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Pit Bulls: Adorable Angels or Deadly Devils? (Part 4: Just the Facts, Ma’am)

Pit Bulls: Adorable Angels or Deadly Devils? (Part 4: Just the Facts, Ma’am)

Facts? You talkin’ to me?

This has been quite the journey, looking for answers to the question, “Are Pit Bulls adorable angels or deadly devils?” Let me say at the outset that as a professional dog trainer, I have tried to remain neutral in my search for the answer. You may agree or disagree with that self-assessment, but that was my goal, especially with so much emotion and contradictory information surrounding the issue. (As a side note with regard to any potential bias on my part, if my livelihood depended on training any dogs branded as “Pit Bulls,” I would have been out of business a long time ago due to insufficient throughput). In today’s society, it seems too often that hyperbole and the loudest, shrieking voice is the default approach to “winning” a debate. I attempted to look at the available information, sort out the facts from the nonsense, and come to my own conclusion. So, here goes…

Let’s get on the same page…

Part of the problem seems to be the confusion about what a Pit Bull is. It’s like someone in a group of people saying, “let’s play a board game.” Each one then runs off and grabs something different: a chess set, a Monopoly game, a checkers board, The Game of Life, Risk, and Battleship. They have not identified a single game they want to play, so chaos results as they mix them all together. One person enthusiastically says, “ I want to be Colonel Mustard!” The statement puzzles the others. So it is with the term Pit Bull. “Pit Bull” refers ONLY to the American Pit Bull Terrier.

They are not all angels…

Let’s start out by being perfectly clear about Pit Bulls, the American Pit Bull Terrier. We cannot simply ignore some of the facts surrounding these dogs and automatically give them an “angel” title. They do not just nip or bite. When they are in the hyper-red zone, they aim to kill. That’s what they are bred to do and it is in their genes. Does that mean that environment has no bearing on how they act/react? No, of course not. Does that mean that they ALL kill people or other animals? No, of course not. All APBT’s do not become killers. The propensity for aggression, however, is undeniable with the APBT.

There are some common traps when discussing the APBT or other dog attacks. One is blaming the victim. Taunting or relentlessly teasing a dog aside, most attacks from my investigation were not the result of a person doing the instigating. Another is extrapolating one great experience, say, yours with your dog, and apply it to all other dogs of the same breed. I once trained a Husky who thought she was a well-balanced Labrador. She was happy-go-lucky and eager to please, unlike another Husky I trained, who was very independent and quite a handful. Imagine my shock and surprise to find a Husky that acted in such a hardheaded manner! What is wrong with that dog? Well, it wouldn’t be the dog. It would be my perspective. There is one more trap, which is the nurture argument: “It’s all how they were raised.” OK, so here is a little test. Take ten German Shorthair Pointer puppies and raise them. Your goal is to nurture and train them not to point. How successful will you be? So it is with the APBT and aggression. There will be variability from dog to dog in both instances, but built-in breed behaviors are just that: they are inherent to the breed.

They are not all devils…

By the same token, it “feels good” to broad-brush a whole group of dogs based on looks. The best way to control and remedy a dangerous situation is to “do good” based on facts, not to simply “do” because it makes us feel good. Banning all dogs with a certain look makes the “Ban Pit Bulls” folks feel good. It feels like something is being accomplished, and it is, but it is an irrational approach.

If your goal is to eliminate traffic deaths (40,200 in 2016), then ban all cars and other motor vehicles. That will solve the problem, but does it really make sense to do so? Lobbying for that approach would make the advocate feel good, but does it make sense in reality.

From 2014 National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 65, Number 4, June 30, 2016:

Poisoning Deaths: 115 per day (42,032)

Motor Vehicle Deaths: 97 per day (35,398)

Falling Deaths: 88 per day (31,959)

Homicides: 43 per day (15,872)

Drownings: 9 per day (3,406)

(From 2014 Dog Bite Related Fatalities: 0.1 per day (42)

If doing good and helping to prevent human death were the goal, would the place to start be dog attack fatalities?

Conclusion and a few suggestions…

1) If you are have never owned a dog before or you may have owned one or two previously, do not get a Bully breed, any Bully breed, or a Bully breed mix. Research and pick a dog that is suited for your lifestyle and level of experience. Do not expect that if you just love them, they will love you back. Be a responsible, practical, realistic, dog owner.

The video in the linked article below (please be aware that it is difficult to watch) shows an obviously bad choice of dogs for this owner, and she has ZERO control of the dogs. She has no situational awareness, and her dogs are not interested in or aware of their owner (did you notice a little pulling?). Were these dogs out of control and dangerously aggressive? Yes! Were these dogs Pit Bulls (APBT)? I doubt it, even though they are labeled as such. The “Stop Dog Attacks!” cause is diminished by labeling every dog that attacks as a Pit Bull. My understanding is that the cat was OK.

Two Dogs Attack Cat

2) They all cannot be saved. There are plenty of shelter dogs that will make great companions, and many others that won’t. Don’t fall for the ASPCA commercials with sad-faced dogs rescued from horrific conditions. Make your selection logically and with a clear mind.

3) If the description of the dog in a shelter says something like, “his furever home will not have kids or other pets,” mark that one as a “No.”

4) If a dog has a bite history (assuming the shelter is totally transparent), mark that one as a “No.”

5) Plan and budget for at least some level of training and behavior modification. Don’t expect a dog to come out of the shelter like Lassie.

My journey and investigation come to an end, and is officially closed (for now, anyway). I hope this four-part series has shed a little light on the whole issue of “Pit Bulls,” with this in mind: When looking at all the facts, it’s more complicated than simply “angel dog or devil dog.” You will find them both mixed in with all breeds and crosses. So, what will you think the next time someone says, “That’s a Pit Bull”?

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