All dogs are individuals. You’ve heard us say this again and again. It is the core principle of the work we do here at Animal Farm Foundation to secure equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs. But what does it really mean?
All dogs are individuals means: We owe it to all dogs to see them for who they really are, free of prejudice, stereotypes, and assumptions that are based on a known pedigree, a breed label guess, physical appearance, or their past history.
Every dog is an individual with a distinct set of needs and behaviors that are determined by a wide variety of factors: genetics, breeding, socialization, training, management, and environment.
The only way we can accurately determine what a dog needs are is to look at the individual dog in front us for the answers.
In other words, we can’t judge a book by its cover (even if that cover looks like other ones we’ve seen before)!
photo courtesy of melissa lipani
What’s the opposite of all dogs are individuals? It’s assuming that dogs that look alike or have the same breed label, will act alike or have the same needs.
Does “all dogs are individuals” apply to pure bred dogs? Yes. Dogs are not identical twins, even when they are the same breed. Pure bred dogs do not share identical DNA and like all dogs, their personal experiences (training, socialization, and environment) all influence and contribute to who they are. Breed and genetics are one piece of the puzzle, not the whole thing.
In this video, Dr. Kristopher Irizarry, a geneticist, discusses the genetic basis for why dogs that look alike do not necessarily act alike.
Further, even pure bred dogs that are born of the same litter and raised in the same house can have different personalities. They are individuals first, genetics second.
Are you saying that breed traits don’t exist? No, it simply means that every dog is an individual FIRST. In order to fairly and accurately evaluate a dog, we must look at the dog in front of us as an individual first. An individual dog may or may not conform to breed traits. Breed related traits are not guaranteed. If a dog does conform to breed traits, that does not mean a dog isn’t an individual! Breed characteristics may contribute to a dog’s individuality, but they are not the whole story.
Does “all dogs are individuals” only apply to dogs labeled “pit bulls”? No. Every dog is an individual, no matter what size, shape, age, breed or breed mix they may be.
photo credit: Dorotea Rivera-Field
Here are some examples:
- A professional dog trainer assesses her pure bred Akita as an individual, rather than relying only on breed standards that suggest he will be dog-dog aggressive. By looking at her dog as an individual first, breed second, she recognizes he is very dog social. She does the same for her Pug and discovers her short nosed, flat faced dog is great at scent tracking.
- Many Greyhound rescues choose to see their dogs as individuals. It is often assumed that ex-racing Greyhounds cannot live with cats or small animals, due to their breed’s prey drive. Rather than relying on breed standards, rescues evaluate the dogs individually. By looking at them as individuals first, breed and past history second, these rescues acknowledge that dogs that look alike do not necessarily need the same things. This opens the potential adopter pool much wider by removing blanket policies (no cats, no small dogs) and replaces them with individual matchmaking.
- Small dogs are individuals too. Just as we do not condone stereotyping “pit bull” dogs, we do not condone the stereotyping of small dogs. To be clear: it does nothing for “pit bull” dogs when we speak negatively of small dogs, such as Chihuahuas. It undermines ALL dogs when we allow stereotypes and prejudicial thinking to be perpetuated. Chihuahuas are individuals first, breed and size second. For example, Chihuahuas are competing (and winning) in agility trials, despite stereotypes that they are difficult to train. Watch this video of a 15 year old boy and his Chihuahua earning their agility title. And meet this senior citizen (yes, all people are individuals too) who, using a walker, competes with her pack of small dogs.
Why does this matter? In order to understand why “all dogs are individuals” is so important, we must take the near and far view.
In terms of everyday families, recognizing your dog as an individual means that you will get to know the dog in front you, rather than assuming that because they look like another dog or are labeled a certain way, they will act the same or need the same things. By looking at the dog in front of you and seeing them as an individual first (breed, past history, etc. second), you will be able to set them up for a successful family life by tailoring a training, management, and care routine to their specific needs.
In the big picture, recognizing dogs as individuals means putting an end to blanket polices that are based on stereotypes, generalizations, and false information.
For shelters and rescues this might mean that, rather than relying on a blanket policy that prohibits all Greyhounds from being placed in homes with cats or Akitas with other dogs, they will get to know Greyhounds and Akitas as individuals and then match them with appropriate homes. Some may need a feline or canine-free home, others will not. By evaluating them as individuals, it opens up the pool of potential adopters and more lives are saved.
For politicians and law makers, this means putting an end to laws passed on the flawed idea that you can determine how a dog will act based on how they look or their breed label. So, rather than instituting bans on “dangerous dog breeds”, they will instead focus on creating and enforcing responsible pet ownership laws that hold ALL owners equally accountable for their individual dogs, thereby creating truly safe communities. Dogs will be labeled “dangerous” based on their actions or behavior, not based on breed label or physical appearance. Dogs will no longer be persecuted based on stereotypes.
Treating all dogs as individuals means that we let go of biased thinking, recognizing each dog for who they really are, not who we assume they are based on looks, labels, or past experiences. In doing so, we set all dogs free of the baggage and consequences caused by our assumptions, prejudices, and discrimination.