Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

Pit Bull Denialism

“He won’t hurt you”. Check out this thread which popped up after a report of a child being killed in a pit bull attack. We can thank commenter scorp1101 for jumping right into it with the pit bulls are just fine and I know because I own one argument. The remainder of the thread is interesting for two reasons. First, a major theme among many posters seems to be that training (or lack thereof) is the root cause of problems, not something inherent in the breed. Second, it took until the second page of comments before someone said anything about the child who was killed. I guess there’s nothing like perspective.

It would be naive to assume that a dog’s behavior (or that of pretty much any animal) is entirely or even largely dependent on training and environment. To discount inherent biological factors is specious. The reality is that pit bulls have the “biological equipment” to inflict damage that other breeds, say basset hounds, do not. This statement simply reflects the obvious facts of biology; and it does not condemn all members of any given breed to a given behavior. We can make a parallel argument regarding humans using even smaller distinctions. For example, it is extremely unlikely that Mary Lou Retton could have become a basketball star. Similarly, it is extremely unlikely that Wilt Chamberlain could have become a world class jockey. These may be obvious, but it is also true that just because someone is very tall they will not necessarily become a great basketball player. That is, while much goes into the final outcome, we cannot simply discount gross biology. To claim that Mr. Chamberlain’s success was due to his mental training alone is ignoring the 800 pound gorilla (or 7’1″ center) in the room.

While folks like scorp1101 can prattle on about how their pit bull is very loving and how they were also attacked by (of all things) a Beagle, some statistics might shed a little light on the general tendencies of certain breeds. Consider the following from the CDC:

…the data indicate that Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs accounted for 67% of human DBRF in the United States between 1997 and 1998. It is extremely unlikely that they accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities.

A similar conclusion was reached by Clifton for attacks spanning the years 1982 through 2006:

Of the breeds most often involved in incidents of sufficient severity to be listed, pit bull terriers are noteworthy for attacking adults almost as frequently as children. This is a very rare pattern: children are normally at greatest risk from dogbite because they play with dogs more often, have less experience in reading dog behavior, are more likely to engage in activity that alarms or stimulates a dog, and are less able to defend themselves when a dog becomes aggressive. Pit bulls seem to differ behaviorally from other dogs in having far less inhibition about attacking people who are larger than they are. They are also notorious for attacking seemingly without warning, a tendency exacerbated by the custom of docking pit bulls’ tails so that warning signals are not easily recognized. Thus the adult victim of a pit bull attack may have had little or no opportunity to read the warning signals that would avert an attack from any other dog.

and

The humane community does not try to encourage the adoption of pumas in the same manner that we encourage the adoption of felis catus, because even though a puma can also be box-trained and otherwise exhibits much the same indoor behavior, it is clearly understood that accidents with a puma are frequently fatal.

For the same reason, it is sheer foolishness to encourage people to regard pit bull terriers and Rottweilers as just dogs like any other, no matter how much they may behave like other dogs under ordinary circumstances.

Temperament is not the issue, nor is it even relevant. What is relevant is actuarial risk. If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but will not be maimed for life or killed, and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed–and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.

For the record, I consider myself a “dog person”, although present circumstances preclude ownership. (My wife has been known to remark that when we visit friends and relatives who own dogs, I tend to spend more time playing with the doggies than visiting with the humans.) I am also a runner, and I have learned never to trust an owner who says “He won’t hurt you”. Sure, it’s very possible for a pit bull to be a “pussy cat” and for some random member of another breed to be an absolute terror, but the data indicate that the breed has both the build and the temperament to pose higher risk of damaging assault than many other breeds. If I find myself running along a country road and coming face-to-face with an unknown, snarling dog, I’d much prefer it to be a basset hound than a pit bull. Actually, I’d prefer that the owner just obey the law and keep the animal under control on his or her property.

Comments

  1. #1 Ukko
    August 8, 2007

    One of my coworkers here had an insightful comment on this whole issue. That was that he owned a retriever and he has never tried to train his retriever to fetch but if you throw anything in his dog’s vicinity it will chase after it and bring it back into your general area. By breeding for the retrieving behavior that has been brought to the fore of the dog’s personality. Now a fighting breed, well what behaviors are more likely to be the ones that are more or less automatic?

    Personally, I own a draft breed that neither fights nor fetches. But some day she will pull me to work in the snow ;-)

  2. #2 Dennis
    August 8, 2007
  3. #3 JimFiore
    August 8, 2007

    That’s not much of a counterargument. It’s a few random factoids about the breeds and doesn’t address any of the points raised above.

  4. #4 Doug Alder
    August 8, 2007

    You make good points

    What is also often overlooked in these discussions it the character traits of the owners. Because pit bulls and rotties have a reputation (well deserved imnsho) for viciousness they tend often to be bought by people who want a vicious dog.

    When I first stared going out with my soon to be wife she had just adopted a rottie and I have to tell you I was more than a little apprehensive. As it turned out he was really a marshmallow but it took some time for me to be comfortable with his playfulness (just see how commfortable you’d be if a 110lb rottweiler grabs your bare arm in his teeth because he wants to play :) I think in his case , although he looked 100% rottie, it was the lab cross in him that mellowed him out. So much so that one day when a perfect stranger to him slammed his tail in a car door by accident he didn’t even growl at him. To this day I remain convinced he is the exception not the rule. I don’t get scared by strange dogs approaching me unless they are one of those two breeds – they just plain scare the crap out of me.

  5. #5 MarkH
    August 8, 2007

    Two things I have always noticed about these debates.

    The pro-pit bull crowd usually ends up using the same arguments as the NRA. It’s not bad dogs, it’s bad owners – certainly this is a big part of the problem. However, it fails to acknowledge that no matter how bad an owner is, if they own a chihuahua, no one is going to be seriously injured. Pit bulls are inherently dangerous animals since they have a great potential to do harm. That is why we regulate BB guns less tightly than fully-automatic rifles.

    The second thing is that the argument is ultimately self-defeating. We know the owners are the problem. Lots of people are clearly buying the animals as status symbols, or as weapons, not as pets. They are used in fighting, and this is a problem that can not be dismissed or ignored. I agree that the problem is bad owners, but bad owners are specifically attracted to the breed. Regulate the owners, or regulate the breed, whichever, but you simply can’t treat them like any other dog, or act like there isn’t a problem with this breed.

  6. #6 Kevin Beck
    August 8, 2007

    “it is extremely unlikely that Wilt Chamberlain could have become a world class jockey.”

    Depends on what your definition of “riding” is. By at least one of them, Wilt the Stilt was — at least according to his own testimoney — beyond world class, having participated in some 17,000 “races.”

  7. #7 Brian
    August 8, 2007

    A few points, if I may:

    In my opinion, one assumes responsibility for their own safety. That being the case, a person should exercise caution when meeting any dog, regardless of breed. It seems very dangerous to me to assume that the set of all dogs that are NOT pitbulls are somehow inherently safer.

    The term “pit bull”, as far as I know, is an umbrella term used to describe AmStaffs and APBTs. Regarding the American Staffordshire Terrier, it has been an AKC-recognized breed since the 1930s, and, as with all AKC breeds, has an exacting breed standard.

    That being the case, while the owner is certainly a factor, as is the breed’s inherent temperment, irresponsible breeding to meet the demand of folks interested in acquiring one for its fierce appearance is almost certainly largely responsible for the low quality and poor temperment of a huge number of these pit bulls.

    Breed restrictions, IMHO, produce the unintended consequence of creating a market for the dog “one rung down”, so to speak. Pit bulls outlawed? How about fighting German Shepherd Dogs? It’s a slippery slope with no end in sight.

    Using dog bite fatalities isn’t exactly a great measure for supporting your point. If, in a given span of time, only 17 deaths are reported out of over 300,000 reported dog bites, then whether or not pit bull or pit bull mixes are responsible for most of them tells us nothing of whether pit bulls are more likely to bite.

    Any responsible pit bull owner is well aware of the breed’s difficulties in interacting with other dogs (pit bulls are actually very good around people – after all, dog fighters want their dogs to attack other dogs, not them).

    So what’s the solution? Better education about dogs, for one thing. Teach children to never approach any dog unsupervised, even dogs they have met before, and teach them to interact with dogs in ways that dogs can tolerate. Teach people to always ask the owner before approaching or touching any dog.

    Stiffen penalties for animal abuse and negligence.

    What else?

  8. #8 Kevin Beck
    August 8, 2007

    “While folks like scorp1101 can prattle on about how their pit bull is very loving and how they were also attacked by (of all things) a Beagle, some statistics might shed a little light on the general tendencies of certain breeds.”

    One characteristic of denialists is that they’re rarely content to employ only one piece of fallacious generalization at a time. Whenever someone says, in effect, “Not all X result in Y,” where Y is some negative outcome associated with a disproportionate fraction of X, he or she is also apt to add ” Some Z result in Y,” where Y is the same outcome and Z is s a statistically underrepresented contributor to the same Y.

    So in addition to your example (“Not all pit bulls are violent; some non-pit bulls are violent”), we have similarly shoddy thinkers saying “I know a 400-pound woman who had an uncomplicated pregnancy and a skinny woman who miscarried” as if this demonstrates anything besides beating the odds. Hey, I know someone who won the TriState Megabucks, so if you don’t buy a ticket, you’re pissing money away!

    Shoddy thinkers are annoying in any case, but when potential destruction of others at issue, as with pit bulls, I get really pissed off.

  9. #9 Bill from Dover
    August 8, 2007

    First, a major theme among many posters seems to be that training (or lack thereof) is the root cause of problems, not something inherent in the breed.

    Hmmm. I wonder how Roy Horn would feel about this.

  10. #10 Alan Kellogg
    August 8, 2007

    It’s not the breed, it’s the species. Dogs are predators, if it acts like prey then it’s prey. Dogs are also social animals, and socially agressive. They have a clearly established heirarchy in their groups, and have utterly no concept of the concept of equality. You can never be on an equal basis with a dog.

    But, there are people who don’t understand this. They don’t understand that a dog will try to dominate anyoen who doesn’t dominate it. They also don’t understand that a dog will react as a predator to anything that acts like prey.

    Now add in the fact that a dog can’t see an animal his size or larger as being a puppy of sorts… You see, puppies get a special pass. But when you weigh ten pounds, and that human who keeps pestering you weighs 12 pounds, well then…

    It comes down to misunderstandings on all sides. People assume that dogs are capable of things they really aren’t. Dogs assume things about people that aren’t true. Seeing as we’re smarter and more adaptable than dogs, it behooves us to monitor and correct canine behavior when it becomes a problem.

    In short, you never leave a very small child alone with a dog, no matter the size of the dog. You supervise both at all times. This mans every breed, artificial or natuaral, of dog. Never trust any type of dog alone with a very young child. And never trust a very young child alone with a dog, especially a very small dog.

    A dog really can not be trusted, not in anything. Having a dog — especially when you have a small child — is a huge responsibility, and if you can’t, or won’t, assume that responsibility you really shouldn’t have a dog.

  11. #11 Kevin Beck
    August 9, 2007

    I think that if anything, it’s a liability that a pit bull can go for years without showing a single destructive tendency, only to turn around and kill a child in its own household. If they were consistently mean or remotely predictable, people would simply learn not to acquire them (except for the assholes who want mean dogs for whatever reason). People will still take in dogs that are “merely” ornery as long as they can’t do any real damage — every Peke I have ever known, for example, deserves to be punted into the next zip code — but no one would want a dog if they pretty much knew it was bound to bite someone, sometime, sooner rather than later and for no obvious reason.

    When I meet a pit bull, the only thing I know for sure is that it hasn’t gone afteranyone yet, because otherwise it wouldn’t be alive. If I’m alone I will sometimes pet them, but if I have my dog I won’t go within range of the fuckers.

    I don’t know what that dimwit on that messageboard meant by being bitten “even” by a Chow. Those things are notoriously nasty too.

    The meanest dog I ever met was a redneck Airedale terrier, believe it or not. I also knew a dachshund named Chompers that hated everyone but me. I didn’t like him anyway.

  12. #12 Alan Kellogg
    August 9, 2007

    Kevin,

    The trick to handling dogs is to establish domination first off. Tolerate no defiance, and suppress rebellion with force. The dog will be a lot happier.

    At the same time, let the dog know you are approachable. As long as he does it with the proper subservience let him make friends with you. In time it will come to seem the natural thing, and he can be emotionally supportive when things get tough.

    Most important of all, listen, and know how to read what the dog is saying. A dog will tell you when he’s getting uncomfortable in a situation, but you have to take him at his word.

  13. #13 Brian
    August 9, 2007

    Alan,

    What a quaint model for dog/human interaction.

    You’re right on the supervised interaction part (same as what I had said earlier), but as far as your “trick for handling dogs” goes, it is woefully outdated and smacks of Cesar Milan.

  14. #14 Manni
    August 9, 2007

    To this day I remain convinced he is the exception not the rule.

    I am pretty sure that nearly every owner of a dog like that is absolutely convinced that his dog is the exception. Until it bites the face off a child.

  15. #15 Manni
    August 9, 2007

    Teach people to always ask the owner before approaching or touching any dog.

    How about teaching dogs never to approach me (or anyone else who hasn’t asked for it)?

  16. #16 JimFiore
    August 9, 2007

    A couple of items:

    1. Although the CDC report focused on fatalities, Clifton included data on injuries (those severe enough to require hospital attention). The pattern was consistent. Pit bulls were well above the average in attacks causing bodily harm and “maimings” which include loss of limb or permanent disfigurement. In rank order: 1110 attacks causing bodily harm and 608 maimings for pit bulls, 409/223 for Rottweillers, wolf hybrids at 71/43, german shepards at 63/38, and so on. By comparison, labs are 26/20 and retrievers are 6/4. Further, I think it’s safe to say that shepards, labs and retrievers are far more popular breeds so these data make the pit bulls look better than they are.

    2. Saying that “pit bull” is not the name of single breed is beside the point. It may be a catch-all term for a few closely related breeds but if the behavior and physiology are similar then it is simply a convenient shorthand and does not indicate any sort of mislabeling.

    3. I agree that it is unwise to let small children play with strange dogs, or even known dogs unsupervised, but this in no way exonerates pit bulls. And it’s not just kids. Last year, a friend of mine was out for a run in the village and was attacked by a pit bull (the dog was on a leash but managed to break away). The doctors stopped counting the stitches once they hit 150. He was out of work for a month. The police put the dog down on the spot. And of course we heard “He’s never done this before.”

    Quite simply, the breed has potential that others don’t. It’s like finding a crazy guy in the mall. Do you think he’d do more damage with a hunting knife of with an Uzi? Which scenario is easier to deal with?

  17. #17 Brian
    August 9, 2007

    @Jim,

    That they are used disproportionately for illicit activities, or used irresponsibly as guard dogs, or poorly socialized, is to me far more responsible for the state of the pit bull today.

    To paint all pit bulls with the same brush, however tempting it may be, negatively impacts folks that may responsibly show or breed AmStaffs. Though I don’t have figures directly at hand, I am willing to bet that AKC-bred and shown “pit bulls” are significantly underrepresented in the figures for reported dog bites.

    I recognize that the type of person who would go to the trouble of selecting a responsible breeder and invest the time and effort necessary for the proper socialization and training is rare, and that a practical solution with regard to public safety must consider the population at large. That being the case, I think that more widely available dog training, dog training standards, greater information about proper pet dog raising and responsible practices, far more strident punishments for animal cruelty/neglect, and, above all, tougher leash laws, would help reduce the overall incidence of dog bites.

  18. #18 PuckishOn
    August 9, 2007

    I agree with Brian as well as Alan K: Dog ownership is a huge responsibility, there are a number of factors to be considered when selecting breeds, and, most importantly, dogs are animals, not furry people, and have to be treated as such.

    I’ve owned an AmStaff and can say that, while you can’t control instinct, you most certainly can control behavior, and anyone unwilling to do this with any dog should look into raising gerbils instead. Even with my current dog (an 8-year-old terrier mix), I supervise all his interactions with children; not to do so would be supremely irresponsible of me, since any dog can bite in the right circumstances.

    Perhaps the answer isn’t to eliminate the breed but maybe to ban (and enforce the ban, strongly) on unregulated breeding of these dogs, and put into place strict breeder/owner guidelines as well as legal requirements for owners who keep such dogs in congested areas. Instinct plays a part in this, yes, but look at what humans have done to other dog breeds: we are culpable to an extent for what they have become and need to step up to the plate to fix the problem.

  19. #19 Anne-Marie
    August 9, 2007

    I think that dog bite statistics are not very reliable, they depend on reported cases. You are probably MUCH more likely to report it if a pit bull or rottie bites your child than a poodle, cocker spaniel, etc. I worked for a vet for several years, and the muzzle we needed the most was the extra small, almost every single chihuahua we saw was a biter, but we had no German shepherd or pit bulls that needed to be muzzled for exams. Some breeds do have much more potential to inflict harm, though, through pure strength and temperament, but I think a lot of “accidents” would be prevented by good training for BOTH dogs and owners. There are a lot of dumbasses that have no idea how to handle a strong, intelligent animal like a shepherd (which, yes, I am biased towards because I own a terrific one).

    Anyway, just wanted to toss a comment on my pet peeve about how “ankle biters” get away with terrible behavior that would never be tolerated (and shouldn’t be) from other breeds, without any stigma being attached to their names.

  20. #20 JimFiore
    August 9, 2007

    I never said ALL pit bulls are killers. I said the data indicate that the breed is far over-represented in the injury and fatality stats, and part of that reason is due to the inherent structure of the breed.

    One can argue that, with so-called “proper training”, they wouldn’t be over-represented, but we have no data to vindicate such a hypothesis, and for that matter, what if “proper training” methods were applied to ALL breeds? Wouldn’t the numbers for the current relatively safe breeds fall even further?

    I can attest to the fact that simply requiring more stringent leash laws will do little to stem the problem. In most municipalities where I live, it is already illegal for a dog to be outside the owner’s control, and that means on a leash, a line, behind a fence, within an electric fence, or the like, and yet I frequently encounter dogs off of the owner’s property when I go for my daily run. I have also gotten into some altercations with owners. One owner, in fact, angrily asked why he should have to leash his dog just so people could run by on the street. Now, besides the fact that it is against the law for him NOT to, and that human pedestrians are normally considered to have rights beyond those of pets when it comes to usage of public byways, what do you say to someone like that? His argument basically revolves around the fact that he’s too lazy to put his dog on a line or too cheap to install some manner of fencing, and the public be damned. Besides, a tougher leash law wouldn’t have helped my friend with his attack as the dog was strong enough to break away from the owner.

    Sure, the owner has a responsibility and there are good owners and bad owners, but that does not change the fact that we’re talking about a breed that has physical and apparent mental attributes that make it more dangerous than the average pet. Pinning the blame on the owner is like saying all human crime is the fault of “society”. While there may be a grain of truth in the statement, a contributing factor if you will, it does not solve the problem. It’s just vague hand-waving.

  21. #21 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    August 9, 2007

    I’m shocked Abbie from ERV hasn’t made it over to this post yet.

    Alan K. I have to disagree, breed does make a difference. All dogs are predators by nature, but some have that instinct enhanced through breeding, some have it reduced. Others are bread to be more receptive to training.

  22. #22 JimFiore
    August 9, 2007

    Anne-Marie:

    First, I don’t think you can so easily discount the data by assuming that pit bulls were over-reported. The CDC report dealt with fatalities while Clifton dealt with injuries severe enough to require medical attention. I doubt very much that someone bitten by a beagle or a dachshund would refuse to name the breed just because it wasn’t large. Further, even if this were the case, it doesn’t explain the comparatively low numbers for german shepards, labs, and the like.

    Second, I agree that “ankle-biters” are a problem. To be more precise, they can be a nuisance. But that’s the rub. If a crazed chihuahua came after me while I was running, I know that in the worst case I could drop-kick the sucker into the twilight zone. I might get some puncture wounds and scrapes, but I’m probably not going to wind up missing work for a month. Not so with a pit bull. There is going to be a serious mess.

  23. #23 Brian
    August 9, 2007

    Jim,

    I’m sorry, but I think you’re mistaken.

    First of all, the data cannot be taken at face value. Both the Sacks and Clifton studies used media accounts to obtain their data, and whether you like it or not, it is reasonable to suspect that a bias exists. Pit bull attacks are more frequently reported as higher-priority news than attacks by other breeds, independent of the severity of the attack (i.e., given two comparable incidents, one involving a pit bull is more likely to be reported as higher priority).
    In addition, pit bull news stories are frequently misreported, and it is only later that the offending dog is exonerated in the media.
    Lastly, dog breed identification, especially with regard to bully breeds, is extremely difficult for the layperson. Sacks admits this as a potential bias for the CDC’s data, and I think it is extremely important to bear in mind. I think that it is impossible to determine the extent to which reported dog bite incidents have either misidentified a dog as pit bull, or wrongly identified a pit bull as the culprit.

    That being the case, I guess I have to wonder what action, exactly, people here think this data, flawed as it may be, indicates? A ban? What?

    I will stick by my guns here and say that it is, in large part, the responsibility of the owner for the manner in which his or her dog behaves. In the case of the pit bull, you have a case of the dog’s reputation as a fighter creating a demand by a certain type of owner, which in turn supports breeding programs to meet that demand. These breeders selectively breed dogs with such temperaments, and the cycle begins again.

    I am certainly willing to admit that there are some lines with very poor temperaments, as a product of the market for “mean” dogs. But look at any responsibly-bred AKC AmStaff or ADBA Pit Bull Terrier, and you will find little in common, temperament-wise, with dogs used in fighting.

    Eliminate the breed, and the problem will resurface with another breed. Eliminate irresponsible and underground breeders, stiffen penalties for fighting/abuse/neglect, and promote responsible dog ownership, and then you have a workable solution.

  24. #24 gingerbaker
    August 9, 2007

    Brian said:

    “I guess I have to wonder what action, exactly, people here think this data, flawed as it may be, indicates? A ban? What?”

    How about a good old-fashioned doggie eugenics program, where the viciousness of Pit Bulls would be removed from the population by forced breeding with docile, cowardly, timid curs.

    Congressional Democrats come to mind. :D

  25. #25 Drugmonkey
    August 9, 2007

    “Eliminate the breed, and the problem will resurface with another breed. Eliminate irresponsible and underground breeders, stiffen penalties for fighting/abuse/neglect, and promote responsible dog ownership, and then you have a workable solution.”

    or, we could just ban dogs. why do we need them again? many urban municipalities ban things like chicken owning- and all they do is smell and crow. why in a modern society do the runners commenting above even need to have *any* interaction with dogs where they worry about being attacked? why does the parent have the responsibility to keep their toddler away from the potential source of danger walking around the parks and sidewalks?

    we like to control firearms because they are a danger with debatable positive benefits, just like dogs. at least guns don’t go off randomly…….

  26. #26 ERV
    August 9, 2007

    *YAWN*

    At first I was surprised an atheist would post something supporting such a cliche stereotype, but then I realized I didnt know this contributors preferences. *shrug*

  27. #27 jim
    August 9, 2007

    Brian,
    Assuming you’re correct, the bias would have to be AT LEAST an order of magnitude to bring the values back down to even the HIGHEST values of other breeds, and that still doesn’t account for breed popularity. Further, one needs to ask how the bias started. I can understand the continuance of a bias, but what was it that created such supposed negative reactions to these breeds in the first place? Why would they be over-reported to begin with? Was there some sort of conspiracy among the retriever owners who work at the newspapers?

    ERV,
    I fail to see what atheism has to do with this and thanks so much for you’re enlightening commentary, *shrugging while yawning*.

  28. #28 ERV
    August 9, 2007

    jim– In my experience, atheists dont fall into media induced hysteria as often as theists. Or politicians fear mongering.

    And your non-response to my response leads me to believe my stereotype was right, in this case.

    Look, jim, state after state is passing legislation banning breed specific legislation because it appears to be put forth exclusively by do-nothing politicians. Its wrong, youre wrong, sorry.

  29. #29 ERV
    August 9, 2007

    FEAR MY PUPPY!

    ROFL!!!

    I should just pull a Michael Vick and body-slam Arnie to death before he eats a baby. Evil dog deserves to die, right?

  30. #30 Alan Kellogg
    August 10, 2007

    #13,

    Brian, are these new findings true? Have they even been tested? Or are we talking about the rationalizations of neo-creationists?

    Sounds to me like we’re dealing with observation bias here. The researcher wants dogs to be a certain way, so he interprets their behavior to fit his thinking. In addition, there are people who grew up being taught that we are in some way separate and distinct from the world. Knowing nothing of nature they fear it, and so avoid it as assidiously as they can. And being profoundly ignorant of it they try to impose their own faith upon it.

    What you have here are people trying to treat dogs as dogs should be, not as dogs are. It’s a lot like child-rearing experts with all their ‘shoulds’ and ‘supposed to bes’. if you would know a dog you must first live with a dog.

    Call me a fundamentalist Taoist, but I take things as they are, not as I would like them to be.

  31. #31 JimFiore
    August 10, 2007

    ERV, I think it would be helpful if we left theological systems (or lack thereof) out of it. I don’t see atheism as some form of social club for the rationally-minded.

    Second, the link you provided deals directly with breed-specific legislation which is something I never mentioned, so I fail to see why it should be directed at me. Further, I do not fall into the category of those who reflexively assume that all who might propose such laws are “do-nothing politicians”. Some may be, but presented with relevant data, some may honestly think it’s a wise course of action. I will repeat that I have not endorsed breed-specific legislation but it appears to me that there is a problem and I am not convinced that it’s “paper only”. The argument that the data are skewed due to bias, under- or over-reporting, and the like, strikes me as requiring a combination of hysteria and conspiracy of which I don’t see evidence. I agree that, say, a newspaper editor might go with a big splashy headline if there was a death or maiming involving a pit bull. I am not convinced, however, that they wouldn’t do the same if it was a german shepard or other breed. Indeed, one could argue that they would be more inclined to do so these days if it involved a beagle, dachshund, retriever, etc., due to the sheer oddity of it (“Geez, not another pit-bull story…oh wait, someone was mauled by a border collie…”).

    I don’t know what the answer is, but these data indicate to me that there is a problem. Now that problem may be due to an unfortunate confluence between the characteristics of a certain breed of dog and the characteristics of a certain “breed” of owner, but when we’re talking differences of one to two orders of magnitude relative to other breeds, that’s a situation that should not be ignored (and not one easily explained by just confirmation bias).

  32. #32 Brian
    August 10, 2007

    @Jim,

    You raise interesting questions, the answers to which I must admit I don’t know. But my ignorance of the bias’ origin, or even the degree to which it skews the data, does not mean that one is justified in accepting the data at face value in considering its implications for social policy.

    I am merely arguing that pit bulls, as a breed (or breeds), are singled out in the media and in public lore, and not entirely due to any inherent breed characteristics, but rather due to a confirmation bias. In addition to a greater degree of news coverage, pit bulls may also be implicated in incidents before it is determined conclusively.

    Additionally, they are exceptionally difficult to identify, as other breeds are frequently misidentified as pit bulls.

    My argument is only that it would be irresponsible to use such data as the Sacks and Clifton reports to justify a knee-jerk legislative action banning certain breeds.

    @Alan,

    The idea that effective dog training is rooted primarily in the maintenance of some strict dominance/submission hierarchy has been soundly rejected by the animal behavior and dog training community at large.

    That your “trick” seems simply:

    “to establish domination first off. Tolerate no defiance, and suppress rebellion with force. The dog will be a lot happier.

    At the same time, let the dog know you are approachable. As long as he does it with the proper subservience let him make friends with you.”

    demonstrates that you are operating not based upon a sound understanding of how dogs are, but your assumption of how they are. I guess that means your admonishment ought to be turned inward.

  33. #33 Brian
    August 10, 2007

    And Jim, I agree that the data indicate a problem. The solution, IMHO, is better research.

  34. #34 Suesquatch
    August 12, 2007

    “Teach people to always ask the owner before approaching or touching any dog.”

    I asked. The next thing I knew the pit bull had his fangs in my ample ass. The owner told me he’d rather I didn’t approach him “that way.” We were in a very small urban park with a playground.

    WTF?

    I have known some lovely pits. Sweet, gentle dogs who were not going to turn. The problem is that pit-bull people don’t want those ones so they don’t get bred and the nasty ones do. Add assholes like that quarterback whose name I can’t remember to the mix who torture them to make them meaner and the breed is doomed.

  35. #35 Monica
    August 15, 2007

    Read Fatal Dog Attacks by Karen Delise, then you’ll see what the real problem is.

  36. #36 Kevin Beck
    August 15, 2007

    Thanks, Monica.

    Karen Delise books

    The publisher should consider replacing the jacket copywriter for this stuff, though…

    “Today, police chase down fleeing Pit bulls in the street, firing dozens of wild shots in response to media-fed rumors of supernatural Pit bull abilities”

    Cops with guns blazing willy-nilly pursuing dogs from another dimension? Sweeeeeeeet. They should have mentioned that the cops are actually known to use tactical nukes and that some of these dogs can hover several dozen feet above the ground while farting laser piss-beams back at the police.

    Nothing like using a wee bit of hyperbole to sell a book.

    “A fatal dog attack is always the culmination of past and present events that include: inherited and learned behaviors, genetics, breeding, socialization, function of the dog, physical condition and size of the dog, reproductive status of dog, popularity of breed, individual temperament, environmental stresses, owner responsibility, victim behavior, victim size and physical condition, timing and misfortune.”

    Well, that about covers it. I don’t think anyone here has argued differently, although ERV might want to throttle the writer for invoking the possibility that “genetics” may play a role in fatal dog attacks.

    In my own participation in this thread, what I’ve tried to emphasize is that it is possible to simultaneously absolve pit bulls of inherent “blame” (in the sense of their not necessarily being especially vicious “by nature”) and point to an extant pit-bull problem. As Suesquatch pointed out, as long as there are people who go to great lengths to cultivate and exploit whatever nastiness they can in a given dog breed, you’ll see more mean ones than unmolested nature herself would dictate. Hell, if Labs for some reason were regarded suddenly as fighting dogs, in a hundred years or so you’d be reading about how frigging evil that breed is.

  37. #37 Monica
    August 16, 2007

    When you’re done reading “Fatal Dog Attacks” try watching “Dark Water Rising” a documentary on animal rescue after Hurricane Katrina. They spend a lot of time discussing the Pit Bull problem, a couple contributors are Pit Bulls are the most overbreed dog in North America and the worst treated.