Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Blancing Act

Beliefs on Pit Bulls are often extreme. Whether you are berating them as vicious monsters, or cooing that they are as sweet and gentle as baby bunnies, either way, your opinion is likely to be very strong. Even in groups consisting only of breed advocates, you will find harshly contrasting ideas about what, temperamentally, the APBT is at its core, particularly when you hit on the subject of dog-directed aggression.

Over the past 15 years that I have been involved with this breed, there has been a gradual shift towards more sane, *balanced* thinking about Pit Bulls and the behavioral issue of dog-directed aggression. We're (the Pit Bull advocacy world) moving farther away from that extreme end of the spectrum that says, "This breed is dog-aggressive, PERIOD. They are born that way and will always fight!" and instead looking at the breed from a more reasoned, scientific place.

I think it's rad that people are thinking and experimenting and giving the DOGS a chance to tell us who and what they are. The old battle cry of "Never trust a Pit Bull not to fight" has been outdated for a while now (not sure if it ever was really useful, period) and everyone's coming up with new and better ways to educate and represent our dogs.

My hope is that we can stay balanced as a movement (Pit Bull education and rescue), and not - in the process of defending our dogs - move too far in either direction and end up misrepresenting what they are. I've heard from many people who have taken offense to this or that on the RPB website; usually it's in response to something about Pit Bulls oftentimes having issues with other dogs. We've actually had people come at us as if we were the enemy, that, somehow, by suggesting the breed was prone to certain (undesirable) behaviors, we were insulting their dog and the breed as a whole. In some ways, I can understand this. When your breed has been brutalized and discriminated against, it is easy to be sensitive and work a little harder than you should to paint a picture that is perhaps overly rosy.

The other end of the spectrum is still a problem too - I recently heard from a person who thought I was crazy and an animal rights extremist because states that it is a myth that Pit Bulls 'love to fight', and that given the opportunity to learn to display other behaviors, are more than willing to mingle peacefully with other dogs. This person was nearly irate that we dared make such a bold statement. "They DO love to fight! That is why Poodles run away from a fight, and Pit Bulls run towards it". As a dog trainer, I can assure you, any breed can and will move towards another dog in an effort to attack, and aggression is always based on a desire to make the target go away. It's not a want or a love, it's a perceived need to get that target AWAY that drives aggression: in Pit Bulls, or ANY breed. We still have such a long way to go in the education department.

Pit Bulls are just dogs; they display dog behavior. There is nothing a Pit Bull does that every other breed in the world hasn't done at some point or another. They are also a unique breed (isn't every breed unique?) and because they are a breed, certain generalizations about their temperaments and oft-seen behavioral issues can be made. I hope we don't lose sight of the fact of what we actually have in these dogs. I also hope we can keep probing and asking questions and seeking truth and balance so we can help the breed flourish and prosper - conservatively, with the RIGHT guardians.

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