Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pit Bull Myths Debunked

From the beginning, we knew that having Tulip, our little Pit Bull/American Staffordshire Terrier mix, would mean having to confront negative stereotypes. Nonetheless, it has been surprising to realize just how much misinformation about Pit Bulls is out there. People's reactions to Tulip range from joy to fear, or worse, outright hostility.

There are times during our walks when she is decked out in her hot pink hoodie, tail in full-on wag mode, ready to greet anyone and everyone with a smile, and people will still cross the street to avoid passing her. Other dog owners will forbid playtime or socialization at the park (an elderly man went so far as to attempt to attack her with his cane when she tried to play with his dog). Colleagues in my field (social services) have expressed their concern about Tulip's ability to safely interact with kids, citing their inaccurate belief that Pit Bulls have "locking jaws" and "attack children." Someone from a different regional office actually told me point blank at a conference, "there are people here who would quit if Pit Bulls were allowed in our office."

My husband really hit the nail on the head recently when he came to the sad conclusion that Tulip will always be guilty until proven innocent in many public situations.

Even though it often feels like an uphill battle, I am personally determined to debunk as many myths about Pit Bulls and Bully Breeds as I can, not just for Tulip, but for all of the wonderful pitties that I have met through my animal welfare work. These dogs simply don't deserve the stigma!

BADRAP, a fantastic Pit Bull advocacy organization based here in the San Francisco Bay Area, addresses a list of the most common "monster myths" on their website. Here are some of the common ones that we have encountered, along with accurate and factual information to disprove them:

Aren't Pit Bulls MEAN and VICIOUS?
No more vicious than golden retrievers, beagles or other popular dogs! In yearly tests of over 240 dog breeds by the American Temperament Test Society (ATTS), pit bulls consistently achieve a passing rate that's as good or better than the other most popular breeds. How did your favorite breed do? Check here:

In the ATTS test, a dog is put through a series of confrontational situations. Any sign of panic or aggression leads to failure of the test. The achievement of pit bulls in this study disproves once and for all the old tired belief that pit bulls are inherently aggressive to people. Like any breed of dog, a healthy pit bull that is properly raised will reflect the good care his owners have invested in him.
Don't Pit Bulls eventually TURN ON THEIR OWNERS?
No. Healthy pit bulls with stable temperaments are succeeding in countless homes across the continent. Dogs that bite people are typically troubled individuals, set up to fail by irresponsible and/or reckless owners who've ignored or disregarded the classic warning signs that come with nearly any dog bite. In general, biting dogs have been set up to fail by improper handling, abuse and/or damaged genetics. Profiling dog breeds works against the goal of reducing dog bites. Bite prevention education resources such as these offered by the AVMA can help build safe, humane communities without resorting to the kind of ineffective paranoia that comes from targeting select breeds. For a well researched source of information on canine aggression, visit The National Canine Research Council by clicking here.
Don't Pit Bulls have LOCKING JAWS?
Don't be silly. A pit bull's ability to "lock on" with its jaws is one whopper of a myth that refuses to let go. There is no 'enzyme,' no special mechanism that would make a pitbull's jaws 'lock.' They're DOGS, not alligators. Need proof? After research, Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, University of Georgia concluded, "We found that the American Pit Bull Terriers did not have any unique mechanism that would allow these dogs to lock their jaws. There were no mechanical or morphological differences..."

The same silliness shows up with myths about bite pressure. Don't buy into media hype... it'll steer you wrong every time. Find bite pressure fact checking, reported by The National Canine Research Council (NCRC) by clicking here.
Don't Pit Bulls have to be TRAINED TO FIGHT?
NO! Pit bulls are terriers, and terriers tend to be scrappy with other animals if unsocialized, poorly managed or otherwise left to their own devices. Just as farmers have used Jack Russell Terriers to do battle with badgers, foxes and other animals, unscrupulous people have exploited the terrier drive in pit bulls against other dogs for 'entertainment' purposes. Like any breed of dog, pit bulls can run the gamut from very dog aggressive to exceptionally dog friendly and each dog shares some potential to fight other dogs if mismanaged. Avoiding dog fights involves understanding terrier traits and basic canine behavior in general. More info:

• Dog-Tolerance Levels: Dog/Dog
• Living well with: Multitiple Dogs
• Socializing your pit bull: Socializing

A properly socialized, well managed pit bull should never find himself in a dogfight because he's accustomed to the presence of other dogs and - IMPORTANT! - he has a smart and responsible owner willing to keep him safe from situations that could invite the unhappy possibility of a scuffle.
Are pit bulls unpredictable around CHILDREN?
Pit bulls have enjoyed a long history as favorite children's companions and family pets. When well socialized and properly raised, they're the perfect breed to tolerate the rough and tumble play that kids can dish out. Pit bulls tend to be drawn to the joyful optimism of children and love to meet them with tails a'waggin! Some dogs may not be suitable with young children because they could knock them down in their exuberance. Common sense dictates that children should be taught how to properly interact with dogs (of EVERY breed) and should never be left alone with a dog unsupervised.

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