Service Dogs: Why Our Purposefully Bred Dogs Are a Better Fit

Featured photo: John Ricard (C) AKC
Guide dogs are one type of service dogs

 

Service Dogs: Why Our Purposefully Bred Dogs Are a Better Fit

Ever since man became culturally modern roughly 10,000 years ago with the discovery of rudimentary farming techniques that allowed us to move away from our history as hunter gatherers, dogs have been purposefully bred so that they could perform tasks that make them an extension of ourselves.

Those of us who are members of the “purposefully-bred dog culture” are often the target of animal rights (AR) groups which have created a narrative stating that since the country has so many “rescue dogs” there is no need for breeding our distinct, historical breeds. Their false narrative demonizes those of us who choose to preserve historical breeds that have become ingrained parts of our different human cultures. The AR narrative extends even further to condemn functional parts of our dog culture such as the removal of dewclaws, docking of tails, and cropping of ears. With this being said, I stand tall amidst their feeble narrative and say, “Yes, I have had docked Poodles with dewclaws removed, and my AmStaffs’ ears are cropped.

The AR influence is so pervasive at a global level that in Europe we see Rotties with tails, and Dobbies and AmStaffs with natural ears. American dogs with these modifications cannot be shown at Crufts due to the promoted “cultural blindness.” While I personally find this false narrative sickening, this is not the purpose of my article. Instead, I will stand in support of our breeding of purposefully bred dogs, and provide a scientific explanation as to why our dogs are better suited as “Therapy Dogs,” “Emotional Support Dogs,” and “Disability Dogs.”

One of the most important roles that we need to play as breeders, owners, and handlers of purebred dogs is to effectively counter the negative narratives that AR groups spew into the public domain that readily influence individuals who do not know about our world. Having been involved in American Staffordshire Terriers since 1979, I have struggled through fighting BSL (breed-specific legislation) banning our dogs in Cleveland, Denver, and other parts of the country.

I had an AmStaff that co-hosted Nightline, with famous dog person Roger Karas, to combat the demonization of the breed, and another one of my dogs appear in an off-Broadway show, California Pit Fight, with Mariel Hemingway. That show was produced to bring awareness of the counter-culture. I guess I could say that this is “not my first rodeo.” However, since my writing is “scientifically-based,” I believe that a near perfect argument can be made for why “support-dogs” should come from our breeding programs and not from shelters.

 

Breed Specificity

To begin with what I believe is the most obvious argument, the AKC has roughly 200 recognized breeds which have been bred for different purposes that may align with Service Dog attributes. We can all recognize that Police and Military Dogs are often German Shepherd Dogs or one of the Belgian herding breeds, since these breeds were bred to have the attributes that make them the best fit for the job. Similarly, Seeing Eye Dogs are often Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds, since their trainability, size, and work ethic suit them to the task.

service dogs

To begin with what I believe is the most obvious argument, the AKC has roughly 200 recognized breeds which have been bred for different purposes that may align with Service Dog attributes.

In the new role of Emotional Support Dog, there are a number of “non-working” breeds that were actually bred to fit this role. Quick to mind are two entries from the Toy Group; the English Toy Spaniel and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, two breeds bred specifically as companion dogs.

If one desires less coat maintenance, quick to mind is the Miniature Bull Terrier. I have a love affair with “Josephine,” a dog I handle sometimes. She is adorable, biddable, and fun. Those of you who follow my Facebook group have seen pictures of me smooching Josephine in the Group ring.

If I could only have one dog as an all-around companion it would be one of my original breeds; the Standard Poodle. Having owned and handled other breeds, there is nothing like a Poodle as a companion as there is no more intelligent, empathetic creature in all of dogdom. I do adore my AmStaffs and my Tibetan Spaniel, but there is truly nothing like a Poodle.

 

Health Testing

Moving on from form and function, the health testing that we do, combined with our knowledge of our pedigrees, offers the opportunity to have a dog that lives a longer life, with lower costs of veterinary maintenance than a randomly selected dog. Within each of our breeds there are genetic and structural predispositions to a particular set of problems. Since most preservation breeders who are involved in Conformation actively try to eliminate the disorders that are known to afflict their breed, we spend money, time, and effort to do the necessary testing to eliminate risk.

Consider the fact that dogs used in specialized support roles require intense, often expensive, training. An untested dog can potentially be a disaster. Most breeders spend a great deal of time and money doing genetic testing; OFA for hips and elbows, and cardiac testing, yet we are often charging less for a pup than the creepy breeders of hybrid mutts who believe that anything crossed with a Poodle is a good choice. Recently, while waiting for Groups to begin, I was hanging with a few friends, and somehow, we, jokingly, tried to figure out which hybrid we could breed and sell for $10,000.00 a pup. Most popular on the list were Chow/Staffordshire Terrier and the Kees/Chow. I think I might have bumper stickers made up… Adopt a Dog or Buy a Hybrid Mutt and Buy Your Vet a Vette.

 

Temperament

The last and most important part of this argument is something that should be obvious but is often overlooked; temperament. As breeders of purposefully bred dogs, we know our dogs and understand our dogs’ temperaments. For a person looking for a Service Dog, temperament should be a key deciding factor. Dogs of the same breed can have a great deal of variation in temperament, so generalizing that all members of a certain breed would make good Service Dogs is a big mistake.

For example, my Amstaffs have wonderful temperaments. At the National Dog Show, I was spotted walking “Baxter,” my 65-pound AmStaff, with his girlfriend, “Maddie,” a 12-pound Tibetan Spaniel. A photo was featured in the Thanksgiving Day issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer. At another recent show, I had a ring conflict, and Baxter made it into the ring with a Poodle handler who had never handled a Terrier, not to mention an AmStaff.

Temperament is both nature and nurture. If you are looking for a Service Dog, you are doing yourself a disservice if you do not meet the parents of the pup and interview the breeder extensively regarding their dogs’ temperaments.

service dogs

 

Conclusion

As a preservation breeder, I was largely motivated to write this article due to the false narratives that are disseminated by AR groups and the rescue dog people. Our work is to preserve breeds that came into existence through selective breeding practices that honed the physical and psychological traits that have made these dogs extensions of our own human capacity. The detractors regularly slander us, our practices, and our pursuit of better dogs, demonizing us through creating false narratives that have no basis in reality or in history. If you think for a moment that their false narratives don’t harm the landscape of our world—WAKE UP!

As a breeder of American Staffordshire Terriers, I have struggled for over forty years fighting against “breed specific legislation,” where my own breed has been banned in different cities and countries. Suffice it to say, I will never have the opportunity to exhibit one of my dogs at Crufts since the breed is banned in England. Then again, my dogs have cropped ears, so this becomes a moot point on two counts.

You can contact me through my dedicated Facebook page. Additionally, join my group for lively discussions with breeders, exhibitors, and judges as well as some good food for thought. If we love our dogs and our sport, we need to do the work to explain to the world that our community isn’t just about dog beauty pageants. We are about preservation, form, function, and purpose. Let’s work together to ensure that the public understands our community and let’s make sure that your efforts are represented in a dignified fashion.

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  • Michael Nelinson has been involved in purposefully bred dogs and AKC conformation shows for 45 years. He purchased his first American Staffordshire Terrier in 1979 and he’s been connected to the breed ever since. Michael was a part-time research assistant, supporting the work of a psychologist who was a longtime faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania.

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