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


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 starting to contemplate whether we’ll go the rescue route again, or whether to go the breed route for once. For the list of posts, 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.

This present blog post encourages you to watch out for negative assumptions about certain dog breeds.

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

I was walking in the woods with my dog and some of his play dates, and started chatting with the owner of a beautiful Hovawarts. His dog was very well-behaved but seemed a bit scared. I asked him if he’d noticed. The guy’s ‘secret’ was that he followed the Hovawarts education golden rule: a hard hand. And, no, the dog wasn’t scared. Just ‘submissive’. He proudly listed the rules: no sniffing the grass when on-leash, heeling when off-leash, no digging dirt, no growling, etc. etc. etc. His dog was a perfect… robot.

fistI knew better than to get on my high horse. It just makes me unproductively angry. I’d heard this particularly bit of nonsense about pretty much every large breed in the book so been there, done that. I knew the gist.

Along the same lines, some clients (with a Staffie) recently tactfully asked me if I had much experience with the breed as ‘It needs a hard hand’ and they were surprised at the lack of verbal and physical abuse in my training plan. We talked about it openly and they were open to giving the ‘soft touch’ a try. The culture change was slow-coming but it happened. And voila: the dog opened up and could blossom into the awesome guy he now is and stop acting out. And all this without force or intimidation. Without a… hard hand.

The same goes for Beagles (and Huskies). “They are stubborn,” we get told and “There is no way you can teach them a recall.” Result? Countless frustrated Beagles who will never know the joy of walking off-leash. Sure, on average, many Beagles find a fresh new scent trail irresistible. But that’s precisely the reason you want to work on their recall. And, who’s to say your own Beagle falls on the extreme, desperate end of the spectrum? Far too many Beagle owners give up far too quickly.

And how about this one? “Chihuahuas are bad-tempered. Every time I approach one, they snap.” They sure do. Picture your life if complete strangers took it upon themselves to invade your personal space, pet you and even pick you up, a gazillion and a half times per day.  I would be grouchy and paranoid too. Raise your Chihuahua like any other dog and the supposed genetic bad temper melts like snow in the sun. How is that? Just ask before you pet: present your fist and let the dog decide if he’s in the mood to close the distance.

My point is? Be very critical of sweeping statements about temperament and breeds. Raise your dog for the individual that he is. Just work on what needs to be worked on and forget about the hard hand, impossible to teach dogs, genetic grouchiness and other such nonsense.

Watch out! That’s a German Shepherd

Breed-specific legislation continues to be a raging debate: some dogs are legally classified as dangerous by virtue of being of a certain breed. Then special measures apply to these dogs only: prohibitions from off-leash walks, compulsory muzzles, breeding bans and, even confiscation and euthanasia.

Breed-specific legislation have been an unmitigated PR and effectiveness disaster because the issue with ‘dangerous’ breed is complex. It is a tale of genetics, epi-genetics, and (ir)responsible owners. This pandora’s box is way to complex to be tackled in a few short lines. I do have a short-cut for you though.


RUN!!! It’s a Rottweiler!

What’s my shortcut? You see a dog of a ‘bully’ breed? Check how the dog and his human are behaving. If the owner is tightening up the leash, if the dog is tensing up, if the dog is too agitated, or if either of them is doing something that makes you feel a uneasy, be my guest and move on. But without any hint of a problem, if they both seem relaxed and sociable, why not take that opportunity to approach them and have a chat about the breed?

The worst thing you can do is tense up and decide the dog is dangerous before you let things play out a bit. It will show in your body language, which will alert your own dog and the ‘bully’ dog. You are already priming the situation for going South and you’re just confirming your own prejudice. Want a reality-based experience with these breeds? Then 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 dislocation: their knee cap moves out of place and the dog must kick it back to put it into place. This would be painful: fancy having to re-lodge your dislocated knee several times a day. My problem is this: we associate this with Jack Russells so much that some owners won’t even treat their dogs. They’ll just say: “No he’s not limping. He’ll ‘just’ kick it back into place. It’s a Jack Russell thing.”

jack-russellIt happens with many other conditions we associate with specific breeds, like breathing difficulties with pugs or French Bulldogs. “Hard to breathe? Naaaah! That’s just his cute little snore” or the Chihuahua’s cherry eyes: “Irritated? Naaaaah. His eyes are protruding that’s all. So they’re more exposed to the elements. It’s a Chihuahua thing.” Yes, that’s right. His eyes are chronically irritated from protruding so much, and it needs to be treated. Yes, every time it flares back up.

So please, if your dog has a (possibly chronic) health condition that you would do something about with any other breed, please seek veterinary treatment. 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 a great move either, genetically speaking. And they most certainly offer no ‘hybrid vigour’ guarantee. Neither do designer hybrids like Maltipoos or Labradoodles, but that’s another story.

Granted, some breeds’ gene pools have become so narrow that the is a huge risk of a recessive disorder. But the cross between your Mom’s Lab and your neighbour’s Setter hasn’t been screened for its suitability. 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 aren’t under a magic charm that guarantees a life free of the genetic nasties. Sure it might reduce the chance of morphological extremes and other recessive heritable problems, but if you want to reduce the risks of inherited problems, your best option might still be a responsible breeder, who will painstakingly screen the breeding pair for potential heritable problems and 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 also don’t have shares at a veterinary clinic: please just take your dogs there even if you think the problem ‘comes with the breed’. And 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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