Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why we love the dogs we do

I’ve been reading Why We Love the Dogs We Do, and How to find the Dog that Matches your personality, by Stanley Coren. Coren is a scientist who believes he has come up with a new way of classifying dogs in terms of their personalities. He utilizes existing human-personality tests and then relates them to his new categories of dogs. He then gives the reader a test. After testing his own personality, he ends up with 8 markers. Coren tells us that we need at least two markers for a given dog-catory to be happy with a dog from that category. That was fortunate for me because I had two markers in the “protective dog” category. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is in that category and I am very happy with that breed.

Coren says that if you are happy with one dog from a given category then you are likely to be happy with all the dogs in that category. Let me check that: In looking at his “Protective Dog” category I discovered that I have at one time or another “considered” 14 of the 19. That is I considered getting these dogs at one time or another, and did some research about the breeds. This category contains the Akita, American Staffordshire Terrier, Boxer, Briard, Bullmastiff, Bull Terrier, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Chow Chow, German Wirehaired Pointer, Giant Schnauzer, Gordon Setter, Komondor, Kuvasz, Puli, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Schnauzer (Standard), Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Weimaraner. Coren writes about this category, “Any dog in this group would make a pretty good watchdog, and the larger ones make good guard dogs.”

My test showed two other categories with two checks, “Independent Dogs” and “Steady” Dogs.

“Independent Dogs”: Afghan Hound, Airedale Terrier, Alaskan Malamute, American Foxhound, American Water Spaniel, Black and Tan Coonhound, Borzoi, Chinese Shar Pei, Dalmatian, German Shorthaired Pointer, Greyhound, Harrier, Irish Setter, Irish Water Spaniel, Norwegian Elkhound, Otter hound, Pointer, Saluki, Samoyed and the Siberian Husky.” I actually had a German Shorthaired Pointer, and am familiar with my son’s Airedales. Coren says about this category, “the animals in this group may . . . be a bit pushy or dominant around other dogs. These are dogs with their own minds, who will often appear to be more interested in their own plans than in those of their human masters. This independent and headstrong nature often makes them difficult to train. Their behavior is spontaneous and also quite variable, which means that sometimes they may go to great extremes to please you, while at other times they may act as if you don’t exist. All of these dogs are quite active and are happiest outdoors; some may not thrive in the city, especially if they must be indoors most of the time. Most dogs in this group, especially the Airedale, Greyhound, and Irish Setter, have a strong sense of playfulness.”

In regard to the “Independent Dogs,” while I did have a German Shorthaired Pointer, but wouldn’t want another one. Which means there is only one dog on the list I am considering, the Airedale -- to a large extent because of my son’s campaigning. Frankly, I have for a long time been rating dogs in terms of being able to handle themselves down at the river where we sometimes encounter coyotes and feral dogs. I had not been considering personality compatibility. Rather, I had been assuming I could get along with any dog I raised from a pup. Fortunately, should I ever get an Airedale, I have two checks in the “Independent Dog” category which is the same number that I have in the “Protective Dog” category.

There is a third category that my test showed two marks against: “Steady Dogs.” This category contains the Basset Hound, Beagle, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bloodhound, Bouvier des Flandres, Bulldog, Clumber Spaniel, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, Irish Wolfhound, Mastiff, Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, and Scottish Deerhound.” I have never seriously considered getting any dog on that list.

Perhaps if I took the longer tests “Steady Dogs” would drop off and “Clever Dogs” have more of an emphasis. I had only one check against that category and Coren advises against getting a dog from a category with only one check, but I once had a Poodle, and we got along fine. The category contains, “Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Tervuren, Border Collie, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Maremma Sheepdog, Papillon, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Poodle (Toy, Miniature, and Standard) and the Shetland Sheepdog.” Beyond once having a Poodle (although I wouldn’t own another, primarily because of coat care), I have been seriously considering the Belgian Malinois. Coren says there is absolutely no difference in personality in any of the Belgian Shepherd breeds, but I have read different things recently, including differences described by Coren in one of his later books. He subsequently decided there was a difference between the Malinois and the other Belgian Shepherds. Whether he considered that difference great enough to move it from “Clever Dogs” to “Protective Dogs,” is doubtful. Some of these dogs are also very protective, but apparently Coren and others think their cleverness affects their personality interaction with humans more than their protectiveness, and I have no reason to doubt that.

I have considered a three dogs on the “Friendly Dog” list, the Brittany, the Vizsla and the Labrador Retriever. But I only considered the Brittany and the Lab in the days when I was bird-hunting. I considered the Vizsla more recently as a dog that might do well at the river as long as there was a larger Rhodesian Ridgeback nearby, but many of the Vizsla breeders I discussed this matter with seemed paranoid that I might subject one of their breed to such a risk and I took that to mean that the breed, or at least a high percentage of them, probably weren’t up to it. The Friendly Dog list contains the Bearded Collie, Bichon Frise, Border Terrier, Brittany, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Collie, Curly-Coated Retriever, English Cocker Spaniel, English Setter, English Springer Spaniel, Field Spaniel, Flat-Coated Retriever, Golden Retriever, Keeshond, Labrador Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Old English Sheepdog, Portuguese Water Dog, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Vizsla, and Welsh Springer Spaniel.”

I have strongly considered one dog on the “Self-Assured Dog” list, the Irish Terrier. This list contains the Affenpinscher, Australian Terrier, Basenji, Brussels Griffon, Cairn Terrier, Irish Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Lakeland Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Pinscher, Miniature Schnauzer, Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier, Schipperke, Scottish Terrier, Shih Tzu, Silky Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier, Welsh Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Wire Fox Terrier, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, and Yorkshire Terrier.” In fact I have not removed the Irish Terrier from my list as a possible dog for my down-sizing days, should I ever enter them. The Irish Terrier’s difficulty in getting along with other dogs is a bit off putting. There is a saying about them that there are only two types of dogs they will tolerate: the submissive, and the dead.


I have attempted to evaluate Coren’s theories in terms of my own experience, and while I don’t recognize myself in much of what he says, I have settled upon the Rhodesian Ridgeback; which would suggest that his test of me wasn’t wrong. But some place he says that “Familiarity breeds contentment” when it comes to dogs. Once you get used to a particular breed, then you are going to tend to like that breed from then on – and be content with it. In one of his questionnaires he asked dog owners which breeds they had owned and which breeds they would not own again. I would have responded with the German Shorthaired Pointer and the Miniature Poodle, but I loved both of those dogs and my decision not to get another involves the high energy of the GSP; which wouldn’t suit my semi-sedentary retirement, and the coat-care of the Poodle. Also, a miniature wouldn’t do well at the river. A standard might, but I really don’t like the Poodle coat.

Moving ahead now, I have said the Airedale is on my list, but their coats are just as difficult to care for as the Poodle coat. My son is telling me it’s a piece of cage and he can show me how to do it, or I can have it done, but . . .

I notice that the Boxer is in the same category as the Rhodesian Ridgeback and Coren has said that if you like one dog on a list you will probably like the rest. Well, maybe. I do notice that I like more dogs on the Protective Dog list than on any of his other lists; so between the Boxer and the Airedale, the Boxer might better fit my lifestyle; however . . . I have gotten onto a Boxer discussion group and everything thus far has been about Boxer’s dying or getting sick. Boxer health is a big concern. I would rather have a large Ridgeback that I have to boost into the back seat of my Jeep than a sick Boxer that can hop up there by himself. I would even rather have a shaggy Airedale. . . maybe.

Did I learn anything from Coren’s book? Yes, I’d say so. His psychological classification of dogs is interesting and makes more sense than the AKC classifications. In many respects, however, he doesn’t add to what I’ve read in other books, in Tortora’s The Right Dog for You, for example. For example, these books will tell you whether a dog expresses “high energy” inside, suggesting that if you aren’t up to that, you had better pick a different breed. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is listed in Tortora’s book as exhibiting “Low indoor activity,” but “very high outdoor activity” which suits my lifestyle very well. Inside I do a lot of reading and writing, but outside we go on long walks or down to the river to chase rabbits and coyotes. The Airedale, on the other hand, while having “very high outdoor activity”; which would show him suitable for river outings, has “very high indoor activity” which might interfere with my study habits; although my son says they eventually calm down. The Boxer is a step down from the Airedale in energy, showing “High” activity levels both inside and outside – according to Tortora.

In another book, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? A Complete Guide to Your Dog’s personality, Coren rates the Airedale “Moderately High” in energy and the Boxer “Moderately Low.” The Ridgeback is also rated “Moderately Low” in energy.

I don’t have to make a decision today about which dog or dogs to get next, but it frequently occurs to me that the safest approach to “downsizings” I could make would be to go from two Ridgebacks down to one.

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