A few years ago, a counselor told me that I have a low tolerance for stupidity. Add ignorance to that, and you have my view on the controversy surrounding pit bulls.

After yet another vicious attack that made headlines in 2008, I asked Trish King, a renowned behaviorist from the Marin County Humane Society if pit bulls should be pets. Her answer is as follows:

"As with most issues, this one is very complicated. Dog behavior – like human behavior – cannot be fully understood, because of mixed motivations.

In my experience, very few pit bulls show dominance aggression against people. They tend to love their owners and to be very sweet and friendly, sometimes overwhelmingly friendly. That being said, there are some dogs who are dominant aggressive, especially over weaker members in a household.

Reported unprovoked attacks sometimes really are provoked, and the victim doesn’t know it. Sometimes there are signs beforehand that an attack will take place, and sometimes there are no signs. Sometimes the provocation is something no one would recognize as such.

Many pit bull attacks are actually predatory in nature – for instance, a dog going after and killing a small dog, or attacking a small child or baby. Motion causes the prey drive to “activate”, so’s to speak, and the dog acts out of instinct.

Sometime, the dog can get very excited very quickly. This state is called “arousal,” and many pit bulls have been bred to be able to sustain arousal, which would be useful in a fighting dog, but not in a pet. When a dog is fully aroused, they may do things they would not do if they are calm.

Another thing we see is intolerance – as a dog ages, he or she will tend to get less tolerant of physical play, and will then tend to discipline another dog who steps over the line. In

Maintaining a consistent structure as well as training a dog – any dog – from the time they are very young would certainly prevent the vast majority of aggression, no matter what kind it is."

In my own experience, I see pit bulls as the most lovable dogs in the world--they are definitely my favorite breed. I Have handled over 500 hundred pit bulls without a scratch. But I see a lot of arousal at the dog park--particularly in boxers--that cause play to spin out of control. These fights start because owners allow the dogs to play too rough. The owners just stand there gawking, and when they find they have to pull their dog off of another one, they can’t.

I don’t allow my pit bulls to play to rough. They are only allowed to wrestle a few minutes a day. I don’t want that fighting instinct to come to the surface. When fights break out at the park, they don’t jump in. They are like, “Huh, what’s that?”

For anyone thinking about adopting a pit bull, I strongly urge you answer the following questions before bringing him home.

  1. How willing is he to follow you? Look to you for leadership?

  2. How easy is he to call off if he goes for something you don’t want him to have?

  3. How does he react if you take food or toys away?

  4. If you walk him up to dog kennels, how does he react?

  5. How does he react if you drop a metal bowl on concrete or make another loud noise?

  6. How easy is it to get him to sit or lay down?

  7. What does he do if you pull his skin, cup his paws in your hand? Pull his ears, tail or look at his teeth?

  8. What does he do when you sit on the ground next to him?

If you’re not comfortable doing these pulling and poking him, maybe you shouldn’t bring him home. If he follows you around, he’s willing to except you as a leader. If you can call him off, he shouldn’t be too difficult to handle in a worst case scenario. If he body slams you while you are holding food or a toy, this means he is willing to challenge you. Not a good sign. If he gives a deep belly growl while looking at other dogs, take him seriously. He means business.

If it’s hard to get him to lie down, it may be hard to have him in the home. Lying down is a sign of respect, and as an inherently dominant breed, some pit bulls prefer to have you lie down for them instead of the other way around. This may not be a dog that is easy to have around the house.

If he is startled or afraid, turning his back on you means he isn’t a fighter, he’s an avoider. If he rolls over, it’s a good sign. If he bolts, expect to be chasing him around the neighborhood. If he lunges or growls, forget him.

If you sit next to him and he starts beating you up with his front paws; or keeps coming at you and doesn’t stop, consider another dog. If he puts his jaws on your arm, he’s testing you.

If you can touch and pull him anywhere and he doesn‘t care, he may be good for children.

Nancy, one of my pit bulls, had scars on her face when I adopted her in September. This is not a good sign, because it means she has been fighting with other dogs. But she was so submissive, she rolled over for a Chihuahua. So I took a chance, even though a member of the shelter staff winced a bit, and brought a pit bull home to my other dogs.

Normally I would only bring a dog home to my other dogs if they were of equal strength, but the jerk who had owned her had beat her silly and I figured if she didn’t let him have it, she probably wouldn’t bite anybody. As it turns out, she hasn’t got an ounce of fight in her.

Once I got her home, I introduced her to the pack slowly. I figured out that she got the scars because she liked to dip into the other dogs’ bowls, and she‘d sometimes growl. I stood over the dogs as they ate and if a single treat fell on the floor, I threw more to let her know there was plenty. Instead of fighting for food, , she looks up as if to say, “More please.” With four dogs, each dog is only fed in his/her own kennel.

I have seen people adopt pit bulls that seemed calculating and cold. They just weren’t the sweet, lovable dogs I adore. I don’t know why anyone would want a dog like that. People who don’t know how to pick a pit bull are giving the breed a bad rap. If they only had an experienced dog person help them acquire and manage their dog, people and pit bulls would be as happy as my dogs and I are. I can take them anywhere without worry. People who know us smile when they see my pit bulls enter the dog park. It can be done!

Comments

Nate78 June 1, 2010 @ 7:58 a.m.

Good Article. Here's a printable temperament test for puppies. Remember temperament testing should be done when a puppy reaches 49 days of age (7 weeks). If you wait any longer, environment and experience factor in.

http://www.workingdogs.com/testing_volhard.htm

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Robert Johnston June 1, 2010 @ 10:48 a.m.

I always say that there are some pet adopters who should not be allowed to have custody over even a pair of dessicated cockroaches! This came true when I was living on Martin Drive in Escondido. Yes, we did have a dangerous dog living near the streetcorner. And guess which breed it was?

Pit bull? Nope. Belgian Malmois? Uh-uh. Rottweiler? The only one living in our neighborhood was called Baby for a good reason. Dobermann Pinscer? Sorry.

No, the breed of the "bad doggie" (which I had to draw-and-use my pepper spray on twice) was...A GOLDEN RETRIEVER! Obviously, it had been abused--but the owners were no prize, either.

Just goes to show you that ANY pooch can either be loveable...or it can be vicious. Just look at their human!

--LPR

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Jenni13 June 1, 2010 @ 6:08 p.m.

Thank you for the intelligent, insightful article. I work tirelessly every single day to help change the perceptions of this sadly misunderstood and maligned breed. I sincerely thank you for taking the time to step up and help spread the truth.

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thestoryteller June 2, 2010 @ 9:22 a.m.

I couldn't do it for a better breed of dog. Unfortunately, if you don't know how to pick a pit bull, you are contributing to the bad rap they get.

I think there would be less attacks on small dogs at the dog park if people found out about the history of the dog. At the county shelters, they will tell you why it came in, and if it was relinquished, why it was relinquished.

For instance, I was told that animal control officers found Nancy, shaking a cat in her neighbor's garage. So I've never let her get around a cat and we've had no catastrophes.

If owners took the time to dtermine ahead of time whether a dog is good around children or small animals, many catastrophes would be avoided.

BTW, after interacting with as many as 500 shelter pit bulls, the only dog that ever bit me was an African Basenji I was fostering, the little booger.

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