Consider this: This morning there was a story of the news about a Basset hound puppy found along a major highway.
I immediately thought a number of things. 1) While he was an incredibly cute puppy, why was this on the news now? It happens every single day. One week over the summer I found 5 separate stray dogs! 2) Isn’t it odd how thousands of people probably saw that news story and yet no one will be at their water cooler going on and on about how Basset puppies are so incredibly likely to be lost, abandoned or found by the highway. No one is likely to ask their friend or neighbor, “what type of dog will you be getting” and upon hearing Basset Hound give the advice “oh no, don’t get a Basset hound, she’s liable to end up on a major highway! They’re notorious for that.”
Why then do we have such an easy time generalizing certain breeds as being “dangerous?”
I’ve heard people say things like “I truly believe that dogs like German Shepherds are born nice and humans can turn them evil, but pit bulls are born evil and have to be taught to be nice.” I’ll never forget the news story a few summer ago where a dog identified simply as a pit bull was outside in his own yard while a young couple was washing their car in their yard next door. The couple set their baby in the grass in their front yard and the baby crawled over to the neighbor’s yard, and was bitten by the dog. What can you automatically pinpoint as being wrong with this story?
Why do people have such perceptions of certain breeds?
A quick online search turn sup plenty of websites that list “the most dangerous or vicious dogs” as Akitas, Chow-Chows, Doberman Pinschers, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Wolf-Dog Hybrids (oh yes, sadly this includes my beloved Special Dark). I really won’t get into why this list is the way it is or why you often hear about pit bulls on the news. For an amazingly wonderful, eye opening look into the answers to these questions (including understanding dog bites, dogs bites and kids, exploring bites that are the equivalent of a kitchen knife accident and where dog bite statistics come from) a take a look at Janis Bradley’s wonderful Dog’s Bite But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous and Darrell Huff’s How To Lie With Statistics.
Did you know that doing internet searches on dog breed bite statistics will also reveal that St. Bernards are Pomeranians have been noted as being responsible for human fatalities? Locally, for one year, Labrador Retrievers were tied for first place in the top 10 biting breeds for the year! Would you also be surprised to know that Dalmatians, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Collies and Jack Russell Terriers were also on that same top 10 list?
So what is my point here? My main point here is to re-emphasize that we need to really objectively analyze and evaluate everything we hear when it comes to our dogs, and dogs in general. Reading that a Pomeranian has killed a human or that beagles made the top biters in my area in 1998 won’t change your mind about these breeds will it? I really hope not! So why should hearing it about any breed influence our opinion about that breed without our objectively thinking about the facts (some of which are usually missing or overlooked) for that particular incident?
Much like the pit bull that makes the news for the dog bite, one lost Basset puppy makes the news.
The scores of other dog bites (and more importantly the events that led to the bite) do not make the news. The exhausted, dehydrated chow mix, shepherd mix and lab I found all together on the side of a busy road last summer and the scores of other dogs found every day don’t make the news. We should try to remember how ridiculous it would be for us to think that if one Basset puppy was found on the side of the road that all Basset puppies will end up on the side of the road or only Basset puppies will end up on the side of the road. Keep this in mind the next time you read or hear about a “vicious dog attack.”
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has a wonderful position statement on Breed Specific Legislation http://www.apdt.com/about/ps/breed_specific_legis.aspx,. One part especially stands out for me as a trainer; as someone who has devoted her entire adult life to the study of animal behavior: “Canine temperaments are widely varied, and behavior cannot be predicted by physical features such as head shape, coat length, muscle to bone ratio, etc. The only predictor of behavior is behavior.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
“The only predictor of behavior is behavior:” something crucial to keep in mind, not just when you hear a story on the news but any, and every, time you’re thinking about dogs or animals.