The Dangers of Stereotyping

Jambo must be dangerous: He has his hood up!
Jambo must be dangerous: He has his hood up!

A couple of years ago I was in England visiting my family just before Christmas. As is usual for this time of year in the UK, the weather wasn’t particularly nice. The rain was pouring down, the wind was blowing and it was icy cold. My mother and I had decided we would go to a nearby shopping centre and spend the day buying presents for family and friends. On leaving the warmth of the car I pulled up the hood on my sweatshirt, thankful for the extra protection it gave me from the freezing cold.  I entered the shopping center with teeth chattering and hands thrust into my pockets. What happened next took me totally by surprise. A security guard quickly approached me and ordered me to take my hood down or leave the shopping centre. I was slightly bewildered but lowered my hood, explained that I was cold and asked what the problem was. The security guard proceeded to tell me that hooligans wore hoods and therefore the shopping centre had a policy of denying access to anyone wearing one. I understand that a hood can obscure someone’s face and make it harder to identify them but on asking if other headwear that hid people’s faces was also forbidden, I was told: “No, just hoods!” I’m not sure if he was implying that I was a hooligan but, nevertheless, it just shows how we can be stereotyped because of our appearance.

Stereotyping people because of what they wear or the way they look is something many of us are guilty of. You see someone wearing a suit and perhaps presume they must be a businessman or office worker; you see someone wearing a nurse’s uniform and obviously, presume they must be a nurse; you see someone wearing a scruffy pair of jeans and a hoodie…  We don’t just make assumptions about people’s employment; I think we even make them about their intelligence and the way they are likely to act.

This “stereotyping” of people is exactly what happens with certain breeds of dogs. People see a tiny Pomeranian and think they are cute; they see a Border collie and presume they will be well-trained: a Labrador will, of course, be good-natured. However, when many people see a Rottweiler, a German shepherd, a Doberman or a Staffordshire bull terrier they often assume that they will be aggressive, with “pit bull” type dogs faring even worse.

Unfortunately, the stereotyping of these breeds is often exacerbated by the media. Most incidences of dog bites are not reported on the televised news or written about in the newspapers, but you can guarantee that, if one of the aforementioned breeds is involved, it will make the headlines. Even when it is unclear what breed of dog was involved, the word “pit bull” will often make an appearance.

Is Jambo not as "dangerous" now he has taken his hood down?
Is Jambo not as “dangerous” now he has taken his hood down?

It’s human nature to form opinions and to make judgments based on what we see but, more often than not, people’s thoughts, fears and prejudices are based on what they see on the television or what they read in the daily paper or on the internet. This exposure to, often very biased, media coverage then influences the popular consensus. For much of the 20th century the American pit bull terrier was one of the most loved breeds in the US. They were even called “America’s Dog.”  How did “America’s Dog” end up being the target of such fear, prejudice, discrimination and even hate?

Just as the media often depicts “hooligans” as wearing “hoodies,” they have also been largely responsible for changing the portrayal of the pit bull from a loving, family dog to a dog that is supposedly so inherently dangerous it should be obliterated from the face of the earth.

There are, of course, other factors that have contributed to the fall from grace of the “bully” breeds. They have often been mistreated, over bred, abused and made to fight in the most unforgivable way. Wouldn’t you think that this should have led to more compassion rather than more hate? A victim is normally considered the innocent party – one who should be cared for and protected. The perpetrator of the crime is, hopefully, the one to be judged and condemned. So why, in the case of pit bull-type dogs, hasn’t this happened? Why have they been judged guilty? Why are they not “presumed innocent”?

I can only hope that through continued education we can convince both the authorities and the general public that a well socialised pit bull-type dog, trained without force, fear, pain or intimidation is no more dangerous than a well- socialised Labrador or Pomeranian or any other dog for that matter, trained without force, fear, pain or intimidation.

Sadly, until the media begin to change their biased reporting against certain breeds, I think we are fighting an uphill battle. What is very encouraging though is the number of people who are championing these breeds and fighting for their rights.

The force-free training community is, I believe, an integral factor in the battle to end discrimination against certain breeds.  I would like to add that there is a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors which determines how an animal will behave but I believe that educating people about the use of reward-based, scientifically proven training techniques for all breeds of dogs is paramount in irrevocably demonstrating that the way a dog behaves has very little to do with the way he or she looks.

 

louise@petprofessionalguild.com'

About Louise Stapleton-Frappell

Louise Stapleton-Frappell B.A. Hons. PCBC-A. PCT-A. CAP3. CTDI. CWRI. DN-FSG1. DN-CPCT2. Louise Stapleton-Frappell B.A.Hons. (Univ. of Leeds). Professional Canine Behavior Consultant and Trainer - Accredited through The Pet Professional Accreditation Board. Certified Trick Dog Instructor. Fun Scent Games Instructor. Clicker Competency Assessment Programme Level 3 Distinction. Force-Free Instructor's Award and K9 First Aid Certification. Certified Whistle Recall Instructor. DogNostics Certified Pet Care Technician Level 2. Animal Behavior and Welfare Verified Certification. Super Trainer Clicker Trainer. Dog Emotion and Cognition Verified Certification. Louise is a passionate advocate of force-free training, promoting a positive image of the "Bully" Breeds and advocating against Breed Specific Legislation in favor of breed neutral laws and education about dog bite safety and prevention. Proud "Mum" to Jambo - Staffy Bull Terrier Trick Dog: The first Staffordshire Bull Terrier to achieve the Title of Trick Dog Champion. Louise is a Steering Committee Member of The Pet Professional Guild; Membership Manager of The Pet Professional Guild British Isles; Steering Committee Member of Doggone Safe and Regional Coordinator of Doggone Safe in Spain; Pet Dog Ambassador Instructor and Assessor; Co-Presenter of PPG World Service Radio; Owner of The DogSmith of Estepona and Faculty Member of DogNostics Career College. Louise is the author and instructor of DogNostics TrickMeister Titles and the DogNostics Dog Training Course - a comprehensive force-free training program aimed at increasing the knowledge and training skills of both dog guardians and pet professionals

10 comments

  1. I love the way you present this analogy with the sweatshirt scenario. I think somehow we need to quit using “bully” because that alone seems to stereotype these dogs, at least to me as I sit here in the United States. I am fairly sure they have the same connotation there as they do here.

    I love the dog photos!!!

  2. I applaud this article. I have 9 dogs from 7 to 70 lbs and 3 kitties. All are distinct individuals, and the 2 bully type dogs are the most tolerant of all.

  3. A very well written article and brilliantly put together.

    I own Tibetan Terriers, that most people would think of as ‘ lap dogs’ they were actually bred to herd cattle, and the long coats that people think are for showing reasons,are to keep them warm from the snow in the Himalayas where they were originally bred and used. Most people are so surprised when I tell them that, as Louise says, they draw their own conclusion by what they see.

    I have very little experience with the bully breeds, but can safely say that the few I have met have been the sweetest kindest dogs that I have met.

  4. We all need to evaluate dogs as individuals. However, just as Border Collies can be “herdy” so can Pit Bulls be “game.” So, it’s also a good idea to know the characteristics that ANY given breed is noted for, not take for granted that the dog will not display those characteristics, or assume that genetics are useless and “it’s all how you raise them.” No matter the breed, we all need to manage, socialize and train according to age, breed, gender, social experience and the expected use or sport. That isn’t prejudice, it’s good sense, and works to keep good dogs from becoming statistics.

    1. If all you know about a client dog is its breed and you walk into its home with a list of presumed characteristics, that is the definition of “prejudice.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prejudice) It’s also a great way to establish confirmation bias (“The BC is intense because of its breed. The Staffie is unruly because of its supposed genetic history.” Dogs who aren’t the cookie cutters you were expecting to meet don’t effect your tallies.)

      You shouldn’t take anything for granted when working with individuals of any species. You can’t assume that they are robots programmed according to your unique set of presumptions or that they won’t act just as you supposed they would. Dealing with the individual in front of you, not the set of traits you expect or don’t expect them to exhibit, works to keep any dog from becoming a statistic.

      No where did the piece say that “it’s all how you raise them.” Did you read the last sentence? Did you read the article at all? How is your comment in any way related, except that the author mentions “pit bulls” and you want to point out that you have particular prejudices?

  5. Well written, and well said! I was one of the staffie stereotypists (sorry!) when I went looking for my dog. I went for a collie cross: Id had these before, and I wanted one I could take to training class. What i found was so much better. The pound was full of staffies, staffie crosses, rotties, gsds and akitas. I didn’t have staffie experience. Near us, they are ‘macho status’ dogs. I found a staffie x. She is the best thing to happen to me. She is so quick to learn, and adores practice! We do demos of heelwork to music to show people what a thrown away staffie can do, and we try our best to change perceptions one at a time. I’m so sad MY perception wasn’t changed sooner!!

  6. I have a similar problem only with a golden retriever – a breed people always assume are friendly & enjoy being patted. My 2yo boy is uncomfortable about people he doesn’t know, particularly children. It’s something I’m working on with him. To that end we will sometimes go to local shopping centres to hang out & watch people passing by with me rewarding him for looking calmly & not barking. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have just walked up to us, even with me standing in front of him telling them to stop. They look at me as if I’m mad – after all he’s a golden retriever so he must be friendly! I even had someone once ask me what I was doing & I explained that Astro was uncomfortable with people he didn’t know coming straight towards him, staring at him with their hands outstretched & then patting his head. So what does this man do? Crouch down right in front of him, look him straight in the eye & pat his head while he said “oh don’t you like people patting you”? And then he wondered why I rapidly called Astro away from him & beat a hasty retreat!

    When people make blanket comments about staffies or pit bulls my usual response is either that all men are rapists or all women are hookers! It makes about as much sense.

  7. I own a St. Bernard (my fourth) or maybe I should say: he owns me. Because he is the friendliest animal when around me. But as soon as a stranger comes near he changes into a jealous monster (I’m working on that!); he will not bite or attack, he just barks very loud and if I would not have him on a leash he would run circles around the “threat”. The trouble is that when I walk him, people come running (especially children!) shouting: oh look, a Beethoven!!!! I wish the movie “Cujo” was better known!! Because – although that dog was cleverly ‘made-up’ – it showed that a normally friendly dog can change into a monster. Cujo was bitten by a bat and got rabies, but all dogs can be dangerous in certain circumstances. Never say: ‘my dog does not do that’ because you can never be sure.

  8. With proper training no dog breed is violent or aggressive. People thought that Rottweiler or German shepherd is aggressive breed but if we train them than they will also behave properly and will not do anything which we do not want.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *