Breed biases: When people judge your dog

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So, I don’t even have a dog yet, but I’ve already felt judgment from people about him or her. Crazy, right? When people ask what kind of dog I want, and when I answer that we’re planning on adopting a German shepherd, I always brace myself for this frequent reaction: “Ew, really? Why? They’re so MEAN!” It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens enough to be noticeable.

I also bridle when people express astonishment that I work with and deeply enjoy the company of pit bulls and pit mixes at the SPCA. “But they’re so vicious! I could never be around one of those.” This usually launches me into a 10-minute speech about how pits are unfairly judged and how they are some of the most cuddly, affectionate, and sweet dogs that I ever play with at the shelter.

I try not to get too riled up about it, because the fact is that people have breed biases. I have them, too (although not for the same reasons that people judge GSDs and pits; more in the, I could never live with one myself way). I also understand where some of these breed stereotypes originated. Both German shepherds and pit bulls have been misused by humans for terrible, terrible things in the past (see: Nazis in the Holocaust, Southern police forces during the Civil Rights Movement, dog baiting, and dog fighting, just to name a few). I understand where these negative reactions come from, but they are still dismaying.

It makes me want to try all the harder to raise an upstanding, well-trained, and gentle ambassador for a breed–for whatever breed we end up with. This is notably easier to do if you have a breed like a golden retriever, who are universally loved and lovable in return. But I think there really is something to be said for generous, sweet, and intelligently raised German shepherds, dobermans, rottweilers, pit bulls, chihuahuas, and terriers. They change people’s minds and break down their judgments faster than anything else.

Do you have a dog whose breed or breed mix is often unfairly judged? How do you handle it graciously?

11 thoughts on “Breed biases: When people judge your dog

  1. Luckily, most of my family doesn’t know about dogs, or even thinks much about dogs, so I don’t get Doberman prejudice from them (or at least not to my face….), just comments about how BIG Elka is.

    From people on the street, it’s a mixed bag. Again, nobody really says anything to me (I am walking a BIG DOBERMAN, after all), but there are still reactions. At least one big “tough guy” has gone and stood at the curb, and made a big show of looking both ways because he was crossing the street and it had nothing to do with my dog, okay? Also, Elka has learned that baby carriages = babies, and Elka loves babies; she gets prancey and perky when she sees a carriage, and I just watch mothers and grandmothers tense up and walk more quickly and try to avoid looking at us. Because Dobermans are baby eaters, I guess.

    Really, I’m just going to offer shirts on my blog through one store or another that say “My dog isn’t mean but I am”. I figure that covers it.

  2. I perhaps have the reverse problem and actually have a bias against the invariably ‘love-able’ Labrador, purely because so many people get them as a default ‘ideal’ family dog without even considering other breeds (hence why many are overweight as they are owned by people who don’t have active enough lifestyles for them…) I read a sad article about the British Otter Hound, who is nearing extinction in Britain. Breeders apparently wish obscure breeds would be considered rather than people defaulting to labradoodles, which has a very similar look and temperament. I am glad that you have put so much thought and research in to what type of dog would be best for you!

    1. I was going to type this exact comment. I have a tough time keeping my mouth shut when I hear the “reverse bias” where people assume all goldens are 1000% mushy friendly all the time, or a mini poodle can’t possibly exhibit aggression, etc.

      1. Actually I had forgotten but the only dog that ever aggressively went for and attacked by very non-aggressive, sweet Irish Wolfhound was a Labrador…

  3. Everyone quite clearly identifies Elli as a Dalmatian, sometimes they recognize she’s not full Dal, but sometimes not. When they don’t, it usually means that comments abound: I bet she has never-ending energy, huh? And she bites kids, right? Or I’ve heard they’re really high strung. Blah.

    Turns out Elli loves sleeping in most mornings; she absolutely has an off-switch until I say Go; and she gives face baths to kids to get reactions of laughter. I have breed biases, too, but mostly based on ability for sports and all-around health, which I think should be paramount.

    I hope you’re prepared for all that fur! 😉

  4. Sadly, just as there is prejudice against people, there is the dog equivalent of breed bias. Peg, my first dog was a white shepherd. A word of caution, when you apply for home insurance, you might be asked if you own a dog and what breed it is. One insurance company told me that they would not insure a home with German Shepherds, rottweilers, dobermans. I’m sure if I called now, they would include pitbulls on the list.

    If someone says something about any of those breeds, I tell them that dogs have different personalities just like people. You can’t generalize with people and you shouldn’t generalize by dog breed.

    I also tell them I attended where the City’s Animal Control department was discussing dog bites. In general, small dogs are more likely to bite but because of the size of the bite, it is less likely to be reported. Big dog bites are almost always reported. “Judge the deed, not the breed.”

  5. I encounter breed bias all the time. I have a red natural eared doberman, and many still don’t know doberman come in 4 accepted colours, or that their ears have to be cropped to have the look everyone is framiliar with.

    Often, people who do not know his breed and will approach, asking to pet him. I say sure and Kyuss will love up the people. Then, I usualy get the “Oh he’s so nice! What kind of dog is he?”

    Many people will be surpised and excited to learn doberman are just like any other friendly dog. But, i’ve also had people go pale and step away. I’ve had people become mad at me for not telling them he was a doberman before they approached. I’ve even had people simply walk away without saying a word!

    Only yesterday on our walk, we encountered breed bias. We were walking along the main street and approached an elderly woman waiting for the bus in front of a bus shelter. When she saw us approaching she almost tripped running into the bus shelter. Kyuss, meanwhile was walking beside me, not even paying attention to her in the slightest.

    I happened to look back a few moments after we had passed by, and the woman was still cowering in the bus shelter, peeking out until we were “far enough” away. If I had been walking a lab or golden retriever, I doubt she would have ran away LOL.

  6. When I walk my black lab/pit mix I get a mixed reaction – some people move to the other side of the street, others expect her to be their instant best friend. Of course, there are many people out there who are afraid of ALL dogs, and some who are afraid of large black dogs . . .

    I try to respect other’s feelings. Although my pup loves people of all ages and stages, she has a bias against people who wear hats. . .

  7. I get a lot of this with my German Shepherd. lol. People will often ask my permission if they can walk passed us or if it’s safe to do so. I guess I own the side walk now. Also, when smaller dogs walk up to mine, spectators will often say, “That small dog’s going to be lunch!” Just the other day we were at Petsmart looking at Gerbils and Guinea Pigs, a person walked by and said, “Oh! Your dog’s probably thinking it’s lunch time!”

    Before we got Abby, people asked us what type of dog were we getting. Their reaction was usually, “WOW!” No explanation for that remark… Just a wow. The kids around my neighborhood know my girl and are always up for petting her when they spot us but the parents are very skeptical. I understand where they’re coming from but these kids see my dog on a daily basis, you would think they’d know how my dog is by now.

    Even my family members (the adults) are scared of my dog. The question that always comes first is, “Does she bite?” lol. The kids will run up to Abby and just hug her like velcro and the parents would freak out so bad only to find their kids drowning in drool. Honestly though, I sometimes enjoy the fact that people are scared of my dog. It helps prevent anything unnecessary from happening.

  8. I have a long haired chihuahua called Ted, people expect him to be yappy, out of control and terrified of other dogs and people, I know this because they often express surprise at how calm, confident and friendly he is. Toy dogs (and I hate that categorisation as it’s already setting them up to fail) are blighted by the airheads that carry them around like accessories, fail to meet their needs and end up with unhappy unsocialised dogs.

    I have also had people with larger dogs say to their dog as we go past “Oh look, here’s a snack” which is not in the remotest bit funny.

    Ted’s dog friends come in all shapes and sizes but they’re all scrutinised carefully by me first, my main criteria for keeping him away or letting him say hello … my impression of the owner 😉

  9. This is a serious problem in my neighbourhood. I can’t take my GSD out for a walk, in an off leash area, without owners of other dogs sneering when she races up to play. Occasionally she’ll chase other dogs but never in an aggressive way, but it’s always taken that way.
    It happens almost every single walk and I’m at the point that I don’t want to walk her in the neighbourhood anymore because of the hate. The worst part is she isn’t the only GSD who receives this treatment. There is another GSD, a male, who has a reputation as being an evil mean dog that goes after other dogs. I’ve met this dog. He doesn’t live up to his reputation, but because of how people act his owners are forced to walk him alone. It breaks my heart.

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