A Dangerous Breed?

Paleo Retiree writes:

No prizes for guessing which breed of dog killed this woman. Or which breed of dog killed this child.

The other day I took a look at a local pets-and-animals bulletin board. Here are the dogs that were being offered up for adoption on it.

pit_bull_adoptions01No prizes for guessing which breed they are.

Now, I’m normally in favor of letting people choose how to live their own lives in their own way whenever possible. But where certain breeds of dog go, I sometimes find myself wondering: Is it really worth standing on principle?

BTW and FWIW: When I was a kid, I don’t think I ever encountered a pit bull. When — and why — did pit bulls become such a big part of the cultural landscape?

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff, formerly Michael Blowhard. Now a rootless parasite on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
This entry was posted in Animals, Politics and Economics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to A Dangerous Breed?

  1. “It isn’t the dog, it’s the owner!”

    I know, I know …


  2. Chip Smith says:

    By most accounts I’ve seen, Pit Bulls would have been popular dogs when you were growing up, and before. “Pete” from “Our Gang” was a Pit. It’s possible you don’t remember any because the breed had yet to be stigmatized through popular culture and selective media feedback. They were just inconspicuous neighborhood dogs.

    There’s little doubt that dogs — like guns — deter crime, and though research is scarce, there are good anecdotal reasons to suspect that purportedly “vicious” breeds have a stronger deterrent effect. But of course we seldom hear stories about crimes that didn’t happen because would-be perps thought better than to face-off against these loyal, property- and family-protective beasts.

    I’d be willing to bet my worth that the hidden benefits, however marginal, far outweigh the risks suggested in lurid headlines.


  3. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    Yo, pit bulls are gangsta.


  4. driversuz says:

    Before they were inbred and trained for aggression by gangstas, they were rather common family and farm dogs. They’re fiercely protective. And yes, it’s the owner (and sometimes the breeder.) Shelters are full of them the way shelters are always full of the “trendy” breeds. (My second-to-last rescued dog was a poorly bred “Marley.”)


  5. Glynn Marshes says:

    In his book Dogs, Ray Coppinger proposes a model for understanding breed-specific behavior in dogs. The framework is what he calls “breed-typical motor patterns” and its foundation is the predation pattern of wild canids: orient > eye > stalk > chase > grab-bite > kill-bite > dissect > consume.

    As people developed dog breeds, they selected them not because of how the dogs looked, but in order to cause certain pieces of that sequence to hypertrophy and others to weaken. Border collies are bred to to Orient > Eye > Stalk > Chase, as one example. With Retrievers the hypertrophied pieces are Orient and Grab-Bite. Good livestock guardian dogs never eye-stalk (that would cause the sheep to instinctively move away from the dog). Dogs bred to sit in ladies’ laps have nearly every piece bred down to nothing.

    When ignorant people breed pit bulls as fighting dogs, naturally they look for dogs with hypertrophied grab-bite, possibly even kill-bite.

    Coppinger writes that he doesn’t have hands-on experience with pit bulls, but has owned Irish Wheaten terriers and Staffies, and has observed first-hand how they behave when they tangle with other dogs. He speculates that for terriers, artificial selection has affected other sets of motor patterns as well, including social behaviors related to displaying submission and responding to submissive displays.

    The result, for well-bred terriers, is “spunk” and tenacity. But in the hands of ignorant people breeding fighting dogs, you can see the danger — they want dogs that don’t act submissive, and that don’t stop fighting another dog that is acting submissive.

    So it’s complicated, because it is the breed, and yet it’s not the breed. It’s a corruption of the breed.

    Add poor socialization and/or training into the mix and you end up with dangerous dogs.

    But it can happen as easily with other breeds, in much the same way.


  6. Terrierman knows a lot more about dogs than the bunch of us combined. (Plus he’s a great blogger generally.) Here are some postings from him about the pit bull prob:





    FWIW, I don’t remember the vogue for French Bulldogs resulting in scads of serious bites, or in hordes of Frenchies up for adoption at the local shelters.

    From Terrierman: “In the U.S., where Pit Bulls account for 2 to 3 percent of all dogs, this breed type (it is not a formal breed) accounts for over 50 percent of all serious dog bites.”


  7. Oops, no disrespect to Glyn Marshes — who has a lot of experience with dogs, and who has in fact written about them a lot — meant. Posted my comment above at about the same time she posted hers.


  8. Glynn Marshes says:

    Yes, he’s very good!

    “Put amped-up canine genetics together with sub-par human intelligence, and sprinkle denial over all of it, and you get America’s Pit Bull mess.”

    It’s an awful situation all around.

    My little rescue dog — 20 pound mixed breed — got mauled by a dog staying at a neighbors. The dog wasn’t a pit bull, but something bred for the same sort of thing — bigger than a pit, possibly a Dogue de Bordeaux. Ghetto dog. Kept by the neighbor’s daughter’s lowlife boyfriend as a breeding bitch. Exactly the scenario Terrierman describes. Assholes making money by selling badly bred dogs to other assholes.

    It took my neighbor and his wife both all their strength to pull her off my dog. And if the bitch hadn’t had some of her teeth pulled — precaution someone had taken at some point — my little friend would have died for sure.


    • Yikes. Glad your little guy/gal made it thru.


      • Glynn Marshes says:

        Me too.

        It ruined her in terms of socializing with other dogs. She was already somewhat tentative around strange dogs — after that incident she became fear aggressive. She would greet dogs she’d met before the mauling, but any strange dog — no. And big white dogs freak her out completely.


  9. Glynn Marshes says:

    Or possibly she was a Dogo Argentino. She was white and had clipped ears, and had to have weighed well over 100 pounds.


  10. It’s an interesting ethical/moral/political/practical puzzler: What, if anything, to do about pit bulls? It’s not really the dog’s fault … But on the other hand they clearly are more prone than most dogs to do damage … Respecting freedom of choice is important, and presumably that includes allowing people to buy and own/raise whatever dogs they want to … But if a particular breed is doing a lot of damage (for whatever reason), when you think of the pain and deaths, is it really such a big threat to civil liberties to ban a dog breed? After all, we slap restrictions on all kinds of things (speed on the Interstate, for instance) in the interests of general welfare.

    Not really sure where I stand on all this, aside from “I sure do wish people would choose their dogs more wisely, and tend to them more effectively.”


  11. Chip Smith says:

    “What, if anything, to do about pit bulls?”

    For starters, prosecute — and stigmatize — the hell out of irresponsible owners. Breed-specific bans are a bad idea that will likely increase PBs’ status as fighting dogs and gangsta trophies, leading to more bad breeding and more irresponsible dog ownership. Culturally, it’s more important to de-ghettoize the breed(s), which will happen (probably already is, thanks to Michael Vick) as more conscientious people take the dogs in and provide them with good training and humane living environments.

    It’s important to keep in mind that serious dog bite injuries are relatively rare, and that lethal dog attacks are extremely rare. I think it’s just as important to emphasize that Pits have great utility as protectors and companions. What we need is a culture that encourages responsible dog ownership and better breeding.


  12. Glynn Marshes says:

    Terrierman’s suggestion at the link is to outlaw the advertisement of pit bull pups. That’s an interesting approach — I’ve been turning it over in my mind since I read it, to see if it stands the test of my libertarian-leaning inclinations. My conclusion: tentative “no,” for three reasons. First is that after 50 years criminalizing just about everything else, I just can’t bring myself to support another “fix it with a new law” justice-system based patch. Second is related: these laws amount to mandates on local law enforcement. Awful as the pitbull situation is, I’d rather the police focus on old-fashioned crimes like, ya know, burglary. And third, it would be unenforceable — the trade would just go underground, AKA twitter. http://www.mindjumpers.com/blog/2012/08/demographic-of-twitter/


  13. Toddy Cat says:

    “after 50 years criminalizing just about everything else, I just can’t bring myself to support another “fix it with a new law” justice-system based patch”

    I’m afraid that I’d have to agree. Like a lot of other things, the vogue for dangerous dogs is just another example of the messed-up society we have around us, and “laws” will be ignored, selectively enforced, or enforced so stupidly they will bring the very concept of law into disrepute. Oh, well, at least we don’t have to live in those boring old whitebread suburban 1950’s…


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