Breed biases: When people judge your dog

Click for source.

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?

On the intelligence of dogs

The smartest of them all? Click for source.

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.

Stanley Coren’s Top 10 Most Obedient Breeds

  1. Border collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German shepherd
  4. Golden retriever
  5. Doberman pinscher
  6. Shetland sheepdog
  7. Labrador retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian cattle dog

*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.

Review: Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs

Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs.

I bought Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs with some Christmas money and really enjoyed reading it. I found it to be a helpful and non-scary introduction to a raw and natural canine diet, which is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Dr. Lew Olson is a rottweiler breeder with a Ph.D. in natural nutrition. She writes that she’s experienced firsthand the immense benefits of a raw and natural diet with her own dogs, and the book is sprinkled with testimonies from her clients and other people who have seen their dog’s health and energy drastically improve.

Her initial overview of canine nutritional needs and the American pet food industry was incredibly interesting and insightful. While I have read a bit about the horrors of your average kibble, I had no idea how vast and political the pet food industry’s influence is. Unlike Celeste Yarnall, Olson supports her arguments with cited evidence and research and doesn’t come across sounding like a conspiracy theorist: Instead, she’s just a woman who wants her dogs to be healthy. And your average kibble is decidedly not healthy.

The following chapters provide step-by-step advice on how to switch from kibble to a raw or natural diet. The later chapters also provide specific recipes for dogs with various health issues, including cancer, joint trouble, bladder problems, and skin allergies, just to name a few.

My only critique of the book is that it can occasionally read like a sales pitch for Berte’s products, which she includes in every recipe. A little research reveals that Olson is a part of B Naturals, the company that sells these products. I would have had more respect and trust in Olson if she had disclosed this connection forthright.

That to say, however, this is an excellent introduction to raw and natural diets. Olson makes you believe that it is indeed possible to feasibly and economically feed your dogs well.

Pup links!

Illustration by Gemma Correll, who is totally rad. Click image for her site.

15 Things to Purchase Before Adopting a Dog. Kristine’s funny, thorough, and honest list about the tools and things one will need when bringing an adopted dog into the home. Definitely writing these down on my shopping list! (Rescuing Insanity)

Pet-Themed New Uses for Old Things. My favorite magazine, Real Simple, provides some great tips for household objects that can be used for daily living with dogs. Some of these things are pretty obvious (duh, use a plastic bag when picking up poo), but some were good to read about. (Real Simple)

10 Signs You Are Matched with the Right Dog. A sweet list that highlights the bond that develops between a dog and its human. (Dog Days)

Balenciaga Dog Sweater. Now this is the classy way for a Crazy Dog Lady to dress. And it’s an embroidered GSD, too! (Miles to Style)

More Dog-Friendly Companies. This makes me wish my office welcomed dogs! I feel like our environment would be so calm and happy if we could have dogs around. (Unleashed Unlimited)

I also found two posts this week about German shepherds who actually herd sheep! Check them out:

Sheepies! Kodiak the GSD turns out to have a lot of natural herding instinct. (German Shepherd Mom)

My GSDs and Sheep. Christine reflects on her experience with herding and Schutzhund with her GSD pack. (Blackthorn Working GSDs)

Pet-A-Likes: Look At Me. The caption is hilarious–and, one believes, probably true. (Awkward Family Pet Photos)

Why I shouldn’t read Craigslist posts

Source: Google Images

I shouldn’t read the “Pets” postings on Craigslist because I always get really angry or upset. I wander to our local Craigslist from time to time, just to see what kind of animals people are re-homing or have lost or found in the neighborhood. I often come away very distressed.

These are the common posts I see on Craigslist (punctuated and spelled in standard English, for my readers’ sake). And yes, I have seen all of these posts, often multiple times.

“I need to find a new home for my dog because I’m allergic/I don’t have time for him/he’s too big for our apartment now.”

AGGGH. You people are the worst. Do NOT get a dog if you are, a.) allergic or someone in your family is allergic; b.) unable to properly care for him or give him the time he needs; or c.) living in a space that is not accommodating to an animal. Everyone is susceptible to a dewy-eyed puppy, but so few people really think through the consequences and responsibilities of caring for a dog. I just saw a post from a college student who was giving away her dog–whom she had adopted just three months ago from the SPCA–because she “realized [she] didn’t have time for him.” People, think about these things! SPCA, you probably shouldn’t let college students adopt dogs! It never fails to amaze me, but there you have it. I find that this is the most common post in the pets section of Craigslist. It’s also the one that gets me the most riled up.

“I’m giving away my dog because we’re moving.”

I understand that in this economy, there may be mitigating circumstances and you really can’t afford to bring your dog along. Sometimes, though, I feel like this statement may be a cover for the truth that you either can’t afford to keep your dog anymore or you are looking for an excuse to get rid of her. If so, fine, but I wish people were more up front about this. These posts are often peppered with comments about how much they love their dog, etc. Barring any dire financial circumstances, a committed dog parent would find a place to live that accommodated their dog. Simple as that.

“I want a dog who looks exactly like my old dog.”

Um, OK. Good luck with that.

“I’m looking for a purebred [insert breed here] but I want to pay less than $100 for it!”

You will be buying from a backyard breeder at best and a puppy mill at worst. I don’t know why people think they can get high-quality and humanely bred pets for such a small amount of money.

“I want a pit bull/rottweiler/German shepherd puppy! I also want it to be free or have a very small adoption fee!”

This makes me extremely nervous and angry–especially because those are the breeds that are most commonly mentioned in these types of posts. Just a few days ago, I saw this exact post from someone who wanted a “free” pit bull puppy. I was so distressed about it that I actually sent the person an e-mail, telling them to go visit our local shelter, which currently has a few pit bulls right now. I gave them a link to the shelter website and even recommended a particular pit bull (Pooch) that I had worked with. I also couldn’t help myself from throwing in a gentle statement that said, more or less, you get what you pay for, so don’t go looking for a free puppy. After all, the adoption fee at a shelter is a negligible amount compared to what you’ll be paying for the lifetime of that dog. If you can’t afford that adoption fee, then you definitely can’t afford to keep a dog.

Am I the only one who needs to stop reading Craigslist? Is there anything that can be done?