Here's just in: Scientists at the International Association for Human Behavior say that not all Swedes are quiet, Italians aren't universally passionate, and not all French look down on you.
If such an organization existed (I made it up), few of us would consider such a statement newsworthy. We've all met individuals who don't fit the stereotype. One of the friendliest and most open people I've ever known was a Frenchman I met years ago on the tennis courts, although his wife once confessed that she always enjoyed our visits because Alain was a much better person in English than French .
But that's a different story.
Experts at the International Animal Behavior Consultants Foundation (the real thing) tell Katherine Wu of The Atlantic that people's beliefs about what to expect from different breeds of dogs cause a lot of problems.
“Stereotypes about breed ‘personality,' he writes, “are built into nearly every interaction people have with dogs: They influence which dogs are adopted first, which are directed into service jobs, which are allowed to inhabit apartment buildings.”
A dog behaviorist at the University of Colorado went so far as to tell him, “Any good dog trainer will tell you that stereotypes are a disaster… Breeds don't have personalities. Individuals do.
In my experience, this holds true for broadly every type of mammal I encounter — even farm animals like horses and cattle. Some are calm and trusting, others are distrustful and distrustful of human contact. Each flock has leaders and followers, friends and non-friends. When you get to know them, cows have very strong individual personalities.
Regarding dogs, however, people's expectations are often confounded. Although dog breeds are one of humanity's oldest and most successful endeavors in biotechnology, the results are never quite right. Wu: “There are border collies that won't herd, and pugs that do; there are tense Great Pyrenees, and beagles that will obey every command.
The bravest dog I know is our Great Pyrenees, Jesse, who is not afraid of living things. I once saw Jesse take down two coyotes that had a neighbor's kid on the ground. He then took the baby, brought it to the herd and put it down. Another time, he and his partner from Anatolia, Maggie, chased a wandering puma from our premises. The invader dashed up the ridge like a domestic cat.
Then there was one day my wife accidentally walked in between a newborn calf and its mother. The cow charged at him. Jesse struck back. The cow wanted no part of him and strayed. It might have been an accusation of bluffing anyway, but Jesse was prepared to take all of his 1,200 pounds.
The thunderstorm, however, scares Jesse to death. He only knew one safe place: on Diane's lap. Since she's somewhat bigger and hairier than him, it made for some cute photos.
Back in town, he is friendly but aloof towards human strangers. If someone was talking to Diane while she was dropping her off, Jesse would discreetly position himself between them. No one taught him these things; they are just who he is. The Pyrenees were raised to look after cattle, and guarding that is what he did.
He also ignores orders when he is on duty.
When it comes to ignoring commands, though, there's no dog like the basset hound. Even the beagle, a member of the same stubborn hound group. Bred to track play with their amazing noses, I believe that when their nostrils move, their ears don't connect.
At the dog park, our basset, Hank, is called the “Lady Guy” because of his fondness for women and girls. In truth, Hank had never met a stranger, human or dog. Bred to hunt in packs, bassets see other dogs as allies. They are friendly and optimistic all the time. Also, be persistent. If you want it, you have to get it.
So one day last month, we were walking our dog on a golf course that was closed after the Little Rock tornado. A herd of deer appears, and Hank – a house pet, not a hound – feels a shiver in his blood. The other dogs stopped chasing once the deer was out of sight. Hank, however, put his nose to the ground and started following the scent line.
My heart sank. As a longtime beagle breeder, I knew right away that Hank was a native. I heard it cross the road and railroad tracks and climb a steep wooded ridge on the other side. I'm afraid we may never see him again.
Except after he reached the residential neighborhood over the ridge, Hank ran into a group of young children and went back into pet-sitting mode. The children brought it to their mother. His photo popped up on Facebook even before I got home from the search.
Hank hears a cry from the wild, but he heads home for dinner.
Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.”
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