The plight of Pitbulls

I’ve been working in animal care for over 25 years, the last eight years with dogs specifically. I’m hitting my fifth anniversary at this pet resort, prior to that I managed the large dog kennel at a dog sanctuary for almost three years.

It infuriates and astounds me how much misinformation there is about pit bull breeds, and most of it is actually racist propaganda that’s covered in a mask of pseudoscience propagated by some useful idiots like Colleen Lynn (of Dog Shite dot-com).

It isn’t just my own personal experience with dogs, or my biology degree, or the actual research in dog behavior, that tells me Pitt breeds aren’t the monsters people want to make them out to be. Most dogs live in home environments, and rarely get to associate with other dogs at all, let alone a wide variety of people. It’s essentially isolation that most dogs are kept in, at best they’re like home-schooled kids meeting the normally socialized kids in the neighborhood.

It absolutely does not matter what the breed is- if they aren’t properly socialized and trained, there will be issues at some point.

The dumbest thing isn’t the ignorance about Pitts consistently coming in second to Golden Retrievers in temperament tests, or that they’re about a third down the list of bite strength, and not even in the top ten for bite incidents. Even the fatality rate is extremely dubious because not many people actually know how to identify a Pitt breed in the first place, and misidentification is rampant in the media.

No, the dumbest argument is “they’re dangerous because they’re bred for fighting!” Fighting what? Other dogs, right? I’ve met a couple of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs. They’re total sweethearts who love getting hugs and skritches. But I would never walk them past other dogs who weren’t restrained or in a kennel. Why? Because they’re trained to fight dogs, not people.

Nobody should be approaching dogs they don’t know. I work with dogs, and I can see all thirty-plus points of body language that marks their communication, so I know what I can get away with and what I can’t. And when I’m out in public and I see a dog, as much as I want to give them all the skritches, I don’t approach them without the owner’s permission.

There isn’t a single dog on the planet that doesn’t have the potential to attack someone. I don’t give a fucking shit what breed it is. Dogs have teeth. Anything with teeth bites. That’s what teeth are for. Why is anyone surprised when teeth are used for biting? So combine those teeth with the fact that most people are unable to read canine body language very well, in dogs that don’t get exposed to a wide variety of people, other dogs, and stimuli on a regular basis: of course something bad can happen. Dogs very rarely bite anyone without warning. In fact, dogs will give several warnings before they attack someone, because this is something they want to avoid.

We’ve been living with dogs for thirty thousand years. Neither of our species would be where we are without each other. Dogs know us better than we know them, yet we can’t take the time to get to learn even a tenth of a percent about them and prevent the kinds of misunderstandings that are caused by unsupervised children or drunk morons or abusive assholes.

Pitt breeds, or chihuahuas, or Shibas, or Huskies, or Goldens: none of them are the problem. People are. People who don’t take the responsibility to treat and train their dogs well. People who don’t train their kids to respect animals and allow them their space by being familiar with their body language. People who think dogs are accessories to keep in their purse or chained in their front yard. Those are the problems. But, sure, let’s concentrate on a perceived racial demographic and stereotypes about what dogs they own.

I spend all day around dogs. Yesterday there were almost 60 dogs in the yard. Today, about 35. The ones we needed to keep an eye on weren’t the Pitt breeds. It was the Water Dog, the Doodle mixes, the GSDs, and the Chocolate Labs. The Pitts love roughhousing, but they’re like Boxers in that regard, they have a set of rules about what’s acceptable in play. The others were more interested in sniping haunches or third-wheeling or grabbing necks of passers-by. The Pitts don’t always have to be supervised, unless, just like any other dog, they only get to see another dog in person when they come to daycare with me and they’re so unsocialized that I have to help guide them in learning how to be a dog that can move in dog society. That’s true of Labs or Mastiffs or Great Danes.

Pitts aren’t the problem. Their environment is. In the 1970s, when I was growing up, the “bad dog” was the Doberman. In the 1980s-90s, it was the Rottweiler. But the Dobies got a cute Disney movie (‘Those Amazing Dobermans’); Rotties got the book titled ‘Carl’. Those went a long way to rehabilitating the reputations of those breeds. The Pitt breeds aren’t going to see anything like that anytime soon because too many people are invested in inveighing against people of color, or people in poverty.

I’ve spent too much time around dogs to not be pissed at the amount of ignorance and racism levied at certain breeds, and I’m beginning to think that if I looked at the profiles of people claiming Pitt breeds are simpleminded attack machines, I would find out they also subscribe to The\_D or other white power subs.

After eight years of working exclusively with dogs, I’ll trust a Pitt breed when I meet them for the first time before I’ll ever trust a Shih Tzu or a Chow or a Husky or a Rat Terrier.

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