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Pit Bull Apologism

beautiful pit bull with glowing eyes -- photo by Douglas McCoy
Photo by Douglas McCoy.

I like pit bulls. I know that I’m supposed to think they’re scary and awful, and honestly some pit bulls are scary and awful. My boyfriend lives in Oakland and I live in a similarly “sketchy” city, so I walk past a lot of angry, musclebound dogs barking furiously behind chain-link fences.

One of my friends in high school had three pit bulls, barely trained, and I endured excessive face-licking from her favorite because I was frightened to stand up to Peanut, a holy terror of a terrier. (Pit bulls are terriers. Is that classification common knowledge?) Peanut smelled bad and he was stronger than me and he was aggressive when he didn’t get his way.

But here’s the important thing: that wasn’t Peanut’s fault. That was my friend’s fault, and her parents’ fault, for not teaching him appropriate discipline. Some dogs are naturally boisterous and their enthusiasm can’t be totally suppressed, but they can be trained not to terrify guests. You can’t beat a dog into submission and you should never try, but you can firmly teach a dog that you are the authority. They must learn to rely on you when they feel threatened. Dogs need firm guidance, like little kids.

I mean, it’s not foolproof. I’ve never heard of anyone who could get their dog not to bark at the door.

Part of the problem with pit bulls is that people expect to give them the same level of training you would give to a small, ineffectual dog, and have that be enough. A spaniel or a Chihuahua doesn’t require the same level of discipline that a pit bull does, because a Chihuahua would have to work really hard to kill someone. On the other hand, a pit bull is a physically formidable animal. They were bred for dog-fighting, a despicable practice that unfortunately still goes on in secret. The ASPCA’s “Position Statement on Pit Bulls” is worth quoting at length:

“Today’s pit bull is a descendant of the original English bull-baiting dog—a dog that was bred to bite and hold bulls, bears and other large animals around the face and head. When baiting large animals was outlawed in the 1800s, people turned instead to fighting their dogs against each other. These larger, slower bull-baiting dogs were crossed with smaller, quicker terriers to produce a more agile and athletic dog for fighting other dogs.

Some pit bulls were selected and bred for their fighting ability. That means that they may be more likely than other breeds to fight with dogs. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be around other dogs or that they’re unpredictably aggressive. Other pit bulls were specifically bred for work and companionship. These dogs have long been popular family pets, noted for their gentleness, affection and loyalty. And even those pit bulls bred to fight other animals were not prone to aggressiveness toward people. Dogs used for fighting needed to be routinely handled by people; therefore aggression toward people was not tolerated. Any dog that behaved aggressively toward a person was culled, or killed, to avoid passing on such an undesirable trait. […]

It is likely that that the vast majority of pit bull type dogs in our communities today are the result of random breeding—two dogs being mated without regard to the behavioral traits being passed on to their offspring. The result of random breeding is a population of dogs with a wide range of behavioral predispositions. For this reason it is important to evaluate and treat each dog, no matter its breed, as an individual.”

Leaving temperament aside, pit bulls were bred to fuck up other creatures, so they’re better at doing it. Pit bulls are more physiologically capable; they have bone-breaking jaws. Many dogs of various breeds attack humans and other pets, but pit bulls and similarly stigmatized breeds manage to do significant damage.

Furthermore, pit bulls have a self-perpetuating reputation. People who want aggressive dogs—like drug dealers; seriously, it’s not just a stereotype—opt for pit bulls, and then encourage them to be aggressive. Or they leave the dogs out in the yard all day, where they’re bored and poorly socialized. Those are the dogs that bark at me when I walk from the train station to Alex’s house.

Lastly, the media exacerbates all of this with sensationalist, selective coverage. “Pit Bull Maims Baby” is a much more exciting and controversial headline than “Small Fluffy Dog Bites Child; Band-Aid Needed”.

So that’s my take on pit bulls. When they’re treated well and trained properly, they are sweet animals and I love ‘em. When they’re not, I steer clear but I blame the owners.

baby pit bull puppy -- photo by Beverly
Photo by Beverly.

2 thoughts on “Pit Bull Apologism

  1. I agree that dog owners need to take responsibility for their pets. In my view, when an animal attacks a person, their owner should be charged legally and be responsible for civil damages as well as criminal charges, such as assault, or aggravated assault if the animal was provoked in some way. Owning a pit bull and some other breeds is a lot like setting a trap, knowing that in certain circumstances severe damage will result. The owner or person responsible for the dog needs to control the situation, and this doesn’t always happen.

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