Why you shouldn't be so quick to judge a dog by its breed

Chocolate Labrador Retriever: Another myth is that pure-bred dogs are more likely to be highly strung and have more ...
Chocolate Labrador Retriever: Another myth is that pure-bred dogs are more likely to be highly strung and have more medical problems than mixed breeds. Photo: saraidasilva

People are easily misled by popular myths when deciding what size and breed of dog to buy, according to Australian Veterinary Association president Dr Robert Johnson.

One misconception is that it's cruel to keep a big dog in a small home. "You can have a reasonably sized dog in an apartment as long as you ensure it gets plenty of exercise," he says. "It's more about the owner's attitude than where a dog is kept. "However, there are lots of little dogs that appeal to people who want to be able to pick them up and cuddle them. Maltese, shih-tzus, even chihuahuas are lovely little dogs. Jack Russells and border terriers are great too, but they need lots of exercise.

"It's not true to say that smaller dogs are snappier and more aggressive either. That's something that develops if they're matched with the wrong owner. I don't make a distinction between breeds and aggressiveness. "One of the best dogs I've ever had was a bull mastiff-rottweiler cross. She was the most beautiful dog. We had small children – obviously you don't leave any dog alone with children – but she was wonderful, and once again it's the owner, not the breed."

Another myth is that pure-bred dogs are more likely to be highly strung and have more medical problems than mixed breeds. "There's no evidence for that at all," Dr Johnson says. "Different breeds do tend to have their own traits. You need to do a bit of homework and look at where you live and your own needs for an animal.

"Choosing a dog is a bit like choosing a partner, you look at the parents and think, 'they're pretty good'. When buying a puppy, try to have a good look at the mother and the others in the litter."

Scientific studies show the idea that particular breeds of dog are more likely to cause an allergic reaction in humans is also incorrect. One major study published in the British Journal of Immunology found little difference between breeds in regard to causing allergic reactions. It discovered that neither fur nor hair causes the problem, but proteins that are smaller, stickier and sneakier. The protein is smaller than pollen or dust mites and sticks to just about everything it touches.

Melbourne animal behaviour consultant Dr Robert Holmes says expecting a dog to conform to the reputation of its breed can lead to disappointment. "There's far too much emphasis put on breed and not enough on the individual temperament of dogs," he says. "There's greater variation of temperament and personality within a breed than there is between breeds. One has to recognise that an individual dog's behaviour reflects its emotions."

One popular belief that animal experts do agree on is that smaller dogs live longer than larger ones. "Fox terriers and kelpies are likely to outlive say a German shepherd or a big labrador," Dr Johnson says.

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