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« Little Rock starts enforcing "pit bull" laws | Main | Some new research on spay/neuter »

June 15, 2008



> We can't solve our dilemma by making the breed something it is not.

But that's what we're doing - quite literally - every day of the week. Dog fighters didn't breed pit bulls for therapy, SAR, competition obedience, etc. The breed is being re-invented by responsible dog owners and used for new purposes.

What is the main goal of waving the fighting dog flag? If it's to encourage new pit bull owners to be responsible, then the ends are no longer justifying the means. Dog owners simply need to follow the guidelines already well known and accepted for the terrier breeds. Or if that's too much double-speak for you, then let's all take down our pit bull websites and push responsible dog ownership as a broad spectrum for all dogs. Dog owners need to meet our bar, not the other way around.

I agree completely with Michelle - the current messaging used to educate the public about pit bulls makes for an incredibly frightening image. Who wants to live next door to one these things? I wouldn't. I will reconsider BR's text on the pit bulls and guarding breed mixes The goal should always be to inform, not to frighten. The unintended consequences of clumsy, half-formed messaging is more prejudice against our dogs, NOT more enlightenment about responsible ownership.

And by the way, John Goodwin is an internet junkie and gets most of his ideas about pit bulls from gamedog message boards, as you probably know. Nice work dog fight fanatics -- they've done ejacated our boy to want certain bloodlines wiped out, and ALL have us have supported this over the years by parroting Stratton's phrase.

(And if you're reading this John, I owe you a video tape of some of the dogs from Patrick's yard.)


>Don't you think we begin to sound a little silly when we insist NO the breed was NOT created for fighting, and meanwhile we have the "Michael Vick EX FIGHTING DOGS rescued from the VICK Breeding Kennel" plastered all over the news?

Nobody's suggesting that pit bulls aren't routinely exploited for fighting, Mary.


Brent, I think you've asked a very key question: "how long after a breed trait is no longer selected for will it become extinguished?"

I certainly don't know the answer. I only read what people say about their dogs.

Even the show AST people (and almost all--but not ALL-- ASTs were not selected or tested for "gameness") describe the need to manage their dogs carefully. And yes, I have read about horrific kennel fights between ASTs. So responsible breeders are not selecting for "gameness", but some ASTs may be game... not that we'd ever really want to know (since gameness can only be test in one way). If not "game", then at least ready to fight.

I agree, there are other dogs that will try to kill each other (I know of a pair of border collies of that sort). Dog-dog aggression is common in the terrier breeds and in the guardian breeds. And in the northern breeds.. Etc. I agree, focusing just on that aspect of our breed makes it seem as if they are the only dogs that are aggressive. In part, you know, this message was essential as the pit bull hysteria took hold in the 1970's and more and more people became attracted to the breed. Naive people fell in love with the breed and treated them like any other... only to come home to a dead dog. "But I was always kind and I didn't train him how to fight".

Thurber could write about "Rex" and be proud of his "take no prisoners" behavior. We can't react that way now. Hence our dilemma. To talk about the particular uniqueness of our breed's aggression/preydrive appears to give aid and comfort to the enemy. NOT to talk about it could lead to individual and societal disasters as dogs get into the kind of trouble PBRC et al teach pit bull owners how to avoid.

So I think the answer to your question is: "not yet".
And if the gamedog apologists are correct in claiming that human submissiveness and bold confidence are intrinsically (perhaps genetically) connected to "gameness", then the ultimate answer is "probably never".


>Don't you think we begin to sound a little silly when we insist NO the breed was NOT created for fighting, and meanwhile we have the "Michael Vick EX FIGHTING DOGS rescued from the VICK Breeding Kennel" plastered all over the news?

Nobody's suggesting that pit bulls aren't routinely exploited for fighting, Mary.


oh please, no one is "waving the fighting dog flag". We're not talking about "fighting dogs" (for someone who claims to be concerned about language, that's an interesting red flag phrase you've chosen). We're talking about the breed characteristic of dog-aggression/prey drive. If YOU want to conflate the 2, then maybe that's the problem right there.

No one defends dogfighters. I don't even know where you get that idea from. If there are such people, they're not on THIS board, so you need to go over to the places where they are and see how effective your approach is with them.

Dont try to make this a discussion about dogfighters.. it's about a characteristic deeply imbedded in the breed. Now maybe you want pit bulls to devolve into something else, something like Vick's curs. Something "easy-peasy" I think is the phrase you like to use.

No one is "reinventing" the pit bull by participating in dog sports. The APBT and AST have ALWAYS done dog sports (though not in as great numbers as their capability). But here's the catch: the people rescuers praise for these activities ARENT BREEDING. So they're not producing any "performance" line of "non aggressive" pit bulls. They're great individual dogs, but they're a dead end for the breed.

Maybe instead of promoting MSN, you should advocate that these "new" pit bull people start breeding their dogs.


I know you secretly love me, Emily.


Has anybody considered how opposite opinions in this fight may actually be why the war on BSL is losing in many ways? I see it way too often in the rescue world. All of us have differing opinions of what is right for animals and instead of trying to go for the same end goal, kill BSL in this case, we all fight to be right, even amongst ourselves...

On another note, Brian Powers is probably having a laugh watching this debate, furthering why he thinks he is right in pursuing BSL for Lakewood, OH. If we can't believe one another, why should communities beleive us?


Carianne, I agree in many ways. Yes, in-fighting is a huge problem amongst our groups. And yes, we should all have the same goal of trying to end BSL. This is why I posed the point (with no intent for it to go this astray) that maybe we need to rethink how we talk about things sometimes. If we're scaring away potentially good adopters because we make it sound like the dogs could get in a fight that you can't break up while you're there as a normal case, that's not good. If we're making it seem as if the dogs will basically attack and kill any dog they meet, that's not good. Nor is it accurate for most of these dogs. And if politicians are using our own language as reasons FOR BSL, then we're hurting the end goal.

There is a big difference between the following two sentences used on a website:

1) Because of the history of these dogs, and because we don't usually know the individual histories of our individual dogs, we strongly recommend crating your dog when you are not at home for the safety of your new pet, and the other pets in the home.


2) Never trust your pit bull not to fight.(which I've seen on a lot of rescue websites).

Not only is #1 more accurate, it's also more helpful. Really? If I just crate my dog I'll be fine? That's not hard. NEVER trusting my dog not to fight isn't something I'd sign up for (and I have multiple bullies). It's just, in my mind, about watching the words we use and while being sure people are educated, not making the worst case scenerio seem like the breed norm.

And Emily, just because someone's dogs got in a fight, one fight, doesn't prove their inherant 'gameness' caused dog aggression. I have a friend who has Jack Russells that have gotten in fights, are they dog agressive? Or did they have a spat? A poodle killed a Maltese in a dog park this week. Is the breed "dog aggressive? I have a friend with shepherd mixes, they got into a fight (pretty bad one), inherant dog aggression?

Getting into an occassional dog fight is NOT unique to these types of dogs -- nor does it 'prove' some type of inherant fighting gene in their gene pool. Dogs occassionally fight...which is why it is important for people to train and manage their dogs, regardless of the type of dog they own.


>Nobody's suggesting that pit bulls aren't routinely exploited for fighting, Mary.

I'm talking about twisted breed history comments that don't reconcile with REALITY.

Making up history and putting forth misleading public comments about breed traits is irresponsible, and reprehensible.

And yes, people are laughing at us - we are rediculously divided and I see no coming-together in sight. We'll be at each others' throats as the ship goes down.

PAMM - People Against Mad Mothers

Actually, I just think they're laughing at Mary and Emily because you're helping their cause. You two are more intent on proving yourselves right than doing what is right.

The rest of us are moving forward and in the trenches fighting for our dogs. I'm all about results. And the old bullshit "bred to fight" rhetoric is killing our dogs.


Hey PAMM, not sure who you are, but you don't know me nor my motivation nor what I do for MY breed (and I'm talking about American Pit Bull Terriers). You wanna stick your foot in your mouth again, be my guest.

PAMM - People Against Mad Mothers

I know what you're doing for YOUR breed based on your posts here. I guess that's the difference between "pit bull enthusiasts" and the rest of us that just happen to have a dog with a red nose and blocky head. We just want to save dogs lives. You want to save the "breed" and if is a little colateral damage, then so be it.


I'm afraid I have to join-in with some inconvenient truths:

1. 99.9% of all 'pit bulls' will never be involved in an attack at any time in their lives.

2. The overwhelming majority of dogs that attack other dogs are not 'pit bulls'.

3. Of the 'pit bulls' reported for attacking (other animals or humans), virtually none are closely genetically related in any meaningful way (i.e. they don't share parents or grand parents), pretty much refuting the theory they inherited some kind of unique gene that caused them to attack, where other dogs don't.

4. There is no "aggression gene" no matter how many times lay people suggest it exists.

5. Psychology defines aggressive behaviours as "learned behaviours." Sure, we understand clearly that human children must learn to ball-up their fists in order to threaten others physically, but the same is true for dogs. Poke a newborn puppy and, at worst, it will recoil. Only once a puppy LEARNS how to use its limbs and teeth, and then LEARNS that using its limbs and teeth can stop something it doesn't like, and then LEARNS that proactively using its limbs and teeth it can manipulate those around it, does it begin the road to the development of those behaviours we label "aggressive."

(Several times, I've told the story of one breeder who claims her dogs are "naturally aggressive." I'll try to keep it short, but essentially she took 3-week-old puppies, and demonstrated how her theory. She tormented them repeatedly until, after trying every evasive and non-violent strategy they'd learned to date, they eventually made their way to using their teeth. As soon as they put their teeth on her hand, she let them go.

A) NONE of them tried using their teeth first. They all tried to squirm away.

B) They tried various non-aggressive methods for dealing with the unpleasantness being dealt to them. Only by pure trail and error or as a last resort, did they use their teeth.

Now does any of this demonstrate a "natural tendency towards aggression"? Or does it more closely match the process of teaching puppies that by using their teeth, they can end some uncomfortable situation? You can bet the jump to using their teeth much sooner, the next time around.)

There is a difference between personality traits (shy, dominant, submissive, fearful), and even characteristics related to that (like reactivity, impulse control, etc.) which could, possibly, maybe be heritable, and the aggressive behaviours, themselves.

Dogs must learn that their teeth can cause pain, or that threatening to use their teeth can manipuate those around it. That is a learning process, and not something any puppy is born knowing.

Then there are individuals who are just more likely to develop aggressive behaviours because they're less tolerant or quicker to react. Still, it's not a given that they'll develop aggressive behaviours. In the case of humans, those with impulse control issues are as likely to take up extreme sports (a positive activity) as criminality or violence (negative activities). Psychologists agree the difference lies in upbringing, and which behaviours were rewarded. The same is true of dogs. Where acceptable and even desirable behaviour is rewarded, that's what the dog will do. Where unacceptable behaviour is rewarded (actively or inadvertantly), that is what the dog will continue to do, and build on.

I always point out there is no such thing as a "good" or "bad" temperament. There are only the temperament types (like dominant, submissive, etc.), and they all have their good and bad points. Any good owner can raise any dog to be a model canine citizen. (And being a model canine citizen certainly includes not being a danger to any innocent person or animal.)

When an owner sees that first attempt at manipulation through physical means, like stiffening the posture or staring, he/she can redirect that behaviour into something positive. Let it continue, and it may escalate to menacing barking, growling, lungeing, attempted bites, and finally successful bites.

As I often point out as well, a successful bite is never the first sign of aggression in dogs. It's the last.

6. I have never met an "inherently aggressive" 'pit bull'.

I specialized in re-training aggressive dogs for over a decade and I was never unsuccessful in doing so. I worked with A LOT of 'pit bulls' (and other breeds/types as well, of course), during that time, and have yet to meet one of these "inherently dog-aggressive" 'pit bulls'. I don't think they really exist. I've trained dogs directly from fighting rings, and the re-socialization process for them was no different than the re-socialization process for other dog-aggressive dogs, and was no less successful.

The re-socialization process is actually not markedly different from the socialization process that all dogs should be provided. If anything, I'd say that one of the more common causes for dog-aggression in the 'pit bulls' I've worked with was likely owners who were counselled that their 'pit bulls' couldn't be properly socialized, shouldn't be properly socialized, or the owners were simply too afraid to properly socialize their dogs.

My success in working with dog-aggressive dogs (including dog-aggressive 'pit bulls') is mirrored in other trainers who've successfully worked with dogs coming from fighting rings. Rehabilitation is not only possible, it's common. When one adds that to the fact there is no "aggression gene" and that poor socialization can lead to any canus lupus familiaris behaving aggressively, some of the common statements about 'pit bulls' aren't just "not f-ing helping" but they're clearly hurting, and are not based on accurate science or practice.

When people believe something is going to happen, or that something is impossible, they're usually right. I've had anxious owners standing in front of me with tight leashes and choke chains on many occasions, explaining how their dogs are "dog-aggressive." I have taken the leash and walked the dog on a 20' stroll around and back, then properly introduced it to a properly socialized dog, and magically the "dog-aggression" has mysteriously disappeared. Alas, it's not magic. It's positive leadership, in a calm and rewarding environment. And there is no gene manipulation required.

Any dog raised and trained by a responsible, competent owner, who EXPECTS his/her dog to become a good canine citizen, will likely be successful. And where owners aren't responsible or competent, their dogs can become a danger, no matter what the 'breed'. (See #2, above)


PAMM, I can't have a discussion if I don't even know what you are talking about, breed or dog-wise. Red noses and blocky heads could be descriptive of lots of breeds/mixes. Since I'm talking about American Pit Bull Terriers, and you are NOT, this could be the reason for our butting-heads. Apples/oranges mayhaps.

PAMM - People Against Mad Mothers

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic at this point but here goes...I own a red-nosed APBT. Not because of her breed but because that's what some jerk left on the side of the road for dead after she was hit by a car. I didn't look for her, she found me. I fight BSL because I want to save dogs lives and love my dog in peace. I fight MSN because I want to save dogs lives. I can't count how many city council & other meetings I've attended on AW issues, to save ALL dogs lives and to protect everyone's right to own a pet.

You on the other hand, fight to save the BREED. So much so that you WANT the fighting heritage. You NEED the fighting heritage for YOUR breed.

I'd just as soon let the breed evolve than hang onto its fighting heritage - its in the past LET IT GO. I will fight to save LIVES over a "BREED" any day.

And THAT is why we're butting heads.


We won't get anywhere with personal attacks and assumptions made about people we know nothing of. I didn't CREATE the breed, I didn't make up the history. The history IS there, and too bad, can't change the past! It's sad that I'm condemned because I actually did some hardcore research and CHOSE my breed instead of had a rescue fall in my lap.

I bet if we sat down and really talked, you'd see we're fighting for lots of the same things. I don't promote dog fighting; I don't even talk much about it. And years before this current discussion, I was suggesting we move away from talking about fighting and start talking about what the breed is doing TODAY - pet, therapy dog, agility dog, show dog, SAR, police work and so on. Lots of people - pro and con - harp about dog fighting in this breed. I'm not one of them. I'm also not someone that refuses to acknowledge where the breed came from, or that there are certain behavioral tendencies that potential owners need to be aware.

And Ps. I can't remember the last time I used the term, "Never trust a Pit Bull not to fight". I don't use it (although sure, in the past I have - before I LEARNED BETTER) and I don't promote it, because I think it is too alarmist and as others have said, does nothing to truly educate an owner about management and true breed temperament. That's one phrase I'd like to see blackmarked.


>I'm talking about twisted breed history comments that don't reconcile with REALITY.

Mary, history is not a fixed definite. These dogs were bred for a variety of reasons by a variety of people. Dog fighters were only one part of the dogs' history, but clearly, one of the more well documented parts. They wanted desperately to get one good fighting dog out of a litter and felt lucky if they did. The bulk of their reject dogs seeded this country and represent most of the family pets we see in the lovely Victorian portraits. We damage the breed when we suggest that dogs fighters were that gloriously successful in teasing a killer gene out of Mother Nature. I refuse to believe that - especially after 10 years of working some very dog aggressive dogs and watching their progress in new homes. The dog fighters have something to learn from US (collectively).

Again - if the goal is to encourage responsible management - then we can all accomplish that goal without feeding violent imagery to the media. Our website has been painstakingly developed to reach that goal (and I appreciate feedback as this thing evolves).

Let's look at this Lakewood mess as an opportunity to evolve in the best interest of our collective mission. You may not agree with our language and we may not agree with yours, but but the ultimate goals can be the same.


Donna, I'm preaching responsible management day in and day out - for ALL breeds. I'm so big on pointing out NORMAL dog behavior, in ALL dogs - and that HEY, aggression is NORMAL DOG BEHAVIOR (gah!) I talk a lot about PIT BULL BEHAVIOR because, hey, that's what I mostly work with.

Unlike some, I'm not just an activist, I am a breed fancier, so my outlook and 'take' on things may be different than some others. I DO believe we are all working to see the same thing, a better future for the dogs, and towards that end, I'm happy we can get together and talk about the difficult stuff and work through it. I AM sick of the same old party lines parroted over and over - I'm so DONE with the broken records. But I cannot in good conscious ever sugar coat things out of fear of someone 'misusing' or misunderstanding me.

I'm still not ENTIRELY sure what you're saying w/r/t the breed's history, but if I am 'getting it', and we aren't supposed to talk about the dog fighting past anymore, and instead talk of 'working farm dogs', terrier tasks, and the like, I just can't agree with that.

I also think based on lots of what you've said here that you have the wrong audience, as I doubt any of these comment-leavers are the ones damaging the breed by promoting them as killing machines that can't be trusted to be around dogs and should be kept on the end of a logging chain.


We still have imagery of dog fighting on our website because it IS a part of their past, but it's not the only part. I don't know what the Victorian people were doing with their bulldogs .. but it's clear that a large part of their "What were pit bulls bred for?" question can be answered by the photos they left behind: They were family companions. Ratters. Watch dogs. Yes, farm dogs in many instances. Essentially, they were just DOGS and they fit into the fabric of that time period. Pointing out this very valid part of their history isn't sugar coating --it's giving America the other side of the coin that's getting lost in the media's new fascination with the 'blood sport.'

Since the Vick dog case, it seems every other reporter or doc-filmmaker on the planet has contacted us asking for more information on dog fighting. And we're so over it. This fascination does not serve the breed except to show them as victims and highly misunderstood animals.

The logging chain guys have an investment in keeping the dog aggression mythology alive and well. I hope from the bottom of my toes that dogs like Leo and Hector reveal how much these guys have been exaggerating these dogs. And to think some say the Vick dogs must not be the real deal since too many are dog tolerant. What a bloody insult to the dogs.

PAMM - PitBull Aquired Mind Meltdown

Mary, I didn't mean it as an attack but statement of fact. I said you are a "pit bull enthusiast" you called yourself a "breed fancier". The difference is just semantics and it was merely a statement of fact.

You know...I'm done with this. Donna, Marjorie, Brent, et al has stated the same thing a 100 different ways at this point...

Amen Donna!


This is where I think our disconnect is regarding the breed history. While certainly fighting has been a major part of the "breed" history, the vast majority of dogs out there in this day and age are 50+ years removed from dog fighting. Many may have zero dog fighting at all in their ancestory as I can't imagine there was ever a time when every single one of these dogs was fought.

And I DON'T think what Donna is saying is to the wrong audience at all. I think the PBRC thing in Lakewood is an example that a great many of us have inadvertantly worded something to make them seem like some sub-canine killing machine. Certainly that wasn't PBRC's goal in their statements. I've even seen several things used off of Bad Rap's site that were used against us. There are many groups (including ours) that have been responsible for such comments. We're EXACTLY the target for these comments, whether intentionally or not.

Any time we try to oversimplify their "history", or categorize aggressiveness as being a "breed issue" instead of a "dog issue", we are responsible for hurting the cause...


Brent, I'm not someone who's over-simplified any history of these dogs. You can visit my site, read my history section, and tell me that I've over simplified. Have other people oversimplified? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Maybe.

I've been studying breed history for 14+ years - the fact of the matter is that fighting dogs were very often ALSO the house pets and child companions and vermin killers that Donna is talking about. There wasn't this huge divide between fighting Pit Bulls and Pit Bulls used for other tasks as some people would have you believe. The breed has always been used for a variety of things. But was the breed created to be a child's companion, ratter or farm dog? Show me the evidence.

As far as Vick and all the talk about fighting in the media now....that's some of that unintended backlash I was talking about months ago. Did anyone expect anything different? The media loves this stuff.


They fought accidentally, they found by design, they did everything in between with all the other scrappy dogs in the neighborhood. 'Back in the day' is not terribly different from now, except that the politicians are after our dogs now.

> The media loves this stuff.

Absolutely. Which is why we're all in a key position of controlling the message and helping Joe Public learn about owning pit bulls as family pets. So you'll have to forgive us if we don't use the Vick dog attention to feed the media's fascination with bloodlines and fight drive and bloody battles. It just doesn't serve our dogs.

I need to sign off from this thread, but want to thank everyone for sticking with it and staying (for the most part) respectful.

s kennedy

Experts can testify as to the genetic and behavior of the dog lines, but it will always be disputed. Nonetheless, whether one thinks the dogs were or were not bred to fight, it's apparent that neither the bull nor terrier (used to design the breed type) were fighting dogs. Most people on here don't breed dogs and probably have little experience with how breeders work a line of dogs. And people making the laws usually know little/nothing about it. All they know is that the media says APBTs or mixed APBTs did injure people. They don't need PBRC to quote, they can quote Nelson or many others who actually testified in cases. Nelson has seen that through and so has the bite b**ch. Debating the history of how bull/terrier=APBT does not really help us fight against BSL, it just shows focus on elements that we are not really qualified on; Experts should debate the subject--we are not the experts on that. Nelson, Clifton, even CDC--none of them are considered experts. On the ground level, I think it is our challenge to just show the truth--if there are 4,700,000 APBT dogs and 200 bit people, it means what? It is an emotional over reaction to the perceived horrific term known as canine mauling. Victims are crying out for laws that will help victims, and prevent incidents. Can we blame them? I think not. But prevention need not be BSL. I think it is our job to develop the alternative specifically. To gain acceptance, one needs agreement first. You can't get acceptance first if you focus on what they hate. The dogs.

Social Mange

Good editorial today in the Toledo Blade about Yates and his nonsense. I think Yates should be billed for wasting the legislature's time.

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