Recently I met up with someone whom I had not seen in years. I soon realized why it had been so long. Within half an hour I was getting all sorts of unsolicited advice on how to improve my life and what might be the source of any issues I might be experiencing – not that I had actually discussed any of these “issues.”
We all know that person – someone who means well but who ends up creating greater distance between us and them by not knowing when to put the brakes on.
We’ve all probably been that person at some point as well.
Unsolicited advice permeates all levels of life. It has been documented within the realm of parenting, and “Mommy wars” cause unneeded stress for people just trying to do the right thing.
God knows it also happens in the dog world.
We have a dog, maybe two and suddenly we are the greatest experts on all things pup-related.
One story I can relate is when I took Rufus to obedience school – the one where we eventually got the boot. I have realized with some surprise that the reason I don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings towards that place is not for the obvious reason. In fact, they were well within their rights as a business to say, “Your dog has issues we cannot deal with.” Sure, it frustrated me at the time, and I wish I had checked to see if they were certified behaviorists before handing over $200 (they were not). But I soon found another trainer, and Rufus and I were good to go.
No – the reason this school causes eye-rolling from me was a certain know-it-all who worked inside. A little over a year ago, Rufus and I showed up for a class, the day after he’d spent Labor Day weekend puking up bile after eating sour cherries. It had been an awful weekend and until I gave him carefully measured out Pepcid AC, nobody was sleeping, and poor Rufus’ throat was sore and raw. On the day of the class he had a dry cough.
The receptionist asked, “Is he OK? It sounds like kennel cough.”
I explained to her about the weekend and the puking, and that he’d had his vaccinations – in fact, they had the paperwork stating that. So while it sounded bad, he was not infected. That should have been enough.
Her: “He could still have kennel cough.”
Me: “He doesn’t have kennel cough.”
Her: “Just like I could still get the flu after a flu vaccination, he could get kennel cough after his vaccination.”
Me: “True enough, but I just explained what happened. His throat is raw.”
Her: “When was the last time he was in day care?”
Me: “Two weeks ago.”
Her: “You need to be careful about kennel cough.”
Me: “Yes, My family once had a dog who had it. I know it’s bad. This isn’t it.”
Diagnosing problems from where she sat must have been really easy. I understood her initial worry, so I explained what was going on. That ought to have been enough. Unfortunately, her inner vet could not stop talking. She may not realize that she made a fool of herself. In fact, she probably thought she performed an excellent public service.
This may have been less about advice and more about her needing to be right. I’m not sure that it matters. Whatever the cause, it was unnecessary and, frankly, obnoxious.
And here’s the thing: unless we have a strong inner censor, we are all prone to doing this. I have done it, I know. Others have done it. I have witnessed friends doing it, and I see it on line all the time. When asking for advice, it’s going to show up. That’s awesome. But even then, people need to know boundaries. Nobody is asking you to explain how smart you are. They are asking for something succinct and helpful.
I have taken on walking dogs for some extra cash (and to get me out of the house), and every day I walk a Portuguese Water Dog who is the most stubbornly chill dog I’ve ever known. All she wants to do is hang out in her house. She doesn’t growl, whimper, shake, pant, or do anything indicating ill-health. She just doesn’t dig walks. Sometimes I get a bit of anxiety walking her because I’m nervous some self-appointed expert will assume that she’s sick or that I’m hurting her, and then proceed to tell me everything I ought to do. I won’t go into the details of how many professional dog people per week put their hands on this dog (it’s a lot), but rest assured that she is fine.
We see dogs behave in a certain way and we make assumptions about them or their owners. And there is a very strong chance that we are completely wrong. Even if we are partially right, we are still wallowing in a big pool of wrong. We do it to loved ones and strangers alike. Some people love us in spite of it. Others avoid us because of it.
I’m going to do my part to back off, unless specifically called upon to give advice. I’m also going to cut others off with a curt “thank you” when being offered evidence of their brilliance.
Sophie has been the easy dog. She loves meeting others, doesn’t get territorial, and plays well. Clearly that means I am just an awesome dog person, obviously. I thought this was the case until Rufus showed up. Rufus has been the challenge. He has a lot going on. He barks at others and doesn’t always play well. Does that mean I’m a bad dog owner? Not really. I’ve gone out of my way to help this dog because I love him and because I want a safe dog. Rufus still has issues. Lots of dogs have issues. And trust me when I say that as dog owners, we are well aware of them. We all take good care of our dogs and still get different results in the end. And I don’t know everything. When I need help I seek it out. (Just ask my friend Morriah who used to get texts from me every other day.) So let’s all cool it with the quick diagnoses and even quicker advice giving. Nobody needs the never-ending PSA, no matter how well-intentioned.