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CANINE

I

The Challenge of Breed Discrimination

Kym Iffert describes the breed prejudice she regularly encounters with her happy,

affectionate Rottweiler, Chopper, and how she is working to dispute the stereotype

t was finally a beautiful day in Chicago so I grabbed my bag, my manners. As an aside, Chopper has been attacked multiple times leash, a pocket full of treats and tennis ball and set out for a by the same two dogs whose owner, perhaps not surprisingly, walk. The neighbors were out and it was the perfect opportucannot control the retractable leashes – yet is still afraid to nity for a social outing - but not for me and my dog. As we touch my dog after I have literally pried her little Yorkshire terriwalked down the sidewalk, others may have looked, some would ers off of his neck and hocks. It did not help matters when we wave, a few may have had to alter our offered a smile… and home insurance polthen crossed the icy to reflect that we street. Social pariah? house a potentially No, just me and my “vicious” breed of Rottweiler out for a dog. Even the local stroll. police department From the time knows “the house Chopper was a puppy, with the Rottweiler,” people have avoided inbut thankfully only teraction with him and, because they often consequently, me stop and ask queswhenever we were out tions when they see together. When he was us out walking. just 15 weeks old, anI decided to perother owner in puppy sist with my dream of class voiced her fear having a well-trained, and refused to play happy, social dog but “pass the puppy” with reduce the risk of him. My very own vetbeing rushed by otherinarian tosses treats ers, so I sought out a Author Kym Iffert has experienced breed prejudice to him rather than of- against her Rottweiler, Chopper, ever since he was a puppy facility offering group fering them from an classes that touted open hand. Having had a fear-aggressive dog in the past, socializa- positive reinforcement methods and relationship-based training. tion was foremost in my mind when this pup came into my life, Owners were encouraged to bring dogs to the orientation but how is a person to socialize a dog properly when no one will where we were all informed to come the following week with come near? The issue presented me with a number of challenges proper equipment: a 4-6 foot leather leash, a bag of treats and a and, as a trainer, I chose to persevere and ensure that my dog is a well-fitted prong or choke collar. I politely waited until the end of well-trained, positive role model for so-called bully breeds in our class and approached the instructor (with my five-month-old, community. The puppy class alone was challenging. My dog was nearly 60 pound puppy politely sitting at my side) and explained much larger than the others, so playtimes with other dogs often that I was a trainer who did not believe in correction-based felt like an epic fail. Puppy owners would cringe and scoop up training and asked for my money back. No deal. His next comtheir tiny dogs when Chopper would gallop over, offer a play ment was, “Lady, if you think you can control that dog as he gets bow or make any type of vocalization. bigger around these other dogs without a prong, more power to Wanting people to see him for the sweet, gentle boy that he ya.” This became my eight-week challenge. I will not even recount is, I chose to do most of my training at home or in park settings some of the travesties I witnessed in that class – the confusion of for work around distractions. While training in local dog-friendly corrections followed by treats and dogs cowering from an owner areas, he was often rushed by older, larger dogs whose owners who barked the word “sit” over and over at a shutdown dog. would let them off leash thinking he was fully-grown and ready Chopper was the best-behaved dog in the class and he made it to play, only to see their dog react not-so-kindly to a young, exu- through on a flat buckle collar without a single “collar pop,” yet berant, as yet unaltered male dog. I had to be overly cautious to we were still given a wide berth on our way in and out of the ensure he would not experience negative interactions with other building every week. I found that trainer’s sentiment to be the norm when people dogs whose owners were not concerned about their dogs’ bad 32

BARKS from the Guild/November 2015

Profile for The Pet Professional Guild

BARKS from the Guild November 2015  

The Pet Professional Guild's Trade Magazine representing the Force-Free animal training community. Feature articles on a variety of animal i...

BARKS from the Guild November 2015  

The Pet Professional Guild's Trade Magazine representing the Force-Free animal training community. Feature articles on a variety of animal i...