This past weekend I was offered some free advice. This wasn't so much a "click here" and get something free. I didn't think I was opting in. Instead, this was an add-on bonus I didn't know I was signing up for. I introduced myself to a person and in that moment I signed an invisible contract to be barraged with their wisdom and advice. Both of which were neither but were rather disguised as such. I had inquired about the persons services and in the same breath attempted to inform them of why I was asking. The latter was disregarded and instead their ignorance was bestowed upon me. Flapping in my face like a giant over-sized flag from a highway car dealership.
I'll save you the boring details. One total stranger, ran off on a tangent at another total stranger, without knowing any other detail involved. That kind of audacious willful ignorance is painful. Even more so coming from a professional. I apologize for being so vague but instead but I'm not generally for dragging anyone through the mud, even though they probably do deserve it. This is really about a terrible case of assumption and the reminder that the more you assume, the more ignorant you are. We will use animals for this conversation but the same hold true for anything else.
Assumption is present where empathy ends. To assume means you are looking inward at your own experiences and not at whatever you should be considering. In the case of a dog, to assume the reason for a behavior without observing it in some way and taking a history so that you can empathize and analyze is an exercise in willful ignorance. If labels and constructs are the first thing to come to mind when considering a quandary then your ignorance is showing.
The most painful expression of willful ignorance is the assumption that a motivation is spite, they're being a jerk or they are telling you to screw off. Let me pause and say that sure, even I make jokes that my dogs are self interested expletives, but I only mean that in jest and know that every behavior they express has a function, a reason, and if I don't want to understand it, I had better be prepared for conflict.
When I hear an owner or worse, a trainer say "he's blowing you off", "he's being dominant", or "you have to make him comply", I wince. I can't walk away from that individual faster. This is a screaming neon sign of ignorance. Anyone who denies that an animal has a legitimate reason for a behavior whether it is learned or emotional, is wrong. We may not like the behavior and we may need to change it, but to deny it's truth via willful ignorance is a liability that leaves animals and humans injured for it. All behavior is valid to the one expressing it and needs to be thoughtfully examined. Anything less is playing pin the tail on the donkey - blindfolded and stabbing sharp objects into the closest victim.
The solution is a simple test. If you think you know a lot and are confident in what you know, you likely know little. If you are humbled by the knowledge you have and by the vastness of the things you don't know, you likely know a lot. The added benefit of the latter is that you will consider, empathize and continually reevaluate your hypotheses, because you will always be searching for a better answer. This is how you treat knowledge and even more so how you should treat other living, and feeling creature.
Knowledge is power... however... Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Mediate on that. Next time you are ready to consider a complicated construct that you can't easily define but is very convenient to slap on like a sticker, consider the Principle of Parsimony: "the scientific principle that things are usually connected or behave in the simplest or most economical way". The simplest answer is usually the correct one. Not the complicated one involving manipulation, dominance, or just to piss you off. Now go learn all the things you thought you knew until you realize just how little we all really know.