Think Bomb

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pit Bull Bans

Pit bulls (American Staffordshire Terriers) have caught the media's attention recently after the disbandment of a pit bull fighting ring a sports star was involved in. The media's eye  continues to focus on this breed, especially with regards to dog bites and mauling.

With all this attention, it's no surprise that people are beginning to discuss banning the breed in a number of municipals. Kansas City recently followed suite after Denver and Ontario banned pit bulls and many other cities are considering banning their ownership as well (Fox News, Balko, Sept 25 2006).

In my opinion, pit bulls are a greatly misunderstood breed. Although a relatively recent breed, the American Staffordshire Terrier was derived from incredibly old domesticated lineages. Unlike Dingos, Basenjis, or German Shepherd dogs which may have a feral aspect to their genetic lines from breeding with wild varieties, pit bulls have a long history and working relationship with humans. While it is true that American Staffordshire Terriers were bred to be fighting dogs, they were not bred to be attack dogs or in any way hostile toward humans. Rather, they were chosen for the pits because of their compactness and efficiency and were taught to be aggressive toward other dogs, not man. Traditionally, the opposing owner was allowed to wash the competing pit bull before a match (to ensure that no drugs or powders were present on the fur). If that dog was aggressive toward the opponent owner in any way the game was called off, and if it attacked the opponent owner it was put down (How to Speak Dog, Coren, 2000). Obedience and biddablity are vital traits in powerful breeds which must be handled even in the middle of a dog fight. These dogs had to therefore be very docile and loyal toward humans while at the same time champions in the ring (Animal Planet, Dog Breed Profiles, 2007).

Their later breedings in the 1940s focused on and attempted to bring fourth these more loving characteristics as they became more popular as family pets. Pit bulls were never meant to be aggressive toward man and even their aggressive nature toward other dogs can be remedied with proper socialization from birth. Dogs that are reared well almost always behave properly, regardless of their lineage (Before and After Getting Your Puppy, Dunbar, 2004).

It is my suspicion that the reason for pit bull attacks have a lot more to do with human psychology than genetic factors. Many people look at pit bulls as icons of masculinity, as the classic city "though guy" dog. For this reason, they might be brought up to be nasty, trained to be aggressive, or simply neglected and treated as the accessory that too many people see them as.

By what I've seen of the American Staffordshire Terrier, both at the local shelter and in my own home (my mutt is predominantly pit bull and heeler), I'd say this breed has great potential and it would be a tragedy to discontinue their heritage. Breeders who focus on the strengths of the breed are abound, and I feel it has a great future as one of America's favorite family breeds.

Here is an interesting clip from about the subject (although be patient, you must sit through a commercial fist):


  • I couldn't agree with this entry more; as I have told you in the past, the friendliest and most affable dog I've ever known was a pit-sharpei mix named Dakota. While sharpeis can be pretty aggressive and territorial, I guess the pit in Dakota won out-- she was incredibly friendly to all animals and humans.

    Recently, a lady with a pit came through my coffee stand. The dog reminded me so much of my old Dakota that I couldn't help but fawn over the sweet little thing. The lady told me that while she liked humans, it took her a while to not show submission behavior to new people; indeed, the little pit was lowering her head as I pet her and trying to roll onto her back in the back seat. However, once familiarized, the dog apparently would go so far as to offer her rope toy to neighborhood children and even CATS that would wander into the lady's yard!

    I love pit bulls. They're my favorite breed as far as temperament goes, bar none.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:27 PM  

  • I am afraid to say that I have to disagree with what you said, at least to a point.

    The problem with Pit Bulls, Dobermen, Shar-Peis, and other "aggressive" breeds, is that is what they are, aggressive breeds. I spent quite a few years working in pet stores, and have seen the gambut.

    A lot of people breed fighting dogs. This aspect gets mixed in with what I would consider "good" dogs. These dogs are a bit more aggressive. A lot are also trained/taught to be "guard" dogs because of how they look/temperaments. Those dogs are not the kindly dog you are talking about. These dogs have a tendency to pass this trait on to other dogs in their pack/around them.

    You are right, with proper training, a pit bull is a good pet. How many people spend enough time, let alone have the knowledge to properly train their dogs?

    These dogs, like other aggressive breeds have a little switch in their heads, that when the time is right, they switch on, and become very dangerous. It would be my contention that most owners would not see this "aspect" of a dog. From my time working in a grooming parlor, I can't TELL you the number of people that would look at me in disbelief when I told them their dog went ape-shit on us. 9 out of 10 we asked not to come back (which were NOT that many), would think we had something against their dog, and not realize the dog was a shit, when the owners were not around. Dogs in GENERAL are like this... when you put this tendency in a fighting dog, you amplify the danger. I have been bit by much fewer fighting dog breeds, than I have others, because I knew to be very wary. In stressful/odd situations, is when you usually see the "switch" get flipped. As cases across the country have shown, it can be very dangerous.

    I don't know the answer to this. I don't trust the breed (hell, I don't trust Shar-peis either. Much less so, in all honesty). But, they can be a menace... Though it has been my personal experience as well, that bad breeders have taken the labrador down a similar road.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:03 AM  

  • Kevin- The "switch" you speak of is in all dogs. Fighting breeds or any breed with particularly strong jaws is going to be more dangerous when the switch is pulled, simply by virtue of their physiology. But, all dogs, regardless of breeding, have it, and need to be taught proper bite inhibition from the get go. According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, bite inhibition needs to be taught in stages from when the puppy first begins mouthing. Before all else, they must be taught to bite without applying the pressure of their jaws. You can't stop a dog from getting startled on occasion and having a reaction out of natural impulse, but good bit inhibition should condition the dog to not apply pressure.

    Now, I have always been a little concerned about my dog, who I adopted and whose history is unknown to me. She is very docile, but there is no way to tell if she would apply pressure and bite hard if she were in a situation which shocked her. But, this is the risk we all take when adopting an abandoned dog, and this is also the risk that we all take to have dogs in our lives. I think it is worth it, for their companionship. If I do get be it.

    By Blogger Kim Russo, at 10:49 AM  

  • It always shocks me at the ignorance people display with regards to breed personality characteristics. I'm glad to see you don't share those misconceptions.

    To Kevin, dogs have co-evolved with humans long enough to have some degree of empathic connection (just like humans tend to pick up on subtle cues displayed on the face and in the posture by experiencing those emotions to a lesser degree themselves) so when people see a pit bull and get nervous, they are making the dog nervous too, which can be a bad thing if the dog isn't properly socialized and trained. Pit bulls are also an energetic breed (particularly for their size) and so they can be mildly dangerous just because they don't know their own strength. It's kind of like a Great Dane that thinks it can be a lap dog, which I've seen first hand, it's quite cute but also a bit of a pain :)

    In general I've found that ~95% of all Pit Bulls I encounter are complete love bugs and will happily come give me kisses and play like over-sized puppies. The rare pit bull that acts nervous and skittish around me gets the space it obviously wants, and if it doesn't want to socialize I don't force it.

    By Blogger Nathan, at 6:45 PM  

  • The comments above prove that there are many different [opinions stated as facts] within dog ownership. There were facts but many were wrapped around an opinion. It is perhaps confusing to hear this for the originator of their opinion when they "own" their own experiences which prove to THEM their opinions are facts. The bottom line - pets are not responsible for their mistakes; the responsibility belongs to the owner. There are no bad breeds simply bad owners...whether they be uninformed, immature (kids and adults), neglectful, abusive, or even evil in their intent, the owner is the responsible party. If we punished the owners for their shortcomings, there were be less owners of "bad" animals. If they cannot learn...then their "right" to own a pet should be removed. We require training and licensing for the "right" to drive and carry a gun. Unless they had manufacture defects, neither of those possessions have killed anyone without poor ownership/management. Either address the real problem or recognize the crazy-making attributes of symptom chasing.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:12 AM  

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