In pretty much the best giant eugenics experiment ever, we created dogs to do our bidding and refined, perfected, or destroyed (depending on your perspective) domestic dogs into very specific types and breeds with defined characteristics. If there is one thing breeds can tell us, genes count too, kids.
When we’re born, there are certain things about us that are relatively set in our genetic codes; We’ll typically have hair, we may need glasses, teeth should arrive at some point with a heart and lungs etc. When a dog is born it is a dog. Theoretically with ears, eyes, four legs and a tail. For some people, it all stops there. A dog is a dog and there are no difference beyond that point. For people who acknowledge the existence of nature (So, everyone who haz a smrt) it’s a lot more complicated than that.
There’s a weird myth in dog training, and I think we’ve all been guilty at one time or another, in telling another person that “It’s all in how you raise them”. For owners and handlers suffering under the constraints of BSL and often the little lauded shelter worker*** it becomes a truism comforting those who lack knowledge on their breeds or who’ve read into all the hype and media and simply come across as ignorant morons. For serious dog folk, sometimes it’s something we say just to shut people up, and for spectators and the unwashed masses, it’s often something they’ll say as a justification to do something incredibly stupid that all common sense and logic would say is not probable e.g. stick their head into my car with the doors closed and the windows cracked, because my dog was “raised right”.
After a long weekend of showing and explaining for the umpteenth time that “No, a Malinois is not a good idea to buy for your toddler”, I’ve had it. It is not “All in how you raise them”. Unfortunately while the basic premise is true (Any person given the proper skill set can raise any given stable dog to be at least semi-reasonable indoors and out) the details are a bit fuzzy and then we have problems. Those details are such things like inherent breed traits including the major and common behavioral quirks that anyone who has done a modicum of research would understand.
All of the training and puppy to in the world will not turn my Cattle Dog into a Pug. If I wanted a Pug, I’d own a Pug. If I expected my Cattle Dog to act like a Pug, I’d be a moron. If I was telling people cattle dogs are the same as Pugs I’d be a moron and an asshole. Before getting my Cattle Dog I fully anticipated getting nipped, my little dogs potentially getting chased around a bit, some dog aggression, a healthy dose of “I like my way better”and probably a fair amount of human wariness. I’d also expect a high energy velcro dog who appreciated a good time. I expected this because it’s commonly accepted as typical of the breed. What I got was a little bit different (All dogs are individual) but most of those things still appeared to some degree and I have a functional Cattle Dog with her own personality. Good training has quelled many of her worst habits but she is what she is, and as long as it’s polite and functional, I’m mostly okay with that.
What it comes down to is expectations. A person who would thrive with a Maltese may not do so well with a Malinois and vice versa. Overwhelmed, underprepared and frustrated, these dogs tend to get turned into breed rescue with a hearty headshake and a shrug from the rescue folks themselves. What can you do if people don’t do their research? Absolutely nothing. What can you do if people are telling them the opposite of accepted wisdom? Absolutely nothing. So here’s the deal. While I’m personally very glad your dog is easy and wonderful and doesn’t have any of the traits I’ve mentioned or you “dealt” with them through the most menial of ways, please do not devalue the warnings experienced breed people have given to others, by giving your anecdotal and irrelevant experience. I’m glad your Malinois loves kids (So does mine, bfd. It’s not a kid’s breed.) and I’m glad your Fila just loves the mailman. Really, we’re all sure you’re wonderful but your flukey dog has less to do with you and more to do with genetic weirdness than anything else. You don’t get to take credit.
*** BusyBee will be tackling the fine line between advocating and foisting in the next installment.