I met one of the sweetest terrier mix dogs over the weekend. His owner said maybe Bull Terrier Lab cross, or Staffordshire Mix. Who knows, either way, too freakin’ adorable. What he did know was that his boy just loved to greet people; lives for affection. We were walking in our local park and this dog was practically smiling at us before we crossed paths. (Have you seen a “pit bull” type dog smile? They do, quite well :)
My family and I were already saying to ourselves how cute this pup was, his tail wagging, looking ready to give kisses. His owner, an older gentlemen said “Oh don’t worry he’s very friendly, you can pet him.” Nothing about the dogs body language indicated he wouldn’t be a total joy to meet. We chatted and his owner told us that while walking his dog the day prior at the park, there were people jogging up and down a big set of stairs at the park, taking breaks up at the top where he was with his dog. He had to practically beg someone to take pity on his dog and please please just pet him, all he wants is to “say hi.” There was nothing about this man or dog that was “unapproachable”, yet I could tell when he told us not to worry, that his dog was friendly, due to people judging him and his dog based on what breed his dog appears to look like, his poor pup likely doesn’t get the attention a cocker spaniel might. Even though the cocker might not be as friendly.
Which brings me to our dogs being ambassadors of their breeds, whether it’s pure breeds or mixed breeds. We live in a society that is very visual, and unfortunately, people still judge a book by it’s cover. Assumptions are made based on looks, lumping people, or dogs in this case, into groupings without getting to know them as individuals. It’s also very hard to break free of these generalizations. When fear is already present, as it is regarding pit bull type dogs, seeing them with heavy chains around the neck doesn’t help. Heavily cropped ears, grossly over muscular bodies far beyond the breed standard, sporting names like Killa, Macho, Big Boy, Terror do nothing but keep people away, instilling fear further and further. (These are names I have seen over the years, fortunately rare. They were just names and the dogs personalities didn’t live up to what their owners hoped for anyway) These things do nothing to help this breed and how they are seen by others. Now I know of people who have adopted dogs with such looks. They’ve done away with the heavy chains, changed their names and are still met with a little resistance, but they are doing all they can to have their dog be the best the breed can be. Sometimes it heading out the door with a knit sweater on, or silly colorful collar, training to tidy up their manners. They want to show they are approachable, not someone with a dog to be feared, completely based on looks.
I have seen people change their minds right in our waiting room at work. Maybe a bully breed is in with their family, and you can see that someone else in the room is hesitant about them. Maybe they see how calm and friendly the dog seems, but can’t seem to get around the horror stories they’ve heard. This dog has a big blocky head, he’s a bit muscular, short sleek coat. Uh oh – it’s “that breed”. The owner of the dog sees it and engages them in conversation, and things open up. They talk just as positively about their dog, as they do the other owners. This pitty’s name is Elmer, that’s not scary. Elmer’s whining for a little belly rub, polite as can be. Hmm do I pet him, they are thinking? Oh wait here comes the staff. Wow look at all those kisses he’s giving them, he’s not jumping or too rowdy. They aren’t scared at all. Neither is the little boy who’s in with the dog. He’s all in one piece, seems pretty happy. They give in and give Elmer some pets and attention, and that’s it. A great positive experience with a wonderful dog. That’s something they can pass along. What’s hard is holding onto a positive. It’s always to easy to remember the bad, instead of forget the bad and hold onto the good. That is what being the owner of a “breed ambassador” does. A positive, responsible owner is proud of their dog being a “good citizen” and can be social while being informative to the public, to better the breed and people’s outlook on it. No need for scary names, or scary accessories for their dog that will deter people.
This man we met at the park has his dog being an ambassador for bully mixed breeds and he may not even know it! Yes all dogs out in public should be well behaved, but it is even more important for those that are judged based on their looks because of actions of a few. This dog was calm, happy, confident without being bossy or aggressive. Cool, calm and collected in a highly social setting. His owner let us know even before we asked to pet him that his dog was well behaved. (Maybe he saw the gleam in our eyes that all of us were so happy we were going to pet the dog – haha) What got me, was that he thanked us for taking the time to stop and give his dog some attention, it meant something to him. I can only imagine it’s because most people walk on by, even if they like dogs, just based on his pooches looks. I hope that more people will take the time to pet him on his daily walk, because he was a joy to meet, and maybe he can change minds, one person at a time.
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