Cesar Millan poses with his two sons and their family pet

Happy Father’s Day to everyone who is a father or has or had a father! When I think of fathers, I of course think of my own, and I also think of the joy that I feel in being a father to two wonderful sons, Andre and Calvin – and by the way, one of them is going to debut in his own TV series next month, which makes me extremely proud. You’ll be hearing all about it very soon!

Besides that, though, when I think of the word father, I can’t help but think of Daddy, my pit pull and right-hand dog who was with me for sixteen years. He was the most amazing dog I’ve ever known and he taught me a lot while he was around.

And, like all pit bulls, large or small, Daddy was part of a very misunderstood breed.

Pit Bulls Are Not a Breed

The first problem is that “pit bull” is not a breed of dog, but a type, and it covers a lot of different breeds: the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, and sometimes the American bulldog and bull terrier, both standard and miniature. Also, when any other dog breed is mixed with a pit bull type, the resulting dog is often considered to be a pit bull as well, at least by the general public.

Daddy and Junior are both pit bulls, but of very different types, and if you look at various famous pit bulls, you’ll see how different they can appear. Spuds MacKenzie was a pit bull and she (yes, she!) looked nothing like Daddy or Junior. The most famous pit bull of World War I, Sergeant Stubby, had a face more like a French bull dog and was much smaller than Junior. Helen Keller’s pit bull Sir Thomas was also small, with a more boxer-like face.

So, when someone says “pit bull,” unless they’re talking about the Cuban-American rapper, they can be referring to a lot of different types of dogs. And when you include a lot of different types in one definition, then all of them suffer when only a few of them misbehave.

Think of an innocuous statement like, “All English speakers love coffee.” You might think this if the only English speakers you meet are from the U.S., but would think otherwise if you went to England, where they prefer tea. It’s the same with pit bulls, because they usually only make the news after they attack someone — and if the breed is unknown, it magically turns into “a pit bull type dog.”

And that magically turns into the perception: “All pit bulls are vicious and attack humans.”

That statement should really be, “Some dogs are vicious and attack humans because humans have trained them, intentionally or not, to do so.” Whether it’s a pit bull that was raised and conditioned to be a guard dog or a fighter, or a Chihuahua that’s insecure and aggressive because it is overloaded with nothing but affection, the viciousness doesn’t come from the dog. It comes from the owner.

A lot of people might not know it, but Daddy was trained as a protection dog from before I adopted him, and would have done that job in an instant if I gave him the command to do so. I never gave that command and never would have — but any dog, given the same training, would have the same potential. There’s no reason that people can’t train attack beagles, after all. But there’s also no reason to think of pit bulls as naturally dangerous dogs.

Pack Leaders Are Responsible to Train

Fathers (and mothers) are responsible for raising their children, teaching them right from wrong, and giving them the foundational skills to go on and become mature adults. When we adopt dogs, we have exactly the same responsibility to them: to teach them the rules, boundaries, and limitations and provide them with the strong leadership necessary to keep them balanced, calm, and submissive.

A dog doesn’t really care about its breed. It just wants to be a dog. When we allow them to do that, then we can truly learn that there are no bad breeds.

Stay calm, and Happy Father’s Day!

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