Monday, December 19, 2005

Jon Katz is full of shit ...

Slate has an article about why dogs are a really bad xmas gift. It's true, they are a terrible gift, for many of the reasons the author, a guy named Jon Katz, lists. But (as seems to be his habit, I've discovered after going back and reading some of his older columns), Katz makes some unfounded assertions that reinforce the notion that "good" dogs are bought that way. "The bigger problem with the Christmas pup is that good dogs are usually unavailable for holiday giving," he writes, along with "The dogs that are readily available at Christmas are the kind you probably don't want" because they are either shelter dogs (which Katz views with suspicion) or puppy mill dogs. Now I discourage anyone from getting a puppy mill dog because the breeding practices are horribly inhumane and should not be supported, but I disagree that the dogs themselves are more likely to be "bad" than any other dog--and neither Katz nor anyone else who makes that claim can back it up with any proof. Genetically, I can't see how much worse it can get than the extremely inbred (oh, excuse me, linebred) walking catastrophes trotting around the AKC conformation rings. (The German Shepherd Dog is a really good example, but it's by no means the only one.)

In another article, Katz makes another sweeping, completely unsupported claim about dogs from what he apparently considers low origins: "Rescued, puppy mill, and incompetently bred dogs have more behavioral problems than properly bred purebreds or thoroughly evaluated shelter dogs." Upon what evidence does he base this sweeping condemnation? He doesn't say, because he's just plain making it up out of his own prejudices. (I'm sure I can counter each of his "bad rescue" dog stories with stories from my experiences of meticulously bred border collies from top working lines who bite children, or the also-meticulously-bred working-line GSD pup who couldn't be allowed near any other puppies because he would go ballistic and try to attack them.) Plus, Katz doesn't explain what he means by "thoroughly evaluated" dogs ... does he mean that they passed "temperament testing" like Sue Sternberg's Assess-A-Pet™, methods that let shelters kill off all the "bad dogs" with confidence that they are doing a good thing. Feh.

So reading his articles made me think "who the hell is Jon Katz, anyway, and what makes him such an expert on dogs?" Well, apparently, before he styled himself some kind of dog expert, he was just an ordinary journalist who liked to write about technology. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, and of course we all know to double-check anything we read there, he was criticized by Slashdot readers who suspected him of being somewhat bogus: "Among the charges often levelled at him were that he was not an authentic geek and was seeking to co-opt and sensationalize geek subculture, that his writings (especially those on technical topics) were uninformed gibberish ..." OK, I didn't go double-check that bit--feel free to do so if you like--but what it demonstrates is that at least one Wikipedia contributor thinks Katz is just a big ol' poser when it comes to geekdom.

Well, I think he's a big ol' poser when it comes to dogdom, too. As far as I can tell from reading about him, the only things that qualify him as a dog expert are that a) he owns dogs, and b) he's read a lot of books about them. Holy shit, me too! In fact, I think we've both read some of the same books--in one article Katz describes "his" idea to help a friend teach his dog to come:
I had a different idea: chopping up some hot dogs, one of Lightning's favorite snacks. When the dog took off, Sam should run—but in the opposite direction, with the hot dogs evident. Lightning would reverse himself and follow—food-loving dogs invariably will. I thought the franks and praise might prove more effective than Sam's yelling. So it was.
Golly, that's the exactly what I tell all of my friends who get new dogs, except that I don't mind also telling them that they can read the same thing in just about any book written by Patricia McConnell (who has many bona-fides, in case you're wondering, and has written one dog book I recommend everyone, even if they don't have a dog: The Other End Of The Leash) The closest I could find to any dog-specific bona-fide in Katz's backrground is a USAToday article that called him a "certified dog nut." Well if that, and the ability to remember and regurgitate stuff written by actual dog experts is all takes to write for Slate and get a publishing contract, well hell, sign me up! I've got a journalism degree and two dogs ... I'm sure I could convince Mr. Pants that we need another dog or two if it's going to be my meal ticket.

A funny thing is, I was at Big Chain Bookstore yesterday, and I saw Katz's latest book. Since I'm serious about my dog training hobby, I instinctively thought "I must buy this." Then the frugal person inside said "You should find out more about this Katz guy first before you commit twenty diggitys to his book (it's cheaper on Amazon, btw). We've never heard him mentioned by our fellow dogerati as anyone worth reading." Thanks frugal person--I'm going to see if the Durham County Library has it (and if not I'll tell 'em to get it via their online book request form). I'll read Katz's book for free and save my money for Patricia McConnell's next book.

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