My furry child looks like the Big Bad Wolf. She’s an 85-pound German shepherd with a long, black, shaggy coat and a big bright pair of golden eyes. She looks like she is perfectly capable of eating both Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. If she weren’t mine, I would probably think twice about cuddling up next to her. The thing about appearances, however, is that they are not always what they seem.
Like a lot of dog owners, I have mixed feelings about stereotypes. On the one hand, I hate when people assume that my dog is going to bite them, their child or their dog. On the other hand, I do understand that an aggressive German shepherd is going to do a lot more damage than a crazed corgi, although your ankles might disagree. They might be wrong when it comes to my dog, but their instincts that dogs can be dangerous are correct.
I have lived in communities where big dogs were mostly used as guard dogs, fighting dogs or police dogs. I don’t blame anyone who has grown up in a community like I did for their fear of big dogs, just as I understand the fear of someone who has been badly bitten by a dog. I do, however, blame people with no experience with German shepherds, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and other “aggressive” breeds for forming opinions based entirely on hearsay — but not for the reason you might think.
Here is what gets me about people’s reaction to my dog. As someone who has worked in the veterinary field and is married to someone in the veterinary field, I have seen a lot of dogs. I love dogs. I also know that all dogs have the potential to be dangerous. I have seen adorable pugs try to remove fingers and golden retrievers whose bites are definitely worse than their barks. Labrador retrievers, cocker spaniels, bichon frises, mixes, mutts, designer dogs, hunting dogs, working dogs, lap dogs — all have the potential to bite if they are put in an uncomfortable situation.
Some breeds are more unpredictable than others, it is true, but most people make the mistake of only according “dangerous” breeds with the respect that all dogs actually deserve. Judging a dog based on their breed or appearance is equally dangerous when you assume that all dogs of a certain breed are friendly.
There is an easy way to address negative and positive stereotypes and to keep both people and dogs safe: respect. Instead of assuming a dog is either aggressive or friendly before meeting it, take the time to ask the owner about their dog.
Respect, to me, consists of five simple rules.
- Ask me if it is OK before you pet my dog. You don’t know my dog, and I don’t know you, so there is no reason why you should be petting my dog without my permission.
- Ask me before you introduce your dog to my dog. My “scary” German shepherd loves other dogs. My older cocker spaniel does not. Most people let their dogs run right up to her without asking, which is terrifying for her, as she is going blind and deaf.
- If you have a polite question, ask. I love to talk about my dog, and so does any dog owner I have ever met. If you have questions about a dog or a breed, just ask. You’ll get a lot of different answers and you can form your own opinion based on your own research and experiences.
- Keep your dog on a leash and safely contained at all times. Some dogs don’t like other dogs. Some dogs don’t like children. Some dogs don’t like men, women, people in hats, zombies, etc. If your dog is leashed at all times except in safe zones like a yard or a dog park, you will have more control over potentially triggering situations, including ones that are not your fault.
- Learn to read dog body language. Most dogs will let you know when they are uncomfortable, which gives you time to extricate yourself, your dog and anyone else from a dangerous situation.
Don’t assume that you know my dog before meeting her, and for your own sake, don’t assume you know any dog of any breed, no matter what you may have heard. Everyone’s safety depends on it.
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