Be Cautious About Seeking Online Advice



I often scroll through posts on the Facebook page of a rescue group that I very occasionally have the opportunity to help. It’s a large group, national in scope, and there are dozens of postings to the page daily. Some are from experienced dog owners, with decades of breed rescue under their belts (and dozens if not hundreds of canine lives saved), and others are from first-time dog owners.

It’s a generalization, but most of the experienced people posts pictures of dogs they own or have participated in rescuing; the newbies tend to post frantic questions about their dogs’ health and behavior, and ask for advice.

I often get ideas for articles that I think we ought to cover in WDJ in places like this – particularly when I see a topic that engenders particularly bad advice, or at least, little or no good advice.

More often than not, though, it’s painful for me to read the posts from people who are looking for advice – not because they are asking for help, but because they are looking for help in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s one thing to ask the opinion of other experienced dog owners for a minor, non-urgent problem – say, a very slow-growing wart on your dog’s skin, or a usually non-life-threatening behavior issue, such as counter-surfing (stealing food off the kitchen counters). It makes even more sense to ask these questions of people who have experience with dogs of the same breed or type, particularly when the issue you are facing is something that breed is known for. And it makes perhaps the most sense to ask a wide panel of people you don’t know when you have already consulted several relevant and genuine experts – that is, you have paid money to veterinarians or professional trainers – and have not received a satisfactory diagnosis and/or solution, or have received conflicting opinions about what to do. This sort of “crowd-sourcing” might just elicit some solutions or ideas that you haven’t already heard or considered; they sometimes do give you an idea of another avenue to try.

But it makes no sense to me at all to ask people you don’t know for diagnostic and treatment advice for something that you have no clue about – a condition that you have not yet brought to the attention of the appropriate knowledgeable expert. If your dog has a health issue that has you concerned, please don’t ask an Internet chat group what it might be or what to do about it; call your vet first! And then discuss the vet’s advice with your online friends. And if your dog’s behavior could cause harm to himself or others – if he’s developed predatory or aggressive behavior, has no recall, or escapes from your yard regularly – please start looking for the most experienced positive trainer you can find to help you with the problem!

I say this because I’m often astonished at the seriously bad advice that’s always mixed in with the well-meaning but useless advice and the spot-on sound advice that can be found on these boards. And each type of advice will have its adherents and people who “like” that particular approach; you generally can’t just go with the posts that have the most people who agree (indicated by “likes”). Sometimes, the posters are being sarcastic and/or humorous, and the newbies don’t understand!

A case in point: recently, I read a post in which the owner of a dog wasn’t actually asking for anything, but was simply venting about her dog’s latest health challenge and a large resulting vet bill. She finished her post with something like, “Ah well, it’s nothing that a few months of rice and beans won’t fix.” And several people actually wanted to know how feeding the dog rice and beans was going to help the dog’s condition!!

Anyway, that’s my pet peeve: going to an online board when you really need to be paying for expert advice first.

Have you read some bad online advice? Share some cautionary tales with us!