Breed Standards: Stereotyping Dog Training
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible. - Maya Angelou
We all have prejudices and perceived stereotypes. 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.
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 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 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 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: stereotyping of breeds. The obvious prejudicial stereotype would be pit bulls. 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: pit bulls 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. 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.
They're bred to have a pretty mouth.
Most times, when booking a 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. No matter who the dog is, I treat them as individuals, so it doesn't matter why they are hyper/aggressive/shy/friendly because the PAW Method of training focuses on training for each individual dog, rather than by breed or stereotype.
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 by stereotyping, 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).
So I have an idea: rather than referring to purebred dogs as “breeds”, let’ 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.
Because I’m 6″ tall, nobody is surprised when they meet my daughter, River, who at 12, is already 5’7″. Especially since my mother is a little tall, also, at 5’8″. Family tradition of tall women I guess.
But with family, we allow for deviation from the norm. My son is actually a little smaller than normal at 14. 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 laps around the family gene pool. But I’m not automatically going to assume that any child born into my family will have ADHD. 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!”
*FloofaDoodle: any "designer dog" that contains poodle, including, but not limited to, Labradoodles, Bernedoodles, and Cockadoodles
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.
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 a carbon copy of an original.
Judging a dog by their breed first, you’re falling into the trap of prejudice. Judge the dog by who they are. Let your dog tell you whether or not they like to play fetch. If they are scared of other dogs, or if they actually prefer to be lazy rather than hyper. I’ve come to accept that my 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.
So rather than looking at the breed of a dog, look at the individual dog. Just as each member of my family has their own distinct personalities, so do dogs, even if they are of the same breed. By allowing them to be individuals, judged exclusively for who they are, not what they are, you are setting the foundations of a bond based on understand and reason, rather than prejudice, fear, and unreasonable expectations.
Kerry Stack Darwin Dogs Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio