Of course he limps: he’s a Jack Russell. Beware of negative assumptions about dog breeds

Beware of negative claims about dog breeds – article by Canis bonus. December 2016
Author: Laure-Anne Visele.
Illustration credits at the end of the post. No modifications were made.

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

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Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I am the dog behaviour therapist at Canis bonus, and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school) in The Hague.

I help people from The Hague, Rijswijk, Delft, Westland and region with their dog behaviour.

I have a degree in Zoology, am a certified dog training instructor, and have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (Magna cum laude).

If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, drop me a line briefly explaining the problem and I’ll tell you if I think I can help.

Mutt or pure-bred dog?

As my old dog is nearing the end of his life, we are contemplating the rescue vs. breeder route. For the list of posts on this tricky question, go to the first post in the series: He’s good with kids, right? He’s a Labrador – Beware of positive assumptions about dog breeds.

The present blog talks of the other side of the medal: negative assumptions about certain breeds.

Hovawarts (and Staffies, etc.) need a hard hand

I was out on a play date with my dog and some of his friends when I got chatting to the owner of this beautiful Hovawarts. The Hovawards was perfectly behaved but seemed a bit scared. I asked the guy if he’d noticed. His ‘secret’? The Hovawarts golden rule, he told me: a hard hand. No, the dog wasn’t scared. Just ‘submissive’. He proudly listed the rules: no sniffing when on-leash, only heeling; no digging dirt; no growling; etc. His dog was a perfect… robot.

fistI knew better than to get on my high horse. It doesn’t make for productive discussions and I’d heard this particular bit of nonsense about pretty much every large breed in the book.

Along the same lines, some clients (with a Staffie) tactfully asked me if I had much experience with Staffies as the breed ‘needs a hard hand’ and they were surprised at the lack of abuse in my plan. We talked about it openly and they gave it a shot. The culture change was slow-coming but the dog could blossom into the awesome guy he is now. Without force or intimidation. Without a… hard hand.

Don’t bother letting your Beagle (or Husky, etc.) offlead. They’re stubborn

“There is no way you can teach them a recall,” I often hear Result? Tons of Beagles who will never know the joy of off-leash walking. Sure, many Beagles find a scent trail irresistible. And that’s precisely why you want to work on their recall! And, who’s to say your Beagle falls on the extreme end of that spectrum? Far too many Beagle owners don’t give the recall a fair chance because of the breed.

And how about this one? “Chihuahuas are snappy dogs.” They sure are. So would I if half the people I passed invaded my personal space, petted me or even picked me up without asking if I am OK about it.  Raise your Chihuahua like any other dog and the supposed snappiness melts like snow in the sun. How is that? Just let the dog decide if he wants to make contact with everybody and their uncle.

My point is? Be very critical of sweeping statements about temperament and breeds. Raise your dog for the individual that he is. Work on what needs work and forget about the genetic hard-hand, stubbornness and bad temper.

Watch out! That’s a German Shepherd

Breed-Specific Legislation (some dog breeds are classified as legally dangerous and thus require specific safety legislation) is a polarizing issue. The safety measures vary from prohibition from off-leash walks, compulsory muzzles, breed bans, confiscation and even euthanasia depending on the region.

BSL has been an unmitigated PR and effectiveness disaster because the issue with ‘dangerous’ breed is more complex than genetic predisposition alone. It is a tale of (epi-)genetics, developmental influences and (ir)responsible ownership. This pandora’s box is way to complex to be tackled in a few short lines. I have a shortcut for you though.

rottweiler3

RUN!!! It’s a Rottweiler!

You see a ‘bully’ breed dog like a Staffie? Check how the dog and his human are behaving. is the owner is tightening up the leash, is the dog staring or tensing up or getting agitated? Then be my guest and move on. But if they both seem relaxed and sociable, why not ask if it’s OK for the dogs to meet, and then have a chat about the breed?

The worst thing you can do is systematically tense up. It will alert your dog – and the ‘bully’ dog, and his owner. You are already priming the situation for going South – and ironically confirming your own prejudice in the process. Want a reality-based experience with these breeds? Give it a chance.

For a blog post about negative prejudices about Pit Bull specifically, please follow this link.

Of course he’s limping. He’s a Jack Russell

Jack Russell and other short-legged breeds are susceptible to patellar luxation: their knee cap moves out of place and it is excruciatingly painful. Many have learnt to kick it back into place and go through it several times a day. My problem is this: we associate this with some breeds so  much that many Jack Russell owners won’t even seek veterinary treatment. “Oh no, it’s normal. He’s not in pain. He’s a Jack Russell.”

jack-russellThe same goes for breathing difficulties with pugs or Frenchies. “They just snore when they breathe. It’s really cute” or the Chihuahua’s cherry eyes: “His eyes are protruding because he’s a Chihuahua, that’s why they’re so red.”

If your dog’s breed is predisposed to a (possibly chronic) health condition, seek veterinary treatment like you would for any other breed for that condition. Don’t assume that nothing can be done about it. You’d be surprised.

Hybrid vigour – Schmybrid vigour

Before you give up on pure-bred dogs, note that not all breeds have been selected for such morphological extremes. And watch you don’t assume crosses guarantee genetic health.

That accidental litter of pups between your mom’s Labrador and her neighbour’s Irish Setter isn’t necessarily genetics’ greatest draw. People seem to think of ‘hybrid vigour’ as a magic shield against genetic diseases.

Granted, some breeds’ gene pools have become so narrow that the risk of a recessive disorder is massive. But who screened the cross between your Mom’s Lab and your neighbour’s Setter? Who is to say that the combination won’t predispose some of the pups to, say, an early form of bone cancer, or hip dysplasia?

questing-beastMutts also get diseases. If you want to reduce the risks of genetic problems, your best option might be a responsible breeder, who will painstakingly screen the breeding pair for poor genetic matches.

In conclusion

I don’t have a dog in this debate: there’s a lot to be said in favour of mutts AND of purebred dogs; I don’t have shares at a veterinary clinic;  I am neither pro- nor anti-pitbull (or Rottweiller, or whatever terror-du-jour the press has picked). I just don’t want negative breed assumptions to result in the poor treatment of a real, flesh-and-blood, individual dog.

Illustration credits

No modifications were made to any of the listed illustrations:

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