Go beyond the stereotype and you’ll discover a smart, calm, and loving companion, just as I did 20 years ago
A dog is a dog.
It seems a pretty obvious statement, doesn’t it? Go to your dog park and sit back and watch how they interact. You’ll see Chihuahuas chasing after Labs, Westies happily socializing with Rottweilers, and purebred Irish wolfhounds checking out the mutts. What matters is the energy a dog gives off. Dogs try to avoid any animal that isn’t balanced and acts aggressively — it doesn’t matter whether it’s a big dog or small dog or what breed it is.
But when I hear people talk, I realize that they’re complicating this by dividing the world of dogs into breeds and then projecting characteristics onto them. And that is never more true than when you hear the words “pit bull.”
Sadly, a lot of people have come to think of pit bulls as violent and aggressive dogs. This is reinforced on TV and in newspapers that go to town every time there’s an attack — and often the offending dog is described as a pit even when it isn’t.
I’m here to tell you, though, that a pit bull is no more likely to unpredictably attack than any other breed. That’s a fact. To say that a pit is a natural-born killer is nothing more than stereotyping.
We don’t have a problem with the breed — we have a problem with education. And until we change people’s attitudes, pit bulls are going to have problems. There are more pit bulls in shelters than any other breed, they’re less likely to be adopted, and they’re far more likely to be euthanized.
The pits in my own life
It’s so hard for me to understand people when they talk about pit bulls as they do because I immediately think of the pits in my own life.
I first met Daddy 20 years ago, when he was just a 4-month-old puppy. He was with the rapper Redman, who said to me, “I don’t want my dog to get me in trouble — I want you to train him.” Because Redman was touring and traveling a lot of the time, Daddy stayed with me.
From the beginning, Daddy was balanced and calm, and because I always had a large pack around he got to know a lot of different dogs early on, so he was always well-socialized. It didn’t matter what other dogs did. If they became aggressive, he’d just walk away, and he’d let little dogs do anything to him. At one time, there were two small Italian greyhounds in the pack, and Daddy used to let them climb up on him and go to sleep.
My sons Andre and Calvin grew up with pit bulls. I have pictures of Andre clutching his bottle and lying down on Daddy. To my kids, Daddy was a buddy to play with, a pillow to lie on for comfort, and a patient friend who always understood them.
Daddy was incredibly in touch with all of the members of the household. When someone wasn’t feeling well, he could sense it before entering the house, and he’d slow down to let me know. He knew the difference between adults and kids and was much more patient and tolerant with the kids, almost like a grandpa. That’s how my children saw him — as a proud and understanding friend to them. Daddy did so much to enrich my life and the lives of my kids.
Daddy was a natural leader, and other dogs would follow him instinctively, which is how Junior wound up joining our pack. Daddy picked out Junior from the litter — and Junior followed him when he walked away.
Daddy and I understood each other without words, and we could read each other’s moods perfectly. This was the greatest lesson he gave me: how to connect. Before you can train a dog or rehabilitate a dog, you have to connect, but you can only do it by using your instincts and communicating with your energy.
Education is key
I think it’s very hard for people to continue to have negative feelings about pit bulls after they actually get to know one. It’s why I have traveled the world, first with Daddy and, since he passed on, with Junior: to show the true nature of pit bulls.
But it’s also important for me to help educate people who own pit bulls about their dogs. Pit bulls combine the speed and determination of the terrier side of their ancestry with the strength of the bulldog side.
It is the Terrier determination that causes problems if they fight, because they’ll be oblivious to pain and just refuse to quit. As responsible owners, we should make sure to redirect those traits in healthy ways. Give a pit a job to do and he will use that same determination. These are strong dogs who need exercise. For instance, they love to pull. And they can carry a backpack when you go for a walk.
I remember when Daddy was young, he was an amazing puller. When we’d take walks in Runyon Canyon, he would search for a tree trunk. He knew that once he found it I’d attach it to his harness, and he’d get to be a bulldozer. He just loved it.
Pits are also great jumpers, so think about agility classes, or create something for them to jump over. And don’t forget that they have a strong scenting ability, so create challenges for their nose.
Abusing a dog doesn’t just mean chaining him up or hitting him. It also means not letting him fulfill his needs as a dog.
As owners we all have a responsibility to make sure our dogs behave well in public. When people are bombarded with bad headlines about pit bulls, it’s easy to understand why they’re nervous when they see one on the street. Yet each of us, along with our dogs can help alter that perception.
Breed-specific legislation doesn’t work
Dogs of every breed do good things and bad things. If a dog poops in your yard, do you care whether it was a pit bull or a poodle? You just don’t want poop in your yard. Dogs, and especially dog owners, should be held accountable for their actions — for their deeds, not their breeds. Breed-specific legislation doesn’t address the problem. It just penalizes innocent dogs.
Do you have Breed-Specific Legislation in your area? Tell us what the laws are where you live.