The Problem With Averages

“Scientific education is based in the main of statistical truths and abstract knowledge and therefore imparts an unrealistic, rational picture of the world, in which the individual, as a nearly marginal phenomenon, plays no role. The individual, however, as an irrational data, is the true and authentic carrier of reality.”
– C.G. Jung

The modern dog trainer is faced with a daily conflict.  Only one hand, the field of animal behavior is being pushed more and more towards scientific knowledge. On the other hand, we are presented regularly with dogs in need of training, and the treatment of unwanted behaviors, who are nothing less than individuals with unique characteristics, traits, and responses.

Far too often, we find ourselves stuck in the mode of scientific thinking. The problem occurs we consider the fact that scientific theories are by their very nature statistical. They’re based on averages, which ignore all exceptions at either end of the scale and replace them with an abstract mean.

Consider if you will a bed of stones with an average weight of 5 ounces. This tells us very little about the real nature of the individual stones. Anyone who thought on the basis of this average, that he could pick up a stone of 5 ounces on the very first try would be in for a serious disappointment. In fact it very well may be the case that no stone weighing exactly 5 ounces exists.

What science gives us is a universal psychology of Canis familiaris as a species.  This abstraction paints a picture of an average unit from which all individual features have been removed.  However, these individual features are what are most important for understanding and training the individual dog in front of us. When scientific theory tells us that “Dogs” will respond to stimulus A with response Y, that may in fact give us very little insight into the actual nature of the dog we are working with.

This is not an argument to discard science. Not at all. As professionals it is of utmost importance for us to have a firm grasp of the scientific knowledge available to us, in order to have a framework to reference. Rather, this is a reminder to always read the dog as they present themselves in the moment, and maintain a feel for their uniqueness.

To treat the dog in front of us we must temporarily lay aside our scientific knowledge in order to adopt a free and open mind, and a completely new and unprejudiced attitude towards the individual.

Tyler G. Muto

*This post was inspired by and adapted from C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self.  P. 5-8