Who is the expert on your dog? It’s not your vet, it’s not your trainer, it’s not your behaviorist, or your local pet store cashier, or your mom, and it’s not your neighbor, and it’s certainly not the stranger at the park. It’s you!
Now hold on, I think experts are great, I want to be one after all! There are some brilliant experts out there. Those people are the ones I learn from. I read the books animal behaviorist write, I watch the videos dog trainers film, I have conversations with my vet, I learn from my mentors. The great thing is, those that have dedicated many hours to studying, applying, and practicing their crafts, have so much useful knowledge to share. But all those professionals will tell you that they are not experts on all dog topics. For example, trainers (though not regulated–look for certification and the use of positive reinforcement) have learned ways to train our dogs; they know dog behavior and how to get a dog to open a refrigerator door, but they aren’t experts on tumors or dental disease unless they are vets. Vets are experts on the medical aspects of your dog, but unless they are educated behaviorist, they aren’t experts in separation anxiety. When you do need to consult an expert, make sure it’s a topic that they have studied! But even then, are they an expert on YOUR dog?
Dogs don’t give you advice on how to put pants on!
When you have a reactive dog or even a dog with other issues like separation anxiety, digging holes to China, or destruction of all things lovely in your home, people love to give advice, experts and non-experts! When you’re walking your dog and he’s barking his head off, it’s pretty obvious to the public that you have a little bit of a doggie problem. You are probably going to be handed advice, often unsolicited. Most of the time the strangers on the street or the pet store people are well meaning, but they might not have a wealth of knowledge on the topic and they don’t know the whole story. It’s also frankly, no one’s business either. I’ve had strangers at a park tell me to muzzle him and that will stop the barking. Well, a good muzzle where he can still open his mouth, will allow him to bark and the muzzles that keep their mouths closed are not great for long periods of time because they can’t pant. So, no, a muzzle is not how you stop him from barking, but thanks.
And then you get advice from the real experts. I had a dog trainer tell me to put a prong collar on my dog. As a pretty uneducated new dog owner, I followed along. Every time that collar had pressure applied, my dog screamed and cowered in fear. The dog trainer told us to keep using it and that he would be fine. My young dog, who most likely had been abused as a puppy, had experienced enough pain in his life and I refused to allow him to be in any more pain in my care. That was the end of that.
I next had a vet tell me “you should run him 3 miles, 5 days a week.” Are you serious? Yes, my dog is high energy and he needs physical exercise, but once he takes a nap after his run, he’ll be back at it again. (Also, are you going to come by my house to run him? I’m sure not running 15 miles a week!) What he does need is a balance of mental exercise and proper rest (I know I make pretty poor decisions when I’m exhausted).
So what do you do with all this advice from non-experts and experts alike? Well, you politely say thank you and move on. You can decide to use the information, but first look at the source and then get a second opinion if you feel at all uncomfortable with the advice. You may not have a veterinarian degree or hours and hours spent training dogs, but you know your dog.
That’s right, you are an expert on your dog. You spend your time with your dog, so you know them best. No one else knows your dog like you because know one else sees the whole picture! You know your dog’s habits, when he likes to poop, what his behaviors are in different situations, what their body language is trying to tell you, what her favorite treats are, and their sweet personality.
The knowledge that you are the expert on your dog is empowering because it can help you make the decisions that are best for your dog. As a reactive dog owner you are going to need help and you’ll need some expert advice (you probably won’t need advice from the guy who once had a dog that chased its tail so he knows everything about compulsive disorders in dogs), but it’s up to you to know your dog and if that’s the right advice for them. Trust what you know about your dog. Professionals may be experts on certain topics, but you are the expert on your dog.