Breed Standards: Creating Prejudices in Dog Training
Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.
Dog Training, Differently
We all have prejudices. Those who claim they aren’t prejudice at all strike me as imbeciles, unwilling or incapable of introspection. Prejudice can take so many forms, the most obvious being in regards to race, gender or sexual orientation with humans, but there are so many different forms.
A more benevolent "for instance": I’m prejudice against the home made frosting you make. I don’t even need to taste it to know my mom’s/grandma’s/great grandma’s cake frosting is the best (I’ve even included it at the bottom of this post so you can agree and change the error of your frosting ignorance, you newb).
I think I can honestly say that I’m not prejudiced against people based upon their ethnicity (having so many different ethnic groups making up my own DNA, it would be pretty hard for me to be prejudiced based upon a person’s ethnicity or religion). But I’ll admit that I’m prejudice against certain people in other capacities. I realize that the skewed beliefs I hold against these people are stupid and lacking merit, and I’m working hard to eradicate them, but sometime you’ve been “educated” too thoroughly to stop the knee-jerk reaction and let go of those ignorant beliefs, regardless of how hard you try to rid yourself of dysfunctional thinking. But I realize I’m not perfect, and that my job is to try to do better every day, and to make sure my children aren’t poisoned by more ignorant thinking. So far, so good.
But as this is a blog devoted to dog training, dog life, and just the joy that is the canine world, I completely digress.
So let’s talk about something we all tend to ignore: prejudice of breeds. The obvious prejudice would be pitbulls. We’ve created entire sets of laws devoted to the prejudice of one little block-headed dog. It perplexes me. I hear the same tired adages from the same group of ignorant people: pitbulls are dangerous.
To which I reply, “No shit!”
Of course they are dangers: they’re predators! Every single dog I’ve ever worked with is potentially dangerous! If it has teeth and can move faster than I can, it’s dangerous!
Yes, even this little doll-faced munchkin can be dangerous.
We tend to focus so much on which breeds are dangerous that we lose focus on which dogs are dangerous. We banter around the term “breed” like it’s a make, model and year of a car.
But a car is a machine. A dog is not, and regardless of how carefully a dog is bred, there is still plenty of room for deviation within that breed. Remember you are training a puppy, not a breed. But we are still fed the same bullshit that Golden Retrievers are the perfect family dogs, Chihuahuas are lap sharks, and Rotties require “special training/handlers”.
We all know that’s just a bunch of Benedryl Cramplesnutch
(side note: Buttercup Candysnack fans, click here. You’re welcome.)
I’ve worked with quite a few aggressive “family dogs”, and lost count of the Rotties who should be therapy dogs. By judging a dog based exclusively upon the breed, you are missing the potential of the dog. Work with the dog, not the breed. Focus on Fido, not the fact that he’s a rare Blue Ridged Appalachian Banjo Dog.
Blame the deed, not the breed, folks.
Most times, when booking a dog training session, I don’t even ask what breed of dog you have, because the operative word here is “dog”. I want to meet Fifi, Ollie, Peaches and Brutus. And they are so much more than just a Chihuahua, Doodle, Spaniel and Shepherd. They are individuals, not brands of merchandise.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, there are a few breeds of dogs that I am prejudiced against. Remember, I’m only human, and I’m working every day towards being better. No, I’m not going to tell you which three breeds of dog I’m prejudiced against because prejudice is stupid. I know I’m being stupid, I accept it, and I refuse to spread stupidity around like a crop duster full of ignorance.
And every single time I work with one of the three (rare) breeds that I’m prejudiced against, I’m reminded again how stupid and misguided my apprehensions were about the dog, and each time I have less and less prejudice against those three. There used to be four breeds I was prejudiced against, but I finally learned better and accepted new information upon which to make my decisions. Facts win (eventually).
This may shock those of you who follow Darwin Dogs on Facebook, but as much as I like to talk shit about Chihuahuas, they are actually one of my favorite breeds! There is so much moxy packed into that small body that you have to give them credit. They are legit dogs (albeit bent on world denomination). Just kidding.
So I have an idea: rather than referring to purebred dogs as “breeds”, let’s refer to them as “families”. Because there are a bit of similarities between families and we can acknowledge that. But we always treat the individuals within the family as, well…individuals. It’s fair to say that a Weasley family member will probably have red hair. But you’re willing to accept deviations without a second thought.
Nobody is surprised when they meet my daughter, who at 13 is already 5’7″, because I’m 6″ tall, and my mother was 5’8″. Family tradition of tall women.
But with family, we allow for deviation from the norm. My grandmother was about 5' tall..in heels. She was a total human Chihuahua.
And besides, “normal” is just a setting on a washing machine.
That’s not to say that there aren’t certain concerns within a family that may need to be addressed. Epilepsy seems to travel in my family, as well as asthma. And we have a high number of ADHD and some autism swimming like fish around the family gene pool. But I’m not automatically going to assume that any child born into my family will have ADHD, autism, or height. It’s a case-by-case basis. Similarly, learn about the medical conditions your dog may be prone to, but don’t automatically assume that your Mastiff will have cherry eye, or that your GSD will have bad hips.
A lot of people are commenting about what breed of dog they’d like to get, and with very little deviation, they are picking out dogs based upon their experience with one single dog.
“My best friend ‘adopted’ a Floofadoodle from a local breeder, and I just love that dog, so I’m going to go to a ‘breeder’ and get a Floofadoodle, too!”
1) Your friend did not ‘adopt’ a dog from a breeder. Best case is they bought a dog from a backyard breeder. Worse (and most likely), they are supporting puppy mill industry. Yes, good breeders do exist (I saw the product of one recently when I trained a gorgeous Poodle). But you don't "adopt" from a breeder, nor a pet store. You're perpetuating puppy mills.
2) You can’t recreate the same exact puppy as your friend’s dog just because they’re the same breed! They are individuals, not lines of code that can be rewritten to create an identical copy of an original.
By judging a dog by their breed first, you're falling into the trap of prejudice based on breed when you are working to train your puppy or dog. Judge the dog by who they are. Let your dog tell you whether or not they like to play fetch, or if they're suited to be a therapy/emotional support/service dog. Allow them to determine if they are scared of water, or if they actually prefer to be lazy rather than hyper. I’ve come to accept that my puppy training sessions are so much more productive when I’m not battling against preconceived ideas of how a Pug should act, but focusing on Bailey, the individual dog in front of me.
Learn about your dog and you’ll be well on your way to building a healthy partnership with Fido, Fifi, and Peaches. Communicate and train with the dog you have, not the breed you bought. Plenty of Labs hate water. I’ve met some seriously lazy Border Collies. And most pit bulls are more interested in belly rubs and treats than murdering anyone.
Now, as promised, here is the recipe for the best tasting custard frosting you will ever have, courtesy of my grandma. My mom wrote out a cookbook of family recipes for me when I was 5 years old, starting in 1982, and this was in it. Thanks, Mom!
In Home Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio