“Pit Bull Attacks Jogger” - - - “Pit Bull Kills Infant” - - - “Beloved Family Pit Bull Turns on Owner”
These are the all too familiar headlines plastered across the front page of the paper and boost media ratings. Rarely, does the story, I mean the full story, reach the reader. The “story” begins months, if not years, before the bite occurs. It begins at the time of conception.
How many times have you heard someone say “it’s not the breed, it’s how you raise the dog”? While this statement may have some relevance, after evaluating the temperament of hundreds of pit bulls and pit mixes over the last ten years, I assure you it is much more complex than that and can often lead to more questions than answers to the age old nurture vs. nature debate.
I have worked with dogs that were brought into the family as eight week old puppies. They were socialized as much as one can socialize a puppy, they were fed the most premium dog food from day one, they have been loved beyond words, they go to the vet regularly, and have never been mistreated, yet they start showing subtle signs of aggression around the age of a year and a half. These behaviors often go unnoticed at first or are brushed off as adolescence or dominance. It slowly progresses over the next year or two and then it happens…the once sweet, lovable pit bull “SNAPS” and bites the three-year-old toddler.
On the other hand, I’ve had the opportunity to assess pit bulls that have been born and raised at dog fighting facilities and others that have been pulled right out of the fighting ring. While there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the behavioral outcome of dogs that come out of these situations, the one thing you will rarely see is aggression towards humans.
Many dog breeds have been over-bred and/or intentionally bred for the wrong reasons causing them to develop temperament traits that are uncharacteristic to the original breed standard as a result. When you combine poor breeding with lack of early socialization, neglect, abuse, etc. we start to see a new sub-category of the breed so to speak. These dogs can be, in some cases, extremely dangerous regardless of the breed.
Putting a stigma on a specific breed is like stereotyping a specific race or religion. There are no bad breeds, bad races or bad religions. There are, however people who take advantage of certain traits to their benefit. Pit bulls have historically been gentle, devoted companions, they have served in WWI, they continue to make life-saving therapy & service dogs, and they are extremely tolerable of all life has to throw at them. Pit bulls are by far the most forgiving & resilient dogs I have ever had the pleasure of working with.
The reality is all dogs have the ability to bite and some situations are considered acceptable such as a friendly family dog biting an intruder. The major dilemma relating to dog bites occurs when the lines are not as easily defined. Many dogs will bite as a means to defend themselves or others against a perceived threat. The dog’s ability to properly assess a situation and determine if there is in fact a real threat comes from the dog’s genetic predisposition along with previous experiences. Some dogs are innately curious and confident, while others are cautious and overly concerned. Given the fact that dogs and humans are not only a different species, but also come from completely different cultures, it is a miracle in and of itself that more dogs (regardless of breeds) do not bite and more seriously injure people since we as humans insult and disrespect canine cultures just about every moment of every day.
Media outlets have a way of twisting the truth, highlighting certain aspects of the story for greater sensationalism. It is important to gather information from a non-biased, scientific-based source. The American Veterinary Medical Association provides a detailed explanation of The Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention in this literature review supported by a long list of legitimate references.
I will leave you with this question…if the basic definition of aggression in dogs is the intent to cause harm, can anyone say without a shadow of doubt that every pit bull that bites a person does so with the intent to cause harm?