Why did I name this website “Beyond Breed?” I’m so glad ya asked! Let me explain.
Why did I include the word “BREED”?
Breeds are very much a part of the dog world. Breeds, as we know them today, were created through human intervention, and they are maintained through careful selection and regulation.
For people who rely on dogs to perform work, breed can be a tool for selecting dogs for particular tasks. For people who choose dogs based on their physical appearance, breed can be a tool for predicting what they’ll look like. Breed can also be a handy tool for your toolbox when searching for a dog who fits your needs, lifestyle, and preferences.
And let’s be honest: breeds can be fun! I’ll confess that I’ve attended several Pug meetups and even marched in a Pug parade (no judging!). I freaking love Pugs.
If you’re like most people, your understanding of dogs is largely influenced by your understanding of breeds. This is an important point for everyone to recognize, whether your a dog owner, a shelter worker, or a public official overseeing dog ordinances. From the breed you love to the breed you fear, it’s the lens through which your experiences are shaped. It’s important to think about the biases we have about breeds, both positive and negative.
It’s also important to recognize when our love of breeds is taken advantage of.
Open a breed magazine or breed book at PetSmart and read what they say. The information is generally the same and the advice could apply to most pet dogs; what changes are the pictures and the way the information is packaged. Marketers know the quickest way to a consumer’s heartstring is through his/her pet — and breed is a quick and easy way to get there.
Some members of the media are also keen to this fact, and they use breeds to sell headlines. Nothing gets people’s attention like a good “rottweiler attack” story or an expose on “the Chihuahua crisis” facing shelters. Even when there’s a positive angle, breed still generates buy-in: “Hero pit bull saves family from fire.” In most cases, the dog’s breed did not dictate the situations at hand, and it would be sufficient to say “dog” instead. But breed sells, because breeds trigger emotions. And these emotions — both positive and negative — can distract us from understanding the dogs in front of us.
In order to be an informed dog owner and consumer of information, it’s important to recognize when breed is a handy tool and equally important to know when it’s blinding us.
Why did I include the word “BEYOND”?
Consider the definition of “beyond”: on or to the farther side; in addition.
For the millions of people who have dogs as pets, we need to explore “the farther side” of the traditional dialogue. We need information “in addition” to breed so we can choose, understand, connect with, and provide for our four-legged companions.
Oh, the times they are a changin’, when it comes to pet dogs today!
- Most dogs in the U.S. are mixed-breed dogs.
- Most dogs — purebred or mixed-breed — are acquired as pets/companions, not for working functions.
- Most purebred dogs are bred for appearance, not necessarily behavior.
- Most purebred dogs are never asked to perform the function for which their ancestors were originally bred (e.g., guarding livestock, flushing game, hauling materials).
Despite these changes, we still view dogs through the historic functions they served, instead of the modern role of most dogs today: family pets. And we still rely on purebred dog standards to describe mixed-breed mutts.
Janis Bradley explored this in her 2011 article for The Bark, “Breeds and Behavior: How Closely Are They Linked?” .
“Often, we assume that each breed carries its own set of hard-wired impulses, which are particularly difficult to alter, even with sound behavior-modification techniques. We even expect these presumed genetic predispositions to carry over to mixed-breed dogs who physically resemble a particular breed. Dog professionals are as prone to these biases as everyone else.”
So what? Why not continue using breed as the standard for choosing family pets, facilitating shelter adoptions, or predicting which dogs will become a problem in our homes or communities?
As Bradley said, “It turns out it’s not that simple.”
And as Bradley explained, “Even reliable identification of the ancestry of a mixed-breed dog by itself wouldn’t help us predict an increased likelihood of known, genetically driven traits.”
So what about purebred dogs of known lineage? Even then, breed alone does not provide enough information for choosing a pet dog. Bradley offers a thorough explanation in her 2011 publication, “The Role of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog.”
To help us build stronger, lasting bonds with our family dogs, I named my website “Beyond Breed” — so we can incorporate breed into the conversation and then take it a step beyond.
I hope you find “Beyond Breed” helpful and inspiring. Comments, questions, or suggestions? Hit me up here: http://beyondbreed.com/contact-us/