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« Media mis-reporting of breeds | Main | Some Boomer footage while I'm in DC »

April 29, 2009



Very very thoughtful, Brent. I hope it generates a lot of good discussion.

"How long does it take for a genetically based trait to become extinguished in the absence of specific selection for that trait?"

Absolutely the modern purebred AST and for the most part the modern purebred APBT is many many generations away from selection for "dogfighting" (I won't use the term "dog aggression" because that is almost completely undefinable). And it's my pet theory, with NO science to back it up, that most of our pet bulls descend from the dogmen's rejects... dogs that didn't prove out, or puppies they just didn't want. So our "pit bulls" of today have little genetic connection to those who were fighters.

Still, if you ask the really experienced breeders/rescuers of ASTs/APBTs and even SBTs (by which I do NOT mean Best Friends though I applaud their current efforts), they all understand that the "dogfighting" component may be there in the dogs even though breeders have not selected for it. "Never trust a pit bull not to fight" isn't just an expression made up by the dogmen apologists.

An equally important question to the one you raise: how do we maintain the true nature of our breeds: their "proverbial courage", the "keenly alert to its surroundings" (from the AKC standard). How do we make sure our dogs DONT become useless lumps of fur like so many of the "working" breeds you mention that are no longer bred for work?

(At least week's ATTS test that my SBT passed with flying colors, half the Rottweilers I saw avoided the "threatening" stranger. No one wants a Rottie that is overtly aggressive.. but what's the point of a Rottie that won't at least alert at a threat?)

After all, a "pit bull" isn't just a dog that adores people in a goofy adorable way. It's a dog that adores people in part because of its supreme confidence and innate stability. I don't want a "pit bull" that's timid and fearful (and the evidence of the Vick dogs is that for the most part they were NOT innately fearful.. and were able to recover from the abuse that made them fearful because of their soundness).

And more to the point: I don't want a timid/fearful pit bull even if that means I have to accept a certain amount of "spiciness" around other dogs, and even if I have to be extra super careful about my dogs around other dogs.

As owners, we can control the behavior of our dogs through training and stewardship. We can't control temperament: that's what breeders do. And if responsible breeders of purebred ASTs/APBTs/SBTs dont continue to breed for courageous, confident, stable dogs, then the temperament even of shelter "pit bulls" of unknown origin will deteriorate even further.

You have to at least consider the possibility that while breeders don't select for "dogfighting", they inadvertently do so when they select for stable, courageous confident, goofy-loving temperaments. So THATS the dilemma I see.

Along with the larger generic question: will society allow us to have dogs that are more than just passive lumps of fur? Why can't we have dogs with many types of temperaments and innate behaviors, even some that are a little more difficult to manage? Why does every dog have to be like some stereotypical Golden Retriever (of which there are very very few any more, anyway...)


Excellent post, Brent. Thank you for the breath of fresh air.


At home I have two Labs and one Border Collie. One Lab is from hunting lines. He never lets a bird fly over the house without looking up wistfully. The other Lab is from show lines. She never passes up a soft cushion. And the BC? Sheepdog lines through and through. He circles, he downs, he stares, and is obsession squared. He is most definitely not a Retriever. (note to self: locate sheep asap.)

I believe that the dogs you see in your area are tremendously dependent on local conditions.

Here in California, you see LOADS of sheepdog style BCs, because we have (1) lots of sheep and (2) lots of agility clubs. We see field AND show Labs and Goldens because we have (1) lots of waterfowl and (2) lots of dog shows. We see lots of bully breeds because we have (1) wonderful rescue groups and (2) lots of not-nice people who want protection dogs.

You also see a lot of odd breeds because of the shows, but you won't see many pointers or setters. No upland game for them.

When I've been in KC, I've always been struck by the different mix of dog breeds that I see. I see the same thing when I visit Seattle (more northern breeds).

I don't know what I am trying to say other than I do believe dogs are true to their ingrained, bred behaviors, that we create those behaviors, and like my with my little BC, it is up to us to manage them.

Hey Emily, want a stereotypical Golden there are LOADS in Rescue right now, at least around here! Nice dogs! ;)


I've had both Chinese Shar Pei and pit bulls. Love both breeds. the gross majority of pit bulls I have met, raised in loving homes because that's the kind of people I know, are wonderful clowns of dogs. My pit is more of a goof than a fighter. People need to understand that breed is one factor, but how we train and socialize our dogs is a much bigger influence on their behavior.


Good post, Brent. Obviously, breed history is irrelevant - particularly when one considers how many breeds and mutts the average person calls a 'pit bull'.

Since the vast majority of dogs are bred as pets (and have been for decades now), the creative fiction behind most of the breed snobs' statements are good for laughs and not much else. Most of the dogs you see today have no relation to the original working dogs in their lineage. Kind of like most of the people :>)

What these wankers are saying is that they believe in cultural memory - in the heritability of learned behaviours. In humans that would mean being able to inherit behaviours in isolation such as playing a guitar, practising medicine, fly fishing, doing gymnastics, etc, etc, etc, rather than using inherited qualities to learn and perfect certain behaviours in a suitable environment. It would mean that a misanthrope would produce misanthropes, a comedian comedians, an architect architects and that no amount of cultural conditioning could erase the characteristic.

Sure thing.


It's perfectly true as Selma writes that breed history is irrelevant in the case of mixed breeds (or at least it's less relevant), because people rarely know for sure what breeds have gone into the mix. And it's also true that many/most of the dogs called "pit bulls" and killed for that crime have none of the 2-3 breeds properly subsumed under that nickname. And with a mix, the characteristics of ALL the components may influence the appearance and temperament of the individual animal.

But there ARE purebred dogs called the ABPT, AST and SBT. And for THOSE dogs, breed history is absolutely relevant. We don't know why certain traits persist in breeds, even past the time they are deliberately selected for. We don't know which genes for the traits we want are directly connected to genes for traits we don't want. When people started breeding for "white" color in dogs, I doubt they understood they would get "deaf". In the same way, people selecting for the bold, courageous, determined and human-loving APBTs, ASTs and SBTs they want may still get the "dogfighting" that they don't want.


You can't breed for 'human-loving' or 'dogfighting'. You can reinforce these things through proper handling for the desired result.

Both of these behaviours are learned and reinforced through nurture, including owner expectation which unwittingly rewards the behaviour.

Deafness is a phsiological trait, as is white hair, not a learned, complex behaviour.

Do you believe you can breed humans to like dogs yet fight with their own kind too? Because that's what you are saying, Emily.

I note you don't include the Boston terrier, Boxer, Bull terrier, any of the livestock guards or mastiffs and other types with the same history - why is that?


Great post. I would add that there is a certain faction who believes "we must fight them to preserve their good temperament" and this is wrong thinking to my mind. Many dogs, purebreds from various origins as well as mixed breeds, have been selectively and haphazardly bred for good temperaments - no dogfighting necessary. People nowadays want pets mostly. We can make good pets without dogfighting, regardless of breed. Just look around.


"Do you believe you can breed humans to like dogs yet fight with their own kind too"

Selma, I really don't know what this sentence means. But if it implies something about "breeding" humans, then no I don't think you can "breed" humans even if society allowed it. But then, dogs are not humans. There ARE breeds of dogs, as there are of other domestic animals (as there are varieties of plants). Do you believe in breeds of dogs at all? I think you don't, and that's just a fundamental difference we have. If you do, what distinguishes one breed from another? Anything OTHER than physical appearance?

As for breed history: For sure Boston (bull) terriers and bull terriers ARE closely related to the APBT/AST/SBT (the overlap between the Boston, the bull and the APBT in the early part of this century was enormous) . But hmmmm... most advocates for the ABPT aren't especially big fans of the other 2 breeds and no one calls them "pit bulls".. they're not generally included in the breed bans. My guess is that the reason is that these 2 breeds no longer have the personality that we treasure. (though they seemed to have retained a sizable component of "aggression" without much of the component of fearlessness, confidence and stability)

Hey, here's an idea: maybe breeders DID change the temperament of the Boston and bull terriers when they bred for a different physical appearance... pretty much destroying both their physical and mental capacities. I hope that never happens to the APBT/AST/SBT even if it means the "dogfighting" component persists.

Guardian dogs are a different case.. I don't know what point you're trying to make. The ABPT/AST/SBT is NOT a guardian breed. Its relationship to mastiffs, boxers and the other Molosser breeds is minimal. The Molossers do NOT have the "same history" as the APBT/AST/SBT, which are, to repeat, NOT Molosser breeds. That's Semencic/Terrierman b.s. The APBT/AST/SBT are "bull and terrier" types.

But as I've noted, sadly, the breeders of at least 2 of the breeds-formerly-famous-for-protection-instincts -- Dobes and Rottweilers -- HAVE made a concerted efforts to make them less "aggressive" and seem to have managed to create dogs that are shy, skittish and indifferent to threats.

As for ANY of the current mastiff breeds behaving like guardians? Hey guess what: THEIR temperament was bred out, as well.

So yeah, I'm sure you could turn the APBT/AST/SBT into the bull terrier or Boston terrier. The idea makes my skin crawl.

YB: I don't know how many times I have to write this: NO responsible breeder of AKC/UKC ASTs/APBTs/SBTs is breeding FOR dogfighting and NO ONE wants to fight dogs. We all equally hate dogfighters.

Some of you are content just with mixed breeds and with rescue/shelter "pit bulls" (which you know could be anything) I have a rescue "pit bull", like most of you. I also have 2 intentionally bred dogs. I don't think most of you care whether a unique type of dog ("breed") exists or not. I think MOST rescuers/shelter workers don't, which is why they constantly bash breeders.

I do believe in breeding, because I believe it's the only way to maintain unique characteristics. In the case of the ABPT/AST/SBT, breeders (should) select for confident, courageous, alert, physically correct and extraordinarily loving natures. It just seems that along with those features comes the "dogfighting" part. To me that's a small price to pay for a great purebred dog.

For those of you who only want "couch potato" totally cold dogs that you can call a "pit bull", feel free to continue to look for them in shelters. There's plenty of them, and some of them might even be purebred. But obviously since they are s/n, they have nothing to do with the future/fate of the "real" thing.



I think you just proved my point. When you talk about Rotties and Dobies, you talk about how a lot of their former guarding temperament was "bred out". And that was exactly my point. Over time, we have a massive ability to change a dog's temperament and behavior through our breeding practices (both intentionally and unintentionally). Which comes back to the original point of the post, how much does the dog's history have with their current temperaments? With the Dobes and Rotts, it sounds like you would agree that it doesn't determine a lot -- certainly shy and skittish aren't historical traits.

Then why wouldn't the same be true for APBTs and SBTs?

I don't have a problem with breeding -- at least with people who are doing it the right way. And I don't have a problem with people wanting to keep original characteristics (although I have no love for people who are still promoting "game-bred" dogs). And I also don't think that if you are breeding a confident, courageous, alert, physically correct and loving natured dog, that "dogfighting" necessarily follows.


Thanks for this, Brent. This is basically an argument I've been making for a while, both to anti-pit and pro-pit factions, with very little headway. Though you stated it a bit more eloquently.

I don't feel that it's beneficial to talk about history when it has little bearing on the present or future. Dogs can be whatever we make them.

I keep hoping for a brighter future where dogs are adopted into families based on their individual merits rather than their looks and their presumed lineage...

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