They’re all the same, but different…

14 November 2019 No Comments

Today I saw a Facebook post that took issue with trainers and behaviourists who recommend that people should not own certain breeds of dogs because they come with difficult behavioural traits. There were many comments on it, both challenging and in support.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a mountain man and a rock guitarist some years ago, (I’m not sure where the kiwi was, probably lost astride a big KTM somewhere). We were pondering the pronouncement of a wise man from Lincoln that, ‘The variability within a breed is nearly always greater than the variability between breeds for behavioural traits…  …meaning when it comes to assessing the likelihood that a particular individual will behave in a certain way generalisations are often unsound.’

After much to-ing and fro-ing, the mountain man worked out the answer was ‘skewed distribution curve’ (it’s all that time in the fresh air that allows for deep thinking).

For those of us who aren’t rock guitarists or mountain men (or lost kiwis) it means ‘Don’t rely on generalising behaviours based on breeds because occasionally you will be wrong.’ Not always, but occasionally.

It’s the reason I won’t recommend one when people ask, ‘what breed of dog should I get?’ Because if I do recommend that Labradors are good pets they will obviously find themselves the worst monster Labrador that ever walked the earth.

‘Don’t get a border collie if you live in a flat’ and ‘Don’t get a Mali unless you’re going to work it,’ IS good advice, but there are collies living happily in flats and there are lazy laid-back Malis with no work ethic.

The more dogs you see, the more you see that fit the stereotypes. But you occasionally see one that doesn’t, and that’s the problem. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told, ‘I’ve had (fill in breed) all my life, but never one like this!’ It’s usually in an exasperated tone because they are having problems, but the opposite applies at the other end of the spectrum too.

So, ‘Don’t get a (fill in breed) because they (fill in perceived problem)’, is right. And it is wrong. Some will be problematic; but others won’t.

What to do when you want to choose a pet then? Research. Research the breed’s behavioural traits. Look on the breed rescue webpages and see what they say. If you see twenty examples of, ‘must not be rehomed with cats’, take that on board. Look at the differences within breeds. If you’d like a cocker spaniel, do you want working stock or show stock? Same for border collies, same for Malis, same for GSDs. Working and show are not the same animal.

Then do some research at rehoming centres. If they have one of a breed of your choice, ask them about it. Then listen to what they say. Do not expect it to be like the last eleven of the breed you had, because it might not be. But they will know because they’ve been looking after it. Listen to them. If they can’t tell you, walk away and delete their number from your phone because they are not up to the job.

If you have to have a pup, research breeders. Don’t assume a breed is a breed is a breed. There is huge variation in temperaments. Ask about previous matings and if you can speak to owners of those dogs. How have they turned out? Are they what you want? If not walk away and look elsewhere.

If you want a laid back Mali, or a border collie that can cope with life in a flat, there is one out there somewhere. You just need to find it. But for heaven’s sake don’t just grab the first one you see. Because they are all individuals.


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