken, stupid, inventing the information or passing along something someone else told you. Regardless of cause or motivation I know you are not describing reality. The biggest reason for similar statements within modern, scientific dog training and behavior modification is of the latter category – passing on hearsay from people who claim to be experts. Like the Space Needle in Orlando, their image of reality is based on fiction. Note: This fiction is very profitable and elevates the status of the pretender.

Myths Passed Like Gas:

Choke chains and prong collars are dangerous
For a couple years I was on the internet list of an international group of behavior counselors. This thought was promoted regularly. In my 30 years of working with dogs I only know of about three incidents where either of these tools caused damage. That is so close to never as to be insignificant. You would really have to go out of your way to hurt a dog with either. That would be abuse. Abuse is illegal whether you strangle a dog with a choke chain (an abuse of the tool) or a clothesline. (an abuse of the tool) So, since I work by veterinary referral I polled a dozen vets, including two emergency vets. None of them had every treated a dog for an injury that was connected to any kind of training collar used as a training collar. In case you are wondering, my comments here would also be hearsay if you repeated them. The best solution is to do some research for yourself – call several veterinarians and ask them.

Clicker Training Doesn’t Work:
This myth has a grain of salt to it but the truth lies slightly below the surface. To make this statement true you would have to add the words “all positive” up front. All positive clicker training doesn’t work. Even then you wouldn’t be accurate unless you took out the words ‘clicker training’ and simply stated, “all positive training doesn’t work.” You can take that to the bank.

Neutering Male Dogs decreases aggression:
This is a pretty simple myth to question. Neutered males and spayed females fight. Aggression isn’t exclusively the result of testosterone. Aggression is a normal dog behavior. Selective breeding has made some breeds more passive than others in general but any dog can offer aggression. Conformation (dog show) dogs are all intact and a dog show is a very, very non-aggressive place. Conformation trainers are not noted for their expertise in anything other than making a dog look pretty for the judges. If they can keep a lid on intact male dogs then testicles aren’t the primary cause of aggression.

These are only a few of the main ‘hearsay myths’ that have become lodged in our collective knowledge. As humans we have a desire to have simple, ready answers to what are often complex issues. The simplest way to control this urge is to swallow what someone else says. The tougher way is to examine the map so you don’t end up in Montana trying to find the Monorail.


One thought on “The Distorted World of Hearsay Expertise:

  1. Actually, conformation dog show handlers rountinely live with, travel with and manage multiple, intact dogs. As a result, they tend to have pretty god pack management skills including the forsight to know when to NOT put two dogs together in a wy that isn’t highly controlled or restricted.

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