No true Scotsman … er … dog-lover

The other day, we were at a restaurant with our little dog, Picasso. While there, a couple of ladies sat down next to us with their own dogs — three of them. Not a problem. However, during the course of our visit and meal, there were occasions when then dogs barked.

This rankled me somewhat, and I made a comment that I think it rude for owners to subject others in a closed environment like a restaurant where dog-barking is not a distraction that is expected or appreciated. Serious conversation ensued:

– Dogs (like humans) need to be put into the environment about which you want to train them.
– Fair enough. But maybe something like the environment without imposing on people around you?
– But how would that be an authentic context?

Nice give-and-take.

I rebutted with the story of a Seattle Seahawks linebacker that lived above us with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Papa and baby girl would regularly play by bouncing balls off the walls and floor, running and crashing, making life below them somewhat unpeaceful as well as scary: the light fixtures hanging from our ceiling/their floor would fizz and sputter. So I had to go up there and talk to them. I was met with, “What do you expect? She’s a 2-year-old, and 2-year-olds need to play.” My reply explained that we are in a communal living situation (condominium) where their floor is our ceiling, and excusing the fact that “the girl needs to play” is tantamount to presupposing that the rest of us are obliged to help them raise their kid by tacitly enduring the process.

My friend’s reply to this story was a species of the “No True Scotsman” rhetorical technique, but dog-related: “any true dog-lover” would allow for an owner to train his dog where it needs to be trained in order for it to achieve mastery of the situation. She added on top of that that my dog was an exceptional dog, from which I was left with the unspoken conclusion that, therefore, I shouldn’t meter my patience for others using an exceptional specimen as my measure. There are so many things that could provoke a dog to bark: strange noises, dimming lights (to see the fireworks), the fireworks, and more to which my dog is apparently immune.

So, if I continued to judge the dog-owners (behind me) harshly, I was no true dog-lover because otherwise, I’d have more patience with the owners’ training their dogs to be good restaurant visitors (…whether or not the owners were trying?).

Oh man! Am I or am I not a “true dog-lover”? I’m absolutely sure that I’m not a dog-lover to the degree she is. But am I, like, a faux dog-lover because I love my dog, who is evolved so that my loving him does not extend to the rest of the species?

I suddenly felt an urgent need to re-steer the discourse back to the content of my comment. But I was interrupted in my reply (by forces outside our table) that I had to stand by my linebacker-raising-daughter anecdote, by which I had hoped to communicate that it is presumptuous of a dog owner to expect everyone in a restaurant crowd to be “true dog-lovers” enough to accept barking as part of their restaurant experience. The provocations for barking were not extraordinary, and the owners were not actively “training” the dogs to … not bark in a restaurant? … to behave in a restaurant?

Now I’m left with an un-satisfying hollow that only post-discussion reflection might remedy.

I can see validity in the angle she took to present her argument. Since I was the one making the argument, I probably had derived my judgment/conclusion based on my personal perspective. Well, she’d be right about that…to a point. I had, indeed, personally arrived at that judgment, but that does not mean my reasoning wasn’t sufficiently neutral to extend to more people than just myself generally. I have a sneaking suspicion that she was aiming at me (an ad hominem argument?) rather than at any possible validity in my comment. But it still seemed odd to me that the generalizability of my original comment had somehow been utterly dismissed.

The frustration I was feeling was a personal one in that, both of us being under considerable influence of our adult beverages, I was not able to re-steer the conversation and that I was getting emotional over it. I hate getting emotional during conversations! It seldom contributes anything valuable to the strength of one’s position; and it makes me feel like a schmuck.

But the use of the “No True Scotsman” device lodged in my besotted mind like a wood splinter in my right index finger, making each mouse-click distractingly noticeable. Not only was her argument an end-run around a general point, it barricaded itself against any valid counter-example: one could not be both intolerant of dog-training in this (or any) restaurant and be a true dog-lover at the same time. (The “No True Scotsman” argument assumes the truth of its premise in order to dismiss any counter-argument. In this case, the argument dismisses even the appropriateness of the dog-training context or the sensibilities of the restaurant patrons.) But worse — for me — I got diverted by it and couldn’t recover the thread. Oh Calamity!

Where might the thread have gone had I recovered?

I think what bothered me about the ladies and their dogs barking was more about the presumption on restaurant customers…or presumption in general upon the expectations of anyone in contexts where asking permission would have been the most civilized thing to do first, even while being impractical to do so. Or maybe the presumption was: if the restaurant management allows it (and if the patrons have no problem with dogs in the same restaurant with them or if the patrons know the managers allow it), then dogs being dogs (untrained or not) is part of the expectation.

Maybe there are degrees of true dog loving wherein we don’t have to  forgive the lack of propriety of dog-owners.

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