Canine News You Can Use
What exactly is a “Pit Bull?”
I mentioned the term “Pit Bull” 20 times in Part 1. When there is a dog attack reported in the news, and you have not read the article or seen the newscast, I’m pretty sure “Pit Bull” immediately comes to mind. And more often than not, the dog is reported to be a “Pit Bull.” So, we really need to define terms when speaking of Pit Bulls. For instance, if I say, “rainbow,” what immediately comes to mind? Gay activism? A flood? A pot of gold? A bridge? A summer rain? We have the same problem when we use the term, “Pit Bull.” So, what exactly is a “Pit Bull?”
From Wikipedia, we have this definition: “Pit bull is the common name for a type of dog. Formal breeds often considered in North America to be of the pit bull type include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The American Bulldog is also sometimes included." Here’s the link: Wikipedia Pit Bull Definition
From Merriam-Webster we have this definition:“a muscular, short-haired, stocky dog (such as an American pit bull terrier or American Staffordshire terrier) of any of several breeds or a hybrid with one or more of these breeds that was originally developed for fighting and is noted for strength, stamina, and tenacity" Here’s the link: Merriam-Webster Pit Bull Definition
Then there is a legal definition established by a Colorado court:”A ‘pit bull,’ is defined as any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club [AKC] or United Kennel Club [UKC] for any of the above breeds."Here’s the link: Colorado Court Pit Bull Definition
Did you catch it? Of all the breeds listed in the definitions, with the exception of one, what is word that is absent from the breed name? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? Anyone? Of course, it’s “pit.” The only dog with “pit” and “bull” in its breed name is the American Pit Bull Terrier. Does that mean anything? Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s continue. Further narrowing down the meaning of “Pit Bull,” author, behaviorist, and expert trainer Gary Wilkes, from an article in Off Lead Magazine (2010) wrote this:
“Once dog fighting was the sport du jour, several breeds were adapted to the pit. Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers were undoubtedly among the first commonly used breeds. Pit Bulls were either developed at the same time or already existed in the form of a dog called the “Pit and Bull Terrier”. That dog was, as the name implies, a switch hitter – tough enough to fight a bull or another dog in a pit. The modern name of Pit Bull refers to the dogs’ direct ancestors. Over time, Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers faded from the dog fighting pits. The most logical assumption is that they simply couldn’t compete with their appropriately named cousin.”
It is clear from the outset of the article that his discussion of dogs with the highest propensity for aggression, based on breed alone, is about the American Pit Bull Terrier. They are the fighting dogs that have been bred (and continue to be bred) over many years for that purpose, not the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier, or American Bulldog, although these other breeds may have had a fighting history long ago. When he uses “Pit Bull” in the article, he is referring specifically to the American Pit Bull Terrier.
But then there is the legal definition that includes this: “any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds.” However, the organizations clearly do not support the use of breed standards to identify dangerous dogs. The UKC discusses not using the breed standard for the American Pit Bull Terrier in their position paper on Breed Specific Legislation, which they are against. “…the breed standard was not, and is not, designed to be used to identify a pure bred dog in a group of dogs of otherwise unknown background.
And Margaret Poindexter, General Counsel for the AKC, said this: "We also have serious concerns about AKC breed standards being used by law enforcement to identify dangerous dogs. Breed standards are intended to serve as the written ideal of a dog which breeders can aspire to, not a benchmark for defining dangerous dogs." Here’s the link: AKC Press Release
To further muddy the waters, the American Pit Bull Terrier is an official breed recognized by the United Kennel Club and the American Dog Breeders Association (ABDA), but not by the American Kennel Club. Mars Veterinary (Wisdom Panel - canine genetic testing) wrote this when I inquired about identifying an American Pit Bull Terrier through DNA testing:
“Due to the genetic diversity of this group, we cannot build a DNA profile for the American Pit-bull Terrier. If a Pit-bull type dog was tested, we might anticipate that Wisdom Panel® tests detect and report moderate to minor amounts of one or more distantly related breeds to those used to breed the dog, it is possible that one or more of the following breeds might be detected at moderate to minor amounts: the American Staffordshire terrier, Boston terrier, Bull terrier, Staffordshire Bull terrier, Mastiff, Bullmastiff, Boxer, Bulldog and various small terriers like the Parson Russell. These breeds would be detected because some markers in these breeds have genetic identity at a minority of the markers Wisdom Panel® uses to the breeds in our database. These breeds are on the breed list and we have been successfully identifying them for many years.”
Wow. My quest so far has gotten me to this point, and feeling a little dizzy, I think I need to stop and summarize:
1) To the general public, a “Pit Bull” is (in my words) any block-headed, muscular, and athletic dog that looks vicious. The reality is, a “Pit Bull” refers to the American Pit Bull Terrier.
2) The dog breed best suited and bred for fighting has been the American Pit Bull Terrier. This dog breed is not identifiable (at this time) through DNA testing, but a registered dog would have a traceable lineage through the UKC and or ADBA. If a dog has been removed from a fighting ring, it is most likely an American Pit Bull Terrier.
3) Though some of the other breeds mentioned may have been used for dog fighting generations ago, any selective breeding of these dogs since that time has been for conformance to breed standards, not “gameness,” tenacity, tolerance for pain, and other qualities related to fighting.
So, is a Pit Bull (however defined) an adorable angel or deadly devil? We’re not there yet, but I think we’re headed in the right direction. The dogs in news reports of dog attacks are most frequently identified as “Pit Bulls.” Can you really tell by simply looking at the dog? That will be the subject for Part 3: If Looks Could Kill
Do you have comments or questions? Let us know on Facebook: Pit Bulls: Adorable Angels or Deadly Devils? (Part 2: It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s A Pit Bull?)
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