I’m reading this great book called The Death of Expertise. It has helped me think more clearly about my role as a dog blogger. It’s a fabulous book that I will write a review of a bit later. But here’s one piece of my response to it.
I am not an expert dog trainer. The people who are experts have specific training and education in that and are out there training a variety of dogs. They train a wider variety of dogs in a week than I have in my whole training life. Most of them have credentials and all of them seek and value ongoing education in their field.
I am also not an expert in learning theory. You find those among the PhDs in applied behavior analysis and psychology, and the credentialed behavior analysts.
What I am is a decent writer with experience and a passion for writing about some complex subjects for lay audiences, or at least audiences who are “lay” with regard to that subject. I’m a translator.
I’ve had a post in the works for a long time about the difference between professional trainers and me, but it seems, I dunno, a bit egocentric. I think I’ll skip the details for now. I just need to do my job and stay within my areas of expertise, conveying information from true experts. And to make it clear when I am speaking only for myself.
So I don’t think I need to go on and on about it to you readers out there. How about a humorous example instead? One where I almost blew it. For some of you, this may include a useful tip. Others can just have a little laugh.
Pipe Insulation Under the Couch To Catch Toys and Treats
I mostly avoid writing about tips and tricks, since it’s only one small step from there to what my friend Debbie calls, “Throwing sh*t against the wall”-style dog training. You know, seeing problem behaviors as solvable with “one weird trick.” I trust and support trainers who seek to understand the science and apply it consistently and systematically, and generally not those who have a set of tricks, a pat answer, or a protocol.
But tips and tricks can have their place in setups and infrastructure, and I ran across a tip that worked really well for me. I thought it was genius. I came across it on a “mom” board on Pinterest, and immediately saw the implications for the R+ animal training household. I thought it would be safe to share. Moms and dog owners can definitely use some of the same management tools!
The tip is that you can buy foam pipe insulation, which comes in various sizes, and stick it strategically under your furniture to prevent treats and toys from rolling underneath. Like in this photo.
The space on the right is where the couch leg is, so there’s not really a gap in the barrier. Sorry if that bugs the compulsive people. Here’s the original article I saw—the author’s version is neater. Here’s an even more visually satisfying example for you crafty types.
The insulation is squishy, so if you get the right size you can squish it into place and it will expand to fill all the gaps. You can find it at most any home improvement type store in the U.S., and hopefully other countries.
I did this a couple of years ago. I lined the edges of the underside of my couch, and those of my piano. Both of these are prime areas for treats to roll, and in the case of the piano, there is a cadre of ants that hangs out under the house right there. They’re just waiting to come out from under the floor for something like kibble to chew on.
It worked fabulously well for the couch with 100% efficacy. Somewhat less so on the piano since treats still went behind it at times, but I’m sure handier people than I could figure that one out, too.
Is the Tip Really Safe To Share?
So my friend has a Chihuahua mix who was about a year old at the time I learned the pipe insulation trick. The pup would get under her couch and chew on the lining. I had just installed the pipe insulation under my furniture, so that was fresh in my mind. I thought, “Hey, why don’t we put the pipe insulation under her couch the same way to keep the pup from chewing on the lining?”
<<Here I pause while every professional dog trainer laughs and laughs. So do lots of the amateurs.>>
We cut the insulation and installed it under her couch. The pup was delighted! We all learned that pipe insulation shreds even better than the cloth underside of the couch. And if you work on it hard enough, you can pull it out from under the couch and drag it around!
If I had trained more than one puppy in my life, I would have anticipated that, at least as a strong likelihood. My gosh, the problem was that she was chewing on stuff under the couch in the first place! How could I possibly think that pipe insulation would become a magic barrier? We would have needed something more like an iron bar! This issue didn’t even really require expertise, just a bit of experience that I didn’t have.
We can laugh, but it’s not a stretch to realize that that tip could even be dangerous. The pipe stuff rips off in chunks and it’s more than likely that a pup could swallow some. And it would be a very bad thing to swallow.
That’s the problem with tips and tricks.
So now that I have shared the tip, here’s my warning:
Don’t put pipe insulation under your furniture if there is a chance your dogs will chew it. And don’t assume you can put it far enough under the furniture that you can reach it but the dogs can’t. Just don’t assume that.
Clara is such a chewer that I have no idea why she didn’t go for the pipe insulation when I installed it at my house. But she never did. I could say that gave me a false sense of security. But the truth is that I didn’t think it through. I just saw a tip, it worked for me, and I figured it would work for my friend with a puppy.
We could do with a lot less of that type of assuming on the Internet and in the world.
When something works for us (and sometimes even when it doesn’t) we tend to develop a bias towards it. It’s my job as a writer to think beyond my own situation to the wider world where my writing is shared. So when I say I ‘m not a pro trainer, it’s not some kind of false humility. I’m really not. And it’s my job to keep that in mind when I am thinking of sharing any kind of information.
Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson