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When it comes to equal treatment for all dog breeds, we have a long way to go. Stereotypes are still alive and kicking, endangering the lives of innocent animals worldwide.
I have experienced this verbal abuse first-hand. Jessie is an 18-month-old German Shepherd full of sass and energy. From threats that my dog would be put down to exclamations that my dog would kill another dog, I have enough negative experiences to write a full book.
The biggest stereotype I have come across with owning a German Shepherd is that they are aggressive and it is only a matter of time before they bite someone – people have even told us that our dog needs a muzzle.
All Jessie wants to do is fetch sticks, sniff dog butts then take a sweet nap. But complete strangers have the audacity to come up to me and insult us both.
Another breed that has a bad reputation are pitbulls, perceived as aggressive and unpredictable. However, people need to understand that dogs are the result of their owner’s training.
Researchers at Michigan State University revealed that dogs are like humans in that they have personalities that are shaped over time. A dog’s personality can predict many important life outcomes, such as how close they become with their owners, their biting behaviour, and chronic illness.
The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 makes it illegal to own four types of dogs. These are Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. This law was introduced after a six-year-old was playing in a park near her home in Bradford and was attacked by a pitbull. Not once did the owner’s training come into consideration and the blame was laid on the dog.
In Belfast, a controversial case arose in 2010 around a dog called Lennox. Lennox was taken away from his owner and imprisoned for two years after the city council measured his leg length and muzzle width. Based on those measurements, the wardens decided that Lennox was a pitbull and was therefore a menace to the community.
They took him and imprisoned him. Protests and letters to council and courts poured in as did the photos of the poor dog in a concrete holding cell, with sawdust for bedding and faeces on the floor. Lennox the dog was put to death on the morning of July 11, 2012. He was seven years old.
Lennox did not have any aggressive incidents before his capture and yet he suffered a bitter end because he looked a certain way.
German Shepherds and Pitbulls are not as terrifying as people say. Both breeds have high scores on their ATTS Temperament test, which measures stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness as well as the dog’s instinct for protectiveness towards its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat.
In the latest study taken in 2017, German Shepherds passed with 85.3%. The American Staffordshire Terrier received a score of 85.6% and the American Pitbull Terrier received a score of 87.4%. In fact, the latter Pitbull breed received a higher score than Golden Retrievers who received a score of 85.6%. Notable friendly breeds such as Beagles and Border Collies also received lower scores than Pitbulls and Germans Shepherds.
Fearmongering is everywhere and used to promote all sorts of agendas. We need to finally stand up and think for ourselves when it comes to dog stereotypes. What you see is on TV, in the newspapers and other media will always exaggerate the negative. It’s common for Hollywood to portray scary-looking dogs as the most aggressive and dangerous, even if they aren’t.
As dog owners, humans have the responsibility to train and shape these dogs. No dogs should be punished for behaviours that their owners ingrained in them.