On dogs and teaching people to think skeptically   Leave a comment

During slow days at work, I’ve watched what is collequially known as daytime television, although reruns of M*A*S*H and Scrubs certainly isn’t too bad in this context. And sometimes I’ve watched some videos of “The Dog Whisperer”. And you know, it’s not really that bad a show either.

Now, if your first impulse is to yell at me and tell me about how he uses terms such as “energy” and the likes that seems to be associated with more paranormal activities, please don’t. Yes, I’ve noticed it, but apart from certain wordings and anthromorphications (i.e. describing a dog as having certain human qualities), my impression he basically does this mainly in order to make sure the actual information – i.e. the advice on how to handle a dog – can be understood by the receipients.

Let me explain further, in the Terry Pratchett novel “A Hat Full of Sky”, there is a witch (in this world, witches are sort of your closest thing to a general practitioner of medicine) who tries to get a family into the habit of digging their outhouse a fair way from their well, because getting traces of feces in your water supply is a bad thing. However, when you can best describe germs as “tiny, invisible biting creatures” in a world without readily available microscopes, it’s not easy to convince someone to follow your advice on something that you can’t readily imagine.

The solution comes in form of another witch, who understands what the farmers needs to hear. A story about goblins being attracted to the smell of the privy, and because the well is so near, playing around that as well. Of course, this is the Discworld, and goblins do exist here, but at the end of the day, they weren’t responsible, but the end result was nonetheless that the farmers would dig a new hole for their outhouse far away from the well before the day was over.

In a way, that’s what the dog whisperer does. He may use terminology that seems a bit “woo-ish” ( a term I intend to use as little as possible in this blog), but at the end of the day, he is actually teaching people that dogs are alive creatures, that their behaviour is in large part your responsibility.  And even more strangely, he teaches people to not treat dogs like people, but like dogs. Through antromorphication. Now that’s a neat feat.

Perhaps the most important aspect is that he never, ever gets angry. Not with the dogs, nor with the owners. He doesn’t ridicule them, or yell at them, or anything like that. He’s not even condenscending or smug. He acts as if he really wants to help people out, and that in turn makes them much more likely to listen to what he has to say. Sure, I bet there are plenty of unaired episodes where they just didn’t want to listen anyway, but overall, he is the absolutely, completely opposite to, say Gordon Ramsay.

And as far as skepticism is conserned, I think there are a few too many Ramsays trying to make a name of themselves, thinking they can talk down to everyone who doesn’t know what they know.

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