Friday, February 28, 2014

Mixing it up!

Who do you think would win a fight between a 70 + pound Great Dane mix and a 30 pound Terrier mix?  Most people would bet on the Great Dane, but it’s hardly a sure bet.  Why?  Well, I can give you at least three reasons why.

One: it’s not size that matters, its temperament.  Great Danes are known as Gentle Giants. They are usually sweet, friendly, steady, and sensitive.  They are not usually aggressive, although they may be protective.  Their great size tends to frighten people, but for the most part they behave more like massive lapdogs than guard dogs.  Certainly they are not aggressive towards other dogs, especially smaller dogs.

Terriers, on the other hand, can appear to be as aggressive as hell.  Usually all they’re really interested in is playing, which to a Terrier means chasing and being chased.  Terriers were bred to chase.  They were bred to chase vermin, and they were bred to kill vermin.  Terriers also have one of the highest energy levels of any breed of dog, so when they chase, they really chase hard.  Much larger breeds can find this behavior as intimidating (and as frightening) as hell.

Two: you may have noticed that I spoke of a Great Dane mix and a Terrier mix. Even with the DNA test, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what breeds are in the mix.  Knowing about dog breeds is very important when making up the ideal mix of dogs for playgroup, or when choosing walk buddies, but it’s not enough. You really have to know and observe the individual dogs, because temperaments vary so very much when you’re talking about mixed breeds.  By the way, 90% of the dogs I see are mixed breeds. Most are rescues, which brings us to the third reason that it’s nearly impossible to guess who wins in a fight between a Great Dane and a Terrier.

Three:  A dog’s temperament has as much to do with nurture as nature. Ideally, dogs are socialized to play with other dogs from puppyhood, but that’s rarely the case when you’re talking about rescue dogs.  While you should NOT make the mistake of assuming that all rescue dogs have been abused, you can pretty much bet that they were not perfectly trained since puppyhood.  Dogs that were not socialized as puppies and adolescents are usually lacking in dog-to-dog communication skills.  They may not recognize that certain behaviors and facial expressions are telling them to back off. They may not really understand where play and real aggression begins.

In this photo, Socrates is playing but Gracie is really afraid.  Eventually she’ll go belly up, and Socrates will win this play fight. Does this mean that Gracie and Socrates should not be allowed to play with each other? No, it really doesn’t.  It does mean that when they are playing together they should be carefully watched, and they should be separated (temporarily) when Gracie is really stressed.  For the most part, however, Gracie has a ball playing with Socrates.  And since Gracie’s mom is one of my best friends, these two will continue to play!