Buying a dog

Breed Stereotypes – Valid or Not?

Miriam-Webster defines the word stereotype as, “something conforming to a fixed or general pattern – especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.”

I recently had a conversation with someone about a certain breed and the “stereotypes” associated with that breed.  While stereotypes are generally seen as negative, I do think we have quite a few stereotypes in our world that are neither positive nor negative, and do clearly come out of a place of at least partial truth.  (An example might be that “all Southerners love sweet tea.”  While we clearly know that not ALL Southerners love sweet tea, we can see by the drink’s geographic distribution that it is most definitely a beloved item in the Southern US more than in other regions.)

While dog breeds can and do suffer from negative/false stereotypes, I found in my conversation with this young person that in his/her mind, “stereotype” and “characteristic” had become synonymous – and therefore were not of much importance because he/she deemed all stereotypes to be false.  Allow me to give a few examples of how these two items become muddied in the dog world:

  1. Pitbulls
    • Stereotype – All Pitbulls are dangerous and aggressive.
    • Characteristic – Pitbulls, as part of the Terrier family, are naturally tenacious and, as the AKC website jokes (about the American Staffordshire Terrier), “eager for a spirited argument.”
  2. Labrador Retriever
    • Stereotype – All Labs are hyperactive and goofy.
    • Characteristic – Labradors are bred to be working dogs and are generally very energetic and friendly.
  3. Border Collie
    • Stereotype – All Border Collies are bad at chasing cars, people, and bicycles.
    • Characteristic – Border Collies are bred to herd livestock and have a natural desire to control movement.

Here’s why I feel we can’t dismiss a breed’s “characteristics” just because it closely resembles the breed’s “stereotype:” WE BRED THEM TO BE THIS WAY.

While a person may be inappropriately stereotyped based on nationality, dog breeds have been specifically and carefully crafted over (in some cases) hundreds of years!  A need for certain characteristics to become common or even close to “guaranteed” in a litter is exactly why different breeds emerged in the first place.  Humans needed/wanted dogs to perform certain tasks, so they bred the dogs who showed the most promise until they had refined the kind of dog they were looking for to do the job.

You’re lost in the woods.  You can choose a Bloodhound or a Great Pyrenees to come find you.  Who do you choose?

You’re a senior adult with mobility issues.  You can choose a Beagle or Pug to be your companion.  Who do you choose?

You’re blind and you need a guide.  You can choose a Golden Retriever or an Akita.  Who do you choose?

If you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with these breeds, I hope you chose the Bloodhound, Pug, and Golden Retriever. 🙂  And while it is possible to get a Bloodhound with a bad nose/work ethic, a Pug who wants to run marathons, or an anti-social/unintelligent Golden Retriever, those aren’t the most likely scenarios.

So, when you’re choosing a BREED – not a specific dog – please keep in mind that whether you call them stereotypes or characteristics, certain breeds do generally possess certain behavioral qualities.  Now, if you’re adopting or buying an adult dog, you can sometimes easily see where he/she differs from the generalized characteristics of a given breed.  However, when you’re adopting/buying a puppy of a certain breed, I highly suggest you feel prepared to handle whatever those generalized characteristics may be!

What’s my point?

Choose wisely.

Don’t choose a high drive working breed and hope that it turns out to be a couch potato!  Don’t choose a low drive, stocky breed and then be surprised if it doesn’t want to run an agility course with you!

Yes, there are ALWAYS exceptions, but I feel those exceptions are normally minor.  Let’s use my dogs as an example using some buzzwords from their breeds’ AKC website listings:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATucker: Labrador Retriever
Friendly – Yep!
Active – Ha! Nope!
Outgoing – Yep!
High-Spirited – Nope!
Affectionate – Yep!

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.

1Ellie: German Shepherd Dog
Confident – Yep!
Courageous – Mostly!
Smart – Yep!
Loyal – Yep!  To a fault.
Steady – Nope!

.
.
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What you see here aren’t two dogs who are totally opposite of their breed standards, but who are individuals who carry most, but not all, of those breed standards.  Tucker is still very Labrador and Ellie is still very Shepherd even though neither one of them is a perfect textbook example.

So please, as you search for your next dog or counsel a friend about his/hers, don’t allow yourself to assume that yours will be the exception.  When we are choosing a dog, I feel it is our responsibility to do so with great care, research, and thought.  Yes, sometimes dogs (literally) just wander into our lives and we end up with a breed we never imagined – and that’s okay!  But when you’re calling the shots and making the decisions – please do so responsibly!

 

 

At Discovery Dog Training, we treat every dog as an individual and we don’t have a “no-go” list of breeds we won’t train.  We understand that genetics (physical health) and training play a huge role in every dog’s characteristics/personality, regardless of breed, and we feel honored to have been able to work with so many diverse breeds – and mixes thereof!

 

 

Categories: Adopting a dog, Behavior, Blog, Buying a dog, dog training, Purebred dogs | Leave a comment

Purebreds VS Rescues

Purebreds VS Rescues
Please note that this post is geared mostly towards those looking to adopt or buy a puppy – not an adult dog.  I am also using “rescues” to generally refer to dogs of unknown history and breeding – not necessarily purebreds who need a new home or end up in shelters.

As with almost every other subject, people can get very defensive, and downright mean, when it comes to purebreds versus rescues.  So, just in case anyone is curious, here are my two cents on the subject:

BOTH ARE GREAT. 

And here’s why: each owner’s needs, and each dog’s purpose, is different.

Rescues
I love rescues.  They come in all sorts of cool and sometimes funny looking combinations.    I grew up with Dingo, a “pound puppy” who was mostly Golden Retriever and a little bit of who-knows-what-else.  We had her for nearly 16 years and loved her dearly.  As a adolescent, I never dreamed I’d ever grow up to own a purebred dog.  After all, I’d had a great rescue, rescues are cheaper (initially, at least), and there are a ton of them available.  So, how did I come to a place where I now own two purebred dogs?

DSC00145

Dingo

Purebreds
I love purebreds.  They may be cut from a relatively similar cloth, but they are all still individuals.  I ended up with my first purebred dog, Tucker, because I volunteered to be his Puppy Raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind.  When he was career changed at a year and a half, they gave him back to me.  During this time, I also had the privilege of becoming good friends with a couple who train Search and Rescue dogs – all of whom just happened to be purebred German Shepherds.

Then I became a dog trainer.  As my business grew, my Labrador (who is atypical in my opinion) decided he didn’t want to have to work every day.  He’s mellow and he’s lazy.  He didn’t seem to enjoy being the one and only demonstration dog or training assistant.  So, we began thinking about our next dog.  And although a working dog will always also be a family dog in our home, our business needs were a huge priority.  I needed a dog with a great work ethic, a confident personality, and a good temperament.  The more time I spent with my search and rescue friends, the more I fell in love with the qualities of the German Shepherd Dog.  And now we have Ellie the Warrior Princess.

Tucker and Ellie

Ellie and Tucker

 

So, if you’re looking for a dog, and you have friends on one side yelling, “adopt, don’t shop!” and friends on the other side yelling, “you don’t know what you’re getting!” how on earth are you supposed to decide what to do?  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Health
    • Most people have heard the statement, “mutts are healthier than purebreds.”  In my experience, that has been true to a point, but not 100%.  My parents currently have a rescued German Shepherd mix and she has had very few health issues so far.  Dingo, however, had poor hips and allergies, and was on arthritis medication for roughly 8 of her 15.5 years.  Tucker is a mess of weird health problems – acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, poor tooth structure – while Ellie, thus far, hasn’t shown any issues other than a birth defect in her eye (which doctors say isn’t necessarily genetic).  When you rescue a dog, you don’t know their health history.  When you buy a dog, you can (and should!) look at their lineage and health history, but it isn’t a guarantee.
  • Physical Characteristics
    • Some people like big dogs and some people like small dogs.  Some people live on 50 acre farms and some people live in one bedroom apartments.  The size of dog you have, and their other physical characteristics (such as their fur), can have a great impact on your life.

      My dad took me to the pound and let me pick out Dingo all on my own – at five years old.  I wanted a “golden colored” puppy – that was my only requirement.  My parents had no idea how big she would or wouldn’t get and what her temperament would be like.  Newsflash y’all – rescues organizations and shelters GUESS at a dog’s breed to the best of their ability, but when they don’t have any history on a puppy, they are guessing in the dark based on the physical traits they can see at a young age.  Thankfully for us, we had the space and finances to handle what turned out to be a 70 pound Golden Retriever mix – not all families have that luxury.  Another example:  I worked for a wonderful veterinarian for a few years who will readily tell you that guessing a puppy’s breed is not her best skill.  She currently owns an 80 pound hound dog because her son brought home a stray puppy that she thought was a Beagle pup…

      While size is an important factor, another important one for a lot of families is the coat.  If you know a family member is allergic to dogs, you may not want to invest time and money into a rescue who MAY be hypoallergenic when you could buy a specific breed known for that quality or even one who has already been tested and proven mostly hypoallergenic.  And besides that, some people just don’t want to deal with fluffy tumbleweeds floating around their house!

  • Purpose
    • To me, purpose is one of the most important factors to consider in this debate. If you’re looking for a family pet, a companion, or a walking buddy, you may not care exactly how big he gets or what his level of trainability might be for advanced commands.  If you’re looking to train for a specific task or skill, or you need certain physical characteristics because of your environment, you may be wary of adopting a rescue puppy when no certain history is available.

      And do you know what I think?  I think that is perfectly acceptable.  I don’t think either of these sides should be judged too harshly.  After all, if you believe as I do that a dog is a long term commitment, you want to be sure that you’re committing to something you can handle and that serves its intended purpose.  Now, there are always exceptions to the above thoughts.  There are organizations who are willing to take the time to comb through shelters and pick out dogs with certain characteristics to train for high functioning jobs – and that’s awesome.  There are breeders/shops who are in it for the money, who are irresponsible, who sell dogs with horrible health and temperaments and who contribute to our shelter dog problem – and that’s repulsive.

      At the end of the day, you should think long and hard about your decision to adopt OR shop and make the choice that will be best for you, and the dog, in the long term.  Don’t let someone bully you into rescuing a dog with a laundry list of issues that you don’t have the money/time to handle.  Don’t let someone bully you into going to the most expensive breeder in town because they think a dollar sign is the only qualifier of worth and value.  Seek out people on both sides of the road, do your research, and make the decision for yourself.

      Mixed breeds and Purebred dogs

      Between my parents, sister, and myself, we have two rescues and two purebreds.  They are all dearly loved and serve their purpose well.  My sister’s dog Harley, who is a who-the-heck-knows-husky-mix?, fits in well as a patient big brother to my nephew and cuddle buddy for my sister/brother in law.  My parents’ dog Kalli, a shepherd mix, lives a happily introverted life with two empty nesters and has amazing mole catching skills.  And then there’s my kids – the German Shepherd Dog who cries when she doesn’t get to go to the office and the lazy Labrador who enjoys sleeping next to kids at the elementary school while they read.  They all have purpose – they are all valuable – and they are all exactly where they need to be.  

       

 

Categories: Adopting a dog, Blog, Buying a dog, dog training, Mixed Breeds, owner encouragement, Puppy, Purebred dogs, Rescues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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