Monday, September 28, 2009

Pit Bull Education 2

In my last entry, we learned that the American Pit Bull terrier was once a beloved symbol of Americana, loved my many, feared by few. So the question is, what changed? Why is this dog now the target of hate, fear and discrimination? Many people point to a 1987 Sports Illustrated article as an indicator of the turn in opinion.

(It is important to remember that before Pit Bulls were labeled as the "bad dog" there were German Shepherds, Dobermans and Rottweilers.) One does not even have to read the article within the pages of the magazine; one look at the cover photo and horrific images of dog attacks begin to form in ones head. Having read the article I can say that it is not as bad as the cover image portrays, however it does instill fear. The title: The American Pit Bull Terrier, Friend and Killer. More recently, Sports Illustrated featured another pit bull on their cover, this time the photo was gentle, and featured a pit named Sweet Jasmine, who was one of the "Vick-tory" dogs. The article in that 2008 issue is, in my opinion, one of the finest written about pits, and I hope that it signifies a turn in perception back to understanding and acceptance.

Acceptance comes with understanding. Many people believe they know the temperament of pit bulls, but how accurate is the information they have? Where did they obtain it? And have they experienced it for themselves?

The true characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are as follows: Vibrant, Social, Friendly, affectionate, optimistic, confident, resilient, reliable, eager to please and hardy. These are traits that come naturally to a well adjusted pit. Characteristics that are not typical include: Fearful, nervous, stressed, aloof, disinterested, distrustful, unhappy, territorial and human aggressive.

Two particular things always jump out at me here: Pit bulls are EAGER TO PLEASE and are NOT HUMAN AGGRESSIVE! Human aggression has actually been systematically bred OUT of this dog, largely due to it's use in dog fighting. In a dog fight ring, there are two dogs and three people. (Two handlers and a referee.) These people do not want to get bit! They routinely handle the dogs during the fight, sometimes breaking them up at the height of the battle. Dogs showing human aggression are not commonly bred. (Just a note that your typical family Lab or Retriever would most likely bite you if you interrupted it in mid fight.) Now onto 'eager to please'. This is one of the main reasons that pit bulls are used in dog fighting. All they want is to please you. I know many a pit parent who would agree that if they asked their dog to jump in front of a train, they would. What has happened is that we have taken one of the pit bulls best traits and exploited it against them. Pit bulls don't want to fight, they would much rather run and play, or go for a swim, but in the end they want to please their person, and if that person asks them to fight, they will with all their might.

Pit bulls are also incredible resilient (a K9 trait in general) and have proven them selves over and over again with the rehabilitation of the "Vick" dogs; many of whom now live in homes with other dogs, have their Canine Good Citizen Certifications and/or work as therapy dogs. They have taught us so much, and changed perceptions about the breed and ex fight dogs. They have shown us that even if we start with a dog on the 'undesirable' side of the spectrum, through proper training, socialization and love, we can rehabilitate them into the dog they were born to be.

Proper socialization includes setting your dog up for success, avoiding conflict, keeping things positive, having realistic expectations, going slow and trying again when at first you don't succeed. I highly recommend structured socialization and/or obedience classes. Dog parks are not the place to socialize your pit! Think about what will happen if your pit gets into a fight. People will demonize YOU and your dog. Don't think that your dog will be the only one getting dirty looks, you are a target for discrimination as well. Most pit bull owners would agree however, that the benefits of having a pit in their life far outweighs the negatives!

I hope you've enjoyed reading this post, and I look forward to sharing more with you in my up-coming Pit Bull Education 3!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pit Bull Education 1

Let me ask you a question: Where have you obtained most of your information about 'pit bulls'? If you answered local or national news coverage, newspaper articles and/or word of mouth you may have been mis-informed. I know you've probably heard this before, but you can't believe everything you see on TV or read in a newspaper or magazine. In my experience, the best place to gain knowledge about any subject is to go to the source. Find some one with hands on experience, some one who lives and breathes the subject, not just read about it in a book. That is where you will gain accurate and enlightening information rather than sensationalism.
This will be the first instalment of my pit bull eduction blog. I hope that it will educate and inspire you to keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Find out the facts for yourselves and the truth will follow.

History of the Breed:
Large fighting or 'war' dogs have been around since ancient Greece, so their presence is nothing new. When these civilizations would fight, or battle, they would outfit the dogs with armor covered in spikes and send them out into the field. They could gut horses, or humans with their spikes, but were usually killed or captured. These captured dogs were then crossbred with other war dogs' counterparts giving rise to a bull dog/mastiff type dog. This created the genetic melting pot for all of today's bully breeds. (Staffordshire Bull Terrier, English Bull Dog, American Bull Dogs etc...)
Bull dogs got their name because they were once used to tend to butchers' bulls. These dogs had the ability to keep the bulls in check, which certainly speaks to the tenacity of the dogs.
It is important to remember that at this time the Bull Dog was not a recognized breed, but rather a dog possessing specific traits.
Bull Baiting became a very popular blood sport in England but was declared illegal in 1835. (Bull baiting consisted of sending out bull dogs to 'take down a bull'. The dog that could do it was declared the winner.) After the banning of bull baiting, the public turned to dogfighting as their new form of entertainment.
The pit bull was then selectively bred to become the ultimate canine gladiator. Gameness, tenacity and extreme tolerance were all taken into consideration.
In England they became the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, recognized by the EKC. In the US they became the American Staffordshire, recognized by the AKC but the American Pit Bull terrier is not recognized by the AKC, however it is recognized by the UKC. Confusing isn't' it? I couldn't agree more. The main difference between an "Am Staff" and a pit bull is blood line, however many are duel registered as an American Staffordshire terrier with the AKC and an American Pit Bull Terrier with the UKC, so is there really a difference?
The American Pit Bull Terrier came to America with early English immigrants and soon flourished into a beloved all purpose dog, who's image became a symbol of Americana.
Did you know that our nations first and most decorated war dog was a pit bull type dog named Sergent Stubby?!
Famous pit bull parents over the years have included: Mark Twain, Fred Astaire, Teddy Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Pink and Rachel Ray.
Images of pits have been used to sell shoes and electronics and even recruit for war. And who can forget perhaps the most famous pit bull icon ever? Petey from the Little Rascals show.
So what happened? How did this once beloved dog become so hated and feared? The answer to that and more coming up on my next blog: Pit Bull Education 2.
Thanks for listening...