Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dangerous dogs, part I

I am going to play a word association game with you.  I am going to say a couple of words, then you tell me the first thing that pops into your head, OK?

The two words are “Violent” and “Animal:.  What is the first thing that pops into your head?

These days, smart money is most people would say “Pit Bull”.  OK, some would think that but not admit to it.  Isn’t a Pit Bull just like any other dog?

My understanding is, there is no specific breed known as a “Pit Bull”.  A “Pit Bull” is rather a category, or class if you will, that encompasses several specific breeds of dog.  These breeds include, but are not limited to:  Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  When I use the term “Pit Bull” I may be referring to any of the previously mentioned.

The term “Pit Bull” itself is indicative of the dog’s bred purpose.  Historically, these dogs were bred to fight in the “pit” (fighting enclosure) against other dogs, and sometimes against other animals (such as bulls).  These dogs were trained and bred to initiate an attack and pursue that attack until death. 

It’s worth saying that a dog’s breed history plays a major part in its overall behavior.  Dogs have been bred to pursue all types of behaviors:  Retrievers retrieve, pointers point, and Pit Bulls initiate aggression.  Obviously, training and “nurture” plays a part as well, but a dog is not an inanimate device on to which we can project our intentions. 

According to Dogsbite.Org, 59% of USA human fatalities in the 2006-2008 timeframe resulting from a dog attack were Pit Bull related.  Juxtapose that with the fact that so-called Pit Bulls were less than 5% of the US dog population.  Furthermore, a disproportionate number of dog on human attacks resulting in serious injury were also Pit Bull related.   This is likely due to the fact that the Pit Bull has been bred to bite down hard and “shake” its opponent.  This mode of operation results in horrific injuries.  I recommend visiting for more specifics.

There are also statistics that show that a disproportionate percentage of Pit Bull owners have felony criminal records.

It is also my observation that aggressive pit bulls are rarely treated with affirmative action.  In other words, these dogs are relatively free to attack, maim, and kill humans and other animals.  I say that with some conviction, as there was a murder in my community last summer where 2 Pit Bulls that had seriously attacked human beings on 2 separate, prior occasions went on to maul a retired US Army vet to death in his own back yard.  Both of his arms were ripped from his body.  Why were these dogs not restrained prior to  this killing?  Why is the owner not in prison for manslaughter?  No prior restraint would have been needed in this case.  In my opinion, both dogs should have been destroyed and the owner jailed after the FIRST attack.   After the murder, the dogs were FINALLY destroyed but the owner walks free.  Unfortunately, this is a relatively common outcome.

That said, the following is objectively true to me:
1)      The Pit Bull comprises several breeds of dog.
2)      Pit Bulls have been selectively bred to initiate aggression and fight to the death.
3)      Pit Bulls are significantly more likely to cause death and dismemberment as compared to other breeds of dog.
4)      Pit Bulls have a pre-disposition to aggressively attack other animals including other dogs, cats, horses, and human beings.
5)      The Pit Bull is the criminal’s pet of choice.
6)      Pit Bulls, and their owners, are generally free to attack, maim and kill with impunity.

How did we get to this ridiculous point?   I believe it is due to the following:  The social and legal norm is to put the interests of dogs and dog owners above public health and safety.  Everyone has to “love doggy” no matter what.  Our rights are stripped whenever we are in proximity to a dog.

 It started with endless loud barking projected into our homes:  We were told to “get used to it”.  It continued with “ankle biters” pursuing and injuring postal delivery workers and joggers:  We were called “haters” when we objected.  It went further with dogs in places where they don’t belong such as grocery stores and restaurants:  We were told to “get a life”.   We now have our most vulnerable literally torn to shreds in front of us and yet it continues. 

This is what the bottom of the slippery slope looks like.


  1. Where genetics of a breed / type of dog are concerned, nurture plays only a miniscule role.
    1) The dog will look for and even create opportunities to be able to do the behavior;
    2) The only way to completely suppress the behavior is physical restraint.

    Which is to say, you can't train a pointer not to point. You might be able to train it not to point in your presence, but to prevent pointing at all times, you'd have to glue the pointing leg to the floor (or put the dog in a body cast).

    You could theoretically train a pit bull not to attack in your presence (though this is doubtful), but the only way to keep it from seeking and creating opportunities to attack at any and all other times would be (I fear) the body cast (unless someone knows of a very strong glue? which of course in this case would have to be applied to all four feet).

    Second point. The term 'hater' really did originate with the pit bull crowd, it's their trademark. They use the term to indicate:
    -- anyone who in any way would limit their perceived entitlement to keep pit bulls
    -- anyone who would put rules and restrictions on how they keep their pit bulls, be it secure fencing rules, secure kennel rules, muzzles, leashes, or anything else at all
    -- anyone who thinks they should be financially liable for mayhem their pit bull commits
    -- anyone who thinks they should be held criminally responsible for what their pit bulls do
    -- anyone who agrees it was right to put the pit bull down after its third child-kill
    -- anyone who thinks it was okay for the cop to shoot the pit bull that was in the act of killing a child (shoulda used a taser)
    -- anyone who stabs and kills a pit bull that was in the act of tearing chunks of flesh off the stabber's very own body (shoulda had and used a taser)
    -- anyone who tasers an attacking pit bull

    You are, on the other hand, not always a hater if you shoot the pit bull that is trying to kill its owner...only sometimes, depending on the owner. The best way to be sure is to wait until the pit bull's owner actively and clearly asks you to shoot the pit bull. Actually, better wait until someone arrives to witness this pit bull owner's request before you comply. Be sure to ask whether they wouldn't rather you went and bought a taser, back in a sec.

    Back to what I posted elsewhere... I think cracking down ruthlessly on this pit bull problem would be a great way to reverse the slippery slope. First we didn't take the killings anymore. Then we didn't take the ankle biting. Then we didn't take the endless barking. Watch out, cos next is poop...

    1. RE: Nature vs. Nurture. I agree, Sweetie Pie, that when a behavior is in-bred it would be nearly impossible to train out. Furthermore, trying to train out violent behavior is too risky: What do you do, swat the dog on the nose every time it scalps a 2 year old? "BAD dog!".

      I'll say, though, I believe that a Pit Bull type dog thats been mistreated or trained to fight is going to be MORE explosively dangerous than one that has not. With that said, "attack training" is certainly not required.

      Personally, I don't care for the nature vs. nurture debate too much. Who cares if the mauler was trained to fight, bred to fight, or both? The owner is responsible in any case.

      In my opinion, ANY dog that sends a human being to the hospital should be summarily put down and the owner jailed for assault. As soon as one takes a dog home THEY are responsible for EVERYTHING it does. If they don't want to lose your dog and go to jail, its incumbent on THEM to either choose a dog with a non-violent breeding history or NOT have a dog in the first place!

  2. The reason the nature vs nurture debate is relevant is because until we (ie, our legislators) acknowledge the inherent, genetically determined, huge danger every single pit-bull type dog presents, there will be no proactive measures.

    As you say, it's no good swatting the pit bull after each scalping, which is basically what the law does now. It's what the law would basically still do even if the general dog measures you propose (which I agree with!) were instituted.

    So while I (multi dog owner) fully agree that we dog owners should be held financially and criminally responsible for everything our dog does, it remains a 'one free bite' kinda rule (in the sense that it only corrects in retrospect). That might work with a pointer (who'd rather point than bite anyway), but it won't work to protect us against a type of dog bred specifically to savagely maul, and whose first 'bite' is indeed most often a devastating attack.

    In addition: Your measure might discourage rational people from getting a pit-bull type dog; but too many of the people who want these dogs are clearly unable to think ahead or to think rationally. We hear time and again that the pit owner hadn’t anticipated that his/her sweet, sweet wiggle-butt might hurt a fly. They are completely surprised that it suddenly killed their neighbor’s child. These apparently cognitively handicapped people would still be free to get a pit bull then fail to contain it, to expose their children’s playmates to it, to do things like taking it unmuzzled to parks where people and dogs come, etc. Not compelled by law, free to take these risks with us, corrected only after a catastrophe happened.

    Okay, so your ideas would be a great step in the right direction re all dogs, but I do think the pit plague is gonna need a more radical, proactive solution.

    P.S. I’m all for hiking the fine for leaving your dog’s droppings behind to $500. If pits have to be short-leashed and muzzled in public, officials might even dare ticket pit owners caught at this offence.