Question: I was very disturbed after reading your column last week. I think it‚Äôs irresponsible for you to advocate that a family with a child adopts a pit bull. You obviously know very little about dogs. How can you justify this sort of disinformation?
Answer: When I wrote last week‚Äôs column, I had no idea this topic was so polarizing! I probably got more “nasty grams” over this one than any other column I‚Äôve written in the past 15 years. I was called all sorts of names and people sent me links and statistics to support their anti-pit bull positions. But I also got numerous emails in support of the objective position I presented, including one from David Edelstein in Denver, who owns and operates a pit bull training and rehab center.
It seems everybody has a firm opinion on whether or not pit bulls are useful in our society. It‚Äôs every bit as divisive as current day politics. On one end of the spectrum, there appears to be those who feel very strongly this breed should simply be eradicated. On the other end are the proponents of Pit Bulls.
I personally have never owned a pit bull, but I have worked with many over the years, either presently in a rescue situation or subsequent to it, after their adoption. Additionally, my children‚Äôs grandparents had two really big pit bulls, “Pete” and “Bertha,” who lived with them at their home in the country, and my kids visited there in the summertime. So that‚Äôs my experience. I actually did not ‚Äúadvocate‚ÄĚ that a family would adopt a pit bull. What I tried to do was present a balanced and rational position on the breed.
Abhorrent and horrifying attacks on dogs, children and adults absolutely have been perpetrated by pit bulls over the years. That said, it‚Äôs simply not rational to assume that all pit bulls will ultimately snap at some point. This is a fear-based fallacy. The undisputed fact is that long before they were ever selectively bred for fighting, the bulldog/terrier hybrid was created to be an all-purpose farm dog. Some were utilized for herding, some for protection and some for companionship. And they were big enough to help wrangle large livestock without being trampled.
So while a dog‚Äôs genetics may predispose it to behave in certain ways, genetics do not exist in a vacuum, and behavior develops through a complex interaction between environment and genetics. This is a really important consideration when we look at an individual dog versus a breed, and no experienced behaviorist would deny this fact.
For the record, neither the AKC nor the ASPCA are proponents of the anti-pit bull sentiment. Part of the ASPCA‚Äôs position on this topic is this: ‚ÄúThe factors that feed into the expression of behavior [in dogs] are so inextricably intertwined, that it‚Äôs usually impossible to point to any one specific influence that accounts for a dog becoming aggressive. This is why there is such variation in behavior between individual dogs, even when they are of the same breed and bred for the same purpose. Because of the impact of experience, the pit bull specifically bred for generations to be aggressive may not fight with dogs, and the Labrador retriever bred to be a service dog may be aggressive toward people.‚ÄĚ
The American Veterinary Medicine Association is not anti-pit bull either. Their position is: ‚ÄúOur dog bite prevention campaign continues to inform the public about techniques for avoiding dog bites, and to promote responsible pet ownership. Breeds don’t need to be banned, but dog owners’ irresponsible behavior should be.‚ÄĚ
Whether or not one decides to get a pit bull or any of the so called ‚Äúbully breeds‚ÄĚ really should depend on the individual dog‚Äôs background and his experiences with humans more than anything else. Puppies raised in a healthy, balanced fashion almost always turn out to be balanced. I would invite anyone considering one of these dogs to do some homework prior to co-signing a knee-jerk, emotionally charged position.
Originally from Louisiana, Gregg Flowers is a local dog trainer who ‚Äúteaches dogs and trains people.‚ÄĚ Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or dogsbestfriendflorida.com.