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Quantifying, Compartmentalizing, and Labeling (With a Touch of Humor)

Author: Andrea Obey | Date: December 11, 2013

I’ve never understood why humans were so obsessed with labeling their dogs. “He’s a Husky/Lab mix, and man, is he smart!” Those are usually the first words out of a dog owner’s mouth when you ask about their dog. Breed and brains.

There are certainly some very important reasons a dog trainer (and a dog owner too) would need to be mindful of a dog’s breed, like why you are getting the dog in the first place. Do you want a family pet? Or a hunting dog? What kind of hunting? What about agility and other sports? Herding? Unofficial competitive alley rat chasing? Obviously, if you wanted to compete in the Iditarod, you wouldn’t get a Miniature Schnauzer. But why is it so important for us to quantify our dogs’ intelligence and immediately name their breed(s)?

I’m not sure I have a definitive answer.

I’m pretty sure some of it is pure relatability, as in, “You have a Old English Sheepdog? Me too!” But I think some of it is based on pride or shame, depending on the situation. I mean, after all, we humans pretty much designed dogs to suit our needs. I also think that we deeply want the best for our dogs and to have the best possible relationship with them. To help them lead happy, fulfilling and harmonious lives with us is the best common thread, so are we simply trying to find that common thread?

One of my favorite comedic writers is a woman named Allie Brosh. She writes about all sorts of crazy life mishaps and weird things with a hilarious twist. One of the common themes she writes about is dogs, and her love of dogs. She tries to explain dogs from her perspective, which I find hilarious, fascinating and very relatable. I mean, who hasn’t thought that their dog was weird and/or couldn’t figure out why the heck they couldn’t grasp a concept that seemed so easy for us to understand? (You can read more about her “simple dog” at her blog, Hyperbole and a Half.)

As a dog trainer, I could probably suggest about twenty things to do with the “simple dog” to get her engaged and learning but regardless, Allie accepts her dog and loves her anyway. She wants so desperately to give her the benefit of the doubt and just love her. That makes me very happy.

I am not saying that people who label their dogs are terrible or wrong by any means. In fact, I think that it can be endearing. I’m just curious as to why we all do it so often. Of course there can be negatives associated with compartmentalizing our dogs because we begin to place expectations on them to do or be something, and the potential to miss some other ability or strength increases. My only hope is that all dogs and humans truly enjoy their lives together because, as flawed as it may sometimes be, it really can be so lovely and precious and too short in my opinion. So what if your dog can’t find the treat under the cup or whatever canon is used to judge brilliance? Those are super fun but can your dog make your crappy day better with just a tail wag and enthusiastic greeting? That is not “simple”, that is truly talented.


Our dog learned a ton over the 6 week period.

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