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Getting Unsolicited Advice About Your Dog
When people try to be helpful but aren’t

Advice is wonderful (really it is!) but only when you want it and are ready for it. It’s certainly nothing close to wonderful when people are condescendingly presenting it to you like a gracious gift with the attitude that they are brilliant and you are ignorant. Dogs are well loved by so many people who are knowledgeable about them, which is a good thing. However, what is NOT a good thing is when that leads to unsolicited advice with the assumption that the receiver knows nothing about dogs.

Over the years, a great many people who don’t even know me have volunteered their opinion on what I should or shouldn’t do regarding the dog I am holding, walking, training or playing with. I’m not sure why it’s so common to feel confident that after observing a dog for 30 seconds, they have all the answers, but that’s often the case. I have been told I needed to be tougher with the dog and show him who’s boss more times than I can count. People have informed me that the breed of the dog I am with is dangerous or vicious. Some unsolicited advice has involved letting me know that the dog will never be properly trained if I use treats to teach him what to do.

Here are some other examples of unsolicited dog advice that has come my way:

  • He really needs x, y, or z supplement.
  • You should feed your dog a different type of food.
  • He really shouldn’t run so much with you. Ask your vet and you’ll see.
  • It’s time to put that old dog down—look at him!
  • He needs a new dog around—you should definitely get another one.
  • You should condition his coat with such-and-such product.
  • He’s too heavy—he needs to lose a few pounds./She’s too thin. You’re not feeding her enough.

I generally respond with a cheerful, “That’s certainly something to think about.” It usually gets the person to leave me alone and it is completely non-committal. Best of all, it leaves me free to think that the advice was unwelcome, unhelpful and wrong without having been dishonest. I know other trainers and behaviorists who refuse to respond to a person giving unsolicited advice or actually say, “Shut up!” but neither of those suit my style.

What unsolicited advice about your dog could you just as well have done without and how did you respond?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

photo by Brian Kelly/Flickr

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