Which Dogs are Best with Children?

That question was intended to be ironic… and also to hopefully entice those curious internet searching parents to learn just why they should never trust ANY type of dog to be better or worse with children. It is up to them as responsible dog owners to manage dogs who have healthy interactions with their kiddoes. Don’t believe me? Below I will share the scientific fact behind my position.

If you’ve been following along with us for very long, you probably know that we think the folks at  Animal Farm Foundation are just about the best thing since bully sticks and peanut butter kongs… and if you’re new, you can check out some proof of our admiration, here, here and here! The biggest goal of AFF is to spread the knowledge that dogs should be judged based on their individual qualities, as opposed to breed labels or statistics. Their latest infographics (shown and explained below) share the science behind why an individual approach is not only more fair, but actually also more successful!

aff_infographic_final-011

(All of the images in this post are courtesy of Animal Farm Foundation.)

aff_infographic_final-021

Did you know that while 50 out of 20,000 (0.25%) of a dog’s genes determine physical appearance, those genes are entirely separate from the genes that influence brain development and function? Therefore, it is scientifically proven that there is NO link between appearance and behavior. And yet our politicians continue to make giant, life-changing assumptions based on that less-than-one-percent. Don’t judge my dog by his cover! Just because a dog looks like a pit bull, does not actually confirm that they have any genetic ties to a staffordshire terrier (think boxer x lab, as just one prime example).

aff_infographic_final-031

aff_infographic_final-041

One reason any vet worth their weight in Acana dog food might suggest that a mixed-breed dog has better odds than a purebred of staying healthy for its lifetime, is because in a closed gene pool (see above) all of the genes are concentrated… the good, the bad, and the hairless (sorry, Chinese Cresteds). Did you know that most purebred dogs originated from only a handful of foundation sires and bitches, which was sometimes as few as 5? Talk about inbreeding! A 1994 Time magazine article on the effects of overbreeding reported that as many as 25% of the 20 million purebred dogs in the US are afflicted with a serious genetic problem. In the world of agriculture and animal breeding, this trend of improved health in mixed-breed animals is called hybrid vigor. By mixing two or more separate gene pools, overtime the recessive genes that carry health and other genetic problems are minimized. All of this contributes to the conversation about individualism in dogs, because a physical appearance really can only tell us so much.

aff_infographic_final-051

aff_infographic_final-061

“Wait, so AFF is telling us that identical twins have identical DNA, but even dogs in the same litter have different DNA? Well, I’ve met identical twins whose attitudes and personalities were nothing alike! I guess it would be crazy to assume that dogs who look similar would have similar behavior…”

Even when dogs are 100% purebred, we cannot predict their behavior. Even in the case of cloned pets (genetically identical animals) scientific evaluation of these animals still shows differences in their personalities and behavior. This is because the behavior of all dogs (or any being!) are not just influenced by genetics and breeding, but also by many outside factors including training, management, environment, and socialization.
Animal Farm Foundation infographic 7

Not only does physical appearance have little to do with behavior, but scientific studies from AFF peers have proven that attempts at visual breed identification by animal welfare professionals (vets, scientists, shelter workers) are incorrect more than 75% of the time. Even worse, those incorrect evaluations are not even the same across the board… those assigning the breed titles cannot even agree! This is because our personal experiences play a large role in the comparisons we draw between a dog’s appearance and their breed of origin.

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 8

This is an interesting way to look at it. Tonka is the offspring of two purebred dogs, and the rest of his 12-pup litter looked very similar to my boy. Any guesses as to the parents’ breeds? (Seriously, would love it if you’d guess in the comments below!) Spoiler alert…

DSC_0143

If I had a dollar for every person that literally ARGUED with me that my dog was at least part black lab, I would be able to take more than one reader out to dinner. Nevertheless, the facts remain that Tonka’s father was a brindle boxer (deep chest, athletic body) and his mother was a golden retriever (long snout, expressive almond eyes, floppy ears)… where did the rest of him come from? I’d like to think that much of his behavior comes from a very conscientious upbringing by me, and thanks to the research from Animal Farm Foundation, I can be confident that this may largely be the truth.

Animal Farm Foundation says it best when they say that: “The only way we can accurately determine what a dog’s needs are is to look at the individual dog in front us for the answers. In other words, we can’t judge a book by its cover (even if that cover looks like other ones we’ve seen before!)”

http://animalfarmfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/aff_infographic_final-091.jpg

AFF: “Treating all dogs as individuals means that we let go of biased thinking, recognizing each dog for who they really are, not who we assume they are based on looks, labels, or past experiences. In doing so, we set all dogs free of the baggage and consequences caused by our assumptions, prejudices, and discrimination.” Hmmm. That sounds kind of like the way most of us agree we should evaluate the people in our communities. From a genetic standpoint alone, why should dogs be any different?

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 10

 

So maybe (hopefully!!) you already new and totally agree with all of the facts shared above. But more importantly, do you understand why they are so important?

It matters to families and communities…

Regardless of ‘breed’ or ‘type’ of dog, false expectations (positive or negative!) can be dangerous or unfair to the animal, and to the families they love. For example, if we assume that every lab is going to be naturally comfortable around children and have an affinity for water, we might not take the time to set the individual dog up for success through careful introduction and training. This may create a dog that has fear or anxiety issues. You can turn this around in the other direction by recognizing the truth behind confirmation bias… In any situation in life, if we approach with negativity and trepidation, we oftentimes set ourselves up for failure, and unintentionally cause the very events we are anticipating. No breed description should be considered a fool-proof road map of a dog’s preferences, personality, or ability. These qualities are heavily influenced by environment and management. If we approach each dog as an individual, and let the animal tell us more than we assume based on their appearance, we are much more likely to wind up with a dog that is a happy member of our families, and of our society.

It matters to those in the animal welfare industries…

As rescuers, shelter workers, and animal advocates, it is always in our best interest to be as honest as possible with potential adopters, volunteers, and the general public at large. By labeling dogs without factual knowledge of their true backgrounds, we are unintentionally being dishonest, and may be setting the dogs up for failure. Instead of meeting an adopter who wants a Golden Retriever, and providing them with dogs that match that physical description, we need to start advocating for “types” of dog. Maybe to the average dog owner, a Golden Retriever fills them with ideas of a dog who will happily play fetch and join the family on hikes, while snuggling in their childrens’ beds at night. Perhaps your shelter has 3 dogs that match this description, but who may or may not look like a Golden Retriever. In this case, you are providing the family with a variety of dog types, all of whom are more likely to be compatible with their lifestyle long-term, and giving many of your rescue or shelter residents an opportunity at a proper home. At the same time, you are doing your part to not reinforce stereotypes or set up false expectations. No breed description entitles an adopter the guarantee that a dog will act a certain way, or have specific preferences… only each individual dog can tell us that!

Additionally, these preferences, personality traits, and abilities, have a large propensity for change over time. If we assumed that a dog’s genetic composition determines their personality traits (Georgia), we would have never taken the opportunity to improve her associations with other animals… we would have assumed that her preferences were intact and not subject to change. This refutes the common pit bull advocacy statement that ‘it’s all in how they’re raised,‘ because it is in fact, more in how they are managed, that matters most. If we assumed that all dog behaviors were set by their genetics or their early life experiences, we would never give cruelty or neglect victims a chance, and everyone searching for a new family member would be getting their dogs from breeders. And that would be a huge problem!

It matters to politicians and law makers…

Once and for all, it is time to put an end to laws passed on the flawed idea that you can determine how a dog will act based on how they look or their breed label. Rather than punishing all dogs and their owners based on the negative or criminal actions of a few, let’s start legislating and enforcing responsible dog ownership laws for owners of all dog breeds and types. In this way, we hold all owners equally accountable, and thereby truly create safer communities. Dogs should be labeled based on their actions or behavior, not on their breeds or physical traits. No one, human or animal, deserves to be persecuted (or even killed!) based on stereotypes.

The AFM5 Moral of the Story:

The world of animal rescue and advocacy is a huge one, and perhaps because of that, it is constantly evolving. That is a great thing for the animals, because it means that we are always being presented with new tools to improve our understanding, and become more competent at finding homes for unwanted pups, cats, rabbits, horses, etc. We have all been guilty of unintentionally spreading misinformation a time or two. What matters is that you take the time to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, and keep your own missions and morals at the forefront of your mind. Let’s make sure that when we are well-intentioned in advocating for our animals, that we are doing more GOOD than harm.

 

AFF CITATIONS:

The Dog and It’s Genome by Elaine Ostrander

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog by Scott and Fuller

National Geographic

Kristopher J. Irizarry, PhD

Janis Bradley, The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog

Dr. Victoria Voith

AFF ABSTRACTS:

Brachycephalic traits

Morphological traits

Brain development genes

Cranial facial development and here

Canine skull development

4 thoughts on “Which Dogs are Best with Children?

  1. So much love! I truly wish I could post this on the wall at every single shelter in America and make it mandatory reading for anyone involved in rescue. Nothing frustrates me more than when someone tells they specifically want x type of dog and won’t even consider others. I always try to ask them about their lifestyle and the characteristics they want in a dog, but there are always those out there that refuse to carry in this dialogue and still INSIST on finding x breed and x breed alone. It’s very frustrating because like you said so well here, they might just be setting themselves up for failure. Anyways, fantastically written. I shall be sharing this as soon as I’m at a computer!

  2. This is only one thing that bugs me about the pit bull stigma. Most pit bull type dogs are mutts but don’t look as such because the physical gene is stronger than others. As proud as I am to call my dogs pit mixes, they actually have very little pit bull in them! They have equal amounts Bull Terrier, Collie and Vizsla yet that’s not what people see or care about. Even though we know that pit bulls are awesome, someone who is a hater might look at a dog that is primarily lab and think hey, that dog’s one of those evil pit bulls.

The best part about blogging? Feedback from people like you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s