How do you know what you don’t know?

by | May 14, 2018

mistrusting look from a collie

The age of trusting the professionals is fading fast. I am not sure anymore what exactly is a professional and the difference between genuine, self-styled and fake ?

With so much information freely available and shared when we open the gate to “looking for a xyz” we are struggling to recognise authenticity from smart marketing. Smart marketing is duplicating authenticity in their marketing and I am not just referring to fake copiers that take your money and run, but also the pseudo-experts that believe they are expert but maybe not. They have genuine belief in their own level of expertise and self-present  as such. How can we measure and qualify expertise?

Perhaps this will be a new qualification?

“Sniffing out authentic”.

“Odour detection for fakery”.

I was pressed into re-designing the website at the end of 2017. I duly scheduled my 3 week Christmas lock-out to knuckle down to this. It requires a strict no interruption policy. Up to that point I had been building sites with the help of straight forward drag-n-dump software, writing the necessities and doodling-up the pics. Good bit of amateur fun. My plans required me to upgrade my skills and I scheduled the new site launch by the end of January. Yay …. Mid May and I can now say the top is in view. I think. Or it may be one of those false summits loathed by any mountain teams, what you see is a hump, hiding the summit.

A week before Christmas I thought I knew enough to rebuild and step up a level, a week after I knew I didn’t. Wandering around the thousands of well-marketed and professional looking options that wanted my lifelong servitude I realised my level of knowledge was sufficient to show me what I was lacking. I had no enthusiasm for learning new languages or more complex system, but I did have a good idea of what I wanted and what I could afford financially and time investment.

My seeking hours started to filter out the folk that I “liked”. Not in the facebook sense, but in the connection to the design of their material and emphasis on the values of what they were promoting.

Designers can be externally hired and skilled to be able to communicate any type of message their client wants. But there is also a message in the words and visual appeal that is more than a single strategy, it oozes the ethos of the people behind the business.

My cookie-manager went bananas trying to work out want my site visiting was indicating about my personal interests. I was following a trail of recommended WordPress sites. These are not just blogger folk hosted by WP, but sites built in the style of WP, raising beyond 25% of the sites we now use.

Wouldn’t you just want to work with these people: ?

By trailing around with no particular urgency I was able to get a feel for the body of work the sites presented, not a single page, not an impressive landing page (the first page you hit), but how the site unfolded, how easy it was to take another step, and how much I wanted to explore.

I think we all have a natural detection process that we can listen to without an expert telling us what to listen to. We just need to prod it awake, and then listen to it.

This detection process needs to be on full alert in the dog world. Along with the well-intentioned newly-fresh businesses there is a malignant growth of cash-croppers seeking the vulnerable. The pet market has never suffered a recession. It is considered one of the prime areas to “make money whilst you sleep”.

My detection process in this area is well tuned, I can spot the imitators re-selling a process or product. I see the cherry-pickers attending the events to skim off and re-package the money-generating ideas. When examined on closer detail they simply do not have the skill or experience to apply or teach. My own ideas, creativity and well-intentioned advice has been completely distorted and result in abuse to dogs by imitators who had not learned the process with diligence or understanding.

It reminds me of the training protocol where the dog is taught to copy a person, but the dog has not actually travelled the learning steps to perform the activities, just jumped to the outcome. When this outcome is tested they have no learning stages that were wrapped in application problem solving to call upon. There is little flexibility or ability to tailor the copied behaviour to new situations.

Consider this:

A new product should be make your life easier, not try to replace expertise.

This is from the software engineers but just as easily applied to new dog stuff. A head collar does not replace taking responsibility for training your dog.

Imitators will fail the test of adapting and generalising.

They will not be able to meet the needs of the non-standard situation. There is an absence of depth of understanding. The way a behaviour is learned is always visible.

Look beyond the landing page, the immediate suck-you-in advert.

Seek the body of work of the organisation, the person or the team involved. Explore and develop a feel and question your personal trust-pilot. Look for their history, their experience, their priorities and biases. The first dog we train, trains us as a trainer.



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Key Reading

The Experienced Dog

Knowing your dog has receive sufficient preparation does not mean every eventuality, but a range of different conditions so that when the unexpected happens they will draw on their skills and solve the issue.

The Value of Experience

The non-experienced, or current generation of imposters, have attended a course, read a book, got a certificate and have yet to gain experience to deepen their knowledge or understanding of the subject, protocol, method …

Chasm opening up?

The more I see “sit, down, come, stay heel” as the essential basics the more I am moving further away from the general view of living with dogs.

Normal is always changing

What was normal in training 20 or 40 years ago is not the same today. There are folk persistently maintaining the normal of 1976, but fortunately there are enough folk with a deeper understanding of the processes that have moved normal forwards.

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

What is a Trainer?

I know what I am, as a trainer. But does my view of “A Trainer” coincide with, or even overlap with yours?

A Cue or not a cue?

With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.

When we train a dog it grows

Most training starts from necessity. Management is a necessity but it usually benefits all parties by a reduction of conflict. Are they expanding their skills to benefit us or for their benefit?

Heartbeat of living with dogs

I like to regard a “teacher of dogs” as someone who meets dogs in their world and teaches them how to be their best whilst living alongside us in our world.

The choice of lure

Luring teaches trainers essential skills. We learn how to use suggestion and guidance to shape behaviours. We learn how to explain dynamic movement in the cues from our hands. In combination with reinforcement, luring has without doubt, been one of the skills I value most as a trainer.

Top Training

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.


Preparing before you train and the final check list

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers

Luring: Hand lures

Learning hand-lure skills, Collect the food, engage, follow, feed.

1 Comment

  1. elisabeth weiss

    As always an interesting read. I had a similar thought process recently when a banker approached me who became enthusiastic about dog training and wanted to change careers. She was trying to decide where to apprentice. He exposure to training came from one person who helped her with her own dogs and a quick online clicker class. She was well intentioned but clearly did not have the tools or the information to differenciate between quality teaching and learning and behavior manipulation paired with management and bribery. Maybe eventually she will find out as she gains more knowledge, hopefully, or she will be a victim of confirmation bias.Confirmation bias is a powerful and comfortable place.


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