Thursday, January 16, 2014

Breed Bias and Good Dogs

There is a breed of dog, a breed that we see in every neighborhood and on every street, which has been given a bad rap.

This breed leaves a strong stamp on out-crosses, from color, to shape, to size and temperament. This leads to mixes of all kind being classified as this breed, and their behavior, no matter what the out-cross is credited to them.

They are often chosen by first time dog owners, people with no experience, and  no understanding of the true nature of these dogs. Of course this means the dogs are often on the receiving end of little or no training, not enough exercise, and complete ignorance of the needs of a large, strong breed like this one. From one extreme, they can suffer neglect and abuse, to the other, anthropomorphism to the point of embarrassment. These dogs are type-cast by the people who own them, not by who they really are.

Ooooh, bet you thought I was going to talk about Pits, dincha?

Well, I'm not, so calm down all you Pit Bull lovers, put down your placards and take off that "I heart my Witty Pittie." I'll rile you up another day.

I'm talking about Labs. Good old, dog parkin', kid wrestling, suburban backyard, Labs. 

Wait, what's that I hear? A snort of disgust? I can feel those eye rolls, don't think I don't.

Thick. Hyper. Out of control. Over-bred. Stoooopid.

How many have heard these descriptions of Labs? How many have said it?

Here's the thing, I grew up with a hunting dog. He was a Golden Retriever, but hey, he carried stuff in his mouth, had a big doofy grin on his face almost all of the time, and could clear a coffee table with a single solid wag, so, same thing, right?

My childhood companion was smart, obedient, helped my Dad put food on the table and 100% safe with his huge, rambunctious litter of human children. He was a protector and a best friend, and the best dog a kid could ever want.

The dumbest, most naive and trusting, portion of the dog owning world, tends to choose Labs. Settle down all you hunters and Lab owners with reasonable IQ's, I didn't say ALL Labs are owned by morons.

What I'm saying is, most suburban, extendo leash using, dog bandanna adorning, "Don't worry, he's FRIENDLY," maroons will choose  a Lab as their dog. 

Wanna know why? Because Labs are kind. Labs put up with stupid people's horseshit. They love their human kids, even when nobody teaches them to leave the dog's eyes in their sockets. Stupid people and their spawn survive owning a Lab.

For some reason, this gets the dog labeled as stupid too.

Just in case you fall into this category of breed discrimination, or if you just want to love dogs even more, then watch this video. It KILLED me. Then, all you Lab dissers, just SHUT UP. OK??


Unknown said...

Wow. That video was touching. What an amazing dog he was!

The only dog I've ever had is a black lab. My last one was a super high energy female that took A LOT of discipline and training to get her to be a respectable member of the family. She needed lots of exercise and stimulation, but she ended up being a wonderful companion and great house dog. We had to put her down at 10 when her arthritis got to be too much.

My current dog, a lab/bloodhound mix(looks like a purebred lab with longer ears and legs) is a 9 year old lazy giant that just wants to love, sleep, and eat. That is all. Complete opposite of my last dog. Easiest dog ever to train, very obedient, never met a stranger, and everyone who meets him loves him. He's just a big sweetheart, a once in a lifetime type dog. We got him when he was 5 months old at a Walmart parking lot.

I'll admit, I thought you were talking about pits at first too. When you said "Labs" I was like, "Ouch" but, what you said is TRUTH! People don't know what they're getting into with these guys and they are given up on more often that we realize. They're "unruly, wild, chewing, barking machines that are eating my house and knocking down my kids." It's been that way as long as I can remember. You've got the good ones and the bad ones. But you hit the nail on the head. Gee, I wonder what makes them that way?

jenj said...

My Ph.D. adviser was blind and had an amazing guide dog named Dillon. When John passed away due to cancer, I honored his memory by raising a puppy to become a service dog for Canine Companions for Independence. The Labrador I raised is now a companion for a lady who is wheelchair bound. The things these dogs do for people every single day never fails to bring tears to my eyes. They are truly special souls.

Becky said...

OMG, you suck, because you should warn people before showing them a video like that so early in the morning.

Anyways you can actually count me among the people who automatically judged labs - I used to really, really dislike them. Southern California seemed like it was full of too-fat, thick-headed, awkward, bumbling labs. They were nice, but they were not the dog for me. I liked dogs with a little more brain.

And then my friend started raising Guide Dog puppies, and after she got her second, I realized it wasn't a fluke - It wasn't that I disliked labs, it was that I disliked puppy mill, poorly trained labs.

Anyways, as you know I think Artemis is amazing. I love the way she tracks me with her eyes like a herding dog while off leash and responds to finger movements, but is brave enough to sit quietly beside me at a fireworks show.

Unknown said...

I know you know how I feel about labs, after all I own four of them.

To me they are the perfect dogs. But I am biased.

Skittle said...

Funny, I figured you were talking about labs right off the bat. Pits never entered my mind until you said you weren't talking about them.

Personally, I am terrified of labs. The majority of them are sweet, lovable, kind family dogs who would be more likely to cuddle you to death then ever bite. But the ones that seem to run loose around here turn into Cujo the moment they can't see their people anymore. And these are always the ones I find when I'm out on horseback with my own dog in tow.

Growing up, our neighbors had a black lab that was sweet as could be when she was with her people, but they let her run loose all over the place without them, and run she did. She'd show up miles away from their house and attack us on our bikes. More then once she dented our screen door bouncing off of it chasing after me and I'd barely get inside before she would slam into the door growling.

Of course, with no animal control officer anywhere around, and the cops not caring, there was nothing we could do about it except try to dodge her teeth and stay out of her sights.

Obviously one dog can't be used as an example for the entire breed, and I'm sure that she'd have been a great dog if she'd have been kept under control and not allowed to run free whenever she wanted. All owner error, and the dog couldn't be blamed for being a dog. But at the age of 10 or so, she was bigger then me, and scared the ever living crap out of me. Some of that fear has stuck with me, to the point where I'm more likely to avoid a lab then any other breed.

Karen said...

Well, that was a good cry this morning. What a touching story. Being a lab owner, I think they're one of the breeds with a really huge difference between the thoughtful, intentionally created dogs and the backyard bred pets. I have a backyard bred pet, and we got him because when my husband and I decided to get a dog (both of us farm kids and me having grown up with hunting dogs) we decided that if they were so dang popular, they must be a good pet. Then I did the thing that went totally against everything I knew about livestock and working dogs. I bought a puppy out of the classifieds of the local paper, mostly because it was the color I preferred and it was reasonably priced. He has AKC papers, but his conformation is completely wonky. He does love to upland bird hunt, but he is terrified of deep water and neurotic about multiple other things. He's also mentally fragile. He is sweet as can be, but I could see him fear-snapping if put in the wrong situation that breaks his brain. He is 12 this year, and arthritis is slowing him down, but he's still sweet and super excited to go for a little walk around the farm. I refer to him as my "American Pet Labrador" and he is the reason that I did a binder full of research on breeders and lines before buying my other dog.

Anonymous said...

Labs are definitely another breed whose behavior can be attributed to Hapless Owner Syndrome (yes, next-door neighbors, I'm talking about you and your "No no, Boopsie!" accompanied by a REWARD for the behavior you want to stop...). But - anecdotal evidence warning - with a significant portion of labs, I am convinced the dippiness is genetic. A friend of mine who is an extremely experienced dog owner and knows how to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly got a shelter lab a couple years ago. She trained the living daylights out of him and gave him lots of exercise but, at best, he was a barely-controlled moron who would flip into all-out derp mode at the drop of a hat. He was also extremely neurotic. Although he had the problem-solving abilities of a shoe, he had such a desire to please that he was able to learn commands despite his demonstrably low intelligence.

Unknown said...

Mugs, I'm gonna just throw this out there, for what it is worth.

Even though Labs are my preferred breed to own, I have a love and respect for all breeds.

I grew up in the dog show world. My first dog was a Springer Spaniel named Belle, that I showed in obedience. We won almost every time we went in the ring. The people I trained with, and associated, with had all different breeds of dogs. We had a very good instructor and we all did very well in the ring with our dogs.

My family also raised (raises) and trained Labradors, who were/are shown in obedience, confirmation, and field trial.

I worked for professional handlers who were paid to show other peoples dogs and we traveled all over the Western US, with all different breeds of dogs.

My step-dad was also an all breed professional handler so we often had his clients dogs at our house for extended periods of time. He showed dogs from every single group; terriers, working, sporting, non-sporting, toy, hounds. Lets just say I have had a lot of hands on exposure to a lot of different breeds of dogs.

Although I am not saying I am an expert dog person, through all of this exposure, I observed one very important fact. There is no such thing as a stupid dog. There are certainly breeds that are (generalizing here) quicker,more athletic, or who perhaps are a little bit easier to train for certain types of disciplines. But stupid? No. Not on your life. I have never known a dog that was not trainable.

I have also seen, on more than one occasion, a dog not only take Best in Show from the breed groups, but also win High Score from the obedience in the same day. Which is why I get so miffed when people say that "show dogs" are pretty but dumb. They are not.

It became clear to me at an early age that dogs are what you make of them. (just like our horses) Every dog needs a job, and guidance, and positive human interaction to become the "productive members of society" we all want them to be.

It is easy to classify Labs (and some other breeds as well) as being big dumb oafs. Many of them sort of look like it. Heck, one of my dogs is nicked named "Doodle Dummy" because he has such a silly dorky personality. He has never had a bad day in his life. Not that bad things haven't happened, but he is just always happy. But he is far from dumb. When I took him to obedience classes he picked things up faster than any dog there....and he can't even hear me.(he is deaf)

It has always seemed to me that if a dog comes off as being dumb, it is directly related to the human holding the other end of the leash. (was that a little harsh? It seemed a little harsh. Oh well, its just my opinion)

ps. Very touching video, loved it!

Stasha said...

This is so true it's scary. I've always prejudged labs, considered them safe, dopey, stupid, fat dogs good for families with kids but too boring for me.

Last year, my sister wanted a puppy BADLY. She has two small children, so I and my other sister went in and bought her a lab puppy for Christmas based on both of our preconceived "dumb, easy-going family" ideas. Long and complicated story, but it didn't work out - she couldn't handle both kids and puppy training. I was the back up plan (we'd decided that before making the purchase - I had put my older pittie down a few months prior and was grudgingly willing to take her on if I needed to, even if she was a LAB) so now I had an untrained 6 month old puppy who had been running amok with two toddlers for several weeks.

She's now 18 months old and fantastic - the funnest dog I've ever had the privilege to own. She isn't brilliant, but she's quick enough when learning new things. She passed her CGC certification the first time around and we attend an agility class once a week because we both love it. She is absolutely the perfect family dog, we did get at least that part right. I see my sister's kids usually twice a week and she's rambunctious but safe with the three year old but calm and careful with the 1 year old toddling around. It really makes you wonder, though, how many other things do we unfairly prejudge without even knowing?

mugwump said...

Well said, Cindy D. There is a dog trainer, who a bunch you hate, who has a show, and an accent, and an ego, and lots of dogs that follow him like a flock of sheep....
Anyway, he made a great point about the intelligence of different breeds.
He pointed out we say Border Collies are the smartest because we have bred them to use their brains like a human. If we stay with that logic, then if our most important survival skill was speed, then the greyhound would be the smartest dog. His point is, he thinks it's useless to rank dogs' intelligence compared to our own. It makes me think.

Unknown said...

I actually don't dislike that dog trainer at all. I think his goals are fabulous, and his methods are not inhumane in anyway, and I think that he is always seeking out new information to be better at what he does. What's not to like?

mugwump said...

I didn't mean you specifically Cindy D -- I meant a general "you." I got just blasted when I first started talking about needing training help with Brockle...because I started by watching training videos.
I was swamped with scathing comments about his methods, which of course made me curious.
So I read and watched just about everything I could on him.
I think he's saved a lot of dogs. Lots.
And I agree, the dude never quits learning and never shuts his mind against alternative training methods, which to me, is what training is all about.

Unknown said...

:-) I knew that. LOL

neversummer said...

I have always hated Labs, they are big stupid and everyone has one. My mom has always said that the only dogs she has ever come close to being bit by were Labs. I considered myself a cowdog person, I loved my mean little healer types. I am always amazed at the stupidity of people who will try to pet a dog that is in the back of a pickup.
A couple of years ago I was adopted by a friendly little yellow dog. We can only figure that she is a Lab, the head is unmistakable, crossed with Border Collie? She has completely changed my view of Labs. She works cattle so much calmer and more controlled than the usual ranch type cow dog and I am comfortable with her around the child, something I would be unlikely to say if I still had a cow type dog. We often say she's not so smart but she listens well and is so sweet, I agree that judging smart difficult.
I can see though why she was dumped outside of town, her endless energy would make her impossible if she had to live inside with a little back yard to run in. Here she runs free, never leaves the buildings, it's miles to any neighbor anyway, helps feed cows, runs along side the four wheeler, goes for rides with me and keeps our yard clear of pheasants and deer and I still can barely stand to have all that nervous energy in the house.

kennelbarb said...

I spend my life working with dogs, all kinds of dogs, about 700 dogs a year. I have been hurt more times by labs than all the other breeds combined. Not bitten ... just slammed around as they bounce off the walls, knock me to the ground or wrap leashes around my knees.
I can't think of many good things to say about the 'backyard' labs. But a good well-bred lab who has a job? You can't beat them, they're wonderful dogs.
It just seems like they are so many of the 'bad' labs and so few of the 'good' labs.

Anonymous said...

I agree that animal intelligence should not be measured with the same tools as human intelligence. Let's face it, though: all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. There are some dogs that are just dumb. They lack instinct, survival skills, and the reason you can't train them is not because they don't want to (trainability does not equal brains; I knew a lovely Scottish terrier who was smart as a whip but never learned a single trick because she thought it was beneath her) but because they literally can't make the causal connection. And the inability to say "If A, then B" is a vital skill in any vertebrate.

That said, the human-type intelligence is not always what we actually want in an animal. A really smart horse can cause a lot of trouble, especially if they decide that humans aren't worth their time. And, while I love intelligent dogs, they aren't what what most pet owners are looking for, and, at least in my experience, tend to have more neurotic tendencies than their average counterparts.

Andrea said...

Speaking of Cesar, ironically enough I literally just watched an episode on his worst bite yesterday... it was intense and it was a Lab:

LadyFarrier said...

Well, as usual, most animal problems are people problems...

I go from farm to farm and in decades of farm hopping the ONLY time I've been bitten was by a JRT. If I coulda' caught the SOB, I'd have kicked him to next Tuesday. As the owner should have done... He did have the grace to look abashed :/

I like heelers as much as I like healers... A lot.

neversummer said...

Oops, embarrassing, I love the little heeler types. Doctors and other healers are good too though I'm sure.

LadyFarrier said...

Oh, neversummer - lol :)

Too funny :)

I think some of those heelers are healers, don't you? I'm not too proud to have a dog that's smarter than me! Ha! Ours was from working stock and had a pretty agressive work ethic, but I've never worked a dog on stock. We were her herd. Watching her sort our friends and their dogs into groups at parties was fascinating and hysterical. I have no idea how she decided who belonged where :) You could "draw" a line in the ground tho, point to one side of the line and say "Not for dogs" and she would NOT let a single dog cross that line. She knew our friends by name, she knew objects, actions, and colors. If you asked her to fetch an object whose name she didn't recognize she would put her mouth on each unknown object until you said Yes!, and then she'd bring that one to you.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

"It has always seemed to me that if a dog comes off as being dumb, it is directly related to the human holding the other end of the leash."


Broad, breed based generalizations have always bother me... about dogs, about horses, about humans.

How can we make those generalizations fairly, if all things are not equal? In this case - the human at the end of the leash, and their training skills, or lack thereof.

(Cesar has done a lot of good in this world re dogs. How he has handled fame may be a different story...)

Anonymous said...

A friend has a bumper sticker on her truck that says "My Queensland Healer is smarter than your honor student." Cracks me up every time. I love irony.

Becky said...

Know what I think?

Poorly trained, crappy bred, unsocialized crappy German Shepherds are going to bark and lunge and fear bite.

People see that and think "Man, what an ill-trained, unsocialized German Shepherd. Overbreeding has ruined the breed."

Poorly trained, unsocialized, crappy-bred Border Collies will tear up your living room when you leave them alone and snap at the heels of little kids.

People see that and think, "Why did you keep them in an apartment? That poor dog needs a job."

Poorly trained, crappy bred, unsocialized Labs will slam their bodies into people with their enthusiasm, right before they eat an entire trash can full of food.

People see that and think, "Man, Labs are stupid."

Dani said...

"It has always seemed to me that if a dog comes off as being dumb, it is directly related to the human holding the other end of the leash. (was that a little harsh? It seemed a little harsh. Oh well, its just my opinion)"

I generally agree with this... but I have to admit, my dad's dog is just dumb. Nice dog. Good natured. Trainable, but dumb.

Most of the "bad" or "dumb" dogs around here are just with the wrong owners. My last foster was a year old JRT. An 80 year old couple got him as an 8 week old puppy. Can you see where this is going? We were told he was a bad dog, wouldn't listen, got into everything, destroyed things, knocked over children, untrainable, etc. etc. etc. We gave him a few weeks of exercise, some boundaries, and obedience training. He became a wonderful little dog. Not perfect, but not the hellion described when the rescue first called me about him. It's amazing to me what exercise and little obedience training will do for most dogs.

Half Dozen Farm said...

I have a Lab/Dane cross. She is our 3rd dog of this cross. I LOVE them! She "gets" me so well, it's scary. She understands complete, conversational sentences. Scary smart and turns herself inside out to please. Is a water dog and will fetch her heart out. Well-socialized and I can take her anywhere. Only 5 years old and almost crippled with Hip Dysplasia already. :(

I have a Boxer. You want to talk about dumb? Totally sweet. But dumb as a box of rocks. A breed with no purpose at all. Bless her little wiggle-butt heart. :)

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