November 08, 2007

A good article with a few missteps

Here is a reasonably intelligent commentary on "pit bulls", albeit from an author who is admittedly biased toward this particular type of dog. Like myself, however, he wasn't always that way.

You can read his story at:

In general, this is a well-articulated discussion of the plight of these dogs on this continent. There are, however, a few comments with which I take issue.

This is not meant to be a criticism of the author. From what I have read, I think he's a wonderful owner with a big heart and a good understanding of dogs.

Unfortunately, that does not turn everything he says into the gospel truth.

Perhaps Canada is different, but I do not feel that there is an overpopulation of "pit bulls".

I believe that there is an overpopulation of the wrong type of owner combined with a media-inspired fear of the dogs that results in many dogs ending up in wrong hands or in shelters. With the right education, more effective legislation, and a different public attitude, those dogs could just as easily have ended up living great lives with responsible owners in good homes.

The population of the dogs is not the issue. Popular breeds, by the very nature of being popular, have more bad breeders and bad owners than rare dogs.

There are backyard and puppy-mill breeding issues.

There are breeders who are breeding for the wrong reasons, including for fighting, size, and aggression.

There are owners who shouldn't own this type of dog, or any type of dog, period.

But if the right education and the right laws were in place, these types of owners wouldn't be able to get dogs at all and the good owners would not be prevented from rescuing and saving dogs, regardless of the size of their heads.

I also have some issues with the blanket statements made by the veterinarian, by the author, and by Dr. Andrew Luescher, who I'll talk about separately.

The veterinarian says that people with children should pick a dog that, "if a child walks across its tail or jumps on them or whatever, nothing’s ever going to happen.”

Not only is this a statement unsubstantiated by any factual data whatsoever, it is the exact opposite of the reality that occurs every day in North America.

There are many dogs of ALL breeds that are highly intolerant of children jumping on them or stepping on their tail. There are many dogs of ALL breeds that will, and have, reacted negatively and violently to such accidental incidents.

The "pit bull" type of dog, however, is renowned for its willingness to endure such assaults. In fact, it has been my experience that this particular type of dog not only tolerates physical onslaughts by little humans, but, in many cases, enjoys them and seeks them out.

On the other hand, one of the breeds that the veterinarian so highly recommends is actually, by far, the number one biter of children in my city and is very high on the list across the country. Assuming that we can even pretend to track breed biting accurately, that breed's numbers are much higher than those of so-called "pit bulls".

The statements about "freakish strength" and the bite that the author has "never seen anything like", although perhaps accurate from the author's point of view, do nothing to help the dogs being targeted by breed-specific legislation. Writers must start to recognize that any public statement by them, even if it is supporting the dogs, will get twisted and used by politicians and other media personnel to support their reasoning for eliminating that type of dog.

This happened in Ontario where dog owners, happy to talk about how fast or strong or determined their particular dogs were, suddenly found their statements being quoted by politicians as proof that this type of dog is "qualitatively different" from other breeds.

I've never seen the "freakish strength" or unbelievable bite from either of my dogs. Without a doubt, my dogs are strong dogs and they choose to bite hard (on tug toys), but they do not appear to be abnormally different from dogs of other breeds.

Perhaps these attributes might exist in a particular dog that is bred from particular lines and trained to bite hard, that has been trained to hold that bite and that has been physically trained for strength.

I've seen Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds that are just as strong as my dogs. I've seen small terriers that have dislocated their owners' shoulders. I've seen a French bulldog that broke its owner's arm trying to get to another dog.

As for the bite beyond belief, my older dog owned a Kong, one single medium black Kong, for four years. It was destroyed in five minutes by a visiting Jack Russell Terrier.

My dogs' favourite toys are the rubber spheres that have two little rubber feet on the bottom. When my girls are given a new one of these, those feet are gone within minutes. But, that happens with my close friend's Dobermans and her Shepherd/Collie mix as well. The body of that toy lasts forever in my house.

Now to Dr. Andrew Luescher.

He is the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Purdue University.

This "clinic" (as it's called) is famous in the dog world for being the home of Dr. Alan Beck, the only animal behaviour "scientist" in North America who agrees with breed banning and who spouts statement after statement about the differences between "pit bulls" and other dogs, yet has no practical real-world experience at all with "pit bull" type dogs.

As a researcher and one who tries to look at every fact and statement with an objective eye, I would personally be wary of using any statement from any person associated with Purdue's Animal Behavior Clinic. There appears to a suspect agenda at that particular facility and I would take anything coming from there with a huge grain of salt.

Virtually every dog that the average pet owner has in their home today does not do today the particular activity for which it was originally bred. Many house pets are physically incapable of performing those functions. Most house pets are not particularly interested in performing those functions. No (or extremely few) house pets have been trained to perfect those functions.

It may be true that you can find these extreme attributes and behaviours in a dog that was bred specifically for its function, that was raised in that environment, that was trained (encouraged) to act in a certain manner, that was physically conditioned to be an extreme athlete, and that has been successful at it (many aren't).

But that situation has no bearing whatsoever on your average house pet, many of whom interact happily with dogs, cats, rabbits, and people on a daily basis.

The fat, happy yellow Lab next door, who goes to the park twice a day and doesn't even want to chase a ball, bears no similarity whatsoever to the highly conditioned and meticulously bred and trained competition field dog that is out swimming through swamps and crashing through brush to retrieve the next bird.

The laid-back, lazy mastiff who greets all visitors with a wagging tail and an investigative sniff, or even a welcoming pair of paws on the visitor's shoulders, is not the same dog that fought alongside Roman soldiers or protected the estates of English noblemen.

Just remember when you're reading articles, even the positive ones, that ALL generalizations are dangerous, even this one.

-- END --


Caveat said...

Great comments, Chico, much better than mine :>)

I was actually amused by the comments that 'pit bulls' don't appreciate having their tails stepped on (how odd), yet also have a high tolerance for pain. Which is it?

As for the chew toys, I had to buy my geriatric mini Wiener dog a Galileo Bone, 'Wolf' size, because it's the only toy he can't destroy quickly that's good for removing plaque. He's worn it down to a nub at both ends. He weighs about 12 lbs and has heart failure.

Dead on comments about Purdue, or as I call it, Perdue - lost from the realm of scientific credibility. Thanks to Beck who has advanced a lacklustre career on the backs of dead dogs while cashing in with honoraria in court cases. I hear he's testifying in Denver, don't have the details yet.

Not too fond of Perdue at all, in case you hadn't noticed.

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