What Every Dog Owner Needs to Know About Pit Bulls

(Written by Diane Jessup)

 

The thought that went through your mind when you read the above title will tell you a little something about yourself and your attitude toward dogs in general. Your internal dialogue probably went along the lines of one of the following:
  1. Oh! I hate pit bulls! They should be banned. There is no reason for such vicious, horrible dogs. Besides, they aren't even really a breed; after all they aren't recognized by the AKC.
  2. Oh! Poor pit bulls! Its all how they're raised. They have to be forced to fight. If you raise them like a [insert a breed that comes to mind here] they too, can have a generic, insipid temperament.
  3. Oh! Here we go again! Another article by some idiot that doesn't know or understand or probably even own the breed. Wouldn't it be nice to see the truth about a rugged, complex and much abused companion animal?

 

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

First things first. By far the majority of educational pieces concerning the pit bulldog are written by "experts" who have never even owned a member of the family. I don't consider anyone to be an "expert" on any breed unless they share their bedcovers with the same. I feel strongly compelled to reassure those poor souls entitled to be wary, that I do indeed have at least the rudiments of a working knowledge of this ancient and surprisingly straightforward breed. So, hopefully I will be excused while I take a moment to explain my "credentials".

 

I've owned and worked professionally with pit bulls for over 15 years and share my life with about a dozen right now. I've written two well received books on the breed, The Working Pit Bull and, with Louis Colby, Colby's Book of the American Pit Bull Terrier. I recently completed a novel featuring a pit bull as well, The Dog Who Spoke With Gods, (St. Martin's Press) which will be available in June of 2001. I've titled the breed in just about everything the breed can be titled in, from AKC obedience titles to Schutzhund III, IPO III, as well as tracking, weight pull and several titles in ASCA herding dog trials. I train with positive reinforcement, and I currently restrict my sporting activities to weight pull and French ring sport. Because there is an unhappy side to the breed I love, I am, as well, POST (Police Officers Standards Training) certified as an instructor for law enforcement on dog and c--- fighting and have instructed the regional Criminal Justice Training Commission academy for years, on the same.

 

When Meeting A Pit Bull On The Street:

What important lessons should all dog owners learn about the contemplating of an approaching pit bull? What should you do? First and foremost, as the average dog owner walking down the street, examine your own gut feelings upon seeing this creature crest the horizon. How do you view this member of a breed undeniably victimized by many? Is your response to the animal tinged by what media reports tell you to think? Is your opinion of this animal based on a prior experience with some other animal of similar appearance or breeding? Pit bulls are under siege not only from many of their own criminally (and feeble) minded owners, but by certain elements of the "humane" movement and dog haters in general. Do you, as a "dog lover", have feelings of alarm and prejudice (meaning to "pre-judge") toward the barrel chested, grinning, good natured slob headed your way? Or, perhaps, you see a dog you expect will turn inside out with pleasure at your slightest acknowledgement of his existence. A dog who will smother the children with kisses like a politician. The answer - and the lesson learned -is that you should see neither.

 

You should see a dog. No more. No less.

 

The pit bull gives us an excellent opportunity to step back and reevaluate how we view all dogs. How we pre-judge them, how we approach them, and how we expect them to react to us. Do you throw yourself with abandon on every "doggie" you see, showing an alarming lack of respect for the animal? Or do you sniff as you pass by, nose in the air, and disdain to see any good quality in the animal because it isn't a show dog and the ears aren't quite right, or it just isn't a "nice breed", or because two months ago a dog of similar appearance killed a child in the next state over? Next time you see a pit bull (assuming you actually know what one looks like, you'd be surprised and shocked at just what gets called "pit bull" and at the number of people who want to ban a breed they can't even identify) take a moment to reflect on your inner feelings. Take a moment to be fair. Take a moment to firmly not prejudge. See what happens. See how difficult it is...

 

Having looked at the dog, it is now really more important that you look at the dog's owner. This too, will probably be a difficult exercise in not pre-judging! It is probable the owner is more frightening in appearance than the dog. Learn - and this is the hard part of the lesson - not to judge by appearance. Not to pre-judge. Not to be "prejudice". Disregard the dog. That which will tell you what you need to know is this: how does this dog's owner approach his/her stewardship of their animal? Is the dog off leash in a public area? Already we may have problems. Perhaps the dog is wonderful, but anyone with a dog off-leash in a public area is suspect in my book. I already question their judgment. (If they have a shock collar on their dog, simply give them up as a hopeless case at that point.) But what if the dog is on lead? Is the owner actually trying to intimidate you? Are they letting the dog lunge or otherwise show aggression toward you or your dog? In that case, you have just obtained a valuable piece of information: the owner has a problem and the owner is dangerous. The owner needs to be controlled. This is where our current laws let us down, and let us down miserably. No one seems to want laws which will hold an owner responsible for the mischief and mayhem they allow their dog to create. And so, "high risk" owners continue to plague society. A problem with a simple solution - which is ignored. Every dog owner whose dog bites someone yells that somehow THEY are the victim here. Somehow it wasn't their fault...

 

But perhaps the dog is coming along happily, interested but not menacing toward other dogs. Held responsibly in check by a responsible owner walking their pet in public. Is this a good time to let your happy, young, goofball, male [again, I will not insert a breed, but feel free to add what ever some to mind here] dog off his lead so he can "go meet" the other doggy? Ah! Another lesson learned... Remember what we said about people who let their dogs off lead in public places? About questioning their judgment? That applies here as well. Would you encourage your teenage son to run up to another strange teenage boy and throw himself on him in good natured play? Your son may very well end up on this year's Darwin Awards. And your dog, if you allow him to do the same, may very well end up on the same sad list of those whose genetic material will not be making it to the next generation. Not all dogs consider another dog racing madly up to them and cramming themselves into their space, to be the very best way to introduce. While many, many dogs (pit bulls included) will think this great fun, just as many dogs (pit bulls included) will not. Some find it threatening and they may very well attack. Lesson to be learned: who is at fault? The owner of the unleashed, out of control "nice" dog or the owner of the leashed and controlled dog who simply want to enjoy their walk in the park and mind their own business?

 

Pit bulls, like all other fad breeds in their turn, are often owned by the socially inept. You will meet some pit bulls in your life which are owned by those who sadly need an animal crutch for their own feelings of inadequacy. These owners will encourage their dogs to be vicious and unsocial and they (the owners) are a very real source for concern. Current ordinances which hold the dog responsible &endash; and make the dog pay the price - for its actions, don't touch these guys. These "high risk" owners simply allow dog after dog to be destroyed by authorities and then go out and get a new dog. Over and over. In a few years they get a new breed, and the beat goes on.

 

The next time you meet a pit bull, take a moment to stop and engage the owner in conversation. Ask them (nicely) about the dog. Be prepared for suspicion and defensiveness. After all, this is an owner who more likely than not adores his/her life companion, has a strong and wonderful bond with the dog, and faces almost daily threats to this friendship from every conceivable source. Neighbors, friends, family, the media, PETA and even some "humane" organizations, all sadly, often feel compelled to add to the general "fad panic" about the latest "fad breed". This dog and his/her owner are truly under constant siege, and you must forgive them this wariness. This pit bull and its human life-companion are soldiers on the front line of the new battle against companion animal ownership and the growing "anti-dog" movement. So called "breed specific legislation" - those laws which ban all dogs of a certain appearance based solely on appearance and not behavior - are a reality, a reality pit bull owners live with everyday. Imagine for a moment having a dear friend you know to be the paragon of loyalty, sweetness, patience, and good humor, constantly portrayed as "evil", unpredictable and savage, and you will begin to understand the frustration. We know that fighting dogs who have known nothing but years of unspeakable abuse, who have had their lives blighted by never ending confinement to a heavy chain, who will lick with humility the hand of the animal control officer who has come to end their life, and we know that no other breed could withstand so much neglect and hate, and still have that pure love of man shine through to the end. The injustice of it can drive you mad. Perhaps only Doberman owners who lived through the 1970's, and now Rottweiler owners (a recent headline indicating high risk owner are abandoning the pit bull in favor of this guardian breed screamed "Rottweilers Now Deadliest Dog") can understand. It is a difficult thing to understand at all.

 

So talk to a pit bull owner and you may be surprised. It may be the dog is "simply" a beloved family pet, but I wouldn't be surprised if you found out that the dog was a competitor in agility, accompanied its owner to work each day, or was even a service dog for the disabled. The pit bulldog, if it is a normal, sound member of its breed, will probably greet you like a long lost friend, turning inside out with pleasure and dancing out a jig with its front feet, prompting you to wonder how in the heck these dogs got "a bad name" anyway. It is perfectly true that the dog may not by friendly with other dogs, being an animal which does not hesitate to test his mettle against others of his kind. Then again, he may be a complete fool, dancing and bowing and wanting nothing more than to play with your dog.

 

That is the lesson learned from the pit bull. That is all you need to know about them. All they ask - and deserve - is to not be pre-judged.

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