I was TERRIFIED of dogs when I was a little girl. I remember when the fear began, and I think I’ve recounted it before. My father adores dogs, like I do now. When I was about 6, we were living in a tiny apartment, waiting for our new house to be built. A doberman (my father’s favorite breed) and a rough collie lived in the complex, and Dad liked to take us outside, just to watch the dogs play. One evening, I was completely knocked over and trampled by the dogs (who were just having a case of the zoomies, and not paying attention). I thought they were out to kill me, and I was extremely scared of dogs from then on.
But in a few years, some magical, inherent dog-loving switch turned on–I don’t even know what it was–and I became OBSESSED with dogs, kind of like I am now. I started memorizing dog breeds when I was 8 or 9. I gave complicated advice to the neighbors about what kind of dog they should get, based on their lifestyles. I started a dog-walking business, just to have an excuse to spend time with dogs, since my parents were reluctant to get us one of our own.
And yet I didn’t get a dog of my own until Emma, when I was about 14. I had to wait a long time for her, and I feel like I had to wait even longer for Pyrrha, but I still love to see little girls with dogs. It warms my heart.
All that to say, here are just some cute photos of girls and the dogs they love, culled from my Pinterest board, Woman’s Best Friend.
Do Unto Others: Intimidation in Dog Training. A thoughtful post about the reciprocal relationship between aggression toward your dog fueling his aggression toward others. This just reminded me that we so often forget the impact of our body language and actions toward our dogs. If only more dog owners could read and know and believe this. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)
A Lesson in Timing: The Tunnel’s End Nears. Ximena, as always, outdoes us with her seriously thoughtful and sincere approach to training–in particular, timing and how very important it is. Such a good reminder (and not to mention intimidating)! I have already learned, from our first weeks in class, that I am NOT good at timing and it’s really something I need to work on. (Identity: V+E)
10 Top Dog Training Tips You Can Use Every Day. Great, practical reminders from Pamela to improve our day-to-day training regimens. I particularly liked her reminders to incorporate training elements (treats, rewards, other motivators) around the house, so you can’t help but train throughout the day. (Something Wagging This Way Comes)
Fishing for German Shepherds. Jura sent me her lovely photos of this handsome German shepherd swimming in Hanoi. Gorgeous dog! It’s so interesting to see how dogs live around the world. Thanks again for sharing, Jura! (Hound in Hanoi)
Facebook Pup Learns to Herd. Mark Zuckerberg’s puli, Beast, attends his first herding lesson and you can see the photos on Facebook, of course. (The Bark blog)
SilhouPETte Charm Necklaces. I’m not really one to get into breed paraphrenalia/clothing, but I would totally wear one of these pretty necklaces with Pyrrha’s profile. Would you? (Pretty Fluffy)
Dog Shaming. Despite the sound of the name, this is my new favorite dog-centric Tumblr: Photos of dogs with signs detailing their misdeeds. I can already think of a few signs I’d write for Pyrrha… (Dog Shaming)
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?
Many people like to cite Stanley Coren’s now notorious list of “the most intelligent dog breeds.” People who have breeds in the top 10 like to remind other people of such and tease those who have dogs who fall anywhere below Coren’s top 10.
*Cited in his book, The Intelligence of Dogs. Links are to my “Breed Love” posts.
I think the problem with this list is the title. As many before me have pointed out, and as Coren’s own study acknowledges in the fine print, this oft-cited list measures canine intelligence by how quickly or effectively dogs obey humans. His study is a nice measure of obedience, but that’s primarily what it is. A more accurate title might have been “the most obedient dog breeds.”
Hounds rank very low according to this list, but that’s because Coren’s study cannot measure the independent-thinking and creativity that is employed by most hounds, especially scent hounds.
I’ve noticed this with hounds, even in my short tenure as a volunteer at the SPCA. Our SPCA has a ton of scent hounds, because we live in a part of the countryside that is popular with hunters who employ large packs of hounds and then don’t keep track of them if one goes missing. That said, I spend a lot of time at the SPCA walking hounds. These hounds are notably unresponsive to humans. They often seem to look right past you at something else (or, more accurately, at some other, more interesting smell). But this doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent; it just means they’re harder to train. These hounds are rather adept problem solvers. They figure out what they want then they plot how to get it, with or without any human aid.
Sight hounds, in my limited experience, are also very intelligent but prefer to follow their own direction. (The Afghan hound is famously ranked last on Coren’s list, in terms of what he calls intelligence.) When you ask a sight hound to do something, I imagine their internal response to be something like Bartleby the Scrivener: “I would prefer not to.” They are independent and self-directed and seem to weigh the pros and cons of following your commands.
Selfishly, I’ve always really loved dogs from the herding group, because these are some of the most human-responsive dogs of all (many in the herding group are in Coren’s top 30 “most intelligent” breeds). My favorite breeds–Australian shepherds, German shepherds, and border collies, to name a few–are incredibly attuned to their people. These high-energy dogs were made to watch human faces, study human body language, and follow human directives in their line of intense work. I’ll probably always prefer these dogs, mainly because they are so easy to train, but I think this just means that I’m lazy/afraid of how frustrated I’d get with a less responsive dog.
But at the end of the day, this list doesn’t matter. Because we know the truth: We all have the smartest dog in the whole world.
A collection of photos of my favorite working dogs, the beasts and guardians of the dog world. The working breeds are often quite intimidating on first glance, and then once you get to know them, they’re just overgrown cuddle monsters. My father grew up with dobermans and has always adored them. In the back of my mind, sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind having one myself…
My father grew up with doberman pinschers and I have grown up hearing stories about his true dog love, Ebony. Ebony was his constant companion and, in my Dad’s estimation, The Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived. In his later high school years, after Ebony had passed away, my dad’s family got another doberman, whom they named Cheyenne. Dad painted Cheyenne as more reserved and protective than Ebony, but as an equally outstanding dog.
My dad’s mom, my grandmother, continued the family love of dobermans after she lived on her own and adopted Chance, a purebred dobe, from the local animal shelter where she worked. In my own life, we had childhood friends who owned dobermans and once or twice casually bred them and sold the puppies. Suffice it to say, I grew up among people who had an extremely high estimation of these beautiful dogs.
Dobermans are known for being extremely intelligent and powerful. They have a pop culture reputation of being fierce and aggressive and they can certainly look very intimidating (especially when their ears are cropped, like the dogs featured above). Breed enthusiasts call dobermans “the Cadillac of dogs” for their beautiful build, clean lines, and regal gaze.
I have always thought fondly of these dogs and am happy to meet one whenever I get the chance to see one. But even though my paternal family has owned them for years, I have not interacted with many dobermans. For that reason, they are not at the top of my wish list, but this is through no fault of their own. If the opportunity ever presented itself, I’d count myself honored to live with these noble animals.
This was not supposed to be my heritage. I was supposed to love dogs. But, in a strange turn of events, the whole reason I developed a dog phobia was because of my father’s deep love of dogs.
The story goes like this: When I was about six years old, my family was living in an apartment complex while we waited for our new house to be built. There wasn’t much to do around there and so my father would often take us girls out for walks. He was thrilled one afternoon to discover that one of our neighbors had a young, handsome doberman pinscher. Dad grew up with dobermans and was enamored with this dog. From then on, whenever he saw that the dog was outside, he’d take us girls out to watch and admire.
On one particular evening, we were watching this boisterous doberman chase a collie in frenzied circles around a patch of grass. I was clinging to my father’s leg, trying to avoid being run over by these whirlwinds of energy, but apparently I wasn’t paying much attention. The dogs, too caught up in chase to notice me, bowled me over and trampled me to the ground. They weren’t malicious in any way, but I screamed and cried like someone had deliberately tried to kill me. I was whisked inside–while I’m sure my father was shaking his head in regret over his totally wimpy girl child.
For years after that, I would cower in fear whenever I saw a dog. I was petrified around them and never dreamed of wanting one. For all my six-year-old mind new, dogs were bloodthirsty monsters.
Part II. What Changed
By the time I was 10 or 11, however, something changed. I wish I could remember what positive event changed my mind about dogs, but I made a complete 180 in my opinions about canines. I became obsessed with them.
Like today, back then I read everything I could get my hands on as a child. My all-time favorite Christmas present was a beautiful, glossy, hardback book of all the dog breeds. (Aside: I found this book on a recent trip home and brought it back to Charlottesville with me. I am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed reading it again the whole way back.) For my birthday, I asked for a subscription to Dog Fancy, which I read religiously. I watched the dog shows whenever they came on TV. I begged my mom to always let me go in pet stores so I could compare prices on the dog supplies list that I was already making (so, not much has changed). My sisters and I started a successful pet-sitting business in our neighborhood and I became a small-time expert on calming old Yorkies, walking rambunctious lab mixes, and chasing and capturing escaped West Highland white terriers. (My decision to never get a terrier was solidified during this time.)
And. Like today, I waited a very long time until I could get a dog of my own. When I turned 14 or 15, I finally got to pick out Emma from an adorable Aussie litter on my birthday. It was the happiest day of my young life.
Part III. A Family Who Loves Dogs
I often wonder what it was that triggered my switch from phobia to obsession. As I’ve grown older, the only hypothesis I’ve been able to create is that this shift was caused by the emergence of my family heritage. My paternal family is known for their love of animals, especially dogs. The Farsons would rather die than be accused of being cat people, although I’ve learned that they show kindness and sympathy to all animals. Even cats. Animals are a critical part of living. And to live without a dog in one’s life, well, what’s the point of that?
Although I never got to see my dad’s family that often, the Farson clan lived vividly in my mind from all of dad’s stories about growing up on farms in Indiana. His childhood always sounded so charmed and idyllic to me: Wandering corn fields with a pack of faithful dogs at his side, swimming in ponds, building forts. Dogs were always a central part of his childhood and I longed for them to be a part of mine.
Since I was little, I felt a deep connection with my dad’s mother, whom we call Gran. I rarely saw her, but I felt like she understood me. Gran is spunky, energetic, and hilarious. She is a woman who can fend for herself and always has. She raised five highly intelligent children, mostly on her own, and despite all of the obstacles that life threw her way, she is the most optimistic and joyful person I’ve ever met.
Gran is also devoted to dogs. She was likely responsible for the many dogs that my father grew up with. After her children had grown up and left, she worked full-time for the local animal shelter. She eventually adopted a lovely and devoted doberman named Chance, who was the true love of her life.
This Easter, Gran came to visit my family in North Carolina and I was thrilled to get to spend some time with her. Our time alone was spent taking Dublin for a walk around town and I loved every minute of it. I felt so much joy getting to share the company of this woman, my grandmother, whom I rarely saw and yet felt intensely connected to. We talked like had spent years together. And this was mainly because we saw eye-to-eye about dogs. She could read Dublin’s body language like I could. She suspected, as I did, that the Siberian husky we had just passed had likely tried to run away several times. She knew all of the breed stereotypes, all of the problems that keep dogs in shelters, all of the ways people could love dogs better.
My dad’s sister and her family recently went on vacation to the Outer Banks and left their precious, foxy mix breed Sadie with my parents for a few days. Gran apparently called the house four or five times to check on how Sadie was doing (probably nervous that my dad was roughhousing with her or teaching her bad habits, as he is wont to do). Mom joked that Gran would never have called if my cousins, her grandchildren, were staying with us. But the dog! The dog must be looked after.
My dad shares his mother’s devotion to dogs. He acts like Dublin is his dog. He taught her most of her Frisbee tricks, walks her around town, and takes her canoeing with him on Lake Norman.
I think the main reason that my parents don’t have a dog now is because my mother isn’t wildly fond of them. Her family had dogs, like most good suburban 1960s families, but they were not necessarily dog people. They were good and kind to their dogs, but their attention to dogs did not extend much beyond tolerated family pets. (My maternal grandfather may be the one exception to this family rule, for he is a universal animal whisperer. He can mystically charm animals that hate all other people, including squirrels, feral cats, and peacocks.)
But this overarching devotion, this need to share one’s life with a dog, that is something I inherited from my paternal family. That is my deep and lasting connection to the family that I rarely see and yet feel that I will always understand.
Did you grow up among “dog people”? Or did you acquire the trait later in life? Do you think it can be inherited?
The Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived. I loved this post, because it reminded me of the great dog legends my dad would tell us about his childhood. Ebony, his doberman, was his version of The Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived. (When he met my mom for the first time, he once asked her if she wanted to see a photo of the only girl he’d ever loved. She wasn’t so sure, but then he produced a photo of Ebony from his wallet.) She’ll always live in my memory. (Tales and Tails)
See Scout Sleep. Fashionable and yet pleasantly demure dog beds from See Scout Sleep, featured on Design Sponge. (Design Sponge)
Just Breathe. Another variation on the seemingly endless supply of “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster knockoffs, but I couldn’t help but feature it. It’s cute. And it’s also probably my life motto. (Pawsh Magazine)
Picasso’s Dogs. Stanley Coren reflects on Pablo Picasso’s relationships with dogs. (Modern Dog Magazine)
Dog on a Bed. Even though I’m not sure if I’ll let our future dog on our bed, I will always love photos of dogs on beds. (Shirley Bittner)
Bubble Beth. Exultant joy from this border collie, chasing soap bubbles. (BCxFour)
Woe. WOE! The caption and photo are priceless. (Save the Pit Bull, Save the World)
Get Low. Reason #524 why I will never get a terrier. (Animals Being Dicks)