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Dogs Are My Patronus

Veterinary Scientist blogging about dog training and ownership and general animal welfare. 


Natalia Alexandrov

Unsolicited advice is the source of many a dramatic argument–in particular online–especially when the person offering that unsolicited advice is technically right. The person offering the advice feels bolstered by the fact that truth is on their side, and fails to understand that the person countering them isn’t so much disagreeing with the truth behind their argument, but rather with their unbelievable rudeness. 

I often liken unsolicited advice with door-to-door salesmen. If you have something you think someone needs, be it a product or your advice, it’s on you to sell it. No one is going to buy a vacuum cleaner from a mean-spirited and insulting salesman, and no one is going to accept advice from an arrogant and condescending jerk. 

Whether the salesman really is selling the better vacuum cleaner is irrelevant, and whether your advice really is superior is also irrelevant. You are barging in on someone’s day, unannounced, and it’s up to you to make it a pleasant experience. 

When it comes to pet ownership blogs, people often seem to misinterpret when the pet owner may simply be documenting a bump in the road that they already have a solution for, and when the pet owner is genuinely asking for input. So often I’ll see someone remark that, for example, the vet told them their dog needs to go on a diet, and that they just put together a meal and exercise plan, and the notes blow up with people telling them what to do to fix it, and reminding them how terribly dangerous it is for a dog to be overweight. 

They already know. They went to a vet about it, and the vet gave them a solution. They don’t need your advice; they have it under control. Also, the dog isn’t going to lose all that weight overnight. So when they post a photo a week later and you think the dog still looks fat, why don’t you hold off on sending a mean spirited anon message accusing them of not caring if their dog dies of diabetes? 

As an animal welfarist, I understand how frustrating it is to see an animal come across my dash who may be neglected. But if I barge in on their post and accuse them of all sorts of horrible things, I’ve already burned that bridge. They are never going to ask me for my advice, and no matter how many facts and articles I throw their way, they will never so much as glance at them. 

If you see a situation like that, the best you can hope for is to ask to be invited in. You can ask them if they mind a personal question about their pet, and if they say yes, they do mind, no matter how much you want to weigh in, you have to back off. You can write an article or blog post on the subject and hope they see it and take it to heart, but that’s about it. 

Unless you are witnessing undeniable and gross animal negligence, there is no reason for you to go to war against someone. If you believe neutering is crucial for responsible pet ownership, then write your own articles about it, and hope that you gain a platform that can spread the word for you. 

If your opinions are valid, and your advice is good, you can educate. You can spread the word. You can hope to change people’s perspective and help them understand why this is so important. But you can do that without barging through their front door. You can do that without being an uninvited guest. 

Unsolicited advice should always be offered with respect, genuine politeness, and a willingness to back off at their request, especially if you do not know the person personally, nor the history of their relationship with their pet. Someone posting pictures of an obese dog may have only just rescued him. Someone threatening that they are going to declaw their cat may just be blowing off steam. 

Before you attempt to educate someone on their personal blog post, you should always make it a point to educate yourself about them first. 

I can’t tell you how many times I saw a post that made me cringe, only to go to their blog and see it was just taken out of context, or that it was just extreme sarcasm that I was unable to detect without reading OP’s tags. 

Keep in mind that whatever moral high ground you have by having truth and knowledge on your side, is inversely affected by how conceited and rude you are in your delivery.