|Mau-Mauing the Dogcatcher
Is it racist to dislike a dachshund?
By Jonah Goldberg
Americans hate racism
and they love dogs, so maybe it's not surprising that prejudice among the
pugs and poodles is a growing national concern. Actually, the purported
prejudice is among dog owners, not dogs. But increasingly dogs are being
talked about as if they had the same civil rights as humans and that the
same rules of civil discourse apply to man and his best friend alike. The
implied parallel can be seen as either an insult to the struggle against
human racism or a commentary on its occasional excesses. Or, of course,
it can be seen as perfectly reasonable.
|Hardest hit by this
development were dachshund and Chihuahua breeders, whose product is often
sold to kids--and without warning labels of any kind. (At least they are
ostensibly for the kids. How many adults have the guts to buy a dachshund
without blaming it on the children?) On ABC News, Roger Caras, president
emeritus of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,
got right to the point: "To say that all these dogs are 'this' and all
these dogs are 'that,' that's racism, canine racism." Carl Holder, the
outraged secretary of the Dachshund Club of America, told the New York
Times, "You just can't make such a blanket statement about dachshunds."
Wait. Why exactly can't we make blanket statements about these ankle-snapping pipe cleaners with feet? "Dogs are not vehicles stamped out of an assembly line," asserted Holder, "Each one is an individual." A week after the AKC's announcement, Dr. Vicki Hearne, author of Animal Happiness, joined the battle in a New York Times op-ed piece, where she raised the specter of genocide, or at least breed cleansing. To brand dogs such as Chihuahuas as "not good" with children "is not just an insult; it is a dangerous statement in an age when every state and many towns have adopted or are considering laws restricting, banning or even requiring the killing of particular suspect breeds."
|Nicholas Dodman of
the Tufts University Animal Behavior Clinic charged that labeling Chihuahuas
as bad with children was essentially blaming the victim: "It's mainly the
child's fault because they're doing really stupid things with the dogs."
He told ABC, "They're pulling on their tails and pulling on their ears
and poking in their eyes, and doing lots of things, and you know, you have
to have a pretty long fuse to tolerate that." The problem, in other words,
is that children are bad with Chihuahuas. Perhaps the solution is to ban
Eventually the kennel club caved like Denny's before a class action suit. The club recalled over 10,000 copies of its book--at a cost of nearly $800,000--and declared that the profiles had been published with "inadvertently incorrect and controversial information." Also, "The AKC sincerely regrets the distress caused to dog owners and breeders by the errors. AKC neither agrees with, nor endorses, the material." This is a good start. But where, one wonders, is the AKC's apology to the dogs?
|Don't ask me whether
each of the breeds on the AKC's blacklist can accurately be labeled good
or bad for children. But the idea that stereotypes are not valid about
breeds of dogs is ridiculous. While it is true that all dogs go to heaven,
there is a bowl curve when it comes to dog abilities and personalities.
Basset hounds are sweet and stubborn. Golden retrievers are beautiful,
joyous, dumb blonds. Border collies work hard--even when they're asleep.
Mastiffs are lazy but lovable. Labradors are the kind of dogs you want
to have a beer with. Chihuahuas are snappish and temperamental.
Judging humans by the color of their skin is different than judging dogs by the texture of their coats. It is different even if you leave aside the question (which I find easy but some people find difficult) of whether dogs have the same moral claims as human beings to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let's say they do. Even if so, the analogy of dog stereotypes to human racism is mistaken.
|Racism among humans
is overwhelmingly based upon cultural differences--what breeders might
call "training." The actual genetic differences between human "races" are
so infinitesimal that making sweeping statements is rarely useful and often
dangerous. Genetic differences between human races are literally superficial.
But the differences between purebred dogs are anything but. That's why
they call it breeding. For example, border collies instinctively herd anything
that moves--without any training. Put a border collie in the living room
during a cocktail party, and soon you'll find everybody scrunched into
Strong genetic differences among dog breeds are not just the result of natural selection. Evolution among dogs has got a big push from humans. On ranches, border collie puppies are taken from the litter and tested for their instinctual desire to herd sheep. The most fearless and enthusiastic pups are the most likely to be bred to pass that herding gene on to the next generation.
|Doggy eugenicists sometimes
disagree about what traits they ought to be pushing. Many border collie
breeders, for example, take great exception to the dog industry's emphasis
on ideal appearance rather than behavior. They fear that if border collies
are bred for the color of their coats rather than the content of their
character, eventually their herding instinct will fade away.
Another example is pointers. One need not be an expert in evolution or zoology to understand that pointing at dinner rather than catching it is not a successful evolutionary strategy. But the reason pointers point is not that they are responding to a capital gains tax cut or any of the other incentives known to affect the behavior of human beings. It is that pointing has been bred into them. Right now, something called the Dog Genome Project is trying to isolate the various genes for breed-specific behaviors, including the basenji's genetic reluctance to bark and the basset's genetic refusal to catch Frisbees.
Chako Rescue comments:
Here the author demonstrates
The AKC 19th edition listed
Both the American Pit Bull Terrier
|Lovers of certain breeds
readily acknowledge the positive genetic tendencies of their favorite dogs.
Newfoundland and Portuguese water dog owners want pooches that can swim.
Rottweiler owners want beasts that protect. German shepherders like a good
running buddy. And, basset people, like me, want dogs that have the good
sense not to do any of those things. But suggest that negative behavior
might be genetic too, and dog nuts--and, increasingly, their lawyers--declare
that this is like saying Jews are naturally greedy or that laziness is
a genetic trait of blacks.
Take the pit bull, the most "discriminated against" dog in the country. In most breeds, a litter of puppies will have one "alpha dog." The alpha dog is the most aggressive male in the group, the one that instinctively wants to be leader of the pack and will not bow out of a fight. Pit bull litters are nearly all alphas. If a child lets a pit bull gain alpha dominance, watch out: A tea party with Fido could turn into a bloodbath. The pit bull's brain chemistry is the product of selective breeding too. Unlike, say, a German shepherd, pit bulls were not bred to protect humans but to kill other dogs. They are more prone to become addicted to endorphins, which often translates into a lust for pain. Thus, they don't quit when their opponent is licked or when they are told to go to a neutral corner. Also, most dogs have an instinctual body language. If two dogs meet on the street and they don't want to fight, they bow their heads, exposing their necks and demonstrating their vulnerability. It's a nice gesture, and pit bulls bow too. But unlike any other breed, they have an instinct for attacking the other dog while he's still bowed.
|In 1989, New York Mayor
Ed Koch tried to impose strict rules on pit bull ownership. He called them,
"the Great White Sharks of Doggiedom." New York courts ruled that such
laws were prejudicial because of their disparate impact on owners of different
breeds of dogs. Other cities trying to curb pit bulls met with similar
rulings. Since then, groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund--does the
name sound familiar?--have been arguing hard that the issue isn't owners'
rights but dogs' rights. In vet malpractice cases and other instances of
dog deaths, reports Evan Gahr in the Wall Street Journal, lawyers
frequently argue that compensation should be determined by the "intrinsic
value" of the dog. In dog attack cases, animal behaviorists, psychiatrists,
and activists try to claim that the dogs were simply "misunderstood." But
whether they're defending a dog that kills or eulogizing a dog that was
killed, the mythology that dogs are simply products of their environments
Many people don't realize that dogs were not made by God. Rather, God gave man the raw materials--the ancient offshoot of the wolf--and said "show me what you can do." Purebred dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of years in some cases. Even a millennium of unnatural selection still leaves room for some environmental influence: A cocker spaniel that wears a "Kick Dog for Service" sign from 9 till 5 will be a lot more likely to bite than a Rottweiler that grew up in a loving home. Some dogs will be closer than others to the Aryan ideal of their particular breed. But the worst herding border collie in the world will still herd better than the most masterful Mexican hairless.
|A poodle will bite
you for forgetting to put the accent mark over the "e" in André.
But you could use a bloodhound's tail as a jump rope and the worst you'd
get is a fierce yawn. Yes, it is possible to teach a bloodhound to hate
kids, just as it is possible to teach poodles to be sled dogs. But this
would be conditioning against the grain of the breeds' personalities. "Canine
racism" may be a convenient way to shake down courts and corporations.
But it drains the moral currency from a very real and still unfortunately
useful concept in the world of humans.
There is simply no such thing as canine racism. In fact, some of my best friends are German shepherds.
The American Kennel Club's Dog of the Month is the St. Bernard. Click here (Windows) or here (Mac) to see the AKC's video of a St. Bernard strolling about. The voice-over informs us that "the St. Bernard should move with good reach in front and balanced drive from the rear." One year ago, Marjorie Garber and Steve Duno conducted a Slate "Dialogue" on cats vs. dogs. Slate's David Plotz once argued that Dalmatians are a breed of dog best used as a fur coat. And if you're of the opinion that dogs ought to work for a living, here's a page dedicated to greyhound racing (a k a "the pups"), with some truly frightening pictures of the running dogs.
Jonah Goldberg is a contributing editor and online columnist for National Review magazine.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.