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Thread: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

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    Elite Member muchlove's Avatar
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    Default Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    This is from the Sunday (Feb 19) Seattle Times.


    Pit bulls: Most dangerous of dogs or least understood?

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    In early January, Sarah Smith went walking in her leafy North Seattle neighborhood. Not far from her house, she saw two of her neighbor's pit bulls running loose. Before she could do anything the dogs rushed her, attacking her small terrier.

    "I was screaming. I was out of my mind," says Smith, who asked that her real name not be used for fear of retaliation by the dogs' owner. "I was tangled in my leash, and I closed my eyes because I didn't want to see my dog ripped up."

    The dog's owner and neighbors helped break up the attack. It wasn't until Smith got home that she discovered bloody puncture wounds in her own arm.

    While she and her dog are on the mend physically, Smith is still emotionally shaky.

    "It's kind of consumed my life," she says. "I can't work."

    Smith works in a dog-friendly office that includes a pit bull. Yet despite the attack, she disagrees with those who would ban the breeds. "Pit bull" is a catch-all used to describe American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire terriers, American pit-bull terriers and any mixes involving these breeds.

    "I am afraid of pit bulls now," she says, "but I see this as an owner problem."

    Still, anything involving pit bulls has a way of taking on a political life of its own, fueled by news accounts of attacks and public disagreement that spills into town halls and Internet forums.

    In the debate over banning, the questions persist: Are these dogs vicious by nature or victims of irresponsible owners and breeders? Or is their strained place among us, as some have argued, a combination of genetics and circumstance?

    The recent history of the pit bulls has been tough. After decades as an all-American favorite (from Stubby the World War I hero to Pete in "Our Gang"), the pit bull was embraced for its more pugnacious qualities.

    It happens all the time: A strong dog becomes widely popular for its ability to intimidate. In the past several decades, Dobermans, Akitas, Rottweilers, German shepherds and even shaggy St. Bernards developed short-term reputations as a public menace.

    Unfortunately, unlike fads of the past, the pit-bull craze has endured for nearly three decades, putting enormous stress on the various breeds that are called pit bulls and keeping them constantly in the headlines.Adding to the cost of popularity is the pit bulls' tendency to attract owners drawn not by its historic family-dog role but by its reputation as the premier fighting dog.

    "It's the dog of choice for drug dealers and young males 12 to 23," says Don Jordan, executive director of the Seattle Animal Shelter.

    At best, these owners are too young to take responsibility for such a demanding breed. At worst, they campaign them in dog fights and abandon losers. They often leave their dogs tethered in the backyard, neglect and abuse them and fail to socialize them all of which can contribute to aggressiveness.

    Changing temperaments

    While American pit bulls have historically done well in temperament testing (see table), current circumstances may be taking a toll.

    "When we first got pit bulls in, they were always friendly. They were always nice dogs," says Diane Jessup, a former animal-control officer in Olympia. Jessup has raised many pit bulls and written several books about them. "I will say now, in the last five years, 50 percent of the dogs are fearful, fear-biters with horribly unsound temperaments."

    The number of pit bulls coming into Seattle Animal Shelter continues to increase from 362 in 2001 to 559 in 2004. Given their reputations, these dogs are difficult to place. More than 1,000 were euthanized during this same period.

    Five years ago, Web-site designer Carol Chapman adopted a black-and-tan brindle American pit bull named Sampson through the Pit Bull Project, one of three local rescue organizations that helps place abandoned dogs in homes and improve their public image.

    Sampson was among many dogs used as a stud in a home-breeding operation in Bremerton. When his owners were arrested on drug charges, it was a month before animal control learned that 20 pit bulls had been abandoned on the property. By the time officials arrived, 10 dogs were dead and five were so sick they had to be euthanized. Sampson was among the five who survived on trash in the house.

    The experience did not ruin Sampson. "He's really mild-mannered and kind of a coward," says Chapman. "He breaks up cat fights. He's kind of like a peacekeeper."

    That gentleness, as well as a certain goofy charm, are overlooked aspects of the pit-bull personality, say owners, and among the traits that endear them to these breeds.

    Elvie Arnobit, a sales representative from Redmond, didn't know much about pit bulls' darker reputation when she fell in love with an American pit-bull puppy named Marauder-Ivie League's Harvard Harvey, for short.

    With soulful eyes and a sweet disposition, she says, "I had to have him."

    At 70 pounds, a white-and-red fawn coat and a giant dog tag that proclaims "Lick Monster," Harvey perches human-style on a chair next to Arnobit as she scrolls through a slideshow: Harvey dressed as a king, as a poodle and in a tuxedo with a cigar in his mouth. As she describes his silliness, Harvey offers her his leash repeatedly.

    Under Arnobit's constant care, Harvey became a United Kennel Club confirmation champion, with an agility title, therapy-dog certification, an obedience title and his own Web site, kingharvey.com. He high-fives for treats, punches the automatic door openers at handicapped entrances and he's a favorite at Paws-Abilities, a dog-training facility in Tukwila.

    Controlled cattle

    Still, a docile dog is not the breed ideal. According to the United Kennel Club, which registers American pit-bull terriers, the dog should embody the virtues of a warrior: "strength, indomitable courage and gentleness with loved ones."

    Pit bulls descend from bulldog-terrier mixes that were first bred in Elizabethan England. They were known as the Butcher's Dog because they controlled cattle by biting and holding the nose of wayward cows heading for the market.

    This evolved into a sport where bulls were tormented by the dogs in contests of strength. When "bull-baiting" was outlawed in the early 1800s, these contests were moved to clandestine pits between dogs. Today, fighting is illegal in all 50 states, but is still widespread.

    "It's not sensible to get an animal bred for bringing a 2,000-pound bull to its knees and say I'm going to treat this like a soft-mouth Labrador," says Jessup, the former animal-control officer. She blames novice owners, as much as actual criminals, for bringing the breed into disrepute. "It's a capable animal, and it's got to be treated as such."

    Jessup does not believe the solution to the pit-bull attacks is to dilute the dogs' core character. Training her four dogs in obedience, tracking and Schutzhund (an obedience, tracking and protection sport originally developed for German shepherds) is one way she channels their energies.

    For some, the issues of owner responsibility and the dog's stellar qualities don't complete the picture.

    Kory Nelson avoids the debate over whether pit bulls are more aggressive than other dogs. As an assistant city attorney for Denver, Nelson has successfully defended repeated challenges to the city's 16-year-old pit-bull ban, one of the oldest big-city bans in the country.

    He concedes that there is no definitive proof that pit bulls bite or attack more often than other dogs or even that they are fundamentally more aggressive.

    Statistics about fatal bite attacks, though widely reported in stories about pit bulls, are generally considered unreliable or incomplete.

    Instead, Nelson has successfully argued that pit-bull attacks are more severe and more likely to be fatal than other dog attacks because pit bulls bite into deep muscles, and hold and shake, ripping tissue. The dogs are also less likely to retreat in a fight and can strike without warning.

    Nelson uses this analogy: Other breeds are to firecrackers as pit bulls are to hand grenades.

    "They may have the same equal chances of going off accidentally," he says. "But we can agree that a hand grenade would cause more damage should that event take place."

    Some Washington communities agree. Buckley, Pierce County, Enumclaw and Yakima have banned pit bulls. At least eight other Washington jurisdictions have pit-bull-specific restrictions including a special registration, spaying or neutering, muzzles in public, and sometimes owners are required to post a bond.

    In this environment, responsible pit-bull owners find themselves in the hot seat. One owner with children said she'd been called an unfit mother for having the dogs. Others are used to seeing pedestrians cross the street to avoid them.

    "As an owner you realize you can never make a mistake. Regardless of the situation, it's always going to be your dog's fault," says Jamie Samans, a spokesman for the Pit Bull Project.

    When it comes to pit bulls, he says, "there is no room for error."




    Fatal Attacks: understanding the numbers

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    In making the case for pit bulls' inherent "dangerousness," many supporters of breed bans cite a 2000 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that pit-bull-type dogs and Rottweilers were involved in more than half of the 238 fatalities that occurred in the United States between 1979 and 1998.

    A Colorado court, however, decided that bite statistics do not prove pit bulls are more likely to attack.

    Instead, it ruled that numbers aren't a reliable measure due to inaccurate reporting, including a tendency to attribute dog bites to particular breeds, and because certain dog breeds are owned disproportionately by irresponsible dog owners.

    For Karen Delise, author of "Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics," breed is just one of many factors.

    She examined as much evidence as she could find surrounding 431 fatal dog attacks from 1965 to 2001 and determined that three critical factors are determinants in dog bite-related fatalities: the function of the dog; the owner's level of responsibility; and the gender and reproductive status of the dog.

    For example, Delise discovered that of fatal dog attacks attributed to pit bulls and pit-bull mixes (21 percent), an "overwhelming majority" involved unneutered males.

    Seventy-nine percent of the attacks were on children younger than 12. Interestingly in evidence presented in a Denver breed-ban case, no bull terrier registered with the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club has ever been involved in a fatal attack.

    Pit-bull myths

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    Where there are pit bulls, there are misconceptions. Here are a few common ones:

    The locking jaw. The pit bull's ability to grab hold of a target and not let go dates back to its role as a Butcher's Dog controlling cattle by grabbing cows by the nose. This talent gave rise to the myth that these dogs have a specially engineered jaw structure that "locks" onto an object. There is no scientific evidence that pit bulls have greater bite power than many other large-breed dogs.

    Fighters make good guards. If a menacing reputation can help keep a person safe, then pit bulls are a shoo-in. But historically they've been bred as human-friendly and aggressive to cows and other dogs.

    Unfortunately, backyard breeding and hybridizing of pit bulls with large guardian breeds such as bull mastiffs and Rhodesian Ridgebacks may result in oversized dogs with the fighting skills of a pit bull and the aggressiveness of a guard dog.

    Bad to the bone. There is no evidence that pit pulls are any more vicious than any other breed. In fact, in temperament tests on pit bulls for unprovoked aggression administered by the American Temperament Test Association pit bulls passed 83 percent of the time, which is above average.

    A Jekyll-Hyde gene. When Seattle resident Heather Bauer was looking to adopt a dog last year, she was warned that a pit bull can "turn bad" at around 2 years old. Bauer decided on a Boston terrier. Like many myths, the warning is half-true.

    "Most dogs begin to challenge for social position" at around 2 years old, says Dr. James Ha, an associate research professor in animal behavior at the University of Washington. "If behavioral challenges are anticipated and dealt with appropriately from the beginning, the dog quickly figures out their position and relationships and settles right down."
    Last edited by muchlove; February 22nd, 2006 at 01:36 AM.

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    Elite Member miss_perfect's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    I am absolutely 100% behind the theory that an animal is only as good as the person who cares for it. And I agree: the demographic that buys pit bulls aren't your typical portrait of an ideal guardian. Drug dealers and teenage boys probably aren't going to care for a dog like other people would.

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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    I've known several pit bulls and they're fine. It's the people who own them that are usually irresponsible. The breed does have powerful jaws, an instinct to grip and not let go, and need to be thoroughly and diligently trained/mastered in a kind, but firm way. Ya gotta be the alpha dog to these dogs consistently.

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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    Australia has recently introduced compulsory de-sexing for all pitbulls which has been welcomed by vets and the public. Unfortunately there is a thriving sub-culture of pitbull ownership where the dogs are still bred and trained to fight/attack and of course these dogs are never registered (compulsory here) so the 'problem' pitbulls will continue to breed. Personally, I would not trust even a desexed pitbull so the sooner they are gone the better [runs away]
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    Elite Member muchlove's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    I think male dogs should be neutered anyway... the dog population is out of control, and it makes them all safer pets.

    It's mostly wishful thinking, but I think there needs to be much stronger regulation on who can own a pit bull (no one with a criminal history, for example) and on breeding (only certified, trusted breeders that breed for a good temperament allowed). Crack down on it, but don't blame the dogs and don't ban the breed outright. There are so many responsible pit bull owners with good dogs that they love dearly... I don't see why they should be punished.

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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    I have a 10 yr.old pitbull and she's the best dog I ever owned. She's so sweet. Having one of these dogs is a HUGE responsibility, they are better suited for experienced dog owners only. When I go to the local shelter it breaks my heart how many of the dogs are pitbulls. They are just so overbred.
    LA tried to pass a law(higher breeding fees) to come down on dog breeding in general, not just pitbulls, to address pet overpopulation. It got crushed by all the loud angry breeders I would think if they really loved dogs they would be on board, but I guess not. Also dog fighting is only a slap on the wrist, if these jerkoffs were facing actual jailtime it would help with all the overbreeding and it would penalize the person and not just the dog-which is always destroyed.
    It's just easier for communities to blame a "problem" breed rather than address "problem" owners. Pitbulls today, another breed tomorrow. Bad dog owners will just move on to another breed. Right now my local shelter is full of chihuahuas too, now that the Paris Hilton faze is over. Pitbulls and chihuahuas lined up in cages, what a sight.
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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    I have Bella, an 8 year old Brindle Pit Bull. Before I had her, I thought Pit Bulls were horrible dogs. I vowed never to own one.
    We were a 2 cat family. Around the time we decided to not have children,
    We rescued Malika. As a puppy, she suffered seperation anxiety. We had to leave her alone when we went to work, she was sooo lonely.

    So, the same day we went to the shelter to get Malika's dog license, we decided to just look...

    Dog after dog, barking, jumping, I was looking for a calm, serene, docile creature...
    Enter Bella. She was sitting, stared right into my eyes, and my heart melted. Her breed was not listed, so I kinda thought, well, she could be any breed.
    We requested to visit her. The dog handler met us in an area with Bella.
    She was sooo strong, pulling the handler like crazy.
    We found out she was submissive to other dogs, was older, and was brought in as a stray.
    The dog handler recommended the sensation harness to forgive the pulling.
    We adopted her, and hoped for the best.

    She instantly fit in with our dynamic family. Malika, as puppies do, played, wrestled, and has pushed all of her buttons, yet, Bella is so laid back.

    Now that Malika is almost 2, she has laid off of the rough housing with Bella, for the most part. Now, Bella can relax as her golden years grow near.
    Such an awesome dog, she rarely barks, She has been attacked by a rat terrier in our yard, and she went in circles as the rat terrier clamped down on her tail...Bella was on a leash, the rat terrier was not!
    I know not all pit bulls have good temperments, but I will never think of them as I used to. And she sleeps with the cat!

    If I could afford it, I would have Bella cloned!

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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    After I wrote yesterday the shelter is full of pitbulls and chihuahuas, I went out and adopted a chihuahua mix. He looks like my pitbull except with huge ears. I'm in love.
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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    a pitbull chihuahua mix?!?!

    woah hehe

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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    My pitbull's "boyfriend" is a chihuahua, she loves him plus I have two cats she adores. I think he's going to be a great fit in my home. It was my husband who was dragging me over to the chihuahuas too. LOL. The Chihuahua I just adopted is so awesome. After he settles in I'll put his pix up on pet pics.
    If you can't be a good example -- then you'll just have to be a horrible warning

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    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    Well in Ontario they banned pit-bulls after numerous (i mean NUMEROUS) kids, adults and whatnot had been utterly mangled or killed by them.

    The ones that are already around are ordered to be on a chain leash, and muzzled (not with the leash loop around their snout, a real strap on muzzle) and since then, haven't heard about any kids getting mangled.

    There's something to be said for the owners training them a certain way (or not at all), but the mishmash breed DOES have, to a larger extent, a vicious aggressive streak than other breeds. Combine that with the bloodlust and frenzy they get into, along with their biting power and lock-jaw physiology... well.. ouch.
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    Gold Member gonflable's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    As I have no clue on dog breeds, I actually thought about dobermans when I read this. They are, here at least, used a lot as fighting dogs in criminal environments and taught to attack on command... How are these as dogs normally? I think they are beautiful...
    Mmm... Am I wrong, or did it just get fatter in here?

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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    I totally agree it's partly an owner problem. Some pit bulls I know are the most loving dogs around, and that's because they have loving owners.

    BUT--It at root is an inbreeding problem. A dog breeder/AKC problem. These dogs are inbred so much that it multiplies their dominant traits, like biting-and-holding, or the unsuppressible urge to chase down and bite small animals, or to bite anyone within their territory.

    Strangely, spaniels are prone to something like this, "rage" syndrome because of an inbreeding-related epilepsy-type disorder. But no one wants to report they've been bitten by a spaniel now, do they? I hang out at NYC dog runs everyday, and have petted hundreds of dogs. The ones that bit me have been: 2 purebred shelties, a purebred shiba inu (on my NOSE!), and a purebred dachshund.

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    Elite Member NawdleZouss's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    Quote Originally Posted by gonflable
    As I have no clue on dog breeds, I actually thought about dobermans when I read this. They are, here at least, used a lot as fighting dogs in criminal environments and taught to attack on command... How are these as dogs normally? I think they are beautiful...
    Lucky you, you're talking to the only human girl adopted by Dobermans.
    When I was very young, my grandparents had a pair od Dobermans, to guard their ginormous house. As is to be expected, these Dobermans had little bitty Dobermans, and LOTS. At one point, we had 14 puppies and three adults ( the house and gardens are, indeed, GINORMOUS. There were also deer, macaws, guinea hens, rabbits and cats).

    Anyways, all that crap about them being dangerous, and having weird violent mental breakdowns is BS, in my experience. They're outgoing, and friendly, and playful by nature, it's when attack training fucks the poor things up that they get violent.
    2 years...

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    Silver Member snakebread's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pit Bulls: most dangerous, or least understood?

    I heard that dobies are so loving they'll need to follow their owner into the bathroom so as to not miss love for 1 minute.

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