Dog breed perceptions drive ownership choices. Is that a good thing?
Got a Schnauzer? What made you want this breed of dog? Did “Shnauzer” come up on an Internet breed finder? Maybe you grew up with one, or your friends have one. Perhaps you just like the way they look. Their spunk. Their style.
Today’s topic is “breed perceptions.” The question, according to one study out of Australia, is whether people, at a formative age––at a time when lifelong opinions tend to be formed––might acquire misperceptions on dog breed behavior that could affect their future ability to select the right canine companion.
Here’s the abstract for the article titled, “Young adults' familiarity with, and perceptions of, common dog breeds in Australia”:
A common reason for relinquishment of pet dogs is that their behavior is contrary to the expectations of their owner. Because behavioral predispositions within a breed are believed to be relatively predictable, to assist owner-dog matching potential owners are often advised to acquire a purebred dog. Breed information is readily available via books, breed clubs, and the internet. The extent to which this information is used by the public is unknown. The aim of this study was to explore the familiarity of young adults with a range of dog breeds and their perceptions of these breeds.
OK, so I admit it. I didn’t read the whole journal article. I’m a little cash poor at the moment so I decided to dispense with the $12 worth of science. Instead, I thought I’d offer you my personal take on this subject, leaving it up to you to determine whether my assessments strike a chord.
It seems to me that prospective pet owners acquire dog breed information––increasingly––through media sources unrelated to expert recommendations or prevailing wisdom. For example: based on TV sources, a smart, well-behaved Jack Russell (like Eddie on reruns of Frazier), is likely to engender JRT-affinity among those who seek a small but feisty apartment dog.
Unfortunately, as most of us here know, Eddie is an aberration. Few pet owners are terrier-worthy. And fewer Jacks do well in urbanity relative to those who live the rural life dogs like this were bred for.
Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Maltese and other teacup varietals (the celebrity pooches-of-pocketbook choice) now appeal not only to those with a predilection for one on one companionship in closed settings, but to young, first-time dog owners who would expose their dogs to all humanity––despite their well-known health and temperamental peculiarities (the dogs not the humans).
My goal is not to disparage any of these breeds. Plenty of exceptions exist in which certain breeds of dogs work our well for owners despite their obvious incongruities (especially when an owner is responsible, aware and willing to apply training).
Nope. No breed-bashing in this post. (That's not the point, at least.) I’m simply pointing out the questionability of how many humans arrive at pet choice decisions––decisions that have implications for 10-15 years of their lives, decisions that too often prove disastrous in ways that lead to owner-pet break-ups or worse...the shelter.
As veterinarians, we’re sometimes asked to recommend a breed for our client’s families. And we love doing this. It tends to mean these clients are doing their homework, ruling out breeds that absolutely will not fit their family’s style and abilities. More often, however, they walk in the door with the worst possible breed for their 1) aged parents who live with them, 2) their toddlers, 3) their travel schedules, 4) their activity level or 5) their personalities.
The mismatch usually works out somehow, but not without some sacrifice––either through major pet owner involvement or (more commonly) through pet marginalization. It’s not typical for my clients to give their pets away outright, but it does happen. Instead, my clients tend to opt for the yard. Or the college-aged kid’s dog ends up at mom’s house. In other words, the pet pays the price.
That’s why studies like this one are necessary. Alerting owners of possible breed incompatibilities before they happen is crucial. But it’s not going to happen if children and young adults acquire their awareness of and interest in specific dog breeds through our popular culture. Not when you consider the steaming pile of dog-doo our kids are chronically exposed to ostensibly by way of teaching them to value canine life.