Are you similar to your breed’s fans?

I am perpetually interested in how certain personality types gravitate toward certain breeds or breed types.

For instance, I have always loved dogs in the herding group most. I love their look, their intensity, their intelligence and drive to work with people. I grew up with a beautiful Australian shepherd, and I dream sometimes about getting an English shepherd. But I also have a soft spot for sighthounds and spaniels.

Through no clear intention of my own, I have become a “German shepherd person,” now raising two shepherds and having fostered six. (*German shepherds are technically in the herding group, according to the AKC, but many shepherds these days have lost that herding instinct. But there is a growing trend of getting working-line shepherds back into livestock herding, which I find very interesting.)

© Mike Hale (Flickr). Creative Commons license.
© Mike Hale (Flickr). Creative Commons license.

And yet I feel very different from the typical German shepherd person. Allow me to stereotype, will you?

The typical German shepherd person

  • ascribes to traditional, dominance-based training
  • often has a military or law enforcement background
  • is concerned with being “the alpha” or the “pack leader”
  • has no problem with shock collars, prong collars, and choke chains
  • finds schutzhund very appealing
  • is likely a gun owner
  • finds “toughness” and even mild aggression to be a virtue

Clearly, not everyone who has a shepherd fits most or even one of these stereotypes, but I find these traits to be more true of shepherd people than of other groups aligned with other breeds.

This person loves his or her shepherd as much as I love mine, and the generalizations are not meant to discount that but rather to say I often feel very, very temperamentally different from the typical German shepherd owner.

I am not tough, and I am not impressed by machismo. I do not and never will own a gun. I follow the science-based philosophies of positive reinforcement training and would never use a shock collar on my dog or on any dog. I do not think my dogs are trying to “dominate” me, a concept I find simultaneously laughable and dangerous.

For these reasons, I stay off the German shepherd message boards and have honestly distanced myself from a lot of our dogs’ rescue representatives, most of whom have bought into a shock-collar “training” franchise and encourage adopters to put their shepherds through their expensive programs, which promise fast results for “problem” dogs by the widespread use of e-collars. I’m OK with being an outsider.

My idea of a good night: wine, "Breaking Bad," and a shepherd sleeping in my lap. #draco #gsd
Draco, one of our fosters, and me.

It makes me curious, though, about other breeds, so I’d love to hear from you. What are some of the stereotypes of people with your dog’s breed? Do you fit those generalizations? 

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Becoming a “German shepherd person”

We talk a lot about breed stereotypes, but I think there’s also something to be said about those stereotypes of people with certain breeds.

For example, culture sees a person with a pit bull and assumes they’re really tough and macho. A lady with a chihuahua? She must spoil it to death and always refer to it in the third person. Border collie people? They’re super-INTENSE.

Naturally, these stereotypes are not completely true. Plenty of pit people are utter softies! There are chihuahua owners who are very serious about training and conscientious care. And maybe there are even some border collie people who are lazy?

Hanging out in the backyard

But there are perhaps types of people who gravitate toward certain breeds or breed groups. I have always loved dogs in the herding group. I can’t say that I will ever be interested in owning a brachycephalic dog or any dog in the toy or terrier category. But that’s just me! Every other dog owner has his or her reason for the dog they chose.

Play-date with Ozzie

But I, for one, never set out to become a “German shepherd person.” I was roped into it by my husband, who has his heart set on a GSD after his summer in Ireland with a noble, loyal Alsatian. I just wanted to adopt a DOG, any dog! But then we found Southeast German Shepherd Rescue, and the rest, well, is history…

I don’t think I fit the typical profile of a “German shepherd person.” Many of them are very tough, macho-presenting people; many have backgrounds in the armed forces or in police work (which makes sense, seeing as GSDs are often service dogs); and many like choke chains, shock collars, prongs, and heavy-corrective training. I am a small young woman who prefers dresses, reads poetry, and runs a calligraphy business in her spare time. I have met GSDs who WEIGH more than I do!

But all that said, I love our girl and I love her rescue and the dogs we’ve fostered. I still think GSDs are a very difficult breed with a lot of issues (both health and behavioral), due to the way they’ve been so poorly bred in the United States. But I love these dogs. They are so intelligent and sensitive and loving. They latch onto their people and devote themselves utterly. They are fun and quirky and neurotic and whip-smart. In short, I am glad that this breed found me.

Now, my fellow dog-loving coworkers send me articles about GSDs, pages from their dog-a-day calendars featuring a regal shepherd, etc. It’s fun to live into this stereotype of the “German shepherd person.”

Three dogs

What about you?

Do you ever feel stereotyped because of the dog you have?