As a community at the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and here at Pets and their People (P&TP) we covet the possibilities of a more inclusive approach to our pet dogs, our beloved canines.
Falling in Love with Dogs Based on Appearance or Breed
Did you know that dogs are the most varied species on the planet, and the most numerous? I know from my perspective that if all dogs looked like (insert my least favorite breed here), I would probably be a donkey trainer. We all have our favorite breeds and for many pet owners this preference is driven purely based on looks and not the breed temperament or personality.
We might make our breed decisions based on height, weight, coat type, head shape, tails, ears and other visual appearances. For some, breed groups, classifications of dogs, are important when choosing a pet, as each breed group has been bred with a specific function in mind; selection is based on the breed’s ability to perform specific tasks. There are working dogs, herding dogs, sight hounds, gun dogs, and many more classifications based on the roles dogs play in our society and the registration organizations, which do differ from country to country.
Kim Brophy, in her fabulous book, “Meet Your Dog: The Game-Changing Guide for Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior” (2018) provides the pros and cons for various dog breeds. Just like us, dog breeds and individual dogs have natural talents and abilities and perceived strengths and weaknesses.
Pet owners often fall in love with individual dogs based on how they look. An adorable face on a rescue page or on a breeder’s website beckons a person in for a second glance and then offers more information. In many cases, when searching for a rescue dog, the catch or hook is the individual dog’s private story, where the dog is located, or its troubled past, and salvation begs us to need and want to be part of its future. We are emotionally triggered to want, no need, to offer the pet a safe and loving new home.
Whether you rescue a dog or purchase one from a responsible breeder we encourage you to take a deeper look into the individual dog in front of you. Understand its unique personality and emotional needs rather than just focusing on the group traits of the breed. There is often more variability in personality and traits within a bred group than across breeds. This means that not all Golden Retrievers are going to be the same; you may find one that is more alike to a high drive Australian Shepherd. Choosing a pet based on breed only can be at best, misleading and at worst, terrible for an unsuspecting family who find themselves with a high drive dog over a calm couch potato!
Pet guardians need to always be aware. When we humans bring home our beautiful new pet dogs, they may come along with unexpected baggage, possibly some fear or anxiety as a result of their history. They may just be a bundle of fun or have an excess of exuberant energy. Give them time, support and space and enable them to adjust to the home on their terms so a bond is forged, and love and trust can replace the prior uncertainty in the canine-human relationship.
The Pitfalls of Discrimination Against Dogs Based on Appearance or Breed
In many states and individual countries over the last few years local, federal and state governments have implemented discriminatory laws against dogs based simply on how they look. The implementation of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) has placed many pets in peril just because of their DNA or physical appearance, without any consideration of the individual dog and its individual behavior. Laws have been enacted that ban or restrict certain types of dogs from being placed in homes and in some cases pet dogs with no prior problematic history have been ripped away from their families, all because of BSL. In the ASPCA’s article “What is Breed-Specific Legislation?” it states that: BSL “is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals. However, the bite statistics do not support these laws and as such the article goes on to say that they should truly be called breed-discriminatory laws.
In local communities, unsuspecting pet guardians can find themselves in jeopardy with condo or housing associations when they adopt or purchase pets with a certain look. Demands are made for DNA testing because, “Your dog looks like a … [fill in the breed].” These ordinances limit and restrict the individual rights of pet guardians to choose and care for a particular pet because of laws written and implemented through fear mongering and not because of any tracked behavior statistics or bite data.
To compound this oversight of community association management, many insurance companies will not grant homeowner’s or renter’s insurance if the occupants have a breed of dog that has been deemed unacceptable. In a Petruzelo Insurance blog, “Why Homeowners Insurance Policies Exclude Some Dog Breeds,” they share that most lists include pit bulls, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Chow Chows because “studies and experience have repeatedly shown that these are some of the most aggressive dog breeds.” “Some,” what does this mean? Where are the statistics and what about the other breeds referred to? The blog goes on to contradict itself by asking later on if it is fair to ban a breed. The blog by the insurance company is then summarized or justified by saying that insurance companies have to minimize their risk and can’t take the time to learn about each individual dog (2017).
Amongst the lack of data and heartbreaking scenarios where dogs are removed from families, there are some sensible voices being heard above the fear ramblings. Voices Of Change Animal League (VOCAL), a community clinic and resource center located in Marion County Florida, is hoping for a new era in animal welfare as they refer to a future that does recognize that all dogs are individuals, irrespective of breed or looks.
Whether you choose a Saluki (a sight hound) with lovely flowing long hair or a short Jack Russel Terrier (bred for vermin control), we must not discriminate based on looks, or size, or gender or location. We must look to the individual dog, their individual behavior, and the needs of the individual pet. We must consider each pet as an individual that has emotional, physical, and environmental needs. All dogs, irrespective of their breed, are so reliant on us humans to support, care for and nurture them. Most of our dogs will love their humans, and irrespective of breed, will give their guardians years of support, and cuddles on the couch.
So, does the beautiful dog with the big square head deserve to be cuddled on the couch any less? Loved by his humans any less?
Should a group, an insurance company, housing authority or government, be able to tell us that we simply cannot invite a certain type of dog into our lives?
It should hurt and anger us to know that this kind of breed specific legislation is still in operation. As pet guardians, professionals, and community leaders we need to help bring about changes to public policy and this needs to change sooner rather than later.
Written by the PPG Inclusivity Committee.
ASPCA. (n.d.) What Is Breed-Specific Legislation?” https://www.aspca.org/improving-laws-animals/public-policy/what-breed-specific-legislation
Brophey, K. (2018). Meet Your Dog: The Game-Changing Guide for Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior. Chronicle Books.
Lewis, T. (2020). Biology of Dogs from Gonads through Guts to Ganglia. Dogwise Publishing.
Pet Professional Guild. Breed Specific Legislation.
Pet Professional Guild, Inclusivity Division
Petruzelo Insurance. (2017, July 18). Why Homeowners Insurance Policies Exclude Some Dog Breeds. https://www.petruzelo.com/blog/homeowners-insurance-policies-exclude-dog-breeds/
Simpson, J., et al. (2021, Sept. 2). Evicting Breed Bias. https://humanepro.org/blog/blog-evicting-breed-bias
The Animal Farm Foundation. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions – Animal Farm Foundation. https://animalfarmfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/FAQS-E-Book.pdf
Voices of Change Animal League. (2016, Sept. 26). The Truth about Breed Discrimination. https://vocalforpets.org/truth-breed-discrimination/