Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.
-George Bernard Shaw
New studies are coming to light that dogs may be have been domesticated as far back as 32,000 years ago. At the very least, the earliest they have been domesticated would have been 14,000 years ago. Either way, that’s a staggeringly long-term relationship man has had with his canine companions!
WHO ARE DOGS
Slowly, grey wolves (canus lupis) developed a subspecies: the dog (canus lupis familiaris). Then we molded them into exactly what we needed for each situation. We turned them into drovers, herders, hunting companions, protectors, companions, load pullers, military specialists…the list goes on. For each specialized task we gave each animal, they needed specialized set of skills and body style.
Example: the Dachshund – literally “Badger Dog” in German. The need arose to dispel certain vermin (namely, badgers), from the premises. Badgers dwell in burrows, so the dog would need to be small enough fit in badger holes, and then to dig and burrow after its quarry. In addition, badgers can be rather nasty little beasties, so a definite amount of self confidence and bravado was needed. Finally, since we are specifically asking this breed to outsmart another animal on a regular, if not daily basis, they needed to be very intelligent and very prey driven. We came up with the Dachshund, who fits this bill perfectly. So profiling this breed, it would be fair to say that they can be prone to bouts of stubbornness (a by-product of bravado), bird killers (they are, after all, prey driven) and destructive (we did breed them to burrow). I don’t think that any Dachsund owner would ever claim these observations to be too far from breed standard, or breed profile. After all, profiling a breed is what helps us decide if this is the right breed of dog for you. (And to be honest, I absolutely love Dachsunds and would indeed get one).
If you want a dog who is a couch potato and willing to obey your every whim, look to the easy Bichon. If you are looking for a running companion and general “buddy” dog, profile the Boxer, who might possibly be the perfect dog athlete. If you want slavish love and devotion, with a dash of separation anxiety (can they love you too much?) and smile to melt hearts, look to a Staffie.
CAN PROFILING KEEP DOGS FROM SHELTERS?
Even when we are looking to rescue dogs, we do our own breed profiling. Personally, I would never adopt anything that looks like a Jack Russell, not because they are evil, bad dogs, but they because they are inappropriate for me. I am not willing to devote the amount of Piloting, Activity and Work a Jack would require, making him a completely unsuitable pet for me, through no fault of his own.
If everyone did a little bit of accurate breed profiling prior to getting a dog, there would no longer be a need for animal shelters. The peppy little Aussie mix wouldn’t have been dumped at the shelter due to her inability to stop destroying things (read: more Work was needed. She’s bored!). The German Shepherd mix wouldn’t be there for attacking another dog (read: more Piloting. The GS mix was asking if the other dog was a threat, and nobody answered his question with a “no”.)
By simply asking yourself what was this breed meant to do we can more easily determine if a dog is right for our households. German Shepherds were bred originally to guard a flock, and that includes humans. Answer their questions, and they are wonderful dogs (not that I’m partial). Aussies were bred to be intelligent, quick, active dogs who herded sheep all day. How are you going to mimic that for her in your apartment when your only activity is getting up to change the channel when the remote is broken.
By simply taking the time to research which breeds won’t work for you, and which are perfect matches, you will be avoiding many trials for you and your future Fido. I have clients who call me, asking me how to stop their terriers from digging in their back yards. When I ask them what they know about terriers, I hear crickets chirping in the background. Well, did you know that “terrier” means “earth” in French? As in, your dog was bred to dig after vermin?
INDIVIDUALS FIRST, BREEDS SECOND
Finally, accept that “breed standards” and breed profiling can only go so far. Yes, they give you a generalization of what good breeders have been trying to attain over the years, but dogs are individuals. More than the sum of their breed(s). Profiling helps when selecting between a few dogs, but in the end, you need to interact with your potential pup on an individual level to know who they really are.