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— February 5, 2013 —

We don’t like discrimination in our world.
Why do we accept it in our dog’s world?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

There is a well documented issue with discrimination in the dog world. All too often, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and other fine dogs are labeled and dangerous just because of their looks. This is unfair and ultimately dangerous for these dogs. Often they actually loose their lives simply due to their looks.

Recently our rescue arm, K9 4 KEEPS filled out an application for a new insurance quote. Since K9 4 KEEPS is a non-profit, we are always looking to save a few bucks on our expenses. The underwriter denied us coverage because we wrote that we work with and try to rehabilitate “aggressive” dogs.

I wrote in the application that we attempt to work with “aggressive” dogs, because I define aggression very broadly. As a trainer, I regularly have to convince owners that their “nippy”, “scared” or “grabby” dog is in fact aggressive. It's like the old saying, “The first step to fixing a problem is to admit that you have one.” Once the owner has accepted that there is an actual problem, we can start to define the root cause and begin to work with the dog. I use those broad definitions with dog owners and I used the same definition in dealing with the insurance company.

Now, I understand that these companies are in business to make a profit, and dog bites do very little to help them achieve that goal. I have a hard time accepting the refusal of service based on my definition of aggression. I wrote them to explain my definition and we’ll see what their reply is. I think the main problem is that an insurance company is strictly looking at the dollars and cents and has no-one who is truly educated on dogs making these decisions. To the uneducated, ALL teeth showing or snapping is the same, but if you can read what the dog is actually saying, you may see fear, uncertainty, possession or truly dangerous aggression. A professional consultation may be required to determine if the dog can be worked with.

I started this article to discuss how to decide whether a dog was dangerous or not … I mean, is a particular dog, with a particular behavioral issue trainable or is the dog just too dangerous to live in a human world? That is a question that can never be answered in one simple article. I couldn’t answer it that on their application form and I can’t answer it now. Are there dogs that are aggressive and can be helped? Yes. Are there dogs that are simply too dangerous, aggressive and unpredictable to be worked with? Unfortunately the answer there is yes too.

In the years I have done this, I have had a very small handful of cases that have been extreme, requiring the dog be euthanized. What I have never done is decide based on a “breed” or a “look” or any thing besides the temperament of the individual dog I was evaluating. In dogs and people alike, I don’t let appearance cloud my decisions. In either case it’s an unfair kind of discrimination.

In the article linked below, the author postulates that perhaps we as dog owners should vote with our dollars and spend our money with companies that don’t discriminate. I agree and if this denial were based on something as superficial as “breed discrimination”, I would have no interest in using their services. Hopefully, the letter I sent will help educate their staff … time will tell.


These days, the consumer has the ultimate power to influence corporate behavior. If we decide that we won’t accept discrimination, then companies will stop doing it. If this starts to hurt their bottom line, then the policies will change. Even if you have a Labrador Retriever, it would be a good idea to tell companies that you won’t do business with them if they discriminate against other breeds. Why? Because one day your lab might be on the list of dogs that someone wants to get rid of.