Pit Bullshit

I’m feeling more cynical and exasperated with the world than usual, so it’s time to rustle some jimmies.

Today a video was brought to my attention called “8 Pit Bull Lies You Might Believe” courtesy of the Clickbait Capital of the Internet: Buzzfeed. I won’t link to it because I’m lazy and I’m guessing you have the capability to Google it yourself (god I hope so).

Let me preface this post by saying I like pit bulls (in general). I’ve worked with a pit bull advocacy group for a couple of years now because dispelling myths is a huge fancy tickler of mine. Pit bulls are just another group of dogs to me. Many of them are very good dogs. Pit bull is an umbrella term typically referring to American Pit Bull Terriers (APBTs), American Staffordshire Terriers (AmStaffs), and Staffordshire Bull Terriers (Staffies).

But I’m getting irritated by pit bull advocates.

You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones who inundate your Facebook feed with some “precious angel furbaby” spiel about how pit bulls are forced to fight and were once called nanny dogs. The very people championing these dogs are the ones who know the least about them. I can’t be too hard on them, I was like that once – not very long ago, even. I’ve encountered anti-pit bull websites that do better, more objective research than these people for crying out loud.

I’m all for telling people that pit bulls are not vicious baby-eaters who will turn on you. But not if it means spewing your own misinformation gathered from image macros shared by the crazy rescue lady on Facebook. And by the way, the nanny dog thing is mostly bullshit too. There’s no legitimate source for pit bulls (at least not APBTs) being called nanny dogs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s mostly attributed to Staffies and how they love kids (but didn’t necessarily mean they were good with them).

So let’s go through these “8 Pit Bull Lies.”

1. “LIE: Pit bulls are inherently dangerous. TRUTH: Responsible ownership can prevent any aggressive tendencies.”

Pit bulls? Dangerous? Only if you’re another dog.

Alright, alright. I’ll agree that pit bulls are not these folk’s definition of “inherently dangerous.” They’re no more likely to eat your face for breakfast than any other breed. But it is very important to acknowledge and accept that dog-aggression often crops up in pit bulls. This mostly happens with the American Pit Bull Terrier specifically since it was bred into them, but with how mixed up and watered down pit bulls are these days it can pop up in some of the other bully breeds as well. There’s nothing wrong with dog-aggression. Unless you want another dog and cannot safely manage a crate-and-rotate living situation. Though many will argue that with dog fighting on its way out there’s no purpose for dog-aggression anymore. I won’t touch that one.

I will add that dog-aggression and human-aggression are completely unrelated and the latter is generally frowned upon. This is where some of you chime in with, “Yeah! Dog fighters would cull any dog that showed aggression to humans!” Well, probably, for the most part. But you know if that dog was an excellent fighter the owner would probably be willing to overlook some things. It’s still quite uncommon, though. Of all the dogs I’ve felt unsafe around, few, if any, were pit bulls (that’s what we call “anecdotal evidence and therefore invalid,” kids).

Also, “responsible ownership can prevent any aggressive tendencies”? Uh. That depends on what aggressive tendencies we’re talking about here. Proper socialization and training is absolutely super important and can have a huge impact, yes. Handling your dog poorly can ‘cause some behavioral issues such as aggression. But again, there is a genetic component. Dog-aggression is bred for. Just like prey drive or toy drive, it will always be there. You can dampen it, but it will still be there and you had better know how to safely manage it. These dogs are not “trained” or “forced” to fight other dogs. That drive is innate and they love doing it. I won’t say that makes it right, but I get really tired of people completely misunderstanding this.

 

2. “LIE: Pit bulls have locking jaws. TRUTH: Their jaws exert less force than the jaws of Rottweilers and German Shepherds.”

Actually, I can’t disagree with this one either (though I would like to know in what context these dogs are exerting force with their jaws). But I can elaborate. Pit bull jaws are structurally no different from other breeds and have no locking mechanism. This myth sprung from the way pit bulls have a tendency to bite and hold when fighting. When most dogs fight there’s a whirlwind of fur and snapping teeth. Not so with pit bulls, generally speaking. Once they bite, they hold on and won’t let go for anything. It’s oddly calm. It’s simply the bite/fight style they were bred to have. And it’s why you need a break stick for these dogs.

 

3. “LIE: Pit bulls are poorly behaved and aggressive. TRUTH: They consistently rank above average on temperament tests.”

The temperament test in question is the one by the American Temperament Test Society. Without going into long, boring detail, I don’t put a lot of stock into this test. From their website: “The test simulates a casual walk through a park or neighborhood where everyday life situations are encountered.” That’s it. That’s all you get. A 12-minute peek into how your dog would handle gunshots and various strangers. Context is important to dogs. They may act one way during this test, but differently when at home, with different people, with different animals, with different objects. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fabulous that pit bulls can pass this test with such flying colors, but it’s not a black and white bottom line. I’d just like to see more input from certified behaviorists on it. My dog probably would have failed that test because of the gunshots alone, but he had one of the most stable, solid temperaments of any dog I’d ever met.

4. “LIE: Pit bulls have always been known as bad dogs. TRUTH: They were originally known as ‘America’s dog.'”

This one I don’t actually know that much about. But boy all those old propaganda posters with pit bulls on ’em sure were cute.

5. “LIE: Pit bulls will turn against their owners without warning. TRUTH: Dogs always give a warning before attacking. Reading their body language is important.”

For the most part, I’ll agree with that truth. Many, many dog owners don’t have a clue about canine body language and miss crucial signals from their dogs all the time. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a dog who didn’t give some kind of warning. But I’ll play devil’s advocate a bit here. Some dogs show fewer or more subtle warnings than others (though it has nothing to do with breed). How many of you have punished your dog for growling before? Five bucks said your dog just learned to stop growling and skip straight a more severe reaction. And also that you’re an asshole.

6. “LIE: All pit bulls were bred for fighting. TRUTH: Only 3% of pit bulls are involved in dogfighting. Many were bred for work and companionship, because of their gentleness and loyalty.”

Whoa, I’d like to see a source on that. This lie can get dicey. But 3% seems oddly specific. Depending on who you ask, a dog isn’t even considered an APBT if it hasn’t fought in matches, because that’s the very thing they were created for. So were all pit bulls bred for fighting? No. All APBTs? Eh, a good chunk of them, most likely.

7. “LIE: Breed-Specific Legislation helps keep neighborhoods safe. TRUTH: Laws that focus on education and responsible ownership are the ones that make a difference.” 

I actually have nothing to be catty about here. It’s true, BSL has proven to be largely ineffective.

8. “LIE: Nobody wants a pit bull for a pet. TRUTH: According to a survey by VetStreet, the American Pit Bull Terrier is one of the top three most popular breeds in 28 states.”

I don’t really have much for this one either. Pit bulls do make up a decent chunk of the population in many shelters around the country, but there are many variables to consider other than “well I guess no one wants them.” For instance, how many pit bulls are there compared to other breeds, how many are owned by irresponsible douchelords who let them keep having oops litters constantly, etc.

I’ll end this by saying pit bulls are good dogs. I admire their gameness, incessant need to love someone, anyone, and their big, doofy heads. But they’re not the first dog to come to mind when I think “good all-around family dog.” Though some do fit that description, pits are typically high energy dogs with high prey drives and some dog-aggression. They can be difficult for your average dog owner to manage. They’re not for everyone. Not even me. So let’s be realistic and honest about the dogs we’re trying to spread the truth about.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go cry myself to sleep because instead of doing something meaningful with my life I just sat here and spent valuable time picking apart a Buzzfeed video on the internet.

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