Friday, June 28, 2013

“Ok, so what the heck is a ‘pit bull’”?

The tons of written material out there – most of it new – pertaining to defining “pit bull” is extremely confusing and even misinformed in many cases. In this post we’ll try to sort through the mess and get to the bottom of the term Pit Bull, explain what RPB means when we say "Pit Bull", and hopefully steer you towards the correct usage of this breed nickname.

Let’s get this first fact out of the way. The ONLY BREED ever known to have the words Pit Bull as part of its official, recognized breed name is the AMERICAN PIT BULL TERRIER (APBT), which was officially named in 1898 by the United Kennel Club. The term ‘pit bull’ comes from this breed’s official, registry-recognized name. That’s a fact; it’s indisputable.

The Real Pit Bull, Inc. (RPB) was founded circa 1997, as a breed education source for the American Pit Bull Terrier. The reason the name The Real Pit Bull was chosen was to reference the REAL - not the media-hyped up, false version of the "monster" - Pit Bull, the truth about it, not the fictitious version. We've always been breed-specific, educating on breed-specific traits. Eventually we grew and morphed into a breed-focused rescue. Breed rescues focus on purebred or believed-to-be-purebred dogs of their focused-on breed. Hence, at RPB, we focus ONLY on American PIT BULL Terriers.

RPB only uses the term Pit Bull when we are referencing the American Pit Bull Terrier, or dogs of unknown ancestry we believe to be APBTs. Makes sense, right? It’s the ONLY breed with the words PIT BULL in its name. Let’s compare this use of a nickname to another breed. How about the Rottweiler? Although the dogs are officially recognized with the breed name ROTTWEILER, they are often called Rotts or Rotties for short. We can do the same thing with Doberman Pinschers. Officially known as Doberman Pinschers, they are often called Dobes, referencing the purebred, specific breed of dog, by a very distinct nickname that obviously can only apply to the Doberman Pinscher.

(How many nicknames pertaining to other breeds can you come up with? Do you use any of these breed nicknames to reference breeds/dogs OTHER than the official breed?)

But I’ve read a lot of breed specific legislation [BSL], and the laws as written always state “pit bull” as meaning these three dog breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier [APBT], the American Staffordshire Terrier [AST], and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier [SBT] – so obviously “pit bull” can be used to reference more than one breed….right?” Well, not really. First of all, it is best not to follow the lead of people who support and write legislation meant to ban our dogs based on the notion that they are inherently vicious man-eaters. If we took the word of breed specific legislation, we’d also have to concede that Pit Bulls are vicious, unsafe companions, that shouldn’t be kept in our communities. But the inclusion of three specifically-named dog breeds in BSL has more to do with the similar history of these dogs and confusion generated by breed registries.

Get to know your breed history, and speak with experts involved with their breed of choice, talk to breed clubs. Don't look to the media, and be careful believing what you read on websites that often simply parrot each other (instead of having been authored by people actually involved with the breed(s) they are speaking on or having done real research).

The American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier were the same exact breed with the same exact history until 1936 when the American Kennel Club recognized the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) but changed its name to Staffordshire Terrier (later on adding the prefix American). In fact, any American Staffordshire Terrier (AST) can also be registered as an American Pit Bull Terrier with the United Kennel Club. Whether or not you consider the APBT and the AST to be the same breed at this point all comes down to what your definition of “breed” is and whether or not you consider the AST to be significantly different from the American Pit Bull Terrier at this point due to selective, closed breeding pools. Obviously, if you consider the AST to be a separate breed from the APBT, the UKC disagrees with you – and so do we. RPB considers the APBT and the AST to be THE SAME BREED. You can really call either a Pit Bull and not be wrong. Read all about APBT (and AST) here. It’s convoluted, but this is the reason BSL names American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers specifically and separately – they are the same dogs, known under different names based on the registry they are connected with.

What about the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (SBT)? Although the SBT is a breed separate and apart from the APBT and AST, they are very closely related and come from the same original bull-and-terrier crosses that the APBT and AST come from. The flow of history and breed creation just took the SBT along a similar albeit separate path. The SBT was recognized as a breed by the AKC in 1975. You can read about SBT history and see how similar their history is to that of the APBT and AST here at the AKC website.

APBT and AST people often call their dogs “Pit Bulls” for short (although some AST folks do balk at that term, or consider, at this point, the APBT and AST to be very similar but separate breeds), but SBT people are very definite about the fact that their dogs are NOT Pit Bulls and are not to be called such. A quote from the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America, on its rescue page, very adamantly states the following: "The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America ("SBTCA") assists with the rescue and rehoming of pure bred English Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Unfortunately this is not the place for Pit Bull Rescue…." Clearly distinguishing the SBT from the Pit Bull – noting they are separate breeds – the SBTC does not extend rescue help to Pit Bulls. And why would they? They are a club that is dedicated to the SBT. (As an aside, many so-called “pit bull rescues” on the other hand, include SBTs in their list of “pit bull breeds” that they rescue – these are usually rescues that pay no mind to distinguishing one breed from another and use the BSL-defined “pit bull” as their reference point for what dogs they do and do not pull into their rescue.) It should be noted that SBTs are very rare, and almost never involved in any attacks whatsoever. It’s almost a formality that they are tossed under the BSL bus along with APBTs and ASTs, simply by virtue of their closely-related history and look.

BSL in addition to listing the APBT, AST and SBT separately will also often include a phrase like, “…and any dog with similar characteristics to any of the above breeds”. It’s clear why BSL is worded like this, isn’t it? Since many dogs may not actually come with papers and pedigree proving what breed they are or are not, BSL attempts to cover all bases by including dogs that MAY be Pit Bulls by virtue of the fact that they look like Pit Bulls. It doesn’t mean they ARE Pit Bulls, it just means that they share some physical attributes, so they better be targeted “just in case”. The onus would be on the accused’s human to prove the dog is NOT actually a “pit bull” (APBT, AST, SBT) as defined by BSL. If the owner COULD prove that the dog is NOT a “pit bull” as defined by BSL, the dog would be exempt – doesn’t matter WHAT the dog looks like at that point, just so long as it is proven it’s not a “pit bull”. So you see, it’s not really about “any short, stocky dog with a big head being a ‘pit bull’ ” it’s about making sure any BSL-defined "pit bulls" fall under the jurisdiction of BSL, and if that means some OTHER breeds/mixes get targeted in the process, so be it.

Just because PIT BULL is used in a certain way, to make sure all bases are covered and due to the fact that certain breeds are very closely related – almost indistinguishably so – doesn’t mean that the term has no meaning, that "pit bull" is “no such breed” and that it doesn’t actually refer to a very specific breed of dog.

BSL also targets OTHER breeds. Breeds like American Bulldogs, Dogo Argentino, or Cane Corso may be specifically named in BSL. That does not make these breeds Pit Bulls, it makes them breeds targeted by legislation meant to ban or restrict them.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The cost of doing business with the wrong trainer.

Because of Cesar Millan's affinity for Pit Bulls and supposed Pit Bull "expertise" a lot of our fellow Pit Bull fanatics seem to gravitate towards him. Not just gravitate towards him, but emulate him. Indeed, over the past several years, we've seen a lot of new "pit bull trainers" pop up seemingly mimicking Millan and trying to follow his recipe for success. We do occasionally post on this blog reminders that Cesar Millan's methods are highly controversial and nearly universally derided by animal behavior professionals (i.e. those with actual field degrees) and ethologists, and warn people away from Millan as well as anyone using similar aversive and dangerous techniques.

There is a clip floating around the internet showing Cesar Millan strangling a dog named Shadow that he repeatedly provokes into aggression. The clip is difficult to watch and at the end shows an exhausted, nearly asphyxiated animal laying on the ground. It's actually pretty horrific and that anyone could see this and still be a fan of Millan speaks to the problem of what we deem acceptable/normal in dog training due to the complete lack of regulation in the dog training field (no degrees, training, or certification is required to call oneself a "dog trainer").

We just stumbled across a couple of good blog articles that we'd like to share with our readers. The first is talking about the incident in which Millan strangles Shadow, posted on Psychology Today, and you can read that here. The second is not Millan-specific but talks about stress in dog training, how it can hamper learning, and also mentions a case in which a dog was subjected to a technique like the one Shadow experienced and received permanent serious physical damage to the point that the dog had to be euthanized. That second blog can be found here.

It's important for dog parents to take some time to learn about behavior and learning before launching into any training endeavor. Researching the person you are receiving instruction from is important, and please remember just because someone calls themselves an expert on TV or in real life, doesn't mean they know what they are doing. For the sake of the dogs, we cannot stress enough the importance of working with ONLY qualified, dog-friendly trainers, veterinary behaviorists, or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. Your dog's physical, emotional and behavioral health is at stake.