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!

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