It seems like every time the pitbull controversy comes up, those of us who love a “pit bull” type dog end up making the same points over and over. I thought I’d use ths page to bring together in one spot all my points.
Here we go.
The term ‘pit bull’ is so generic that it has almost no meaning other than “a vicious dog that scares me.”
Without getting into too much history, there are a lot of dog breeds that trace their origins back to the fighting pits, from the Boston Terrier, through the various bull dog breeds and the boxer, into the mastiffs. But not all of these dogs have bad reputations and not all of these breeds are still fought (I hope).
Much of the confusion about what is a pitbull and what isn’t comes down to this: the word “pitbull” is used to describe a specific breed of dog, a type of dog, and a dog that has a certain, inhumane, job.
The specific breed of dog is the American Pit Bull Terrier, which is not recognized by the AKC (though it was at one point), but is recognized by other kennel clubs. The American Pit Bull Terrier is very closely related to the American Staffordshire Terrier, but there are differences. I’m no expert, but to my eye, the American Pit Bull Terrier often has a lankier appearance and the look of the dog varies a lot more than the look of the AmStaff in terms of acceptable weights and sizes.
The type of dog is any bull dog that lacks the affable charm of the English Bulldog, including the ones recognized by the AKC–the AmStaff, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, and sometimes the Bull Mastiff–and ones that aren’t, like the American Bulldog and the American Pit Bull Terrier. All of these dogs come under the umbrella term “pitbull,” though they vary greatly in size and appearance. That’s why both the dog in the Target commercials and the Our Gangshorts are called pitbulls, even though they don’t look a thing alike.
Then there’s the dog that has the terrible job.
[Let me just take a moment to say that, if you fight dogs, you suck. It doesn’t prove your worth as a man. Well, yes it does, just not in the way you intend. It proves that you are a monster and a coward and, if there is any justice, the dogs whose deaths you are responsible for will get some sort of revenge in the afterlife. Maybe they’ll stand around and watch you morons repeatedly fight each other to the death. Taking the best qualities of something–undying loyalty to you, tenaciousness, strength, and bravery–and perverting them so that it can kill and die for your amusement is unconscionable.]
I’ve seen a few of these dogs and, to me, they look very different than Mrs. Wigglebottom (though this site suggests I’m imagining the differences). In fact, I’ve had a number of people familiar with fighting dogs who insist that Mrs. Wigglebottom must be part boxer because she’s much too big to be a pitbull. In general, my experience is that fighting dogs are smaller than she is. Their faces more resemble the Staffordshire Terrier than her. They often don’t have ears at all. Also, if you look at them face on, their necks seem situated lower on their chests than Mrs. Wigglebottom, and their chests aren’t as deep. This gives them the appearance of having longer legs in proportion to their bodies.
But fighting dogs aren’t a breed of dog the way the AKC thinks of it. If someone wanted a fighting dog that was a little bigger, he’d find an AmStaff and breed it into his dogs for size. If he found a really vicious Lab (if there is such a dog), he’s use that as breeding stock. The dog fighter isn’t as interested in “breed standards” as he is in dogs that can win. This is one of the reasons we’ve come to think of any medium sized terrier mix as a “pit bull” and one of the reasons so many people have a “I know it when I see it” attitude towards pit bull recognition.
Yes, “pit bulls” do attack and kill more people a year than other breeds of dogs, but…
Again, as we talked about above, “pit bull” is not just a breed. You are, in effect, comparing apples to apple trees. When you take six to ten breeds, any dog that is a mix of those breeds, and dogs that you think might be those breeds and lump them all together as one group, it is going to skew the results.
Think of it this way. Say you were trying to determine how dangerous I was and the statistics were all “A.s kill 7 men a year.” “G.s kill 10 men a year.” “J.s kill 3 men a year.” But “Aunts kill 100 men a year.” It would seem as if Aunts are way more dangers than any other type of woman. But, if you were to discover that there are 25 different types of women who are considered aunts and we each only kill 4 men a year, you’d see that I was about as dangerous as J. and far less dangerous than G.
There are other, better predictors for whether a dog is dangerous than their breed.
Seriously, the next time you hear about a horrific dog attack, check the details against this list.
–Is the dog larger than 25 pounds? (Obviously, there are vicious small dogs, but unless a dachshund has all day, he’s probably not going to kill you.)
–Is it an unfixed male?
–Is it chained up outside alone for most of the day if not all the time?
–Is it running loose outside?
–Is anyone out there with it?
–Does it have adequate housing?
–Is the dog supervised?
–Do the dog’s owners–who probably insist that the dog is friendly and never given anyone trouble–seem to have gone to extraordinary lengths to make the dog seem scary otherwise (spiked collars, thick chains, encouraging aggressive behavior)?
The truth is that dog behavior is not some great mystery to human beings. We’ve lived with them now for 10,000 years and we know what makes them go wrong. It has little to do with the dog and a lot to do with how the dog has been raised.
People who own “pit bulls” tend to be assholes. Let’s be honest.
Let’s just put all the cards on the table. The problem is what it’s always been: some people regard dogs as pets and we coddle them and spoil them and take them to training from the time they’re old enough to be away from their moms and turn them into companion animals we ask nothing more of than to not snore so loud when they sleep on the couch.
And, for that purpose, the bully breeds make excellent dogs. They’re smart and funny and take training well and happily snore on the couch.
And some people have dogs because owning a bad dog makes them feel special and powerful. And so they take steps to ensure that their dogs are “bad” and powerful. They don’t neuter them. They don’t keep them leashed and supervised when outside. In fact, some folks actively train their dogs to be somewhat dangerous to others.
And bullies, because of their size and their power and their reputations, make good dogs for this too.
You could take two dogs from the same litter and have one be a wonderful pet and companion animal and the other ends up mauling some little kid to death, all depending on the kind of work each owner puts into it.
Yes, bullies have tendencies, but whether and how those tendencies express themselves comes down to what the people who own them bring them up to do.
We tend to assume that the problem is that good-hearted folks who just don’t know better have gotten in over their heads with fundamentally evil dogs and so, if we just remove the opportunity for them to have pitbulls from them, all will be right in the world.
Well, here’s the problem. Most people who own pitbulls are not good-hearted folks who just don’t know better. If my personal observations are true, most people who own pitbulls are jackasses who shouldn’t have any dogs, let alone a dog that needs constant supervision and training. Most pitbull owners I see here in Nashville don’t neuter their dogs. They don’t keep them in the house except for when they are out with the leashed dog. They don’t work to make sure that the dog isn’t aggressive. They seem to encourage displays of dominance and aggression and carry on like the dogs’ balls (both literally and metaphorically) say something about their balls.
And ridding the world of pitbulls isn’t going to magically fix what’s wrong with these people because they’re jackasses who should know better or take five seconds to read up on how to be a good owner to a terrier or take their dogs to training and to the vet regularly, but don’t, because they’re jackasses. At least when it comes to owning dogs.
If you prevent them from owning pitbulls, they will just move on to some other breed of dog. Or they’ll take up knife fighting or whatever is going to make them feel like big, powerful people. They will still be jackasses whose actions hurt others.