A few days ago a friend of mine sent me a link to an older story he had stumbled across while browsing the Internet. The story, on the news site Slate, posed the question of “what is the most disloyal dog breed?” Not loyal, but disloyal, which is an admittedly interesting twist on the never-ending argument about the most loyal dog breed.
From this story on Slate:
_The conventional wisdom among dog fanciers holds that each of the 161 breeds now recognized by the American Kennel Club has a distinctive temperament reflecting its history and original purpose…But recent work suggests that the personalities of modern dogs may have little to do with their breed’s history.
A researcher at Stockholm University named Kenth Svartberg analyzed the behavioral profiles of more than 15,000 animals and derived several essential canine traits: A dog is more or less playful, curious/fearless, and sociable. Then he studied a few dozen breed types and rated them according to those traits as well as on their level of aggression._
_Svartberg turned up two interesting facts. First, like many other researchers, he found tremendous variability among dogs of a particular breed. So even though German shepherds scored higher marks for playfulness than, say, poodles, you’ll still find plenty of individual poodles that are more playful than a given German shepherd. Second, he discovered no significant differences in traits among the broader breed groups˜terriers, working dogs, herding dogs, and sporting dogs.
For instance, the terriers taken as a whole were no more aggressive than the other breed groups, and the working dogs were no more sociable or fearless. The recent history of dog ownership may explain why we don’t see distinctive personalities in these groups today. Whereas dogs were once bred for a specific task, now they tend to be bred for physical traits (that make for better show dogs) or for a family-friendly temperament (that makes for better household pets)._
However, the story goes on to say it is possible to identify fairly distinct personality traits in specific breeds…
_So which breeds are most disloyal? That depends on how you define the term. Loyalty is not a trait measured by any mainstream dog personality assessment˜if it exists at all, it’s a complicated mixture of other traits. In Svartberg’s system, for example, you might argue that a loyal dog is one that’s generally affectionate (high playfulness) but aggressive toward strangers (low sociability). By that logic, a friendly and playful Labrador retriever would be construed as disloyal since it’s prone to lavish affection on everyone who comes near it.
And therein lies the rub in trying to determine a breed’s “loyalty” quotient: what does the term even mean? Are overly friendly dogs “disloyal?” Are dogs who are aloof around strangers “loyal?” Just because a dog doesn’t try to rip the throat out of every stranger he sees doesn’t necessarily mean he’s disloyal to his master, and just because that jovial lab never met a stranger isn’t proof he doesn’t know exactly who his master is.
As a personal anecdote, my favorite breed, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, is generally considered to be the most “loyal” of the gun dog breeds, real one-person or one-family dogs. And it’s true that chessies were originally bred to not only retrieve ducks in the worst conditions possible, but to guard their master’s boat and equipment from strangers. Have all my chessies been loyal to me? Absolutely. But for the most part I don’t think my chessies are any more (or less) loyal to me than any other retriever breed would be to its master.
Dogs are individuals, and to me that individuality (as well as the dog’s socialization and home life) is a non-breed-specific variable that will always negate any breed-specific traits, real or imagined.
But this would be a boring blog post without a little controversy, so let’s play along. Which do you consider the most disloyal gun dog breed? I’ll kick it off by saying I think the English setter is the most disloyal, faithless, fickle, traitorous and disgustingly friendly gun dog breed I’ve ever been around. They have neither pride nor standards in the company they keep, and they possess a craven appetite for attention and affection from virtually any bipedal lifeform, regardless of social standing. A thoroughly disloyal hound if ever I saw one…