Mankind has never been shy in stereotyping groups of people who are different from the majority. The early Greeks labeled non-Greek speaking people as barbarians. According to Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Assyrians and Babylonians were stereotyped in the earliest writings recorded of one group of people putting down other groups. Even our forefathers who settled in America to escape religious persecution labeled Native American Indians as savages. Society doesn’t have a stellar reputation when it comes to being accepting, fair, and compassionate to people with different views, lifestyles, ethnic backgrounds, or social status. Our prejudice doesn’t stop in the human world. Wolves are killed because they have to compete with ranchers and hunters for land and food. Our actions are justified as responsible because wolves have been stereotyped as ruthless beasts. Some dog breeds, especially bully breeds, are deemed dangerous based on a perceived notion of fear of an unknown.
The word stereotype comes from the French in the late 1700’s and is defined as a piece of equipment used to duplicate copy during the printing process. The first time the word was used in a social reference was in 1922 by an American journalist, Walter Lippmann, who used the word “stereotype” to cast a mental picture, or a perception of what we believe. Lippmann said, “For the most part, we do not first see, and then define; we define first and then see. In the great blooming buzzing confusion of the outer world, we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture.”
People believe what they want to believe, even when the facts are staring them square in the eye. A dog’s characteristics and traits are based on genetics, environment, and breed. But their behavior, good or bad, is based on the education and socialization given to them by their owner. Dog breeds were developed to meet a specific need of humans and do a job working along side man. No dog is born mean. It’s humans who teach them that. Whether or not a dog owner gains a dog’s trust and respect depends on how the canine is treated. Passing judgment and stereotyping a group of dogs is ignoring the truth about certain breeds, and the responsible people who own, train, and care for them.
Dogs are as individual as we are. A Border Collie is considered to be the smartest dog breed and a premier herding dog. But a BC can be difficult to train, and an untrained dog is apt to attack sheep. Golden Retrievers are considered family friendly pets that get along well with children. Pit Bulls are seen as tough dogs and attack out of the blue. We stereotype dog breeds with preconceived beliefs about how they will act in a family situation. Any dog, regardless of breed, that isn’t motivated and taught how to behave by his owner can develop bad behavior that can become aggressive. Some Border Collies aren’t smart, some Golden Retrievers can be aggressive, and Pit Bulls have never been bred to attack people. Certain dog breeds are stereotyped based on how humans manipulated individual dogs in the past, and continue to do so today, and ignore the overall temperament and characteristics of the breed.
The problem with stereotyping and trying to reverse perceptions is minds are seldom changed by facts. But it’s not the mind that needs to be changed – it’s the heart. Without compassion and understanding, a refusal to see the truth causes dogs to be unfairly condemned because of breed. Breed specific laws were created out of fear as an emotional response by politicians to give a perception of solving a problem. But what these laws have done is stereotyped specific dog breeds and tarnished the reputation of every member of the breed.
Sergeant Stubby, a Pit Bull, served with distinction and honor beside his human soldiers during WW I, and is the most decorated war dog of the Great War. Petey the Pit Bull from the little rascals “Our Gang” entertained kids throughout the first half of the 1900’s. It’s not difficult to find stories of bully breeds, and other breeds on BSL lists, who put their lives on the line to protect their human family from intruders who threatened them, and some died protecting their family. The Pit Bull was once considered America’s Babysitter because of their family friendly temperament and loyalty.
Change doesn’t come from the mind. It has to come from the heart. Stereotyping is an emotional evaluation based on judgments of like minded people. Quoting the euthanasia rate of bully breeds in shelters, and those taken from homes and destroyed have an impact only on the people who are opponents of BSL. Fear is a driving force that stagnates change, and reason isn’t strong enough to penetrate it. It takes an opened mind, understanding, and compassion to see what is hidden behind fear of an unknown, whether it be in people or animals.
Unintended Consequences of Breed Specific Laws
Is Your Mixed Breed Dog at Risk for False Genetic Identification?
What’s in a Name – Bully Breed and Pit Bull Myths