A Definitive Tome About Pit Bulls, Which The Breed Bigots Will Ignore, Naturally

“I’m just a dog, sitting in front of a human, asking him to love her.”

Among the posts on Ethics Alarms that still get comments regularly long after they were written is the 2015 designation of Dogsbite.org as an Unethical Website of the Month. That site is a pit bull hate nest, notable for its bad science, bad history, bad logic and hysteria. Even though the Ethics Alarms post and previous ones here explain in  detail why the propaganda on Dogsbite.org is wrong, makes so sense, is pure fearmongering  and does terrible harm, people keep writing in to Ethics Alarms, citing the same false statistics, the same debunked facts, and the same lies that too many municipalities have used to ban many dog breeds and mixes, essentially for looking like what people think are pit bulls. I don’t know that there is any other topic where the commenters are so immune to fairness and reason.

Well, other than the President, of course.

Now  award-winning journalist Bronwen Dickey has written  Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon , which just came out in paperback on April 4. Her goal was to take as objective and analytical look at the breed (and breeds) as possible, using genetic science, research, expert testimony and reliable data, neither sentimentalizing the dogs nor demonizing them. Dickey’s  conclusion, already obvious to anyone who has had prolonged or extensive contact with them: Pit bulls are just dogs.

The author was recently interviewed in New York Magazine, which couldn’t resist adding a misleading title to the feature: “How Both Sides of the Pit Bull Debate Get It Wrong.” Talk about false equivalency: one “side” believes the dogs are demonic killers that should be wiped off the face of the earth, and the other mistakenly says they were “Nanny dogs,” when they were just called “the Nanny Dog.” See? Both ides are wrong!

There are no sides. Pit bull phobics are driven by fear and ignorance, while those who understand dogs try to mitigate the harm their lies do to families and animals

Bronwen Dickey would be in the latter category. I note that she owns a pit bull. She knows what she’s writing about. The hysterics will say she’s biased.

Tidbits from the interview, in which she comments on some of her findings…

  • “[T]he best thing we could possibly do for these dogs, or any dogs, is to sideline the breed obsession and focus on what unites all people and all dogs, and what humans and dogs have been sharing for many thousands of years.

Our breed fixation is so historically recent. We’ve lived with dogs for 35,000 years at least, and this breed fixation only started in the mid-19th century. So we’re looking at this tiny drop of history, and the way our culture is now — with marketing and branding and sorting ourselves into tribes — the breed thing has become all-consuming.”

  • “Pit bull” is such a huge category with so many millions of dogs. There are at least four pedigreed breeds, and then you have people lumping in the mixed breeds and the dogs that are just kind of stocky or whatever. Once the pool gets that big, you can’t generalize anymore. At this point, “pit bulls” are as diverse as Americans.
  • A lot of times when you see the “pit bull” headline, the dogs that are referred to as pit bulls are just mixed-breed dogs. It’s like we’ve come to use the term “pit bull” to mean “dog not otherwise specified.” So if it has a short coat and they don’t know what it is, there are many people who will just call it a pit bull. Or if it has a brindle coat, then that’s a “pit bull.”
  • “Scientists have done studies where they take animal professionals— shelter workers, veterinarians, animal control officers, etc. — and show them photo arrays and video clips of dogs, and ask them to give their opinions as to which breeds are in which dogs. More than half the time, not only do the breeds they pick not correspond to what the dogs’ genetic tests say, but very often they can’t even agree with each other. That, for me, is the most damning thing about visual breed identification.

In answer to the question about whether breed-specific bans work, the author says,

  • “‘No. In eight of the countries that have breed bans, they’ve studied whether or not they actually reduce dog bites and serious bite injuries, and they’ve found that they do not. Leash laws, containment laws, and holding reckless owners responsible are far more effective measures….We’ve known for a long time that breed bans don’t work. The laws are way behind the science at this point.”

She’s then asked, “People often say things like, “Pointers point, retrievers retrieve, and pit bulls fight,” implying that violence is in pit-bull-type dogs’ DNA. How does that hold up under scientific scrutiny?” Her reply…

  • It doesn’t. …That’s a very soothing and simplistic way of looking at the world, but it’s not really true. Pointers who have been highly selected for pointing will perhaps have a knack for pointing based on the breeder and the processes of selection and the particular line of dog and all these other choices that are being made (how the dogs are handled, how they’re trained, etc). Breeders know how to increase that likelihood, but as one of the trainers I interviewed in the book stressed, “There’s no such thing as a litter of winners.”

That’s true even for behaviors that are relatively simple, like pointing and retrieving, which are also highly advantageous to the dog. They help it secure food. But breeders who are trying to breed for fighting — which are extremely rare these days, with awareness so high thanks to Michael Vick —have a much harder uphill battle, because (a) fighting is incredibly complicated; and (b) it puts a dog at a disadvantage evolutionarily. Dogs are very social creatures; they live in groups. Fighting other dogs is not conducive to survival. The cruelty-investigators and the experts that I talked to stressed that if a breeder is rigorously selecting for those traits for generations and generations, it still is considered a very high success rate if they get one in the litter who has the fighting makeup.”

She also mentions that actor Patrick Stewart is having an impact by posting about his pit bull on the web. (I knew nothing about this.)

“I don’t think anything can [repair the pit bull’s image] single-handedly at this point,” she says, “but I love those posts and the fact that all the wonderful things he’s doing with Ginger are the wonderful things that anyone would do with any dog. The more people who see that normal, everyday human-dog friendship, the more we’ll all collectively get over our breed fixation and move on.”

None of this, of course, and nothing in her book, will have any effect on the anti-pit bull fanatics who comment on Ethics Alarms.

19 thoughts on “A Definitive Tome About Pit Bulls, Which The Breed Bigots Will Ignore, Naturally

  1. Oh please don’t dress any dog like that. Some women think it’s cute (and I imagine some gay men too) but it’s humiliating to the dog even if he/she doesn’t say so. And don’t show up on a plane with a dog’s phony emotional support vest on: It’s unethical and annoying to the other passengers.

    • I highly doubt dogs care enough about fashion to be “humiliated” by silly outfits. They’re more likely to care if the outfit is comfortable or not. Agree on the support vest thing.

  2. This is a timely post for me. I dog sit. In fact I have 5 Chihuahuas on the couch next to me right now (I wish I could show you a photo). All of them basically are their own dogs, but yes, the Chihuahuas are different from the Dachshunds, which are different from the Corgi’s and so on. While breeds have some behavioral similarities, each dog I care for is in fact a unique creature. Interestingly we have a neighbor a few houses down that has a Pit Bull that escaped out of an open 2nd floor window and attacked a woman & her 2 small dogs in front of my house two days ago. This dog has proven over the months in the neighborhood to be a menace as it’s tried to attack others residents nearby. I now have to carry pepper spray on walks.

    Sadly the breed gets the blame. Sadly too, the breed also seems to attract sometimes certain types of folks who don’t know how to handle a dog with the *potential* to cause very serious damage. I like all dogs. But some regardless of breed, are dangerous due to lack of training. The dog that attacked one of my clients last year was a Mastiff so there you go.

    • Maybe it’s time for a dog owner’s license. Weed out the thugs with criminal records, the truly clueless, and those that dress their dogs in Halloween costumes.

          • My family is learning to speak dog (and cat, since we adopted on last year).

            Growing up rural, these were working animals (and sometimes pets as well) and the rules were different. But, absent more than 3 TV stations (and only one at a time, depending on where you pointed the 60 foot antenna) or video games, I had time to learn my animals (cows, chickens, peacocks and wild ones as well).

            Dogs speak very plainly, once you know what motivates them. Dogs have eyebrows, that they know how to use on humans (cats are at a disadvantage here: see ‘Dogs and Cats’ by George Carlin on You Tube for a funny take on this). My Beagle mix will let you know what he thinks of a circumstance quite plainly, and does not need to bark to do so.

            Being exposed to pets as a child teaches many lessons (if the dogs and cat have not been fed, the child does not eat until they have; ‘poop patrol’ trumps TV and devices, etc.) Sad so many do not see this.

    • I’m trying to picture you with those five feisty little dogs.

      Mastiffs are the sweetest, most gentle dogs imaginable(Our still-mourned Patience, a 160 lb female, was the darling of everyone in the neighborhood), but they can be shy if you don’t socialize them early. I wouldn’t want to be attacked by one.

      • I’d totally have a Mastiff. Just a well trained one. True story- the worst experience w/ a dog was the 6lb black Chihuahua that bit me until I bled. The little ones are no joke!

        • Mastiffs are stubborn, but extremely easy to train. The are very sensitive, smart, and want to please. We couldn’t even raise our voice to Patience without her moping and hiding in the bathroom.

        • Growing up, such a yip yap would have had a short life in our house… we had larger breed dogs only, and not in the house! Now I own a Chihuahua mix who did not realize she was a dog (never barked) until the Beagle mix taught her how!

  3. A dog’s heart is cooperation over competition. Here in SoCal the shelters are full of Pitties and Chi’s and their mixes. I blame greedy ignorant breeders, a throw away society that thinks nothing of getting rid of dogs that become an inconvenience, and a lazy society that won’t put the effort and time into researching before acquiring, socializing and training….but still wants a puppy over an adult dog…

    I sit at my desk, typing this listening to the soft snores of the dogs at my feet. All 16 of them. Yesterday there were 17. I had to help one old fellow shuffle off the mortal coil yesterday. Some asshole dumped him and his elderly lady friend at the shelter, claiming they “found them running stray”. Because they were “stray” the shelter by law had to hold them 5 days for their owner to reclaim them, which never happened. See in our state, it costs $80 to surrender your dog, but to drop off a stray is free. Hence we get a lot of strays that certainly weren’t stray.

    The little old pug dogs, Monty and Matilda, sat on the cold, cement floor of a kennel terrified for 5 days before I could be allowed to get them. By then they both had caught kennel cough and an intestinal bug. Matilda has a collapsing trachea, and her kennel cough quickly turned to pneumonia. I had to put her in my ICU cage on oxygen twice to save her life. She is recovering now, but still doesn’t want to eat much. Her boyfriend Monty had bizarrely abnormal x-rays and an ultrasound revealed a huge tumor on his liver which was displacing his other organs. I had him just two weeks before having to let him go. At least he died warm and loved with gentle hands and the tears of someone who loved him on his coat instead of on the cold cement with a heart stick. That is how he would have died if I didn’t intervene. Both of them little old balls of furry love. How can humans fail their oldest companions so completely?
    In rescue we agonize over the pitties, staffies, American Bulldogs, mastiffs and other “bully” breeds as well as dobies, shepherds, rotties and others with bad reps. So many are such wonderful dogs, but no one wants to take a chance and adopt them….except the fighters. I have seen them come to the shelters, they walk the aisles and kick and rattle the cages, they yell at the dogs, looking for the one that hits the fence aggressively. They write the number down and send their girlfriends and wives to adopt the dogs ( this happens to many a Craigslist free dog as well). Or even worse, they adopt passive, submissive dogs to use as bait dogs. I had a bait dog. He was a pug mix. Sweet as could be. They filed his teeth – I don’t know why, he would have never bit anyone, man nor beast. His skin was like a mosaic of scars where he had been torn open, crudely sewn back shut and torn open again. He never lost his trust and love of people or other dogs. I named him Edgar Allan Pug and he was adopted by a lovely family who had him until he passed.
    No, there should not be breed bans. There should be idiot breeder and owner bans. It is not the dog that is at fault, it is man and his greed and irresponsible and selfish ways.

      • I do. Maybe because I have seen them and loved them. Maybe because I have friends who are animal control agents who bust dog fighting operations and take their scarred and ravaged bodies out of those places. In a fighting dog operation there is no use for a basset hound, a pug, a lab mix… those dogs are there for one reason only and they normally aren’t there long. Must see if I can find a pic of sweet Edgar…

    • Lisa,

      Those are heartbreaking stories. I just don’t understand cruelty to animals. I just can’t wrap my mind around it.

      We recently adopted a fellow from McAllen, Texas (that is the Valley – on the US – Mexico border). Many wonderful people live there (our nieces among them). However, there a lot blithering idiots there, too. Our nieces’ dog escaped on Christmas Eve. Having been chipped, someone took the pooch the pound. The pooch was scanned, my niece contacted, and they went to rescue their dog. While waiting, they found a puppy – somewhere between 4 and 5 months. He has chocolate lab and, most probably, pit bull. As we had promised our son a puppy if he got honors in his first trimester of 7th grade, our niece contacted us, sent us a picture, and we began the adoption process (not too terribly complicated even though the valley is 300 miles away and the shelter was very accommodating). Our niece brought him to Houston. The puppy was terribly under weight, had mange, and was very weak Aside from the those ailments, he was healthy. A quick trip to the vet took care of the health issues. He is 8 months old, weighs about 30 -35 pounds and is doing well. He is friendly, good with other dogs (birds and squirrels, well those are other stories . . .), and quite intelligent. I worry about his tail wagging though. It is no ordinary wag. No. It starts at the tip of his tail, proceeds all the way down the tail, infects the body, and results in very dangerous standing sign wave. I worry he is going to wag is tail so hard one time he will cancel himself out and disappear. My son named him Remington Winchester Burger, Esquire, for he is a dog of letters.

      I posted a picture of Remington on Facebook, showing off our good fortune. Here it is:


      You would not believe the vitriol I received from some otherwise reasonable people. While some gushed over him, others openly declared that this mostly playful and sleeping fellow was Satan’s Hell Hound sent to devour grandmothers and little children. One friend even told me not inform my insurance company because they won’t cover him in the event he bites someone. One friend even said she and her family would not be coming over to our house anytime soon what that beast around. I was surprised by the immediate, visceral rejection of this dog. Dogs, it seems to me like other animals, are products of their environment. If you treat a dog nicely, it will most likely be nice. If you beat it, chain it up outside, never interact with it, it will probably be mean.


      • Actually, it is worse than that JB. If you file a claim for hail damage to your roof, and your adjuster notices a dog that appears to be one of the seven identified “bad” breeds, he is required to notify the insurance company. In many cases, they will not renew your policy after that notification.

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