Editorial March 1999 Issue

Rottie “Racism”?

WDJ gets bitten by breed stereotypes.

Recently I got a letter from a reader who complained that the most recent issue of WDJ had completely turned her off. The articles were “wonderful,” she said, but what left a bad taste in her mouth, so to speak, was the way we had singled out Rottweilers as bad dogs.

Where had we done that? I wondered, even as I read on. Fortunately, she explained. First, on the cover, we had a picture of two Rottweilers engaged in something that looked like a fight (they were actually playing) and was labelled, “Fear of Fighting.” True enough. Our second offense was also associated with the article about teaching dogs not to fight. The author of the article chose to use “a growling Rottweiler” as an example of something a person might want his dog to pass with a wide berth. The letter writer suggested that in the future, we consider using “generic terms” and not single out any one breed to represent the growling threat. It’s comments like these, she said, that make people fear Rottweilers more.

Well, yes and no.

People fear Rottweilers for a variety of reasons, and only a few of those reasons are due to the media. Some Rottie owners deliberately foster the intimidating look, fastening huge Gothic collars on their dogs and encouraging their dogs to be aggressive. Many Rottweilers are used for guard and protection work, a task they were bred for and excel at. And, face it, whether you want to blame nature or nurture (poor breeding or wrong-headed training), there are a certain number of aggressive, unpredictable, dangerous Rottweilers in the world.

Of course, there are a lot of aggressive, unpredictable, dangerous Toy Poodles in the world, too. But few people are frightened of Toy Poodles, even if they growl and snap.

Before I go any further, I guess I better explain that, as a generalization, I like Rottweilers. The good ones I’ve known outnumber the scary ones, and when you have a good-hearted Rottie, you have a friend who will follow you to the ends of the earth.

And I agree with the reader on one point: Selecting a Rottweiler to represent the prototype scary sidewalk hazard was indulging in a stereotype that is probably painful to friends of Rottweilers. We probably should have described the dog in generic terms that would be equally evocative of a threat one would instantly want to avoid, such as, “. . . a huge, snarling brute of a dog, barely restrained by its leering owner. . .”

So, I don’t want anyone to freak out when they see two MORE violent Rotts in this issue!

Pat Miller begins her article (“Does Your Dog Bite?”) about the best way to prevent an “at-risk” dog from biting people with a true story – a close encounter she had with a biting Rottweiler. After 20-plus years in dog-related professions, Miller has probably been bitten more than once, and yes, I suppose she could have used another one of her “war stories” to commence this article. But the Rott who bit her was the perfect example of a dog with potentially dangerous “risk factors” for biting, a dog who would have benefitted from some behavior modification training such as the kind she discusses in the article.

And the second aggressive Rottweiler in this issue is rehabilitated, a virtual poster dog for several positive movements: no-kill shelters who have the resources to rehabilitate dogs who come to them with serious behavior problems; for flower essence therapy, which offers a unique, safe, and effective way to help a dog regain his mental and emotional equanimity; and for thoughtful, caring owners willing to tailor their habitat and life-styles to accommodate the special needs of their beloved canine companions.

Both these dogs illustrate WDJ’s goals – how, with holistic care, even the scariest dog can transcend its stereotype.

-By Nancy Kerns

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