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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...


I thought i would share what i wrote to an ignorant person on this subject.

I will state this my uncle was breeding these dogs in the early seventies. and while he himself showed the dogs in the ADBA sanctioned events. he did get his original stock from the fighting lines of the APBT. So i will say that i grew up around these dogs and even when i was younger visited men like Louis b colby. and despite what many people may think colby was still breeding his dogs down from match winning stock until he got sick.

now this just my experience and others may differ. the colbies were dog fighters make no mistake about that but what i witnessed on that yard was nothing but respect and admiration for these wonderful dogs. they were not merely objects to this man. they were not just thrown outside and forgotten about. they were highly socialised around adults and children. Now miss Lynn loves to point out the one tragedy that occured where a nephew of john p was killed by one of these dogs. Now i really want you to think about this for a moment. this man bred, kept, and sold some of the greatest and well known fighting dogs this breed had ever seen. there were hundreds of dogs on this yard over the years. and only one incident that is quite extraordinary i think and just goes to show the true nature of these dogs with people. His dogs were showed great affection from the children and adults alike they were exercised on a regular basis and fed well.

Again some may disagree but in my experience the best representatives from this breed are the ones that were originally dow from fighting lines they were not loving, confident, athletic, loyal, and brave dogs inspite of their heritage they were this way because of it. Many of the men i met over the years were gentlemen and quite educated in dog behaviour and life. Now dont get me wrong i have met people that were complete scum and dregs on society involved in this breed. but that came more when the act became a felony. truth is many family men and bluecollar men and women were involved in what they call a sport. Now while i dont participate or condone the act i find things like using dogs to hunt and catch wild boar much worse. for one the dogs who hunt wild boar get seriously injured and die much to often and the other animal is screaming in pain and agony and wants nothing more than to survive

The men i have met over the years also had some dogs that could quite nicely coexist with other dogs. now mind you they did not get along with every dog but they were not mindless killing machines like some may have you believe

Also miss Lynn would have you believe that every single APBT born was a killing machine and would gladly take its death fighting. That is quite possibly the most ridiculous thing i have ever heard. Talk to anyone who knows anything about these dogs and you will see a dog like that is a while the breed as a whole is much gamer that any other breed there are a lot of variations within the breed itself. most dogs were controllable and the older and wiser the person got the more they liked the confident laid back kind of APBT.

Now i will say not just these dogs but dogs in general are not for everyone. Most people are ignorant and impulsive. they dont bother to study the breed they want they do not seek out reputable breeders or rescues. a reputable breeder may not register his dogs but you can bet he has handwritten pedigrees on them all and can tell you about each individual in the pedigree at least back to the fifth generation. rebutable breeders under the roles that genetics and environment play when breeding dogs. they know there dogs in and out.

I will also say that the APBT as a whole is a great breed. but popularity and irresponsible breeders have had a negative effect. Now again this is only my experience but most of the APBT i have owned and seen were dog aggressive and extremely human friendly almost to a fault where if you read this history many were stolen right off there property because they were so friendly and trusting. Now while they were dog aggressive they were not mindless killing machines some were good with certain dogs. but these dogs should not be off leash nor any dpg because most owners do not have complete control and as far as dog parks i think they are a bad idea in general as do most trainers and behaviourists and these dogs and all dogs should be contained in there house or outside safely and securely

Here are some things ive seen and learned over the years involved in this breed

first of all you clearly dont know dogs and even less about fighting dogs. all you idiots are the same you all treat like gospel and believe their myths. i will tell you the truth here and now. fighting dogs like pitbulls are dog/animal aggressive. many are but but some are not. dog aggression does not equal human aggression. these dogs were bred to be aggressive towards dogs only. now another thing likes to lie about and say even in the history of these dogs which is documented to see there were human aggressive dogs. now that is not a complete lie but not totally true. that site will mention zebo, virgil, bullyson and a few others well what she fails to say is these so called aggressive dogs were what any respected animal behaviourist would call only territorially aggressive. and they were far from unpredictable. gthey were only aggressive when in there spot or kennel and only towards strangers. once let off or out of there spot they were quite sweet. in fact zebo was a house dog and bullyson actually spent time in the house. Now virgil i knew personally. while he was aggressive on the chain off of it he was a big puppy. n ow here i=are some facts i witnessed myself. virgils best friend was thomas the cat yes a cat that slept in his bed with him. he also could walk around the entire yard and not attack one dog not one. and actually played with puppies and yearlings and could even be in the same crate as his daughter.

These dogs were not bred to show mindless unpredictable aggression they were bred for extreme human friendliness which shows in the pit because they are literally the only breed of a dog a stranger could approach during a fight and have no worries of a bite being redirected onto them. there are thousands of accounts of this all one has to do is the research. many people blame dog fighting for the aggresiveness while it is deplorable and reprehensible dog fighting has produced some of the most brave stable, easily trainable and affectionate dogs around. and i am not like your usuall person who sayss genetics dont matter they do but not as much as you think. if you actually studied genetics like i have there is a thing called heredity which is the variation of genetics and environment between individuals among a breed. and what was discovered over and over again was behavioural traits such as dog aggression are moderately heritable which selection for the trait can work but environment plays a big part also

also if breeds that were genetically selected to show human aggression like dobermans rotties and shepherds were as well documented as the history of the APBT i can guarantee you would find many more dogs in those three that mere and are much aggressive than the sometimes dog aggressive APBT

also people on both sides of this debate do harm to the breed there is only one pit bull it is not a blanket term it is short for american PIT BULL terrier just like rottie is short for rotweiler. and another myth is while these dogs when raised around kids are good with them they were never ever nanny dogs and no dog should be left alone with any dog. now you will probably say the american staffordshire is the same yet when a study done on the genes of working dogs vs show dogs of the same breed was done it showed that the working type was genetically different from the show type. also these dogs and dogs and general do not belong off leash no matter how friendly a dog is with other dogs there can always be the chance of play escalating into a fight and that goes for any breed. the majority of owners literally dont have a clue when it comes to dog behaviour or body language especially when the body language is subtle like a yawn or a lip lick which depending on other body language mean the dog is uncomfortable. all the latest studies, which i will look up again if someone calls me on it all agree that while the APBT can be dog aggressive they are no more aggressive towards people than any other dog and dog bites themselves are usually due to mistakes made by people. one study even compared so called dangerous breeds with the golden retriever which many will argule is the most docile breed and the study found no difference between the dogs when it came to aggression toward people.

I can go on all day and literally run circles around you APBT hating fools . another study was also done where experts in the animal field were found to misidentify the APBT 46 or 48% of the time and these were people who are literally around dogs all day everyday so imagine how many stupid owners and media mislabel the breed and in this study they used DNA to prove the people who guessed wrong

One last thing i challenge you to find me one incident in the past 5 years where a UKC or ADBA registered purebred APBT was involved in a dog bite i bet no one can´╗┐

So i say all of that to say this many people are hurting this breed from both sides of the debate. The pro pitbull people hurt them by saying everyone should own one which is ridiculous as most people shouldnt even own a goldfish and the Anti Pit bull people like our ever so lovely LMAO miss lynn by spreading lies and misinformation this breed would be much better off if it were to go back to the time when most people had no idea what a true pit bull was. The biggest thing that hurts all breeds is popularity


I thought this was an interesting addition, especially since some of the comments here mentioned APBT and AmStaffs not being related to the mastiff type breeds. This recent family tree speaks to that a bit more. Those bull and terrier dogs likely came from a bulldog type breed, which shares common ancestry with mastiff type breeds. They're not terribly far removed. What's interesting though is the APBT and other pit bull type breeds are actually more related with those dogs than with terrier type breeds, so there definitely is some common history there.

I think it makes a good point though to keep in mind that there are AmStaff breeders out there really focused on appearance (conformation) first, then temperament and health. How many things can come over when you selectively breed. From what I've seen in the literature (scientific) is that aggression genes are very complex, and you can breed for them (silver fox experiment in Siberia), but that you have to breed just for that. If you breed for any other traits it's more tricky. It's also likely that this has more complex genetic and environmental influences than say a desire to herd or retrieve.

Consider as well, there's more than one type of aggression. There's predatory instinct, territorial aggression, fear based aggression, dog-dog aggression, aggression directed towards strangers, and aggression towards members of the family...and more things as well. So, what gene turns on each of these (if there was one gene..there's not, it's a series, plus environment).

In addition, we're learning that things like the nutrition and stress levels of the mother are important, so nurture is taking place while puppies are in-utero, something we can't control for as easily. We also know that the current condition of the father may actually influence things. Then we have epigenetics, just because a dog has a genetic predisposition towards aggression towards dogs, doesn't mean those genes will be expressed because of environmental factors that close that expression off.

So, I know breeders really want to make this cut and dry, but genetics is tricky, and saying pointing behavior can be bred the same way aggression can, I'm not entirely sure that's true. We see herding dogs that don't herd, we see dogs trained for service dog work that don't make the cut. We see military dogs that don't make the program. We also see dog fighters killing dogs who won't fight. So, just because you breed for one thing, doesn't mean you're going to get it. And if you start selectively breeding for something else (therapy work, agility ability, ball drive, conformation, health, etc.) you may lose the behavioral selections that were made in the past.'s the graph I originally wanted to share before I rambled.


I believe dog to dog aggression to be bred for is as simple as breeding dog aggressive dogs together, but that does not mean that all those dogs will fight. you can have dogs that may go at it for say five minutes of just about any breed but the word gameness that these people breed for even they will tell you is a rare thing to find and what they mean is finding a dog that has the will to fight over the will to survive. that is a very hard thing to put in an animal who for centuries was bred for survival instincts.

So all these wacko anti pit bull haters out there who make it seem that all these dogs are born to fight till they are killed are just plain wrong. you might get 1 out of fifty who will do this probably less

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