The Truth Behind Common Canine Tropes

Turn on your TV and you're sure to see something you've witnessed a million times before: dog stereotypes. Thanks to the media, we now know that Golden Retrievers are the epitome of loyalty, Pit bulls are the stuff of nightmares and Jack Russell terriers are great for teaching kids how to read. It might even surprise you to know just how many of our preconceived notions regarding dogs are informed solely by the TV.

Are these TV stereotypes always accurate? Of course not! In fact, the truth behind some of these breeds might surprise you.

It pays to know the truth behind a breed, whether you're looking to adopt a dog or just broaden your understanding of man's best friend. Hollywood can only tell us so much. That's why we've created this informative guide to help would-be owners distinguish between fact and fiction.

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Golden retriever

Athletic, Born leader, Ultimate friend

People see the fuzzy, cute Golden puppy and fall in love. But, when that fur ball becomes a teenager, many people are not prepared for the activity level required."

Robin L. Adams
Executive Director/Founder
Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue

TV Stereotypes

In movies and on shows, the Golden Retriever is considered the quintessential pet. Why? It can be a wise leader like Shadow in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey or play basketball like Buddy in Air Bud. They can be your best friend when you've had a bad day, just like Comet from Full House. Friendly, obedient and there when you need him, the Golden is often portrayed as the hero in many stories featuring our four-legged friends.

The Reality

Indeed, there is a very good reason the Golden Retriever is often portrayed as courageous and devoted – because it is! Golden Retrievers are typically very friendly and extremely intelligent, traits that enable them to even fill the role of service animal for the blind as well as hunting dog. They are also very adaptable and can even be trained to hit basketballs into hoops, just like Buddy. While a Golden Retriever might not actually turn the tide in a basketball game, they can definitely lead humans to safety and are an ideal pet for any home. They live to serve and are the ultimate friend.

Before You Adopt

Like a lot of dogs, the Golden requires stimulation. Daily exercise is a must and, if you're going to be away for a little while, it might not hurt to leave the TV on for your pet. As for that soft, water-repellant coat, you will need to groom it weekly. While every Golden has its own unique personality, most are typically friendly and social – eager to adjust to a new environment and a new family willing to take the time for training and exercise.

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Doberman Pinscher

Fearless, Intimidating, Alert

…when raised with love, respect, and proper training any dog can be a wonderful member of the family - regardless of the dog's breed. Breed actually has very little to do with it.

Dana Puglisi
Adopt-a-Pet.com

TV Stereotypes

Whether it's the scary guard dogs in True Lies or the ruthless antagonist Alpha of Up, Doberman Pinschers are typically the bad guys in any TV show or movie. Even the guard dogs in Magnum, P.I. were intimidating to say the least. Everything from the horn-like appearance of their cropped ears to the bullet-shaped snout tells you that this is a dog not to be messed with.

Reality

It's not surprising just how scary the Doberman can appear – this was done intentionally. Around 1890, a tax collector by the name of Louis Dobermann needed a companion that would serve as a decent guard dog and, thus, the Doberman was born. However, appearances can be deceiving and while the breed is often characterized by its alertness and courage, it is also known for being very obedient and affectionate. Steps have also been taken over the years to breed some of the overall sharpness out of the Doberman, yielding a dog with a far better temperament, especially with children.

Before You Adopt

Just make sure you know that this working dog needs to be put to work. Regular, daily exercise is required as well as proper socializing with children as soon as possible. It also isn't wise to house two adult males together as this can lead to disputes. Overall, every Doberman is unique and can make a loving addition to any home so long as the owners are willing to put in the work.

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Beagle

Friendly, Intelligent, Independent

TV Stereotypes

What's not to love about the Beagle? Cute floppy ears, a compact body and a noble face you can't help but fall in love with? Surprisingly, though, most people think of Snoopy from A Charlie Brown Christmas – a jovial and carefree Beagle more interested in exploration and fun than anything his master was doing.

Reality

The reality isn't too far off, actually. Beagles love to play and they live to follow their noses on whatever adventure their senses will take them on. They are an inquisitive breed and their minds are always working. These are the kinds of dogs that might actually watch TV instead of simply ignoring it. They also suffer from a bit of an independent streak and it can be difficult keeping a Beagle's attention when there are unexplored wilds around. While no Beagle in history has ever flown in aerial combat against the Red Baron, it's easy to see where Charles Schulz drew the inspiration for Snoopy's playful and carefree attitude.

Before You Adopt

Beagles can bring a lot of joy to any family so long as there is room to explore, and patience on the part of the owner. Beagles are notoriously difficult to train because of their independent nature. They focus on a smell or an object and good luck trying to draw their focus back. If you must keep this dog indoors for any extended period of time, it might be nice to leave the TV on or some music. This is a dog that needs to be engaged and things like DIRECTV's DOGTV can help. Just don't forget to take your Beagle outside every day, if possible, because regular exercise is important.

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Bulldog

Silly, Thuggish, Easy-Going

…due to the saturation of puppy mills and back yard breeders that pay no attention to health and genetics, there are many health issues affecting the breed…

Letitia Wallace
Marketing, Social Media & Fundraising Coordinator
French Bulldog Rescue Network

TV Stereotypes

TV and movies will tell you the bulldog is a big dope. Name any cartoon where a Bulldog was featured and you'll likely see a rather unflattering and unintelligent portrayal. Bulldogs have the kind of face only a mother could love and are more jolly than genius with their gruff, no-nonsense demeanor. Just look at Spike the Bulldog from Tom and Jerry or any number of movies where the Bulldog existed as a set piece; a goof for the audience to smile at.

Reality

Bulldogs are smart, courageous and easy-going. The last one can often add to the "lunkheaded" stereotype of the Bulldog, but they are actually quite a dignified breed with their carefree stride and proud shoulders. They are very trainable and obedient, but a sense of humor and patience are a must on the owner's part as there is just no getting around that unforgettable face and jolly gait.

Before You Adopt

Bulldogs can suffer from a multitude of health issues so it's important to learn as much as you can about the dog's history, when adopting. Exercise, as with most dogs, is a must, but you'll often find yourself being the one who has to initiate the activity. As for grooming, while the coat is manageable, it's the folds in the face that will require extra attention. Beyond that, the Bulldog is a friendly and amusing addition to the family.

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St. Bernard

Heroic, Patient, Outgoing

TV Stereotypes

Slobbering, dopey and altogether too big for its own good – that's how Beethoven portrayed the breed. Of course, we've seen far more benevolent traits of the breed in cartoons: big St. Bernards traveling the frozen wastes in search of victims trapped under the snow; sporting a barrel of brandy around their necks.

Reality

While it's true that St. Bernards can be both slobbery and heroic, the breed is typically easy-going, and spends less time digging for survivors in the snow and more time being a nanny to children. St. Bernards are extremely patient and outgoing, making them ideal for families with children. The monks of the St. Bernard Hospice also continue to deny that any of their St. Bernards carried casks of brandy around their necks. Something to remember the next time you turn on the TV and see a St. Bernard carrying a cask of alcohol to a wounded skier.

Before You Adopt

This is a great dog for anyone with a family looking to adopt. If you take the time to socialize and train this dog, the St. Bernard can make a great companion for your children, as well. However, because of the dog's size, supervision is still advised. St. Bernards also shed and will require regular grooming. Typically a large, fenced yard is ideal, but regular walks will also suffice when it comes to exercise. This is a dog you don't want to leave indoors if it can be helped.

As Seen On

Pit bull

Stubborn, Confident, Misunderstood

[Pit bulls] are among the most misunderstood and because of their overrepresentation at the shelter, are the among the longest who wait for new families.

Mary Martin
Executive Director
Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society

TV Stereotypes

The American Pit bull is considered one of the most dangerous dogs in the country and you won't find too many neighborhoods or apartments welcoming to this breed. The Pit bull's large, flat skull allows it to open its mouth wider than most breeds, a fact demonstrated to horrific proportions in the Ang Lee Hulk film when a mutated Pit bull menaced our heroes. Television has taught us that this is not a safe breed for children and over 500 cities have restricted the Pit bull.

Reality

The Pit bull is a misunderstood breed that has suffered from far too much bad press. Would it surprise you to know that this dog was once known as America's Dog? The classic television program Little Rascals actually featured a character named Petey who was a Pit bull. Cesar Millan of Dog Whisperer fame has tirelessly campaigned on behalf of the breed, showing how his own Pit bull more than transcends the tropes. Obedient and intelligent, this breed is not born bad and their aggression toward humans is largely dependent on their upbringing.

Before You Adopt

Any professional will tell you that early socialization is the key. Dog Whisperer points this out numerous times and shows like Dogs 101 on Animal Planet will tell you the same. The sooner you can introduce a Pit bull to people, the better. It's also important to remember that this is a working dog. Make sure you exercise and train this dog regularly. If you're going to adopt a Pit bull, you need to be ready for a challenge.

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German Shepherd

Courageous, Smart, Trustworthy

These dogs are very intelligent and highly motivated. If an owner is not informed or educated enough to offer proper training, discipline, and structure in the dog's life, the dog will often assume the leadership role and take over.

Judy Harsha
Virginia German Sherpherd Rescue
www.shepherdrescue.org

TV Stereotypes

A courageous hero with uncanny intelligence and the boundless confidence of a leading TV star. The German Shepherd is arguably the original canine movie star. The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin was the first to really show us just how heroic a companion this canine could truly be as it pulled children from burning buildings, brought criminals to their knees with its bite and guarded the innocent from danger. Then, of course, you have buddy cop comedies like K-9 that further cemented our view of this breed as both a "police dog" and a hero.

Reality

TThe myth and the reality tend to see eye-to-eye when it comes to the Shepherd. This is one stereotype TV got right. The German Shepherd is extremely intelligent and has even grown to become the quintessential police dog. They live to serve and are fiercely loyal to their masters, be they law enforcement or civilian.

Before You Adopt

This is an extremely active breed that requires regular mental and physical stimulation. Outdoor exercise is mandatory and, if you're going to leave him indoors, turn on the TV or put on some music. Make sure this dog doesn't get bored and restless. Grooming is a must, as well, with their thick double short coat. As far as families go, German Shepherds can make a great addition, but it's important to socialize your Shepherd early on in order to establish healthy bonds.

As Seen On

Rottweiler

Tough, Protective, Loving

…these are working dogs that need a job to do, and if you don’t keep them busy, they can become destructive…

Christine Blank
Dog Adoptions Counselor and Dog Intake Coordinator
The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City

TV Stereotypes

Big muscular body, pitch black coat with intermittent brown markings, squared jaw and head – this is a sturdy dog that doesn't look like it's fooling around. The Rottweiler is so foreboding in its appearance that it was aptly chosen to portray the horrifying hellhound in the film The Omen. They have even been used for any movie or show requiring a scary guard dog. Just look at Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Lethal Weapon 3. This is a dog that tells strangers "Stay away!"

Reality

While it's true that the Rottweiler can pose a potential threat, the flipside to this impression is a dog that is both sweet and overwhelmingly loyal – something you don't always see on TV. The breed is extremely intelligent and willing to work, which not only makes this dog suitable for families but herding, service and therapy, as well. This is a dog with a wait-and-see attitude towards strangers and, overall, just wants to please its owner.

Before You Adopt

This is a dog that can be very affectionate and, as a result, may try to play the part of a lap dog. Don't be surprised if you're watching TV one day and this dog just decides to take a nap in your lap. As a smart and confident canine, heir to a legacy of guardians, it will require solid socializing and obedience training to harness natural territorial instincts – it needs to be able to distinguish guests from intruders. That being said, this is a loyal companion fit for adoption into any family just so long as time is made for proper training.

As Seen On

Jack Russell

Curious, Lively, Alert

They are a remarkably intelligent canine partner and want nothing more than to be close to their adoring owner or be off to play or work.

Catherine Romaine Brown
Chairperson of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA)

TV Stereotypes

You could argue that this little guy is just as much a TV star as his German Shepherd and Golden Retriever cousins. This darling little scrapper taught our children how to read (Wishbone) and is brimming with personality (Frasier). He's also not too small for the big screen, co-starring with the likes of Jim Carrey in The Mask as well as the late, great Jim Varney (Ernest Goes to Jail). So, that would make the Jack Russell terrier the ideal canine for families, especially ones with small children, right? Well, the answer may surprise you.

Reality

While every Jack Russell is unique in its own way, what adopters need to realize is that this is a dog that needs to be challenged mentally and physically. This isn't a dog that comes with a charming personality out of the box like Wishbone or Eddie from Frasier. If a Jack Russell's energies are not being put toward something productive, this could result in restlessness which might not be good for families with small children.

Before You Adopt

The Jack Russell isn't for everyone and you'll want to make sure you have time in your life to exercise this dog if you're thinking of adopting one. If you leave this dog alone in the home for any extended period of time, it could grow impatient and even destroy your belongings. Keeping this dog entertained is important so try something like DOGTV, or even doggie daycare if available. As far as upkeep and health, they are easy to groom with minimal shedding.

As Seen On

Boxer

Imposing, Tough-Looking, Active

They are loyal family companions, lovers of children, gentle and patient by nature and definitely funny and fun-loving. They are often referred to as the 'clowns of the dog world.

Becky Cooke
President and Co-Founder
Blue Ridge Boxer Rescue Inc.

TV Stereotypes

There aren't really a lot of memorable movies or TV shows featuring the Boxer. Those that do typically aren't the most flattering. In Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, the main bad guy was a bully that just so happened to be a Boxer. If you look anywhere else in media where an imposing, brutish dog was required you would likely see a Boxer in the portrayal. There's just something about this breed's appearance that makes people underestimate its intelligence and overestimate the threat. Cropped ears, a muscular body and a no-nonsense mug do little to diminish this initial impression.

Reality

The TV isn't always right when talking about this breed. As Dogs 101 points out, all Boxers are unique. However, the one thing anyone interested in adopting should realize is that this is a smart dog. They are extremely athletic, but are intolerant of repetitive command training – this is a breed that needs to be working. They can also be quite patient and loving toward kids…to the point of being protective and even possessive if proper supervision of your dog and child is lacking.

Before You Adopt

You can't just stick a Boxer in a yard because it may just try to hop the fence when it gets bored. This is an athletic breed that needs to feel like its accomplishing something. Regular agility and obedience training is an absolute must as well as socializing – especially if you are adopting a Boxer into a family with children. That being said, if you must leave this dog indoors for a time, something like DOGTV could really keep the dog busy. You might also try leaving some relaxing music on to further occupy the dog's mind. Anything to keep this fun-loving breed from getting bored, growing restless and becoming destructive.

As Seen On

Mutt

Half-Breed, Mangy, Inelegant

Benji was a pretty amazing mutt, always there to help someone overcome a problem! And he was the first mixed breed dog to star in the movies!

Sherri Franklin
Founder and Executive Director
Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

TV Stereotypes

TV has never been super nice to this particular type. The word "mutt" is even used as a less than flattering connotation for a dog that "isn't as good as a pure breed." Let's face it, mutts are often considered inferior to their pure-bred brothers. In Lady and the Tramp, the titular Tramp was often looked down upon for his poor grooming. In The Plague Dogs, researchers conducted cruel tests on a mutt because they felt no one would miss it.

Reality

Some people might look down on a mutt when the truth is that mixed breed dogs tend to be healthier and have more moderate temperaments than their pure-bred cousins. While most breeds are specifically conceived for certain attitudes and behaviors, it's possible that these will not manifest to such extremes in a mutt. This means that the mutt can be rather versatile compared to its pure-bred peers. Mutts also benefit from good genetic diversity, which can lead to overall good health.

Before You Adopt

Having an understanding of the genetic background of a mutt might help when determining if this is the right kind of dog for your home. There are doggie DNA tests available. It can also reveal some important information as to possible health concerns and what you might need to prepare for in terms of temperament. As with most dogs, regular exercise is key and, depending on what breeds may be at work, you may or may not need a lot of space.

As Seen On

Labrador Retriever

Friendly, Hard-Working, Active

TV Stereotypes

Labrador Retrievers have popped up in popular shows and movies. You can catch a stuffed animal version named Rowdy in the hit TV show Scrubs where the actors often pretend Rowdy is a real dog that’s easily excited and vicious. A real version of the breed is the star in the comedy film Marley & Me. It’s an adorable, yet naughty and rambunctious dog that teaches a newlywed couple some important life lessons.

Reality

You may be not be surprised to learn that the Labrador Retriever has now dominated the American Kennel Club’s list of top breeds for 25 consecutive years. It is the most popular dog in the United States, and with good reason. Labrador Retrievers are a favorable breed for its good temperament, intelligence and athleticism. They make a great family pet for its extremely friendly nature. Not to mention, Labrador Retrievers aim to please and when socialized properly, they adapt well, making them stable and gentle in a variety of situations.

Before You Adopt

Easily trainable and known for loving a good game of fetch, Labrador Retrievers are notorious for their high energy and chewing. Keep plenty of play toys within reach to keep them from mouthing on your personal items. Because they are a medium-sized breed, they need more than a quick stroll around the block. Great ways to channel their energy include activities like swimming, hunting and going fishing. Keep them active, and they’re a great breed with a good health record.

As Seen On

American Bulldog

Strong-willed, Courageous, Muscular

TV Stereotypes

Classic TV shows like Tom and Jerry portray the American Bulldog as disobedient, stern and unintelligent. On the contrary, the American Bulldog character does share a softer and more sympathetic side at points in the TV series. The breed also shares the same light in the family comedy Cheaper By The Dozen, when a male suitor tries to win the affection of his love interest but, instead, gets chased by a pack of dogs led by the family’s American Bulldog.

Reality

Often times, the American Bulldog is mistaken for a Pit Bull or a Pit Bull Terrier due to similar features in their appearances. The American Bulldog was originally bred as a working dog that performed farm duties, such as catching and holding wild boar and cattle. These hard-working and stubborn traits are still easily identifiable in this breed and evidenced in its short stature with wide shoulders and sturdy limbs. American Bulldogs are one of the most popular breeds and serve as mascots for several colleges/universities. As an added bonus, they can make great watchdogs if trained properly.

Before You Adopt

Medium seems to be the keyword for American Bulldogs- medium in size and in energy level. They need daily exercise, such as regular walks around the neighborhood. Although this breed has a short coat, they do require weekly grooming, as recommended by the American Kennel Club. A feature unique to the American Bulldog is its short snout, which can make breathing quite difficult if it’s outdoors during the hot summer months. Take caution by refraining from rigorous exercise during days of excessive heat and humidity.

As Seen On

Chihuahuas

Graceful, Protective, Loyal

TV Stereotypes

Gidget, the Chihuahua, was a long-time star of the Taco Bell ad campaign “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” in the ‘90s. Gidget plays into the stereotype that Chihuahuas and tacos are vastly popular in Mexico. Celebrities like Paris Hilton helped increase the popularity of these toy-sized dogs by having her own Chihuahua, Tinkerbell on TV shows including The Simple Life and Saturday Night Live. Tinkerbell is often seen accompanying Paris while shopping, doing interviews and even walking the red carpet.

Reality

Having originated in Mexico, the Chihuahua even has a Mexican state named after it. Chihuahuas are the smallest dog breed, but don’t let that fool you – they are very protective when it comes to their owners. Chihuahuas have very specific weight requirements to be recognized as part of the breed. They cannot weigh more than 6 lbs. Chihuahuas will likely follow you around everywhere you go, and since they don’t weigh too much, it’s easy to tow them around. Chihuahuas make great companions. However, be careful when introducing them to strangers. Chihuahuas are mistrustful of those they don’t know and need time to warm up to new things.

Before You Adopt

Refrain from adopting a pet Chihuahua if you have small children. Chihuahuas are small in size and cannot put up with a toddler’s rough play. Despite its tiny stature, Chihuahuas require 20-30 minutes of daily exercise. Chihuahuas are fearless dogs that don’t back down when confronted by larger, more aggressive dogs. They stand their ground, which may require you to intervene in unfriendly situations. As for grooming, it’s quick and easy with a wash-and-go. It only takes a few minutes and should be done each week.

As Seen On

Dachshund

Spunky, Stubborn, Playful

TV Stereotypes

Dachshunds are a loveable breed noted for its short legs and droopy ears. Itchy, the Dachshund, in All Dogs Go to Heaven, is a loyal friend who expresses great courage and sometimes aggression in appropriate situations. He is his friend Charlie’s partner in crime, helping Charlie escape from the city pound to freedom. Despite Charlie’s recklessness, Itchy is always there for support in hard times. You can also catch Buster the Dachshund puppy in the original Toy Story film.

Reality

Dachshunds are commonly referred to as wiener dogs who have a keen sense of smell. They were first developed in Germany many centuries ago and used to hunt and trail various animals. Their large, paddle-shaped front paws are useful for digging and burrowing. Dachshunds are very loyal, spunky and playful dogs that easily adapt to new surroundings. Because they’re fairly alert, they make good watchdogs. They can also be stubborn so early obedience training is highly recommended. You may also notice signs of jealously when they’re looking for attention. Take caution by correcting these behaviors early on.

Before You Adopt

They don’t require much exercise and their small size makes them perfect as apartment dogs. Dachshunds are strong-willed dogs that may be hard to train – a trait commonly found in hunting dogs. This breed loves to burrow itself so don’t be surprised if you see it underneath your comforter or living room blanket. When grooming, remember to check under its ears for any wax and debris buildup. Its medium length coat will require occasional grooming.

As Seen On

Take A Closer Look

There's a lot about dogs that TV can tell us and there's a lot that TV can get wrong. However, thanks to shows like Dogs 101 and channels like DOGTV, we are starting to learn and understand just how intelligent and unique each and every canine truly is. The more we understand about breeds and possible behavioral traits, the better we can understand the dogs we choose to bring into our homes.

Make sure you take the time to really get to know a dog before you consider adopting. Remember that television isn't always right when it comes to dogs; keep in mind that seeing one bad dog in the press doesn't mean the entire breed is a threat. Develop an understanding of the breed and also make sure you're ready to give your future dog the time and attention he or she needs to grow into a friendly and loyal companion.

The Truth Behind Common Canine Tropes

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