My TV special “Love My Pit Bull” addresses a subject very close to my heart as we look at the myths and misconceptions about pit bulls, how they got such a bad reputation, and what we can do to restore it.
Pit bulls were not the ones who earned that bad reputation for themselves. Humans gave it to them, first by creating aggressive dogs and second by not seeing past the breed. When any other breed of dog bites or attacks a human, it just doesn’t make the news. When a pit bull does it, it makes headlines everywhere.
According to a study done by the ASPCA and reported by 1-800-PetMeds, when a case of a dog attacking a human does not involve a pit bull, it is rarely reported outside of small, local media outlets. Make that dog a pit bull, though, and the story hits the national news.
And “make” is the right word, because dogs that are not pit bulls are frequently misidentified that way in news stories. Any time you read “pit bull type” or “pit bull mix,” then that dog was probably not a pit bull. To further confuse the issue, “pit bull” is not a single breed. The term covers a number of different dogs.
You might remember the case of Lennox, a dog in the UK who was ultimately put down because the government identified him as a pit bull — but do you know how he was identified that way? It was strictly based on measurements, including the width of his head in relation to his body.
It becomes a vicious cycle. People have the preconceived idea that pit bulls are aggressive dogs, so when they encounter a big aggressive dog that is not obviously a different breed, they immediately think “pit bull.”
But pit bulls are not the first dogs to be branded as vicious killers. At various times in the past, Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, and German shepherds all had the distinction of being branded the “killer” breed.
The point is that it is not a breed of dog that is dangerous. Chihuahuas can be very aggressive and pit bulls can be very docile. What makes any dog aggressive is how that dog is treated by humans. Pit bulls became popular with gang members and drug dealers for security, as well as with people staging illegal dog fights. Those dogs were trained to be vicious and aggressive, and now every pit bull is seen in that way.
The treatment of these guard and fighting dogs is cruel, inhumane, and inexcusable. They are chained, beaten, and frequently injured or killed in fights. Even worse, other innocent dogs are regularly destroyed because of guilt by association.
We need to end the inhumane treatment of dogs, period. But this goes beyond just stopping people who openly abuse them. We have to recognize that any treatment of a dog that does not fulfill its needs is cruel, and this includes humanizing them and trying to treat them as little furry people.
Yes, it is possible to abuse a dog in a way by giving it nothing but affection. Affection is the reward, and should only come after a dog has earned it — by migrating with the pack on the walk; by showing discipline through following rules, boundaries, and limitations; and by exhibiting calm, submissive energy.
We need to learn how to let our dogs be dogs and we need to constantly remember that there are no bad breeds. We need to do that by respecting our dogs as wonderful animals first, and earning their trust by fulfilling their needs as a species.
Stay calm, and earn their trust.