Don't Judge a Dog by its Breed: Why Personality Matters More than Looks
For those of us lucky enough to have a dog close by for most of our lives, the idea that you can’t judge a dog by its breed probably goes without saying. For people new to the dog world though, there is a huge misconception that certain breeds of dogs are bound to behave in a specific, pre-determined way.
Placing a stereotype on something we don’t fully understand seems to be a part of human nature that we cannot get rid of. The ease of placing a generalization on a subset, dog breeds in this instance, seems too hard to resist.
Many dogs are a mixture of breeds, and that mixed genetic makeup means that the dog’s behavior cannot be predicted simply by what they look like. For example, you may want to assume that your cockapoo is the perfect combination of a cocker spaniel and a poodle’s attributes, but that is not always the case.
Beyond the unpredictably of a mixed genetic makeup, just as in humans, there is a mix of both nature and nurture that will influence a dog’s personality. Whether you have a purebred dog or a mutt, the way that dog is treated and trained is going to go a long way towards shaping the dog’s behavior as an adult.
History of Breed-Specific Legislation
One unfortunate outcome of stereotyping by breed is ‘Breed Specific Legislation’, or BSL. “Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) is, in simple terms, a statute or regulation that is directed toward one or more specific breeds of dogs. The majority of BSL is focused on breeds traditionally known as "dangerous," or those that have demonstrated particular propensities for aggression and violent behavior. In the early 1980s, a number of fatalities and serious injuries caused by certain breeds, including pit bull dogs, brought to the public's attention a perceived need for more stringent laws governing restraint of dogs. In 1980, for example, Hollywood, Florida's City Commission passed an ordinance that required persons who owned pit bull dogs to "complete special registration forms and prove the possession of $25,000 of public liability insurance." The regulation applied to several breeds, collectively identified as pit bulls. In 1984, a New Mexico town completely banned pit bulls and allowed county officers to confiscate and euthanize the dogs. Also that year, Cincinnati, Ohio enacted a regulation that "defined vicious dogs to include all pit bull terriers," and put special restrictions on the confinement, sale, and control of those dogs which were not applicable to other breeds. In each of these situations, one breed of dog has been singled out as "inherently dangerous to society," regardless of the individual dogs' present or past behavior.”[i]
BSL against breeds like the American Staffordshire Terrier (better known as Pit Bull) occurs in 12 of the USA’s 50 states. Thankfully, not every state supports BSL. There are 12 states that have passed laws prohibiting BSL from taking place in local governments.
There is absolutely no reason for a ban on any dog breed. To ban a fun-loving dog like a pit bull simply based on what they look like is wrong and often leads to a large influx of pit bulls in local shelters and rescues. Unless adopted, due to no fault of their own, most end up euthanized.
Nature and Nurture
Every dog has a backstory. Whether they came from a puppy mill, a responsible dog breeder, or a shelter/rescue, a dog, just like a human, is shaped by its surroundings.
As dog lovers we owe it to the pre-judged breeds to educate the public and make people more aware of the reality when it comes to a dog’s behavior. At their core, dogs are predisposed to being our loyal companions and it’s up to us to hold up our end of the bargain.
Breed of Choice
While it’s true that dogs of the same breed categories do share certain genetic predispositions (e.g., herding dogs inherently chase things, hunting dogs often have high prey drive, working dogs can be highly focused), dogs are still individuals and should be chosen on individual merit, not a breed profile. Like human siblings, litter-mates can be vastly different from one another, so always consider individual behavior over breed.