When Is Education Butting In?

As I am sure you are all brutally aware, I despise unsolicited advice. Well meaning as it might be, it makes my shoulders twitch and my eyebrows raise. If you want to guarantee I don’t do something, make a “friendly” suggestion. I am sure to do the opposite. It’s not necessarily a part of my personality of which I am proud but I have been this way as far back as I remember. At least as far back as my teenage years.

My poor, long-suffering parents.

Because I am so sensitive about unasked for opinions, unless explicitly implored, I typically hold back from offering helpful hints to others. Support and encouragement, yes. All the time. Advice, never. Even when I can see someone really struggling. After all, who am I to tell someone what to do? Chances are the other person is just as smart or capable as I am to figure it out.

Can you tell there is a however coming?

On Sunday, I read a post on Something Wagging This Way Comes that made me wonder if I am wrong in keeping my thoughts to myself. Maybe a little friendly education can be kind.

I have this friend. Let’s call her Alice. I am pretty sure Alice doesn’t read this blog  – at least, I hope she doesn’t. Alice has two dogs. One was inherited through her partner and one she purchased as a puppy about a year ago.

The older dog has no training. At all. He is so wild neither Alice or her partner can even walk him. This dog spends 97% of his life outside. This alone doesn’t bother me as the dog is of a breed who may prefer to live outdoors. It’s more the fact that the dog is left to his own devices for the same amount of time. He is put in the backyard and left alone. Almost permanently. Alice doesn’t feel this dog is her responsibility as he belonged to her partner before she moved in. They throw food in the yard for him and fill his water dish and that’s pretty much it.

The younger dog, I recently found out, was brought home to be a companion for the first. I don’t think I need to elaborate much further.

Alice isn’t a bad person. She grew up with a dog and has always loved animals. Though we’ve had our differences in the past, I don’t think she is being deliberately neglectful. She has a pretty busy social life and her partner is often away for work. Alice may just not realize what her dogs need.

Up till now I’ve stayed silent. But after ruminating over Pamela’s post I wonder if I am doing Alice and her dogs a disservice. Instead of just shaking my head and moving on, should I reach out to her? Offer my help?

I know there is probably a better way to do this. Perhaps a gently worded email, something like “I hear you have been having difficulty with your dogs. I have some experience with issues like these and may have some suggestions for you if you are interested…”

Would that be too forward?

How would you handle this situation? Should I just mind my own business? I do worry for her dogs and am afraid one or both of them may find themselves in a shelter before too long. Alice clearly needs some help, but is it really my place to step in? If you were Alice, would you be open to a little unsolicited advice?

22 thoughts on “When Is Education Butting In?

  1. Ha, I have no problem with butting in. The trick is always to figure out ways of getting onside with the person but if worse comes to worse, even if it’s not acted on now, even if wrecks a relationship, I will speak. I will try to speak kindly. I will try to empathize and I will try to find some middle ground to work on but I will speak.

    “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” (attributed to lots of people)

    & Elie Wiesel: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”


    • You make some good points. Unfortunately, our relationship is kind of complicated. I worry that not only will she be angry with me, but she won’t listen or make any changes, rendering my words pointless. I want to be helpful and actually make a difference in her dogs’ lives. Right now I am not sure it’s possible.


  2. Oy.

    This is a tough one.

    I also don’t like giving unsolicited advice (and also hate to receive it), but once solicited, I admit I like to help out, and probably over do it.

    Luckily for me, I have that “other job” with the training company where I’m actually paid to give dog advice, and that really releases any of those tendencies, so I’m not just approaching strangers in public.

    For this case, I think it really comes down to your relationship with “Alice” – does she know you well enough that she will interpret the offer for help as exactly what it is (a kind offer of help), and not as judgment or dismay? If so, I say go for it!

    I think your passive idea about the email is a nice gateway (very Canadian, which is likely why I like it) to offer help and support (and maybe steer from the idea of advice). You’ve got a lot of knowledge and experience she can draw from, and it can only benefit the dog (and Alice).

    If there’s to lose, and she can’t do anything other than say “no thanks”, what’s the harm in trying?


    • Heh, me too. I will remain quiet but if someone does happen to ask my opinion they are definitely going to get it! Especially if it is dog-related.

      I would never approach a stranger in public. That I don’t feel is ever really a good idea. I don’t know them or their history or their dog’s history. Anything I say will probably be useless at best or rude at worst. If asked by strangers, I usually just recommend they give my trainer a call.

      My friendship with Alice is complicated. We’ve known each other for a very long time as our parents are good friends. Unfortunately things have always been up and down between us. We are always going to be connected through our families but if that wasn’t the case I probably would have cut her out of my life a long time ago. She’s not a bad person, but our personalities don’t mesh well. I worry she will take offense if I say something, even well meaning, which will just make things more awkward in the future.

      But I thought maybe if I just make it super casual, give her the ability to choose to listen to my suggestions or not, maybe I will get her thinking? Maybe she will make some changes on her own?

      Ugh. So tough.


      • Hmm..
        I was initially going to say that your relationship with Alice makes my answer not so cut-and-dry, but it really doesn’t. In fact, I think it gives you the opportunity to step in. Since you two don’t really mesh anyway, it’s not like you’re jeopardizing something valuable if she takes offence – and if it goes well, then you add the bond of dog-stuff to help foster a better relationship, since really, because your families know each other, neither of you are going anywhere.


  3. Tough spot. I’m not great at opening my mouth, although it is something I really want to change about myself – at least for times when it really matters. I can’t see how a friendly email can hurt. Or if you are friendly with this person, maybe you can visit for coffee or something, and ask if you can meet her dogs while you are there, and maybe a conversation will start from there….? Like she might say, oh, well I would, but they jump all over you, or something of that nature – and then the door is open…. Good luck. 🙂


  4. Oh I can soooo relate! I try so hard not to give my opinion in comments (although I do slip up sometimes), unless asked. Instead, I like to write something that tells the person, well, I relate to what they’re saying. That’s one of the reasons why I like blogging, it makes me feel like I’m not the only crazy dog person on the planet, and I can “talk” about things that would have most people changing the subject.

    I hope I’m not a but in’er….I hate being told what to do. However, sometimes advice that people have left on my blog have been really useful.

    I like your idea of offering to help in an email, and then she can take it from there.

    But, I’m not telling you to send her an email 🙂


  5. That’s a delicate situation – and it does depend on your relationship with that person. It never hurts to gently make some suggestions or offer advice. The worst that can happen is they can say “no thanks” or just ignore you. But at least you know you’ve tried and haven’t done it for any reason other than to help a dog or dogs in need.


  6. I am the queen of giving advice! Of course, in my line of work, most times people ask for it but I often deal with knowing that the person asking for advice may not see eye to eye with what I have to say so here are my strategies:

    Face to face is always preferred. You want to talk to your friend because you care about her and her dog. She will be able to see that when you speak with her but in an email, your intent could very easily be misunderstood.

    Don’t just give advice but commiserate. Share an experience that relates to her situation. I never give advice (or try really hard not to) without sharing a story about my own experiences. I think people respond better to advice if they get the feeling that you’ve been there before or can relate to where they are.

    Offer assistance. Maybe give her the name of your trainer, offer a tip to help her with a certain behavior or recommend your favorite training book. Many times people just don’t know where to start and so they maintain the status quo. If you really want to help, help her make that first step.

    Good luck!


  7. I love advice, unsolicited or otherwise, as long as its done in the right spirit and with a kind heart. I have a lot to learn and if someone else has experience, why not? 🙂

    Yes, I would write her. If she listens, her dogs will thank you for it.


  8. I don’t know. I probably give far too much advice, but if I think the action (or lack of action) is harming the dog, I speak up. If I saw a dog in a sweltering car, I would speak up. The dogs cannot speak for themselves. I am no expert, but I feel confident that I know when a situation is bad. I try to limit my unwanted advice. If you want to walk your dog with a halter instead of a choke, its none of my concern. If you want to let your dog pull you like a rag doll when walking, don’t care. But if you want to walk your dog on the blazing hot asphalt, I might suggest a different route. Of course most people don’t want unsolicited advice.


  9. I’m a total buttinsky and I think for the sake of the dog you should be one too. If you lose a friendship trying to help the helpless, it was probably not much of a friendship. That sounds harsh, but neglecting dogs is one of my hot buttons.


  10. I think I’ve mentioned here before that while I never feel obligated to take other people’s advice, I’m always fascinated by what advice people will give. Some of the best changes in my life have come as a result of unsolicited advice. Everyone has a different perspective and I enjoy hearing those perspectives. Even if disagree wholeheartedly with their advice, if it’s respectfully shared, then I’m always grateful that they cared enough (about me or my dogs or the cause they’re championing) to share it.

    That being said, I know that am probably the exception to the rule. I’d take into consideration the kind of person your friend s, how close you are and how upset you would be if she did take it the wrong way. I can remember a time when you referred to Shiva as a “tornado on a leash”, so you do genuinely understand where she’s at and probably have some great advice that could really help. Have you ever talked to her about how much you struggled with Shiva before someone (your trainer? a friend? whoever?) helped you find another way? Maybe that’s a natural opening to start a discussion…good luck!


  11. I’m glad you linked to the Something Wagging post, I somehow missed it!

    I do think that it may be possible to find a way to approach Alice about her dogs. Not knowing her, I’m not sure of the best way to suggest the wording, obviously.

    Before I butt in, I do try to gauge how “desperate” or how “obstinate” a person might be about advice. At the library, I’ve sent a fair amount of people home with Patricia McConnell books when they came in looking for Cesar Millan, and of that I’m proud. I try to think more of the dog and less of what I feel about the humans; really, some people just don’t know, and jumping down their throat won’t help them. It’s a lessons for me as well, trying to educate people, and I do try to do it with care.


  12. I’ve written about things on my blog instead of butting in, somehow it helps me vent a little bit about it. I DID suggest to my friends that Kobe needed some training and that they needed to start treating him like a dog (let him walk on his own two feet instead of carrying him around!) – my hubby told me just to tell say that he was “fine” and let it go, but I couldn’t. I’m worried that he will end up biting someone. I don’t feel like it was unsolicited since they asked me to watch him for a week and asked how he was. But, at the same time, I felt bad when they left – I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

    I think if you approach it by sharing your experiences, she will appreciate the help. It’s hard to care so much, isn’t it? Good luck Kristine!!


  13. This is a tricky one. I think you have to ask yourself if it all went t**s up and Alice didn’t want to be your friend anymore how would you feel. I do think if you word it right, she may well be pleased to have some help. Maybe she’d consider your help to find the older dog a home.


  14. Oh this is so timely! It was only today that I was talking to someone your realized how his friend was doing all types of bad things with his younger dog that will ultimately cause problems in the future. At first I thought it was his right to step in, but then I started thinking about it, and the one thing that makes me really frustrated is when all these people see photos of our dog walks and make negative comments on the types of training tools some of the dogs wear. They have no idea about our situation, what their dog is like, and what it’s like walking a dog in the city. Kind of the same thing?
    Though one of the teacher tricks I’ve learned….I say something demeaning about myself to open a conversation to start a conversation, maybe something like: “I’m having this problem with my dog where______ and it’s bad because ________. How do you do this with your dog?”


  15. I think I butt in. It is always well meaning, I’m just excited about something I know or something that worked and I want to share it.

    My thought (like mentioned above) is to always start with something about my dog that I’ve struggled with. “Gee I’ve really struggled with Delilah pulling me on our walks, have you ever experienced that with Fido? No, oh how did you get him to work so well on leash? Oh you do, I’ve had success with …..perhaps we could walk together and I could show you what has worked for me.”

    OR “hey, I’ve noticed that Fido and Spot never play together. Didn’t you get Spot specifically to be a companion for Fido? Whatever happened with that? If you’d like I’d be happy to come over and help you.”

    I’ve found that most people really don’t know all the valuable tools out there to help them with training their dogs. You could even mention the youtube videos, I remember a while back you had a post that one of your friends had done about clicker training, you could perhaps start with one of those. Send her an e-mail with “Hey Alice, check this video out, I want to try this with Shiva” and see where that gets you.

    Too long huh? Sorry you asked? LOL


  16. Thanks for the shout out for the article. You certainly took the idea in an interesting direction.

    I’ve had a similar experience with a neighbor. We don’t have a friendship so there aren’t all the interpersonal issues involved. But I don’t expect instruction, lectures etc. would be well-received. I also don’t believe the dog is being neglected in quite the way Alice’s dog is.

    Instead, I asked myself what I was willing to do to help this dog. I’ve gotten their permission to take the dog out of the yard to play with Honey (I leave a note so they don’t worry if they come home). I recently offered to watch him if they needed to travel. I think they might take me up on this because they have a vacation coming up soon.

    Basically, I’ve decided to do what I can to add some stimulation to the dog’s life. I add a little training when we’re together. And I hope it improves the relationship. I think it has because the dog has not been outside on his own nearly as much.

    If they didn’t live within sight of my backyard, I’m not sure I could pull this off. It would probably come off as kind of creepy if I rode my bike across town to amuse someone else’s dog.

    But I’m very thankful for Honey in my life. Because having the excuse of needing someone to play with her has provided a great opening.


  17. Glad I am not the only one who hates unsolicited advice. i tend to do the opposite too. I also am hesitant to butt in, but will say something if I feel like someone is doing something wrong (most of the time).

    I feel sorry for Alice’s dogs to be honest, so maybe you could start the conversation with “it must be hard having two dogs…” or “It must be hard to take the time to spend with dog #1 now that you have dog #2. How are you doing with all of it?”

    I know Kristine. I have an issue with it too. My neighbor likes to grab his puppy by the scruff of the neck if she doesn’t listen. It makes me cringe, but I can’t seem to say anything either. This is the guy who claims his dogs comes every time but she doesn’t. Ugh. I hate this kind of stuff.


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