My Lack of Expertise as a Trainer and How It Relates to Pipe Insulation

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 may 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 behavior science. 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” regarding 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, 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.” Or trying eight weird tricks with the hope of finding the one. I trust and support trainers who seek to understand the science and apply it consistently and systematically, and 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.

couch with foam pipe insulation running under the base
Foam pipe insulation running along the underside edge of the couch 

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. The original article I got the idea from is gone now. But here’s a 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 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.

piano with foam pipe insulation running under the edge and under the pedals
I used halved pieces of the insulation under the piano.

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 expected 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 experience that I didn’t have.

We can laugh, but it’s not a stretch to realize that the 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 terrible 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 your dogs might 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 don’t know 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 really, 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 develop a bias towards it. It’s my job as a writer to think beyond my 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

20 thoughts on “My Lack of Expertise as a Trainer and How It Relates to Pipe Insulation

    1. Thanks, and you are very kind! Most of us need to keep it in mind I suspect–the temptation is always there to step outside our areas of expertise, even if it’s just sharing something without thinking it through.

  1. The lovely instructor at a puppy class I took Sophy to extolled the joys of simple toys – why not fill a box with crumpled paper and let your puppy find a hidden treat or toy? Next week the idea was removed from the programme, after I explained how Sophy had found the box so much fun that she then disembowelled every waste paper basket she could find. It is still one of Sophy’s favourite games…

    1. Oh gosh, of course! I have to tell this on a friend of mine who had ridgebacks–she is **excellent** at management and antecedent arrangements so as to make countersurfing difficult and so that it doesn’t pay off. She puts a magnetic mat right outside the kitchen and all dogs who come to her house learn to stay there. But when one of her dogs got older, she started letting him search the house for his meals. She started putting some food just a little bit too high, and presto! She taught him to countersurf!

  2. I don’t know why, but this reminded me that a friend of mine bought my dog a particular stuffed animal when the dog finally went blind from glaucoma. The friend had had a Maltese who went blind, and on its own started carrying the same stuffed animal (almost bigger than the Maltese itself) around with her because it would bump into things before the dog could – very smart idea on the dog’s part, if you think about it. My friend thought if she bought my dog the identical stuffed animal, the dog would immediately come up with the same idea and keep from hurting herself banging into walls and furniture. Sweet thought, but really, sometimes all you can do is shake your head… My dog was none too bright, but even if she had been, what are the odds that, just because the toy was the same, any blind dog would figure out how to use it in the identical way? Needless to say, my dog never used the toy in that way – didn’t, in fact, like the toy and never played with it.

    1. It’s a perfect example of, “It worked for my dog!” And yes, I think her impulse was very sweet.

  3. Eileen! I simply LOVE your posts. Living with dogs is an amazing journey, and attempting to serve people in that journey as a service provider (walking, training) is a real privilege and, for me, spiritually humbling challenge at times. Thank you for giving voice, with integrity and humor, to some of the experiences that we may all share in some way as we live and learn with dogs. . .

  4. I nominate this as “Best Title Ever”. You are an outstanding translator, Eileen, and just what many of us need (in addition to “Real Trainers”. Thank you for your ability both to share your bloopers and clearly explain scientific principles, with examples. And yes, I am taking your words to heart in several non-expert parts of my life too.

    Don’t tell me once upon a time you had snow in Florida (top photo of Summer and Zani)?!

      1. LOL – I had you so firmly planted in Florida that my mind is struggling to relocate you. The two videos are great. That Zani is a smart one, isn’t she!.

  5. I did smile at the point where you paused for laughter, because things made of foam are dog magnets here. But I hope you don’t get down on yourself. Now we know to say, ‘Here’s a trick you might want to try, to keep treats from going under furniture. If your dog isn’t a foam-shredder, it might work like a charm for you.’ P.S. I think that if the Chi mix finds a bully stick under the couch every day, the lining might become less fascinating. Let us know what happens/ed with that dogger.

    1. Thanks, Ingrid. Nice idea! Choo-Choo has grown out of shredding the couch lining. Nowadays she just pushes her toys under the couch, then bugs the humans to get them out for her!

  6. Your decorating skills are awesome! Jealous!!! It beats the X-pen barrier to the sofa. 🙂

  7. Yep, I did smile because I thought of my own dog (my chewing machine) and the chaos she would have created with that piece of insulation. 🙂

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