Thursday, January 8, 2009

Janice asked in a comment to my post about the Vick dogs -

Are there breeds that are more prone to aggresive behaviour? do rotties and pitties(...sorry, muscular dogs) inherently more proned to this behaviour? is it an actual TRAIT? does anyone know? do scientists know? or is it uneducated/ignorant owners who are attracted to this breed and encourage this behavour-- thus giving a bad rap to the breed or breed crosses. i have wolfhounds, they are docile by nature and it is a know characteristic in the breed. is this because of selective ownership by breeders? if the same owners owned one of my hounds, would it too develop the same characteristics as the bad rap dog? i genuinely appreciate any opinions on this topic.

That topic is the subject of 1000's of websites, and there's 1000's of opinions and ideas about it. Some of the websites will cite scientists, breeders, behaviourists, trainers, dog owners, and everything in between - and they all claim to know the final answer - and they're all different answers.

At this point there's so many emotions involved in the topic of pit bull type dogs that there's no way to find easy answers and quantitative findings from reputable sources are always poo pooed by people who hate dogs and want to see the breed exterminated and want to enact breed specific legislation as the only answer.

On the other hand though, really, people being attacked by dogs can't be discounted - their suffering can't be minimized - because there are people out there who are suffering from the effects of bad ownership - so what do we do?

Whenever I broach the subject with people their first initial reaction - their knee jerk first reaction is invariably - "we've got to do something about the pit bulls" - but within a couple of minutes probably about 75% of the time I've got them admitting that it's not the breed of the dog - it's really the owner. But it's just so EASY to blame the dog. It takes all the work out of it for the humans - you kill the dog and then the human can go out and get another dog to chain in the back yard, or ignore in the living room, or kick across the kitchen. Because it wasn't their fault - it was the DOGS.

It is my opinion - and has been all along - that all dogs are the same. They start out as puppies and have experiences as puppies - good or bad, and grow into teenagers - and learn things - and learn what works for them and what doesn't - and learn bite inhibition or don't - and are abused, or aren't - and it doesn't matter what their breed is.

Some dogs can handle dog parks, and some dogs can't - some pit bull types can handle the intense play that goes on in a classic type dog park - but every dog needs a ton of different experiences in order to have a really good and fulfilled life - and I think that classic dog parks can have a part in that. Seaview Park regulars in my experience never stop moving with their dogs - they are continually taking their dogs in and out of the action - they know that if you just dump your dog in the middle of the action and leave them there - that's when problems happen - and nobody wants a problem - so that's why you see people actually walking with their dogs at Seaview. That's a good thing - and all dog park people should do that. That's what I did when I used to go there. Bad has a good page on dog socialization at - Badrap has impressed me lately with some of the things they've been writing because they've started to acknowledge that pit bulls really are just like other dogs. In previous years they've said that pit bulls were special and needed to be kept apart from other dogs because they'd fight if they interacted with dogs from outside - which used to infuriate me - because it's just not true.

So long story short - dogs - all dogs are just like us, (in my opinion) - they are products of their environment - and their temperament - whether or not they are going to kill a child, or a dog, or whether they're going to be the sweetest and cutest dog on the block - has nothing to do with their breed.

Whether or not they want to herd you into a corner, or sit on your lap for 24 hours at a time, or protect your property from marauding buckaneers, or stand in entryways, or have something in their mouth all the time, or stare down things that tend to stand around in herds - now THAT is something that can be broken down by breed I think.

I also think that dogs have moods just like us - they can be in good moods and bad moods and can get pissed off and deal with their past experiences in different ways - and if they've been abused they can use what they think they can do to get out of a situation safely - and that can mean using their mouth. With disastrous consequences. But it's because of the way their owners have treated them that they've felt they have to use their bodies in that way.

Whenever I've been bit by a dog - I've always felt bad for the dog - because I know that I've failed the dog in some way - that they've felt unsafe enough that they had to lash out and bite me in order to get out of the situation that they're in in that moment. It's my fault that they've bitten me - not their fault. But I know that I'm a bit weird in that way.


  1. Anonymous12:28 AM

    its just easier to ban the breeds on the DANGEORUS LIST than actually work on the real problems. The world has changed . we all live in such close living spaces and there is no room for a dog to be just a dog anymore so we as owners need to readjust our thinking on dog ownership and start thinking about what it really means to be a responsible owner..every dog owner from the smallest tea cup terrier to the biggest bull mastiff needs to open their eyes and ask themselves what is thier contribution or lack of in regards to this problem and what can they do to make it better.
    I find that I ask myself the following question more and more and that is ..there are education programs (many government subsidized )all over the tv via commericals, ads, day time talk shows , MTV, VH1 ect on "guns, drugs,cicarettes,teenage driving and pregnacny, abuses of all kinds but nothing on animal- owner responisbilities and the role the society of today plays .....why? why arent these issues being addressed and a solution found? Why are the goverments bailing on this issue istead of doing the hard work....???
    Founder of Pit Bulls Pounding the Pavement -promoting responsible ownership/ Tampa FL

  2. Anonymous2:59 AM

    Here are some links to some Papers that Janice might be interested in reading.

    My personal opinion is that they`re just dogs.
    They`re individuals and right now there`a a lot of them in the wrong hands for the wrong purposes.
    (More so in the States)
    IMO if the Pit Bull Breeds were inherently dangerous there would be a lot more fatalities and fatalities are so rare by ANY dogs of any Breed that the dots just don`t connect.
    And the "Dangerous" Breed argument falls apart by virtue of the fact that look-a-likes are targeted by BSL.
    Why would look-a-likes be "dangerous" if it`s a Breed thing?
    Dogs are so amazingly tolerant of people.

  3. Anonymous10:52 AM

    thank you everyone excellent discussion-jm

  4. Joan, you are correct that both nature and nurture determine the personality and behavior of all dogs.
    On that note, the nature part of pitbulls and other bully breeds is that they are powerful, energetic and determined dogs and in that sense need an owner who understands that and is able to channel it. In my experience, some people with the best intentions are overwhelmed by that, like many are also overwhelmed with the determination of Border Collie herding, a Hound sniffing or a Terrier digging. Every dog breed comes with a certain set of genes people selectively breed for.

    In my experience, many bully dogs are predisposed to be gentle, friendly and soft with people because they were never bred to be guard-dogs, and not so friendly with other four-legged critters. Many pit bulls and Amstaffs are trigger sensitive to other dogs and cats, charge up easily and are thereby prone to reactivity.
    That is a generalized trait and of course not true for every individual pit bull, but something every owner or wannabe owner should be aware off.
    Normal socializing is sometimes not enough but special attention has to be paid to keep the dog below stress threshold and train specifically for calm behaviors and desensitize gradually to more stimulating environments.