A few years ago, I was talking to a couple of Pakistani journalists about rising dog ownership in their country, and they said that the increase involved the purchase of purebred dogs to the exclusion of the native pariahs. Around the world it seems that rising dog ownership follows the same pattern, a growing urban middle class seeks pedigreed dogs precisely because their bloodlines are believed pure and their quality assured. Sought for their stereotypical behavior and appearance, they are status symbols and sociocultural statements as well as companions. Native dogs in those areas are frequently devalued and ignored in favor of their more “refined” offspring.
Where they are allowed to breed freely these pedigreed dogs general reveal themselves to be less breedist than their human companions, many of whom accept without question stereotypes regarding personality, intelligence, and behavior. Among the more benign of those lis the notion that all retrievers love water. The more malign include the belief that all pit bulls are natural born killers.
In some areas, the cult of the purebred dog has become so dominant that it affects a dog’s chance of adoption. Free-ranging dogs are happily fornicating themselves into a canine stew in greater numbers than society feels it can afford and so they are swept into shelters or shot on sight in the event of a rabies scare. Their odds for adoption from shelters are not great but are highest for those who resemble a particular breed or in some cases, I would argue, an emergent land race, a locally formed type, like the short-coated, leggy, brachycephalic, forty to sixty pound houndy pit bull that seems increasingly abundant in South Florida.
Shelter staffs around the world spend time attempting to stick a breed or two on their charges, in the hope of connecting them to breed stereotypes without great effect. Millions of unwanted dogs are euthanized each year.
Now at least one shelter has come up with a brilliant campaign to bolster adoptions. My fellow Psychology Today blogger Marc Bekoff posted last night on a campaign by Territorio De Zaguates in Costa Rica to turn products of the canine genetic stew filling their shelters into unique breeds. To that end, they enlisted the country’s foremost authority on dog breeds, artists and photographers and created breeds--a Fire-tailed Border Cocker and a Dalmapointer Australiano Ojinegro among them. They also launched a wildly successful campaign involving old and newl media. (Here is a link to Marc’s blog and here is a link to a short video on the campaign.) Dog shows and exhibitions bring the dogs front and center.
Most of the genetic work on dogs in recent years has focused on hunting for genes related to breed specific behaviors, often without much notion of what those behaviors actually entail. Individual differences between dogs, great though they can be within the same breed, are glossed over or ignored. Paradoxically, as scientists have begun to compare the whole genomes, they have begun to recognize not only how similar but also how different individuals are at that basic level. In that sense making every dog a breed recognizes the individuality denied dogs characterized according to their breed.