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« Weekly Roundup -- Week ending 7-14-08 -- The rest | Main | When it comes to dog laws, everyone's an expert »

July 15, 2008


Anna C.

"Are we willing to change our thinking and conventional wisdom based on new data available?"
Willing? By all means yes - at least those of us in the Choir are. I think the bigger question is are we able to? As wonderful as all the great press has been (the Vick update even got picked up by the Columbus Dispatch!! woo hoo!) there are still far too many bad reporters out there giving a bad name to wonderful dogs. They are as bad as the lazy politicians - actually I take that back. They are worse!


"Are we willing to change our thinking and conventional wisdom based on new data available?"

YES, YES, we CAN! and we MUST! And we must demand this!

THIS IS hard core, real data! I don't think we can thank all these good people enough for their passions, blood, sweat and tears! My heart is with them all the way!


Very very few of the dogs saved from Vick were fighting dogs.
A good percentage of them aren't even purebred.
And the ones that were fought, according to sources I trust, were "curs". (not winning dogs) and not from "respected" (oxymoron as that is..) fighting lines.

The story of the Vick dogs is fabulous, and kudo's to the groups saving them. It's great PR to present dogs saved from "dogfighters" as animals deserving of a second chance, and for them to achieve normalcy with families.

But they don't prove anything about the temperament of purebred APBTs, or of "fighting" pit bulls.

Tim's statement about dogs being hardwired not to do harm to each other is biological and historical nonsense. Wolves are pack animals, who won't hesitate to kill each other under certain circumstances. The only reason they (like most predators) avoid serious fights is because there are no vets in the wild.

Dogs evolved from, but are not wolves. Dogs were created by humans for specific purposes. SOME dog breeds have enhanced pack behavior (foxhounds for example). SOME dog breeds have ZERO pack behavior (livestock guardian breeds for example).

Whatever "pack" behavior exists across most (but again, not all) dog breeds is between dogs and humans.



The circular nature of your arguments has almost become amusing at this point. Months ago you argued that even though most APBT were not currently bred for fighting, they could not overcome their long history of being bred for aggression. Now, because the dogs didn't have a long history of being in a "respected" fighting line, their lack of aggression doesn't count.

This has been my point all along -- they're virtually all curs. With the exception of a relative few lines that are important within the "show" community, the vast, vast majority of dogs in this country are either a) bred for look, not temperament b) bred by accident or c) bred for temperament by people who don't know the first thing about how to breed for certain traits.

At the end of the day you give humans WAY more credit than I do for their ability to control bred traits in animals -- especially when it comes to "personality" traits. Maybe it's because you spend a lot more time in the show community than I do (if you spend any, that's more than I spend) and it's really important to those people to feel like they're the differentiating factor. Maybe it's because I spend more time with people who rehab dogs, and maybe it's more important to them to think they have the power.

Either way, I have a really hard time how you can look at any real-world dogs and determine that nurture doesn't play a major, if not dominant, role in animal behavior and temperament.


The myth about heritable, anti-social, same-species aggression needs to be busted, now.

Find me any evidence, other than anecdotal, that supports this notion and I'll review it. To date, there is not one credible researcher who supports the idea. Even the old dogmen don't support it.

As for the stuff about wolves, poppycock. Wolves rarely fight and even more rarely kill each other. They have a very advanced and complex social system which provides for the good of the pack as a whole. It's a hierarchical structure similar to that found in bees and humans.

I'm one of the renegades who doesn't believe that dogs are even descended from wolves, except way back in time when the therapsids were the progenitors of predatory quadrupeds. They look like jackals, they behave like jackals, not wolves. There are some canine anthropologists who agree with me, by the way.

Nurture is the key - and training. Dogs are very adept at situational inference - meaning they know that different behaviours work in different places and at different times. A dog trained for Agility knows when he's in the ring for example, and doesn't do his stuff endlessly everywhere else.

As for the V-dogs, what a great story for us. Sure, some were young and others were not as easy to rehab but I'm just blown away by the work and dedication of BadRap, Best Friends and others who proved all the puffballs in the media and bureaucracies wrong.


"The only reason they (like most predators) avoid serious fights is because there are no vets in the wild. "

That is just silly...animals don't think "If I just had a doctor around I'd kill that asshole packleader." In fact, that statement proves Tim's point if anything, long term survival of the pack depends on a certain type of cooperation - basically, yeah, what Caveat said.


Wolves are not 'hardwired' to fight or attack and kill each other forno good reason, they aren't just plain aggressive. Wolves do operate asa cooperating pack. The conflicts that arise have to do w/ survival,not sport or pure viciousness. I'm inclined to thank Tim for hispositive statements. So, by the way, what has supposedly become of Vick's champions if noneof the rescued dogs were fighters?


I'm not sure if they were "champions" but I believe there are two dogs that BF believes will never be able to be around other dogs and will live their lives at the sanctuary. Several othere have recently be introduced to playmates. I'm not sure if any have been adopted from BF yet...

Kinda OT: I tend to believe (non-scientic based on personal experience only) that a lot of dog aggression is fear based and not "I hate that other dog and want to kill it". I've always wondered if instead of an "aggression" gene like people harp about there is a personality issue - dogs with an inferiority complex tend to strike out more. Hey, it happens all the time with people - see Napolean. :-)

It's something I need to read up on as I know there is a lot of info out there on dog behavior.


No dog can be trusted 100 percent, especially a dog that was used for fighting. But that doesn't mean these dogs don't deserve a second chance and can't be rehabiliated to live normal lives as pets. I wonder about the two that were euthanized. Were they were so badly injured or was it because they were so aggressive?


no Brent, you are willfully misreading me.
I am making DIFFERENT points.

My point about the Vick dogs is that they do not prove anything about fighting dogs, because for the most part they are not fighting dogs and many of them are mixed breeds. I have not said that they are not dog aggressive, because no one is talking about that aspect of them. It's clear that the ones that some of the ones that Best Friends has are more dog aggressive than the ones that BR took (and also more fearful/shutdown than the BR dogs).. BR doesn't take on true game dogs or APBTs that represent that aspect of the breed. And apparently neither did Vick, to look at the surviving dogs.

My point about "dogs won't do harm to other dogs" as a statement attempting to "prove" that ABPTs can't be dog aggressive is that.. it's a stupid point.

My point about pit bulls in general is that they WERE selectively bred to have heightened prey drive/aggression towards other dogs and that they retain this characteristic (as do many breeds and of course many individual dogs). This is true whether or not they are from "gamebred" lines, or whether they have ever been in the pit.

TWO DIFFERENT POINTS. Pit bulls in general.. dog aggressive in general. Vick dogs... not representative of true APBTs:: not in attitude towards other dogs in some cases, not in size/shape in some cases, and not in boldness or courage in some cases.

I have never denied that some pit bulls (the ones Bad Rap likes, and who can blame them) are not especially dog aggressive. You understand the concept of the "bell curve", don't you? For every breed characteristic, the 2 sides of the bell are NOT EQUAL. On a "herding instinct" bell curve, collies skew towards the "more herding instinct" side, while terriers would skew towards the "less herding instinct" side. But AHA: some individual terriers have herding instinct and in fact, some terrier breeds have some herding instinct.

Brent: you just don't want to believe that individual breeds have generalized breed characteristics and that one of the distinctive breed characteristics of the APBT is dog-aggression. Of course it's not the ONLY distinctive breed characteristic, and it's not one we owners love.

But it's there. If you have never seen it in your dog, it's only a matter of time, and I hope you're prepared.


Michelle, that was a joke.
Predators avoid fights because they can't afford to get hurt. An injured predator is a predator that can't hunt, and a predator that can't hunt is dead.

But predators kill members of their own species all the time. Anyone who thinks wolves won't kill each other over territory, food, mating rivalries or several other reasons is just not up on the current state of scientific knowledge.

Anyone who thinks that some dog breeds aren't more prey-driven towards other species knows NOTHING about dogs. And apparently has never even seen a dog. Does no one here have a dog that will chase/kill a rabbit? Or a cat?

Anyone who thinks that some dog breeds aren't more prey driven towards their OWN species just doesn't know history. End of story.

Do any of you agree that the concept of "breed" means something OTHER than appearance?


Thanks for the good questions, Brent.

Pity the Vick dogs who will always be evil fighting dogs to some and "not really fighting dogs" to others. I'm amused and saddened at the same time by this need to put labels on any of them. How does it serve the dogs?

It doesn't. In fact, at this point in the breed's history, calling out certain bloodlines as more 'respected' for fighting serves to draw a fast line to their demise. Look what it did to FB, or to Mahlon Patrick - who was supposed to have the 'real deal' and his bragging rights (Dogman of the Year award) basically helped paint a big red target on his yard. Yet some of his surviving dogs are living in multi-dog situations now just like the Vick dogs. So what's going on? (Then again, according to Emily, BR doesn't take on true game dogs, so Patrick must have dabbled in mixed breed curs too.)

This is so not a mystery. In any rescue situation - Katrina, fight bust or Oakland Shelter - you cherry pick dogs that can co-exist with other dogs ... Hector, Yes. Jane/Georgia, No....Patrick Dog 1, Yes - Patrick Dog 2, No.

Emily, when Floyd was busted for dog fighting and the LA-SPCA was dissing his dogs, you helped me edit this page - which has proven very helpful to a lot of people (altho' it probably needs some edits by now). The game dogs we've enjoyed over the past decade have taught us plenty - and they're the main reason we put life on hold to make sure the Vick dogs didn't die with some terrible label attached.

Hector is at least five years old, btw. He's the best reason yet to take everything you've been told about fight bust dogs and turn it inside out, peanut gallery be damned.


Thank you for all this helpful information, Donna. I am thrilled that you are getting this message out and thank you once again for all your hard work.

I am saddened when pit rescues tell people that they cannot be placed in homes w/ other dogs because of their tendancy to be dog aggressive because I just don't believe it should be a generalization prohibiting decent people and good leaders from providing good homes, with the companionship of another dog(s).

Admitedly, I do not know any pits from the streets or the fighting rings, and I don't have scientific stats, but I have met and watched a LOT of pits. I have not yet met one that is dog 'aggressive', so I don't see how this could be a 'hard wired' dominant trait.

I have heard some KCDA members mention that their rescues and fosters have to be watched, because their reactions to the behavior of other dogs is not always desirable and sometimes, as w/ all breeds, their dogs get cranky when they've 'had enough' of the playtime/social time. I would not consider this 'dog on dog aggression.' Other breeds behave the same way.

But I have not yet seen a pit that is simply dog aggressive, for no apparant reason.

Every dog of every breed I've ever known will chase a rabbit, squirrel and such. That's really not 'aggression'. That is a predator instinct.

And I do beg to differ w/ Emily on wolf behavior. You said it yourself, when you named situations in which a wolf will attack, fight or kill another wolf. These are pack survival instincts and rules, this has nothing to do w/ 'dog on dog aggression.' Wolves oftimes choose to avoid a confrontation/battle. They size up the situation and decide between fight or flight. The entire hierarchy and organization of the pack demands battles from time to time in order to maintain tip top shape of the pack. So this is not a necessity in a home where a strong leader holds his/her position.

BR's and BF's experiences w/ Vick's dogs prove enough to me. Makes no difference or any sense that few to none are 'purebred'. What's a 'pure bred' pit bull anyway?

Badrap and Best Friends have made a huge impact on the negative to criminal opinions people harbor against pit bulls. I am thrilled that the public is experiencing such a positive 'coming out' w/ these dogs.

Hopefully it's gonna make a world of difference.



You asked: "Does breed mean anything other than appearance"?

I think it's commonly accepted (whether right or wrong) that behavior is and can be, at least somewhat genetically determined. This is one of the reasons that quality show dogs come from who lines (although looks plays a huge role in this) and quality hunting dogs come from quality hunting dog lines.

However, if you talk to anyone who peforms with their dogs, they'll note that there are major differences within a breed of dog. Certainly a show-quality Labrador has a different temperament/look than a Labrador from a retrieving and hunting line vs a Lab that comes from a line used for pets. So while all are technically the same breed, there is a significant varience in look and attitude among these different groups, even within the same breed. Certainly no "Show" person would ever think that someone would be able to take a pet-quality Lab and compete at the show level with them.

Inherantly, the same would be true within all other breeds of dogs also...that their functionality at certain tasks will be varyingly different depending on the line the dog came from.

Why would this be any different for 'pit bulls?" In reality, I would speculate that this would be even more dramatic for 'pit bulls' because a) you have multiple breeds involved, b) the wildly different "functions" that these dogs have and c) that so many of them are not bred with any real purpose in mind

Obviously, there are huge differences around these types of dogs. Certainly a "show-quality" Am-Staff would be hardly recognizable as even a similar breed of dog as a Fighting-line APBT. Then you have the "hippo" lines (the huge blues) that appear to be popular out in California. There are crazy differences.

If there are such major differences in the "look", why then is there such an interest in maintaining that they all have the same temperament? Certainly 'show' breeders are breeding for "aggression". And while certainly there are some dog fighters that are breeding for aggression (although I have my doubts that this group contains people with the proper knowledge of genetics to really be doing this, but for the sake of argument, let's assume they are), the vast majority of the rest of these dogs are bred for pet quality purposes by people with no real knowledge of genetics.

So if the only people who really are breeding who know genetics are not breeding for aggression, and most amature breeders are not breeding for "aggression", then where is the aggression coming from? If we are accepting that a pet quality hunting dog would never be able to "hunt" with the same ability as a hunting dog from a quality hunting line, why do we then assume that all 'pit bulls' would carry aggression when most of them are not bred with that purpose and don't come from fighting lines? It doesn't make sense to me why some accept wide variences in behavior from other breeds of dogs, but not in 'pit bulls'.

To look at this another way, on the flip side, let's look at a Great Dane. Great Danes are pretty well loved for their laid-back demeanor. However, even if you bred a Great Dane with a awesome temperament, if this dog was put in an awful environment, we could no doubt change that temperament. Let's put it on a big chain in the back yard, and never socialize it with other animals. Let's let the neighborhood kids come over and taunt and throw things at it for a couple of years. Maybe even after never seeing another dog for a couple years, send a pack of dogs in to attack it and steal its food. Let's see what type of temperament this Great Dane, with all the proper breeding and laid-back behavior, and see if the dog develops possession aggression and a negative attitude toward other dogs. Why then would not the exact opposite be possible if you took a dog-aggressive 'pit bull' and socialized it and trained it to become non-dog aggressive?

So in answer to your questions, yes, I do believe that there are some "other" characteristics that breed can have beyond look. However, I think there is a wide varience from dog-to-dog within a breed set. And even then, the "nurture" part of the equation can create even more varience within a certain breed.

I just cannot accept blindly that "all pit bulls are aggressive" when there is no scientific evidence to support the statement, and all of the anecdotal evidence in the world points to it not being true. And I don't hold "breed" in such high regard that I wish it to be true beyond what evidence points me to.

TEH add another dimension to the wolf discussion, the following is a comment from my so-called research advisers regarding my paper on reported/non-reported dog bites.

“I think somewhere it would be valuable to mention the genetic work on dog breeds, showing that about 8 breeds are closely related to the wolf- this group includes several of the breds that often account for serious dog bites. In contrast, herding breeds are very unrelated to the wolf. This suggests behavioral differences that are genetic for certain groups of breeds. Our breed rankings based on veterinary interviews provide the same results as the genetic work.”

My response to them...
There were no references mentioned for this. I have only tangential knowledge from a few books, however, the wolf in and of itself is not aggressive. The wolf has an established predatory, social, and pack behaviors. It is deemed “aggressive” only when the wolf encounters humans where the wolf’s predatory behavior is not viewed favorably. Dogs are generations away from wolves now and I do not think that bringing up this kind of discussion has any real usefulness or relevance to the report. I would find it interesting that herding breeds are unrelated, that would include the German Shepherd and the Border Collie, dogs that are seen high on the list as potential biters.

So? Comments? These are the same folks that in another comment they wanted me to talk about bites being reported due to the seriousness of a bite from a larger dog and it's stronger and more powerful jaws. The fact that the vast majority of dog bites from ANY breed, large, small and in-between are minor seems to be lost.

I am not an expert in wolf behavior...but I certainly do not think it serves the dogs (or the wolves for that matter) looking at genetics as a primary issue to aggression.



My point was that there is no evidence to support the common notion that antisocial aggression, or 'bad' temperament is anything but learned. The exception to this would obviously be the breeding of a line of self-destructive dogs exhibiting a psychopathology.

Those are not the dogs that are the number one pet in the USA in terms of purebred registrations (outdistancing the Lab by over 50%)and ubiquitous mixed breed 'pit bull' pets.

In a study of a line of Golden retrievers that was unusually aggressive, no genetic marker was found to explain it. When matched against the controls from the same line, there were no bumps or blips that could be detected. Obviously, more research is needed.

Heritable qualities can certainly be used to enhance performance, be it herding, tracking, sledding - or fighting. Intermale aggression is common in the terrier group as a whole, hence the pointless 'sparring' done at dog shows - which I find ironic and downright funny.

Poo-pooing the V dogs as non-fighting dogs is a bit of a reach. What is a fighting dog, if it's not one that's been bred and more importantly, trained, to perform in the pit? A friend of mine used to breed the ADBA gamedog type (Ontario made that illegal) - small, racy and athletic. Her dogs can be aggressive towards each other but a lot of breeders have that problem - a bunch of intact dogs of both sexes tend to argue regardless of breed, especially when kept fairly closely together.

How do you explain all the other 'fighting' breeds which are completely unrelated to the APBT? How about AmStaffs? They've been bred for show and pet for nearly 100 years, as have Staffordshire Bulls. So, incidentally, have most APBTs. Does the fact that some morons fight them mean it's nature or nurture?

What would you say to a conehead bureaucrat who wants to ban the generic 'pit bulls' in his fiefdom? Would you tell him that only certain lines, such as the ones Donna mentioned, are actually dog aggressive by nature so they are the only ones that merit extra controls?

What about all the other purebred APBTs who never bite anybody, dog or person? What about the mutts who are unrelated and of unknown ancestry who get along fine with everyone? Are they 'pit bulls' or not?

Either this tendency to own-species aggression (an obvious genetic dead end) is hardwired and dominant in terms of heritability, or it isn't. It's not impossible but thus far, the science says it isn't.

Trust me, I've been looking for it.

Here's the GR ref:
Evaluation of the Serotonergic Genes htr1A, htr1B, htr2A,and slc6A4 in Aggressive Behavior of Golden Retriever Dogs
L. van den Berg et al.

It's an open access paper from 2007 in Behaviour Genetics, you can find it online.


I am so moved by this whole (Vick) story that I have had to look at the photos BRent posted over and over -- they are so touching.

Looking at Brent's headline again diminishes the significance of a lot of our posts.

About 50 dogs were seized from a major dog fighting operation. The predominant breed seems to be pit bull. Regardless of whether certain bloodlines are represented or how 'pure' the breed of the dogs seems to be, or whether they were fought or not, they are 'pit bulls'. Just as all those dogs our lawmakers and the media point to are 'pitbulls', whether they are or they aren't.

Brent asked, 'Can 47 dogs change what we think we know?'

Based on this story, yes, these dogs definitely prove that we are, and have been wrong.

Thank you Bad Rap, Best Friends and every single person involved in showing us just how wrong we have been.



My understanding is that of the two that were put down, 1 was very aggressive and put down because it wouldn't have been safe for being rehabed. The other was apparently so badly injured and in poor health that it was euthanized.


Thank you* Becky. I'm just filing my (mandatory) report to the feds on the 4 recent Vick dog adoptions, and doing that reminds me how incredibly fortunate it was that they trusted enough to let us go through with the rescue. The feds!... Pit bulls! It's still a miracle.

Brent - 2 dogs died while in custody. We don't know the details, but after the deaths, all the dogs in that shelter were moved to a new shelter.
1 female was too human aggressive to handle.
And a dog named Rose suffered from an internal mass that was too far gone to help. She was one of the best dogs we met, and her face still haunts us.

s kennedy

I think it has already been shown in more than one way and certainly in more than one study, that APBTs or generic pitbull type dogs or whatever people want to call them, cannot be designated as "all" aggressive, or all "anything." I don't think we need to be experts to realize this. I do believe that if 40% of alleged dogs used for fighting can be mainstreamed, then that shows everyone pretty clearly--no "all" of anything is bad. BSL is not necessarily based on whether or not the dogs are hardwire aggressive. As stated before, Nelson uses stuff like they cause more severe harm IF they do something wrong. Other cases have stated they create problems for police. Still others say the dogs are used by only criminals. Some of the reasons stated by lawmakers or even idiots, could have a rational basis. THAT is the problem. Not the dogs themselves.


How can those be of 'rational basis' if they are false?

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