Stanley Coren Interview

The Animal Advocates Society WatchDog News

Readers Digest: Interview with Dr. Stanley Coren

Is there such a thing as a bad breed?There are some dogs that have been bred to be suspicious, to be guard dogs. And there are some breeds that I certainly trust a lot less than other dogs since they’re designed to be sharper — to have spontaneous aggression. An example of that is the Akita. Another example is the dalmatian. And I would be much more suspicious of a Kuvasz, maybe even a chow chow, than I would a Doberman.
Are there any dogs that have bad reputations but are not necessarily vicious?

North-American Doberman breeders have changed their breeding standards over the years and have produced a wonderfully stable working dog. In Europe though, they still like their dogs sharp.

Breeders have also begun to calm the rottweiler down, so that they are basically quite stable dogs. Their big problem is of course their size. Pound for pound, they are the strongest dogs in dogdom.
What about the pit bull?

Pit bull is a term that encompasses crosses of breeds with the bullterrier, the Staffordshord bull terrier or the American Staffordshord terrier. It’s not in their genes for these dogs to be vicious. But nefarious breeders are taking rottweilers and backcrossing them with Staffordshord terriers to produce a more aggressive dog. They are systematically breeding biological weapons. These dogs get out into the population and give a bad reputation to the vast majority of other dogs.
Can you rehabilitate a bad dog?

Ninety-five percent of all dogs are flexible enough if you catch them young. The best way to take a dog and make it non-vicious is obedience training it and socialization. A socialized dog is a good dog. In the first year of its life, expose it to 200 people and take it to 50 or 60 places. What you’ll end up with is a dog that is not excited by the appearance of a new person or by a new place. This is good advice for any dog, but for those that have a predisposition towards problems, it’s a necessity.
So some dogs are indeed hopeless?

There are some dogs that are genetically flawed if they’re deliberately manipulated, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.
How do you feel about breed-specific bans?

What ought to happen is the following: If your dog does substantial damage, then you ought to be slapped with a heavy fine. If you make the owner accountable, then you get self-monitoring that will stop off-lead dogs and will stop people from getting dangerous breeds.
What about prohibiting an owner from getting another dog after an attack?

If it can be shown that the owner was negligent, then it’s a reasonable thing to do. But it is possible for a responsible owner to not have a sound dog and for there to be an incident. In some cases, the dog may be provoked. Under these circumstances, I don’t think the owner is culpable because diligence was followed.
How can a dog incident be avoided?

If you act frightened, you start to generate certain pheromones, a biological odour, that the dog can detect. So stay cool. Don’t stare a dog in the face. Don’t put your hand over the dog’s head. Talk in high-pitched tones. Offer the dog the back of your hand. If the dog comes up and touches you, rub its ears and fondle its head.
Should parents expecting a baby get rid of their dog?

No. The psychological evidence shows that kids who grow up in a household with a dog have a higher social IQ and are less likely to have problems. In general a well-trained dog gives unconditional positive regard and kids tend to see the dog as a companion.
Should families with children avoid getting certain breeds?

If you have really young babes, big dogs can cause problems simply because of their size. So if you’re going to get a big dog, choose a relatively inactive one like a Newfoundland or a Great Dane. Or get a sucky-faced dog like a Lab or a golden retriever. Both dogs are about as friendly as you can get, and they’re bright, so they’re easy to train.
Otherwise, get a small, companion dog like a toy spaniel, a Pekingese or a Tibetan terrier.
What advice do you have for people in the market for a dog?

Always err in the direction of a smaller, less active dog. Never, ever base your decision on big glossy images of a dog. Go out and see it in the real world. Don’t get a dog in a pet store. They tend to be puppy-mill dogs, dogs that are bred under bad conditions by people who don’t worry about genetic control — people who don’t give a damn.
How do you know whether you have control over your dog?

Does your dog listen to what you say? If you tell your dog to sit, does it sit? The leader of the pack doesn’t have to take commands from anybody.
What kind of dog do you own?

I just lost my absolute favourite. A cavalier King Charles spaniel. It’s a beautiful dog. The kind of dog you see in all those Victorian paintings, with full-flowing tail. I have a flat-coated retriever, a dog too active to live in the city, really. My younger dog is a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. I like retriever temperament. Most retrievers are kissy-face and very attentive towards people. I very seldom repeat a breed because I don’t like living with the ghost of a former dog.

May 2004

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