Breed Profiling

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I’ve liked individual dogs of pretty much every breed at some point or another. But there are times when I’ve also NOT liked dogs of some breed when it wasn’t even warranted. I guess you’d call it profiling or discrimination.

For the October issue of WDJ, I needed a dog to model a number of no-pull harnesses, so I could photograph them before sending them to WDJ Training Editor Pat Miller to review them. I purchased a size “medium” in all the harnesses so that Pat would stand the best chance of finding dogs to wear and try out the products. But for the photographs, I had additional requirements of the models: they also had to be a light color and short-haired, so the harnesses could be seen easily.

Unfortunately, none of my friends’ dogs were the right size, color, and had the right coat. So I went to my local shelter and looked for a candidate. The only dog in the adoption ward who immediately fit the bill was a muscle-bound bully breed, light grey, with a short coat. However, he also had a rather impassive expression that I couldn’t read. He neither growled, nor did he wag – and given his breed type, I was nervous about giving him a shot. Instead, I tried several other candidates, and each failed miserably. Either they were not the best color for what I needed or they wouldn’t stand still for photos. I wasted at least an hour passing that bully guy by, until out of desperation, I opened his kennel door.

Long story short, he was PERFECT. He was a strong puller on leash, and yet, he stood patiently while I adjusted harness after harness on him, and then stepped back to take photo after photo of him. I was immediately remorseful for having not tried him in the first place, all because I made assumptions about him because of his type. I just didn’t want to tangle with a dog who might be too strong, too wiggly, preoccupied with other dogs in nearby runs, or impatient with me and all the gear and possibly aggressive.

I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one who is guilty of stereotyping, even though I know better. I know a lot of owners of large dogs who are biased against small dogs, saying that small dogs are “always” the ones who start trouble when they pass on the street – and in my experience, Chihuahuas and terriers ARE often out of control and apt to behave aggressively on-leash.

On the other hand, I know owners of small dogs who pick their small dogs up when they pass dogs of certain larger breeds, worrying that the big dogs will make a predatory grab for their tiny brethren – and I’ve seen that happen, too. Veterinarians will note “BDLD” in a small dog’s medical chart when a “Big Dog” attacks a “Little Dog,” perhaps mistaking it for a prey animal.

As I confessed my “sin” of prejudice to one of the employees at the shelter, however, she said I wasn’t altogether incorrect to worry about the big dog’s stereotypic traits. “It’s a good thing you didn’t take him by the cat room!” she told me. “He goes berserk when he sees a cat; it takes everything you’ve got to hold him back.” 

Have you been guilty of breed prejudice? Ever made a highly incorrect assumption about a dog based on his breed or type – or have you mostly had your stereotyping confirmed?

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