When we think about other cultures or groups of people or a certain way of doing something, without realizing it, we encounter many stereotypes. It would be ideal if we were born in society without stereotypes, however, the far from reality.
How many of you have heard the stereotype about police officers liking donuts, Russia being cold year around, Israelis’ obsession with hummus or French people eating frog legs? So, as someone who was born in Russia, lived in Israel, and visited France, I can assure you that Russian weather gets pretty hot in the summer, even in Siberia, hummus is a symbolic food of all Middle Eastern societies not only Israel, and it is very difficult to find frog legs on the restaurant menus in France. And obviously a “police officer eating donuts” is an outdated cliché. Our internal drive to categorize, which helps us simplify and systematize information, gives birth to numerous stereotypes that, like bubbles, live in our subconscious and wait for the moment to pop up. An opportunity to live in different countries, have friends around the globe and be exposed to a variety of cultures gave me a unique and powerful tool to explode many of these bubbles. I truly believe that by confronting and challenging our stereotypes, we can eventually destroy them.
All my life I thought that I did not have any dog breed-related stereotypes in my head. I lived with the sweetest cocker spaniel when I was a child who was nothing but a ball of fur full of love. However, lately I have heard that cocker spaniels may have a more difficult time living with and adjusting to children. It was easy for me to explode this breed stereotype bubble since I lived with a cocker spaniel when I was a child.
However, exploding the “pit bull” stereotype bubble could be harder, especially if they are only mentioned in a negative light by the media.
I truly believe that every dog has a unique personality that cannot be linked to one breed or another. Moreover, when we are talking about shelter dogs, so many of them have unknown parentage, categorizing them under specific breed may not be accurate at all. A study conducted by Victoria Voith and others about breed identification by an adoption agency and DNA found that 87.5% of dogs from her sample identified by the adoption agency as having a specific breeds did not have all these breeds detected by DNA.
For many years, I was trying to be open-minded and fight “pit bull” breed stereotype bubbles and I absolutely destroyed them when I started to work at the Center for Shelter Dogs.
It was my first day at work, 3 years ago, our behavior specialist asked me to observe some dog behavior evaluations. I was sitting in the huge evaluation room, very excited to see dogs being evaluated. Though one thing I did not expect to see was a huge unleashed pit bull looking type dog running towards me with his mouth open and tongue out. Don’t get me wrong, I am a data analyst and back then had very little knowledge of dog behavior. So, when I saw a huge dog approaching me on a very high speed with a mouth full of saliva, I was frightened. And since I do not have advanced “fight or flight” mechanisms, I was frozen and deep inside was hoping that the dog would not eat me. However, when this giant dog approached me, instead of attacking me, he made a huge jump and ended up on my knees with half of his body on one side and half on another. He turned his head and gave me the happiest and kindest look a dog could ever give. I was so touched and suddenly, heard a little click in my head; it was the “pit bull” stereotype bubble that finely exploded.
Every dog is different, confront your stereotypes!
-Anastasia Shabelansky, Research Analyst at the at the Center for Shelter Dogs
Voith, V. L., Ingram, E., Mitsouras, K., & Irizarry, K. (2009). Comparison of adoption agency breed identification and DNA breed identification of dogs. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 12(3), 253-262.