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?

Pup links!

The prototypical collie/shepherd. Source: LIFE Magazine Archives.

Dog-related links from around the Web this week.

Breed-based euthanasia proposed in NC county. This is so horrible that it barely seems real. Cumberland County in North Carolina has a proposal on the docket that will euthanize all incoming GSDs, bully breeds, dobermans, rottweilers, akitas, chows, and Great Danes within 72 hours and not give them a chance to be adopted. There is a petition collecting signatures here; I signed it last night and encourage you to do the same, if you feel so led. It’s hard for me to believe that this kind of egregious breed-based discrimination still exists. But, clearly and sadly, it does. (Examiner)

Puppy at 500 f/s. On a lighter note: This is a beautiful video and an excellent study in canine movement. Directors of an independent film studio, Kamerawerk, made this short film, titled “Afternoon Pleasures,” of their chocolate lab puppy chasing a ball (and other various objects) and it’s lovely and riveting. Sent to me by my friend Maggie. (Kamerawerk on Vimeo)

Judgment Is Easy, Understanding Takes Work. An inspiring and thoughtful post about reserving judgment of our fellow dog owners. It’s something that I have to work on too, even though I don’t have a dog of my own! (Rescuing Insanity)

De-bunking the “Alpha Dog” Theory. Pat Miller, a positive trainer I respect, reflects on why this theory of the “alpha dog” needs to fall by the wayside. This is something I definitely wish all dog owners knew today. It always surprises me how widespread this theory is–even at the shelter. Seasoned volunteers and sometimes staff members use “alpha dog” language to talk about “problem” dogs and I often wish I had enough credibility to speak up about it. (The Hydrant)

Preparing for Your New Pooch. A practical list of guidelines to help one prepare to bring a dog into the home. Even though I’ve read dozens of lists like this one, I always like finding them and comparing notes. (The Inquisitive Canine)

Mismark Case: Australian Shepherd. The canine-loving biologist writes a post on one of my all-time favorite breeds, the Aussie, and examines the different markings and genetic repercussions that occur in the breed. (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

Peter Clark Dog Collages. This artist makes collages of popular breeds from found maps and old stamps. The results are eye-catching! (Dog Milk)

Dog Snout Also Makes Handy Bath Snorkel. This pup has the right idea. (Best Week Ever)

On showing grace to other dog owners

An early pit bull/boxer with his strange raccoon/koala friend. But I'm withholding judgment! And it's pretty cute. Source: ywgrossman.com

I have a natural tendency to be judgmental. It’s a terrible personality trait but one that I am well aware of.

After these months of casual research, I now somehow feel qualified to project my judgment onto other dog people.

For instance, there is a macho man who I often see walking around town with his pack of three huge, intact male pit bulls. My first instinct when I saw him was to cringe and to fear for the well-being of those dogs. The area in which he lived, the breed of dog, and the manner in which he carried himself all made me instantly anxious. I thought this for a while and mentioned this man and his ferocious-looking pack to my friend Liz (Bo’s mama). Liz is wise and gracious and she said, instead: “But he’s out walking them. And that’s more than most dog owners do.”

I was humbled and I realized this was true. At least these dogs are not chained to a tree somewhere. He seems very devoted to walking them around town. And even though this might be because they contribute to his manly, somewhat scary image, he’s just a man out walking his dogs.

And then there is the homeless man who begs on the downtown mall in my city. He keeps an American bulldog/pit mix on a big rope while he asks for money from passersby. I was anxious about the man and felt that it was irresponsible for him to keep a dog when it was evident that he wasn’t able to keep himself very well. But this dog always appears very healthy, alert, and calm–despite what must be a stressful life on the streets. He has a human with him, and so he’s happy.

And then there are the people who swear that Cesar Millan is the greatest dog trainer alive. Those people I also try not to judge.

Because at the end of the day, what’s the point? Casting stones never really helped anyone. We’re all just trying to do the best we can by our dogs.

“And all day long we talked about mercy…” — Joanna Newsom