A new dog shows up at our park play group. Is Cali interested in meeting or playing with this newcomer? Is she curious? Is she hesitant, cautious? Or does she simply head for the other side of the park and ignore the new pup? And what about Jana?
That depends on several things.
When the newcomer is a puppy, I can be absolutely certain that Jana wants nothing to do with him or her. Cali might, but she tends to watch new pup interact with some other dogs first.
What about adolescent and adult dogs? Large dogs get a wide berth. Small dogs get more interest. But the one time I can be certain that Cali will go right over and say hello to a new dog is when that dog is a golden retriever.
Cali’s very wary of shepherds and huskies. She’s open to small poodles and terriers. A little nervous around very high-energy dogs. Very leery of big dogs, though once she gets to know them, she’s fine. She finds boy Labradors overwhelming, but has had a few Labby girlfriends. Cali’s the most relaxed with her sister Dora and a couple of other dogs she knows well, all Labs or goldens. Anyone who shows any interest in her ball is definitely off the potential friends list. Unless it’s a golden; then they can talk.
Cali is racially profiling dogs. Jana does it too. When Jana was a puppy, if we saw another dog up ahead on a walk (we didn’t have a great neighborhood park with a play group), she’d react completely differently, depending on the breed. Jana is a little broader-minded than Cali; she loved Labradors and goldens equally from early puppyhood. A Lab or golden up ahead would mean eager dancing at the end of the leash and maybe even pulling toward the potential pal. Any other dog, big or small, and Jana would slow down and walk very close to me, a bit nervous and unsure. She’d be fine once she met and got to know a dog of any breed, as long as the dog had good manners. But retrievers, dogs who looked like her — they were OK from the get-go.
It’s not just based on experience. One of the first nonfamily goldens Cali met at the park was an unusually bad-tempered young man who snarled and lunged at her. That did not make her wary the next time she saw an unfamiliar golden.
It’s not only a golden thing, either. A smooth-coated collie puppy I was working with, the lone collie in a sea of Lab puppies at a service dog training school, literally danced with joy the first time a staffer brought her smooth collie service dog to visit. I’d never seen him so happy, and he was generally a pretty cheerful guy. Then there are the German shepherds at the park. The young girl likes to play with Cali. Cali has, on a couple of occasions, accepted the play invitations. Sometimes, while she’s thinking about it, another shepherd, either a young male or an older, long-haired shepherd, will show up. Young girl is immediately off to play with the other shepherd. During breaks in that play, though, she tries again and again to invite Cali to play. She strongly prefers shepherds, but young golden girls are second.
We can’t really hold it against them; people racially profile dogs all the time. What else would you call legal restrictions on owning dogs of certain breeds or apartment rental policies or insurance policies that exclude specific breeds, without any attention to an individual dog’s personality and behavior? But I don’t think dogs learned it from us; I think they are hardwired to recognize — and feel more comfortable with — dogs of their own breed.