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 what 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 40% 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 resulted 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.



Build the Learning

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Management or Training

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Key Reading

The Right Bed in the Right Spot

Resting and sleeping are not necessarily the same state. Good sleep where we feel safe and comfortable is important for us all.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Back to Basics?

The word “basic” is often derided as synonymous with “shallow,” but in its origins it is the very opposite: foundational, profound, supportive.

The Whole of The Dog

We cannot divide training into compartments of fast recalls, or sit for greeting, or loose leads as everything we ask of the dogs is interrelated.

Not Today and Not for My Sheepdogs

Standard protocols of extinction, impulse control, counterconditioning are quickly grabbed off the shelf as satisfactory solutions. These solutions are unlikely to help your collie, your sheepdog as the focus is heavily on suppression of who they are and why they live.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

The Cost of Cherrypicking

When we admit that the ideas we’re sharing are derived from the work of others, we demonstrate our own commitment to learning

A Family of Multiple Dogs

Another addition is not just an extra bed and bowl. It is important to build a home that is healthy, content and well-balanced.

A Road to Nowhere

When familiarity is stripped away we seek recognisable signposts that will take us back to comfort and security. This is survival instinct. It is worth listening to as it keeps us alive.

Top Training

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

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


  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.

  2. Margaret Gray

    Your second point is spot on. There is too much dogma and “rule” following. Unless people have a sound understanding of first principles they have little capacity for generalising and genuine problem solving. We must constantly delve for the underlying first principles in any scenario we are exploring. That way opens opportunities for best fit solutions.


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