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The recent headlines regarding the legislation in Montreal which passed the breed ban of Pit Bulls and Pit Bull type dogs is the subject of considerable controversy. As a dog trainer who has worked with and owned Pit bull breeds, I feel it is my responsibility to not only explain breed bans but also expel some myths about this very misunderstood dog breed.
So what is Breed ban legislation? Breed-specific legislation is a law passed by a legislative body pertaining to a specific breed or breeds of domesticated animals. In practice, it generally refers to laws pertaining to a specific dog breed or breeds.
According to the A.S.P.C.A. and other animal welfare groups, there is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals. The CDC strongly recommends against breed-specific laws in its oft-cited study of fatal dog attacks, noting that data collection related to bites by breed is fraught with potential sources of error (Sacks et al., 2000). To learn more about why breed ban legislation does not work click here .
We agree that banning an entire breed or mixes of that breed will not solve the problem of vicious dogs and will only cause more problems. We cannot judge an entire breed on one or two vicious dogs, if that was the case we would be euthanizing all dog breeds. Almost every breed of dog has had one that bites at one time or another. Many bites occur not due to the nature of a particular breed or that the breed is vicious but rather to the circumstances surrounding the bite. All dogs can bite, will bite, (given the right circumstances) and can be taught to bite (police/personal protection). The larger the dog, the more damage is done regardless of breed. Once breed bans are put in place for one breed, they can easily be modified for other breeds. Many dogs are mixed breeds or have a certain look, may not be the breed that is banned, but will be deemed as such.
When it comes to the Pit Bull breeds there are two types of people in the general public, those that hate pit bulls and those that love them. The problem is, those that HATE them, REALLY hate them and are reluctant to educate on the breed. Those that LOVE them, REALLY love them and are reluctant to educate on the breed. This leads to common misconceptions on both parts. One group states all are vicious and unpredictable, the other group says they are all wonderful, it is just the way they are raised. Neither is true.
When talking about Pit bull breeds, I speak from experience not only from a dog training perspective but also having owned a dog aggressive Pit bull. Yes, me. You see, before I was a dog trainer, I was a Pit bull lover and believed it was how they were raised that caused the problem, mean people doing mean things to make the dog mean…. right? If given lots of love, and toys ,and beds, and pillows, and kisses, and puppy training and…….you get the idea. I could prove the haters wrong, right?
Her name was Bailey and the first mistake my husband and I made was getting a puppy from a backyard breeder in whom we did not know, but was referred to us by a friend. They kept the male and female separate because “they would fight at times.” We adopted Bailey at 8 weeks of age. We had two adult dogs at the time, a Dalmatian and a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix who had a lot of love and little training. We enrolled Bailey in Puppy class as soon as possible. She excelled and was the star of the class. She was quick at picking up commands, exuberant when performing tasks, very engaged and passed with flying colors. We were so proud.
We noticed that the puppy was rough when playing with our other dogs or when coming out of her kennel or from behind a door. We also noticed scrapes and cuts on her after she was playing with the other dogs even though she would lie with them and play nicely as well. It concerned us so we brought it up to the trainer of the puppy class. We were told to just let them “work it out” on their own, which we did. Bad advice from an inexperienced trainer.
She got into her first fight with our Dalmatian shortly after the conclusion of the puppy class. She ended up at the vet, had sutures and a drain put in and a cone on her head. This was the first of many fights she had with our dogs over the 5 years we had her. They are too numerous to describe every one in detail. One fight ended with me at the hospital due to a partially amputated fingertip from a dog bite. In case you’re wondering, it wasn’t her, it was the Ridgeback. I got in the middle of a dog fight and in the midst of the chaos was bitten. Bailey was never aggressive toward humans and was very loving toward people and was a big cuddle bug but she was innately dog aggressive.
The older she became, the more reactive she became despite training efforts. We consulted trainers and a dog behaviorist. The sad end result was that we had to euthanize her for the safety of our other dogs. We estimate over the 5 years we spent with her, we spent about $20,000 in vet bills from fighting and hospital bills from my finger incident. This dog is the reason my husband and I became dog trainers. We wanted to learn about dog training and give educated advice to people so they would not have to suffer as we did from bad advice.
So here is the truth about Pit bull breeds and what I know for sure;
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, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The American Bulldog is also sometimes included. They are called “Pit” bulls because they are breeds that were bred to fight in a fighting ring called a pit.
Pit bull breeds are high energy level dogs that do everything 100%. Whatever they do, they give it their all. Rather it be obedience, play, exercise, loving, snuggling or fighting, they are in it to win it. They also have a high prey drive which can make them reactive to quick-moving objects.
The myth that Pit bulls are aggressive because of how they are raised is true to an extent but is contrary to what you are probably thinking. Yes, there are bad people who do bad things to dogs which make them aggressive or vicious. However, we have seen many Pit bull owners that love and care for their dogs and still have dog aggression problems. We have seen many dogs that have been given only love with no leadership which also become unstable and aggressive toward humans as well as other dogs, regardless of breed. Dogs are pack animals and need stable leadership. Without leadership a dog will try to assume the leadership role. A dog that is not a born leader will not be confident. A dog that is not confident will become unstable and can exhibit behaviors such as separation anxiety, fearfulness, or aggression. If a dog senses clear leadership he can relax because the leader has everything under control. Dogs that have a lack of proper exercise, training, or mental stimulation can also become aggressive and unstable due to pent-up energy.
Another reason that a Pit bull breed can be aggressive regardless of how they are raised is in the lineage;
Pit bull breeds were originally bred and raised to fight for sport. The ones that were best at the sport would bite, hold and kill their opponent. They were originally bred by combining an English bulldog with some form of terrier. The English bulldog gave them the strength, the terrier gave them the tenacity and high prey drive. The English Bulldog was also used to fight and kill other dogs but this has been bred out of them for over 200 years. This is why you see much less dog aggression in the English Bulldog breed however it occasionally occurs. Even today, Pit bulls are being bred for dog fighting sport in underground dog fights and gambling organizations. Since Pit bulls are still being bred for dog fighting some are “hard-wired” to do the job they were bred to do. Just as cattle dogs chase cattle, sheep dogs chase sheep, bird dogs flush birds, Pointers point……you get the idea, Pit bulls fight other dogs. Therefore, without knowing the breeding past of the dog you adopt, you will not know how close to fighting stock he/she comes from. The closer to fighting stock, the more likely the dog is to do that job. It is innate, something you cannot control regardless of how much love or how much training they receive and it has nothing to do with how they are raised.
Pit bulls are generally not human aggressive as this was bred out of them from the beginning. The handler had to be able to go into a fighting ring and pull the dog out of the ring without being bitten. Those dogs that would turn and bite the handler, were destroyed. This explains how, when a pit bull attacks another dog, he generally bites, holds and shakes the prey.
Many dogs will be dominant over one another but generally, if one shows submission, the other will not attack. Dogs in a dog pack will go through dominance rituals on a regular basis. Fighting Pit bulls are bred to ignore cut off signals from other dogs, in other words, they will attack regardless of what signs of submission the other animal is giving. This, along with high prey drive, the ability to bite and hold and the prevalence to do everything 100% give way to the myth that Pit bulls have “locking” jaws. They do not, they are just willing, capable and good at what they were bred to do.
The myth that Pit bulls are all aggressive or untrustworthy and can “turn” at any time is also untrue and not a fair statement for the breed. Many Pit bulls and Pit bull mixes are not hard-wired to do the job their ancestors were bred to do. Many live in loving homes, have loving personalities, have never had a bite history, and are true ambassadors of the breed.
So what do you do if you are thinking of adopting a Pit bull? There are a few things that will make the decision easier and more predictable. First and foremost ask yourself why you want a Pit Bull. Is it because you are an active person, love the look, exuberance and stamina of the breed, or is it to make a statement or to prove a point that it is not how they are raised. Second, do your research and decide if this breed is the right fit for your family. Pit bull breeds have high energy requirements and need to be stimulated both mentally and physically. If you are a couch potato, work long hours, live in an apartment or want a low energy dog, the Pit bull type is not the dog for you.
If you want to adopt a puppy only adopt from a reputable breeder. Reputable breeders breed for health and temperament of the breed, have been doing so for many years even decades and can provide you with the puppies lineage. If you buy from a backyard or inexperienced breeder, you will not know how close to fighting stock the puppies are from and will possibly be contributing to the problem.
If you want to adopt from a rescue or shelter, pick one that can give you as much information as possible about the individual dog you are interested in. It is a good idea to have a dog trainer go with you to help evaluate behavior and temperament.
When you adopt a Pit bull, provide consistent leadership, training and exercise.
If you have a Pit bull and it is exhibiting dog aggression or aggression of any kind, consult with a dog trainer or an animal behaviorist to decide the reason for the behavior and if it can be modified.
If you have a Pit bull that is dog aggressive and you have put training in place and have come to the conclusion that the dog is innately dog aggressive, the only responsible option is euthanasia. We do not take euthanasia lightly and it is the hardest decision a dog owner will make. As dog trainers euthanasia is never the advice we like to give but have given it. As a Pit bull owner it was the last decision we ever wanted to make but made it.
The answer to breed banning and to the pet overpopulation problem in general is not breed specific legislation but breeding legislation and spay/neuter policies. Breeders should be licensed and proven to be reputable with strict guidelines. All pets should be spayed and neutered unless a person is a licensed breeder. Individual dogs of any breed deemed and tested to be vicious should be euthanized.
A dog aggressive Pit bull and the owner of one suffer greatly. Managing the problem means keeping the dog away from others ( which often makes the problem worse), always walking on eggshells, and hoping nothing goes wrong. You will also be contributing to the problem and giving haters and proponents of breed ban fuel for their fire. You will be putting all of your effort and time keeping an unstable dog alive, when many other loveable, stable dogs, Pit bulls and otherwise are being euthanized daily due to lack of shelter space. Sadly, we have to sacrifice the few to save the many. If you love the breed and hate the breed ban, it is the responsible thing to do and the only thing that will save the Pit bull breeds.
It isn’t the breed, it is the humans because we created it, we have failed it, and it is time to be responsible and do all we can to redeem the Pit bull breeds.
Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, owner of Super Mutts Canine training and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 20 years experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior. She is an AKC/ CGC, CGCU, Community Canine and S.T.A.R. puppy evaluator and a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
You can read more or purchase her book at www.supermutts.com