A Confession on Bias
February 21, 2012 20 Comments
I’ve written here at least once about the problems associated with breed stereotyping certain dog breeds, and the often completely incorrect assumptions the public or the media can make about “bully breeds” such as Pitbulls or Rottweilers.
But even when sweeping generalizations don’t lead to breed specific legislation, I think it’s fair to say everyone harbours different kinds of bias with respect to dogs. Sure, we all know dogs vary across the spectrum for size, energy and age, and we’ve all met a surprisingly calm lab or a crazy excitable Great Dane, but assumptions are still there.
Whether it be a fear of Schnauzers because one bit you once when you were little, or an affinity for Golden Retrievers because your family had one when you were younger, certain preferences and experiences can shape our decision making – whether we acknowledge them or not.
For example – and you may want to take a seat, since this may surprise you – I have a pro-large-breed bias.
Shocking, right? But the other side of that coin is actually an anti-small-breed bias. There. I said it.
When someone talks about a small dog, I generally think of this:
I heard Malachy, the Pekingese, won Westminster last week, and I wondered when cats became permitted to enter the show.
Nothing against cats, it’s just that these concepts don’t necessarily make it into my ‘bucket’ of how I’ve come to define “dog”.
At least not lately, though should I encounter a Maltese that is actually an adept and trained mouser, I would be super impressed. And the fact that some hotels have a 20lb limit on the pet policy stuck me as ludicrous (still does, for the record).
But then, one fine afternoon not too long ago, I caught myself mid-thought and very surprised.
I was looking at a dog named Barkley thinking “gee, isn’t he cute”, as I often do, but then I realised something: I was looking at a SMALL DOG.
I know, WTF right?
A small dog that was cute and endearing? I even wanted to pet him. What was wrong with me?
Then I figured it out.
Barkley couldn’t have weighed more than 35 pounds and he was extremely well-mannered. He heeled nicely, paid attention to his owners, and responded to their cues. He didn’t bark – not a peep – and wouldn’t lunge like a maniac at the sight of an approaching person or another dog.
I don’t necessarily have an anti-small-dog bias, but I certainly have an anti-bad-dog bias. And not “bad” as in immoral, but “bad” as in high strung, noisy, untrained, and uncontrollable.
And whose fault is in that a dog may be bad? Well… infrequently it’s the dog’s fault. Lookin’ at you, owners.
Should I think all small dogs are bad without exception, then we’re in the realm of unfounded stereotypes, but too often my experience with smaller dogs involves barking and lunging at the end of a flexi-leash. And after enough repeat experiences like that, the brain starts to recognise a pattern.
Thinking about it more, my opinion about dogs of any size is strongly moulded by how they behave. Sure, bigger breeds may receive some initial benefit of the doubt, but even after they’ve exhibited disappointing behaviours, rose coloured glasses come off and opinions change.
And though maybe those judgements should really be reserved for the dog’s owner (owners currently working on resolving issues with their dogs notwithstanding and deserving of my complete and total sympathy), I do suppose it’s a more fair assessment; we do that with the people we meet, too, after all.
I can’t be the only one with these kinds of biases, so ‘fess up. And knowing I am influenced by these kinds of things (and can’t be the only one) just goes to show how important training and being an ambassador for all dogs really is.
You can judge a book by its contents.