Stereotyping is no laughing matter.
By Julia Lane, October 2009, Updated June 2021

You know what really gets my hackles up? Stereotyping a breed of dog, or what I'll call breedism. Did you hear Chris Rock's latest joke? On "The Jay Leno Show," he said, "What the hell did Michael Vick do, man? A Pit Bull ain't even a real dog." Fortunately, the late Richard Pryor's widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor -- who together with her late husband created Pryor’s Planet, an animal rescue group and sanctuary -- took a public stand. In a detailed, passionate letter, she makes her case that pit bulls are indeed real dogs deserving of love and respect. And unless Rock apologized, she said he would be dropped as a co-producer on a biopic of Richard Pryor.


Sadly, this is not an isolated case of breedism. Of course, breed-specific legislation continues to ignite controversy everywhere it goes. A nearby town is considering a Pit Bull ban. I immediately wrote to the mayor, asking him to reconsider it and look into alternatives, such as low-cost spay/neuter options and discounted obedience training through the local shelter.



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It's also hit me on a more personal level. While teaching an agility class this past week, one of my students commented that she did not like German Shepherds. Two of her fellow students have German Shepherds! Not to mention, I co-founded a German Shepherd rescue years ago and fostered many wonderful German Shepherds over the years. When I asked why, she just shrugged her shoulders and said she simply didn't like them. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but there's a time and a place for it. It was all I could do to get a handle on my anger and return to teaching.


That student's thoughtless comment reminded me of a call I received last year. A woman phoned to inquire about my dog training classes. She asked me what kind of dogs I had and I gladly told her -- two Dalmatians, a Catahoula, a Pit Bull-mix and a mixed breed. She hesitated for a split second then told me she had a Standard Poodle. After a few more minutes of talking about Poodles and how they fared in agility, she asked if there would be any German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans or Pit Bulls in the class. I said there could be; I wouldn't know until I  received everyone's class applications. She suggested I place her in an agility class that would not be open to the aforementioned breeds "because, you know ... ." I was shocked. Did she not hear me say I personally have a Pit-Bull mix? Why did she think it was okay to ban certain breeds from attending my classes?


Naively, I assumed she would launch into a tragic story about a beloved dog of hers being eaten by a pack comprised of said breeds. But no, she did not. She claimed that all of these breeds were "aggressive" and could "turn on you." By now, I was losing control of my anger and I'm afraid I made it rather clear to her in a less than professional manner what I thought of her breed stereotypes. I had hoped that should I get a call like that again, I would be able to be more diplomatic. But the exchange with my current agility student made me realize that I, too, need to learn when to speak up and when to bite my tongue. It's impossible to educate people if you put them on the defensive or try to bully them into your way of thinking.


From now on, I vow to reflect on the story told to me by my local grocery store cashier before I respond rashly to people who stereotype breeds. I usually buy turkey necks as a special treat for my dogs and she always teases me about how I spoil them. One evening, she confided in me that she had been attacked by a Pit Bull and pulled back her bangs to expose a long jagged scar. The dog was often loose in the neighborhood and she had called the police and animal control numerous times in hopes that the owner would be cited and do something about it. Even though the attack was unprovoked, she blamed the neglectful, abusive owner, not the dog. Interestingly, when she was contacted by the media following the attack, she told the reporter what she told me, that she did not blame the dog, but her comments did not make it into print. Sensationalism sells, right?


Have you ever experienced breedism? Do you ever catch yourself stereotyping breeds?

Photo: Julia Lane

Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.