Last weekend I attended a free seminar about dog body language by Your Dog’s Friend, a non-profit committed to decreasing the amount of dogs who end up in shelters by educating owners. If you’re in the MD/DC/VA area I would absolutely recommend checking this organization out. Some upcoming free workshops they’re giving include how to address annoying behavior problems (digging, barking, jumping, etc.), dealing with an aging dog, and what is/is not aggression – all beneficial topics for any dog owner.
In just a two hour session, I learned more about dog body language than I had in a whole year. It was fascinating. That is where I’ll stop though, because I did not learn nearly enough to start regurgitating it back to you.
My reason for bringing up this seminar is because of another idea they covered during the lecture: the concept of learning. The speaker, Jules Nye from Sit, Stay, and Play, outlined four stages of learning:
1. You don’t know what you don’t know
2. You do know what you don’t know
3. You do know what you do know
4. You don’t know what you do know
I’ve found that as animal advocates, we usually find the most frustration with people in category #1 – those who don’t realize what they’re being clueless about. The person who lets their dog run up to your reactive dog, not realizing that not all dogs are social butterflies. The person whose pet’s nails grow super long because they don’t realize they need to cut them. The person who uses retractable leashes in busy places because they don’t see the problem with the lack of control. While many of us see these things as common sense, there is a true learning curve for those who don’t realize the consequences of their actions.
This is why the part of advocacy that is so important is education. We cannot expect everyone to just know all the ins and outs of being a sensible dog owner. Were you born knowing the importance of spay/neuter? When you got your first dog, were you sensitive to every single other dog owner you came in contact with? What about when you first started training your dog, did you automatically know how to do it? We have to remember that those in category #1 that drive us so crazy (“I can’t believe they would let their dog do that!”) often just haven’t been informed of alternatives to what they are doing. Most times all it takes is one easy conversation to move someone from a category #1 to category #2 – and what a difference that makes! Then, even if they still don’t know it all, at least they are aware of what they don’t know.
So just remember: if you don’t know what you don’t know, you can never learn more. Help others help their animals by opening their eyes to what they need to learn. So many people are willing to improve themselves, they just don’t know how they should! It’s tough for us in category #4 (on some topics, not all) to realize that we know what we know because we’ve learned it and that it hasn’t just always been common knowledge to us, so we should be more understanding of those who are not yet where we are.
Just one year ago Little Zee was adopted, and I thought I knew so much. But the truth was that I knew only a small fraction of what I know now, and a miniscule amount compared to what I plan on learning over my life time. Every time I get preachy or self-righteous, I have to remind myself of that. I am always learning!
“The learning and knowledge that we have, is, at the most, but little compared with that of which we are ignorant.” -Plato