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Blockhead Pitbulls



Everything You Wanted To Know About "Pit Bulls"

The Name


The term "pit bull", in its somewhat broad meaning, generally includes breeds such as: American Pit Bull Terrier (UKC), American Staffordshire Terrier (CKC & AKC), Staffordshire Bull Terrier (CKC & AKC), and sometimes the Bull Terrier.


These breeds were originally used for "sports" like bull baiting and dog fighting.  However, just like the vast majority of dog breeds, they are now bred almost exclusively for companionship.  Where "pit bulls" are concerned, their original uses have, thankfully, been recognized as inhumane, with only a few cruel individuals still subjecting innocent dogs to this kind of torture.


The Difficulty In Accurately Identifying "Pit Bulls"


To accurately identify a dog of just about any breed, the viewer must be truly experienced with a wide array of dog breeds.  Even some "experts" might have difficulty differentiating between a female AmStaff and a female Cane Corso, for example.


Unfortunately, many other breeds or crosses are confused with "pit bulls".  Similar-looking, but much larger breeds such as: Presa Canario, Cane Corso, Dog Argentino, & Tosa Inu are more frequently misidentified as "pit bulls" than not.


And even breeds that look nothing like "pit bulls" have been reported as such.  Some of those misidentified as "pit bulls" are: Jack Russell Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Great Dane, and even an Airedale cross.


Who Is Qualified To Determine If A Dog Is A "Pit Bull"?


What many people don't know is that a dog's breed can never actually be proven, not even through DNA.  Genetically speaking, a Chihuahua is a wolf is a Labrador is a "pit bull".  The determination of breed is somewhat subjective, especially when the dog's parentage is unknown.


There have been dogs that looked exactly like a typical "pit bull" who we know have no "pit bull" in them, whatsoever.  Crosses like Lab and Rhodesian Ridgeback or Chesapeake Bay Retriever and Boxer could throw puppies that look like "pit bulls", for example.


Only those experienced with a wide range of similar-looking breeds are expert enough to make the subtle distinctions.  This may include breeders, dog show judges, or anyone with years of personal experience with multiple, similar-looking breeds.  There is no course of instruction for this.  It requires years of interaction with the breeds in question, in order to accurately differentiate one from the other.


Who Is Not Qualified To Determine If A Dog Is A "Pit Bull"?


Those who are not qualified to determine if a dog is a "pit bull" include anyone who hasn't had a great deal of experience differentiating between the breeds that look similar to, but are not, "pit bulls".  (I.E. even those people who are experienced with "pit bulls" may not be familiar with subtle differences that set other, less common breeds apart.)


Without personal knowledge gained outside the regular requirements for licensing or certification, even animal control workers and veterinarians have no greater ability to determine breed more accurately than the general population at large.


Animal control workers are not required to have any special knowledge of dog breeds in order to fulfill their role. 


Veterinarians receive little, if any, instruction in dog behaviour, training, or breed differentiation.  Veterinary students often have no special expertise with dogs before attending veterinary college.  Licensed veterinarians are expert at diagnosing illness and performing surgery.  Unless they are also active in dog training, studying dog behaviour, breeding, or competing, in addition to their veterinary practice, their license alone does not qualify them as dog breed experts.


The average dog owner is equally as unlikely to be familiar with the often confusing differences between breeds.  The general public is even less likely to accurately determine breed.  The owner of one purebred and typical-looking Great Dane has been told her dog looks like:

  • a "pit bull",

  • a Greyhound,

  • a Mastiff,

  • a Catahoula Leopard Dog,

  • an Afghan Hound,

  • a Rhodesian Ridgeback,

  • and a Boxer. 

Clearly, this example demonstrates that many people are just guessing at a dog's breed.  A Great Dane looks nothing like a "pit bull", a Boxer, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Catahoula Leopard Dog, or an Afghan Hound.  At best, the similarity is minor between a Great Dane and either a Mastiff or a Greyhound.


Are "Pit Bulls" Naturally Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?


The short answer, "No." 


It is more common than not to hear "pit bulls" referred to as "dog-aggressive".  In fact, they aren't.  Some may become fearful around other dogs due to a lack of proper socialization.  But this happens with all breeds of dogs, not just "pit bulls".  Unfortunately, this lack of socialization is frequently encouraged by those who fancy themselves "pit bull" experts. 


Citing the breed's history as a dog fighter, some people believe there is some kind of magic "dog fighting" gene or brain chemistry that is passed along from sire and dam to puppy.  The truth is, there is no such thing.


So why are so many "pit bulls" involved in attacks on other dogs?  Well, the answer is, they aren't necessarily involved more often than any other breed.  For instance, Rottweilers are probably involved in just as many attacks on other dogs, yet they were not bred for dog fighting.  They were bred to herd cattle and work as guardians.  If put to the test, most people would have to honestly answer that it is not "pit bulls" involved in most of the dog biting incidents in their communities.  Some, maybe.  But just as many Labradors, Goldens, Dalmations, Jack Russells, Poodles, etc. also stand accused of biting other dogs. 


Bites to other dogs are not unique to "pit bulls", even though it is only "pit bulls" who were originally bred for dog fighting.


To better understand the situation, we must look at statistical data about dogs who bite other dogs.  In the real world, virtually every breed of dog has been attributed with bites to other dogs.  Yet, only a handful of breeds, including "pit bulls", were bred for fighting.  If the reason a tiny percentage of "pit bulls" bite other dogs is in their genes, why is there only such a small percentage of them involved in biting incidents? (Wouldn't MOST of them be aggressive towards other dogs, if the breed is, in fact, genetically programmed to attack other dogs?)  And why are breeds that were not bred for fighting involved in MORE dog biting incidents than "pit bulls"?


The answer is, aggression towards other dogs is a learned behaviour.  As Cyndi Frendo of K9 Concepts aptly put it, "Aggression is a behaviour, not a temperament."


Believing the myth that "pit bulls" are naturally aggressive towards other dogs, all-too-many people restrict their "pit bulls" from normal, positive, social interactions with other dogs.  Some self-proclaimed "pit bull experts" actually counsel owners to inadequately socialize their "pit bulls" in a misguided attempt to "protect" them from dog fights. This creates the poorly socialized, fearful dogs we have now come to think of as the "pit bull". 


In reality, though, thousands of responsible "pit bull" owners have not only properly socialized their companion dogs, but many of them are even certified Therapy Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs, and Assistance Dogs.  This is proof that aggression towards other dogs is a behaviour that can either be learned, un-learned, or never acquired in the first place.


Regarding taking 'pit bulls' to dog parks, Animal Planet's Steve Dale says, "...the majority of ‘pit bulls’ can make peace and not war with other dogs, if they are well socialized."

Suzanne Clothier, author of "If A Dog's Prayers Were Answered Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs" (Warner Books, New York, NY, 2002), says "Some dog parks not only don't welcome them ('pit bulls') — they're not even allowed — and that's wrong. You have a dog who can be an ambassador for all 'pit bulls'."


Are "Pit Bulls" Naturally Aggressive Towards People?


Well, many of the fanciers of the breed would yell out a resounding, "No.", in spite of the fact that "pit bulls" kill more humans than most of the other dog breeds combined.


"Oh, no.  They were bred to be friendly towards humans." is the mantra one will often hear repeated.  This idea flies in the face of the statistics.  No other "breed" (although the term "pit bull" is generally considered to be a group of breeds) kills as many humans in North America as do "pit bulls".


Does this mean that "pit bulls" are inherently dangerous towards people?  Even if we believed all the myths about "pit bulls", the statistics still point to the fact that only a tiny percentage of the "pit bulls" in society are ever involved in biting incidents.  For instance, if there are at least 50,000 'pit bulls' in Canada, and we theorized an astounding 25 'pit bull' attacks, that would still mean that 99.9% of 'pit bulls' are never involved in attacks.  Surely 99.9% of a population shouldn't have to pay the price for the transgressions of such a tiny minority.


So, are 0.1% of "pit bulls" inherently aggressive towards humans? No, again.  Even those "pit bulls" that have been involved in serious biting incidents can be rehabilitated through responsible ownership and ethical training techniques.  Only those who have never been successful at re-training dogs believe it can't be done. 


Human fatalities are not unique to "pit bulls" by any means.  Every Group of dog breeds, even several members of the Toy Group, have been attributed with human deaths.  Sure, according to American statistics, there are more "pit bulls" involved in fatal dog bites, but many other breeds have also killed. 


The ability to determine if a puppy will become a danger, one day, is best achieved by viewing the puppy's owner.  Does that person hope the puppy will grow up to be fierce, or protective, or a weapon?  If so, it doesn't matter what breed of dog they own.  They will likely be successful, through improper training.


The sad fact is, many powerful breeds are purchased in the hopes they can be used as weapons.  This is not unique to "pit bulls".  However, the kinds of people who want their dogs to become aggressive have found that little 30-60 lb "pit bulls" can be trained to be just as menacing as their larger counterparts, yet they cost a lot less to feed and house.  And because they are physically much smaller, are easier for inexperienced owners to manage.  They are the perfect "pocket protector", relative to much larger breeds that were originally created for the purpose of guarding or personal protection. 


If you:

  • don't want a dog as part of the family, but just as a means of threatening other people;

  • if you don't plan to incorporate such a social animal into family life, instead just leaving it alone in the yard to guard the property;

  • if you don't know much about dog training, and expect to be able to physically restrain an untrained dog with a leash;

...if you're that kind of person, you'll be quickly overwhelmed by an adult Great Dane or Mastiff, for example.  These breeds are much more costly to keep than a "pit bull", and they will soon be able to drag the owner anywhere they please, if not obedience trained.  Luckily for fanciers of these breeds, these facts have kept them from becoming popular with the kinds of people who want dogs as weapons.  Unfortunately for "pit bulls", they are an ideal choice for thugs, criminals, and those who need a "tough" dog in order to feel "macho".  They don't cost much and can, even without the requisite hours and hours of obedience training, be physically restrained by the average adult.


While "pit bulls" do cause more fatalities than any other "breed" in the United States, the percentage of the actual "pit bull" population involved in such incidents remains miniscule.  The majority of "pit bulls" never bite or kill anyone or anything.  When they do, the reasons are the same as they are for any of the other breeds who bite or kill.  Poor supervision and lack of proper training and socialization by the dog's owner is to blame.  This explains why so many unrelated breeds are involved in aggression incidents.  Breed is not the deciding factor.  The home environment is.


Don't Some Dogs Have Aggressive Temperaments?


"Aggression is a behaviour, not a temperament."


Many people like to throw around the terms "good" and "bad" temperaments, but these labels are meaningless.  A dog of so-called "good" temperament could easily become aggressive if abused or neglected.  Dogs labelled as having "bad" temperaments are routinely rehabilitated by experienced, successful trainers.  Labels like "good" and "bad" truly are meaningless, in that they are wholly relative to the environment in which the dog is kept.


What isn't meaningless are the real temperament types.  Dominant, submissive, and all the shades of gray in between are the temperaments that dogs are born with.  These temperaments don't significantly change, regardless of the dog's environment.  More importantly, all are 100% trainable, even though different temperaments may require different training methods. 


It's the "one trick pony" type trainers who are unsuccessful at training dogs.  These kinds of people force their limited training methods on dogs of all temperament types.  When they're unsuccessful, they label the dog as "untrainable".  In reality, all dogs are trainable.  It's trainers who fail to adequately convey and reinforce the desired behaviours to dogs.


It is important to note that a litter of puppies from the same two parents can present a wide variety of temperament types.  Sometimes, from the same two parents, a litter can present the entire gamut of temperaments, from extremely dominant to extremely submissive, regardless of the temperaments of the parents.  We don't have as much control over breeding temperament as we like we think we do.  Regardless, we are comforted by the fact that dogs of all temperaments can be trained to become model canine citizens.


Dogs Are Natural Predators


Yes, dogs are predators who kill for food.  But they must learn this skill through encouragement and practice.  Man has not yet found a way to raise wolf cubs in captivity and successfully release them into the wild.  The wolves never learn how to kill for food on their own.  Other wolves must teach them to hunt, and they must practice their hunting technique to become proficient.  Chasing is instinctual for dogs.  Killing for food isn't. 


In fact, wild canids rarely injure each other in the wild.  All their fierce looking squabbling is mere posturing.  Dogs are as naturally averse to physical confrontation as are humans.  It is quite rare for an injury to take place amongst dogs.  When it does, it is usually a simple bite and release.  It is immeasurably rare for wild dogs to kill one another.


Are "Pit Bulls" More Likely To Bite?


All dogs are predators by nature, with teeth that can bite.  However, proper rearing teaches dogs (and yes, children) how to get what they want without resorting to violence.  All breeds of dog respond well to ethical training methods.


There are two main points that many people fail to recognize:

  1. There is no such thing as a breed of dog that won't bite.

  2. The breeds at the top of biting statistics are the most popular breeds at the time.  Meaning, in Canada, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds and other popular breeds top the bite statistics.  Any dog can bite.  Any poorly trained and unsupervised dog may bite unprovoked.  Breed is not the deciding factor, training and supervision is.

There are some who claim that certain breeds have a lower "bite threshold" than others.  This theory is inherently unscientific.  The methods for inducing dog bites is unethical.  This means that only irresponsibly-owned dogs would be participating in any scheme that hopes to induce a bite response.  (What responsible dog owner would willingly allow his/her well-trained, well-socialized, and loved dog to be provoked to the point that it feels it must bite?) 


Another problem with such tests is the natural tendency for humans to "create" their intended result.  If the individual expects a dog of a certain breed to respond aggressively, he/she may use more severe inducements or maintain the inducements longer.  If the breed is expected to be more docile, the individual may not try as hard to illicit an aggressive response. 


This is the problem not only with tests of this kind, but with dog ownership in general.  Those who hope their dogs will behave aggressively are usually successful, no matter which breed the dog is.  The sad reality is, this means that many breeds are purchased for the stated purpose of "protection".  Everyone then blames the dog's breed when it behaves the way it was encouraged by the owner.


To put it more simply, very few potential dog owners set out to choose between a Yorkshire Terrier and a 'pit bull', or a Maltese and Rottweiler.  The owner's intent is what tends to drive the selection process.  And this is ultimately why more dogs that were purchased by people who'd hoped the breed would be "protective" are involved in unprovoked aggression incidents...not exclusively (given that even Toy breed dogs have killed), but certainly more often than the others.


Some "Pit Bull" Breeders Claim That 'Bad Breeding' Causes Aggression


Science simply doesn't support that theory.  If we look at the issue pragmatically, we'd search for evidence that dogs who attack are genetically related in some meaningful way.  This would indicate an inheritable component to aggressive behaviour; some kind of shared genetic cause for the aberrant behaviour.


In fact, the "pit bulls" involved in serious attacks are not genetically related in any meaningful way.  When we look at all dogs involved in serious attacks, we see that they, too, are not genetically linked in any way that supports the theory of a genetic basis for aggression.  In addition, purebreds are never crossed with other breeds, by definition.  This excludes the idea of shared genetic pathology amongst dogs of differing breeds.


The dogs involved in serious biting incidents are not closely genetically related.  Therefore, they could not possibly share some kind of unique, inheritable gene that causes them to attack.


Final Note About 'Pit Bulls' In Canada


We have been researching dog bite related fatalities in Canada, and have yet to find a single incident of a 'pit bull' definitively causing the death of a human in Canada.


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