You’re trying to solve a problem.  Where does one start?

If the problem is common, save yourself some trouble and use known and effective common solutions. For most problems, there are approaches that will work for the 90 percent.  The more of these you pick up over time, the easier your life is going to be.  Indeed, that is pretty much the point of education in any area of interest — increasing your knowledge base about what is commonly known to work.

But what if the common knowledge approach does not work?  That’s where things get interesting, because the 10 percent is absolutely real.

The 10 percent must be treated as individuals if you want to succeed with them.  Ninety percent might do well eating gluten but the 10 percent? Nope. Their individual biology takes them on a different path. Ninety percent might do well with running for exercise but the 10 percent? Nope. Something specific about them, unique to the individual, makes it a bad idea. Ninety percent of individuals might do well learning by reading and that’s great!  Until you get to the 10 percent.  So what should you do?

In all cases, start with the common solution.  If that does not work, then try to figure out what is unique about the individual.  Can you figure out what makes that individual different? If it’s related to learning, then there may be clues in the personality that would alert you to the fact that this individual will not respond in a typical fashion. If you can figure that out then the odds that you’ll find a workable alternative increase. For example, when you calmly feed your dog in public, he becomes more agitated. That’s fine! He’s one of the 10 percent that does not find sitting quietly and eating relaxing.

Consider what is unique about your dog.  Maybe you have noticed that movement calms your dog down and your dog is generally frantic around food.  Well then, try movement and observe the result!

But what if you cannot identify anything to help you? Then talk to others with who have a broad experience base — maybe they’ve seen this before and will have ideas for you.

Okay, so now what? Your dog is in the 10 percent and you found something that works for you.  What should you do with that information?

The reality of human nature is that we will want to spread our success far and wide! Look! Look what I found! I found this thing that works, and all of you should do it because the 90 percent solution is wrong and my dog proves it!

And therein lies a significant problem.  When you have an individual who does not respond like the group, you need to remember that this individual is the exception. The anomaly!  Not more or less valuable, but not like the others.  If you forget this, then you will quickly find yourself in the realm of superstitious behavior, and likely you’ll end up spreading misinformation.

Just because, the day before your dog died of stomach cancer, he didn’t eat breakfast doesn’t mean that your friend’s dog who didn’t eat her meal has stomach cancer. But could your friend’s dog have stomach cancer?  Well, yes but … start common — zoom in on the individual — and then go right back out again.  So if your friend’s dog fails to eat breakfast, happens to be a littermate, and is from a breed with a high incidence of stomach cancer?  Then I would probably start paying pretty close attention AFTER eliminating the more common possibilities.

Somewhere inside your brain, retain a space called “exceptions to the rule” — it’s there for when you need it but it’s not where you start. Ever.

But here is an interesting thing to remember.  What if the “exceptions to the rule” category seems to be growing?

If you run into too many exceptions to the rule, then there are two very likely possibilities.  The first is that you do not understand the common solution and are not applying it correctly. The second is that the common knowledge solution may not be very good after all. It may be wrong! And your knowledge of the exceptions to the rule might actually push human understanding in a new direction, which is pretty awesome.

Anyone can think this way about pretty much any topic. Start broad, narrow in, and then go back out again.  And if the exceptions to the rule become the norm, then it’s time to revisit the common knowledge base.

This is not about dog training.  It’s about life.  How you raise your children, what you choose to eat, what vaccines you choose to get, what exercise plan you choose to follow, etc.  In all cases, what works for the majority may not work for the individual, so in that case work with the individual.  And if it comes to pass that there are too many exceptions to the rule to continue calling them exceptions, then it’s time to reconsider the common knowledge base.