In her latest column, North Bend resident and dog trainer for Miss Lola’s Academy, Melissa Grant, examines the plight of the Pit Bull breed…. and just how the breed developed a ‘bad rep’ and just how often it is misidentified, which only adds to the breed’s reputation struggle in recent years.
Every breed of dog was developed to perform a specific job, whether that job is hunting rabbits, retrieving birds, herding cattle or being a good companion.
The Pit Bull is the descendent of English bull-baiting dogs. They were bred to bite and hold a bull, or other large animals, around the head and face. At some point in the 1800’s, animal baiting was outlawed and people turned to fighting their dogs against each other.
The larger, slower bull-bating dogs were bred with faster, smaller terriers to create a quicker and more athletic breed of fighting dogs. While some Pits were specifically bred to be fighting dogs, others were bred for companionship and work.
Both were bred to be easily handled and are not known to be aggressive toward humans. In fact, research on pet dogs confirms that ‘dog-aggressive dogs’ are no more likely to direct aggression toward people than canines that are not aggressive toward other dogs.
However, Pit Bulls do have a PR problem. And it’s a bad one.
Dogs of all breeds bite, but why do Pit Bulls seem to take up all the media spotlight? In the past, Pit Bull coverage was positive. They were the favorite breed of many notable people such as Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller – and even the “Our Gang” kids all had them as pets.
During WWI, Pit Bulls were proudly displayed as examples of bravery. They were known as “All American Dogs.” But somewhere along the line, their path took a tragic turn.
Pit Bulls were exploited through dog fighting in the 1980’s by an urban criminal element. The reputation of an entire breed was dragged through the mud by sensational headlines and news stories. These stories set the stage for fear and subsequent breed ban laws to sweep the country… but was it a fair characterization?
Many unfounded urban myths started to sweep the country regarding these dogs:
- MYTH: “I heard they have LOCKING jaws.” TRUTH: There is no special mechanism in the Pit Bulls’ mouth any different from any other dog. They have big heads and big-headed dogs can bite hard. ALL big-headed dogs have a potentially crushing bite.
- MYTH: “Don’t they eventually turn on their owners?” TRUTH: Healthy dogs with stable temperaments who are treated well do not simply turn on their owners one day. Dogs that bite people are typically troubled animals, owned by reckless owners who’ve ignored or disregarded the signs that come with nearly any dog bite. In general, biting dogs have been set up to fail by improper handling, abuse and/or damaged genetics.
- MYTH: “Pit Bulls who show aggression towards other animals will go after people NEXT!” TRUTH: Experienced dog people understand that ‘dog-dog aggression’ and ‘dog-people’ aggression are two completely different behaviors. One is not likely to cause the other. This particular myth has caused much of the damage and hysteria to the breed. It simply isn’t true, as science and experience show.
Misidentification: Can you actually spot a Pit Bull?
The next issue Pit Bulls have is how frequently they are misidentified. If you look at the CDC gathered numbers for fatal dog attacks in the U.S., they list “Pit Bull types” as the number one aggressor. The Husky is the only other breed identified in such vague terms.
People simply don’t know exactly what a true Pit Bull looks like, especially when compared to a Boxer mix, or a Ridgeback mix or an American Bull dog mix. Can you pick the Pit bull out of the pictures included in this article? If you can’t, imagine how difficult it would be to do it under the duress of an attack.
All of this culminated in the Pit Bull being used as a political platform and resulted in Breed Specific Laws designed to keep certain dangerous dogs out of our communities. People have to relinquish their dogs to shelters because they can’t find a place to live or get insurance because of their dog’s appearance.
Places like Denver routinely confiscate and destroy dogs suspected of being more than 50% Pit Bull. Washington has several communities that have dog breed bans or name certain breeds as dangerous – Enumclaw, Auburn, Yakima are just a few. Closer to the Snoqualmie Valley, the Issaquah Highlands Community Association prohibits the ownership of Pit Bulls.
However, the Washington State House Judiciary Committee is considering House Bill 1018, which would amend the state’s dangerous dog law by prohibiting local governments from banning possession of a particular breed or declaring a specific dog breed to be dangerous or potentially dangerous.
If you would like to comment on the purposed legislation visit https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/1018.
Maybe soon we will turn the clock back to a time when we judged dogs on their actual behavior and not the breed. For all the many nice Pits out there – I hope so. Woof!
Could you pick out the Pit Bull if these photos did not have captions?