A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

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Fergie, Era and Preston

I must preface this article by saying, the following is something I have been writing for nearly two months. I decided against making it public, until recently when I posted the above photo on my personal Facebook account with the following phrase below it:
“Pit Bulls” are dog aggressive.
This was an obvious attempt to be comical and extremely sarcastic, but was met by scrutiny and a snarky know-it-all elitist attitude from a fellow “Pit Bull” advocate. So, because of that, I felt the need to put some things in writing. We are all learning, and should continue to learn about the ways to better protect and give all dogs a chance at life without bias.

Rescue. Advocacy. Pit Bulls. Each word means something different to different people. When all are within the same sentence, it adds even more confusion to the discussion. Interpretations vary so much from one person to another that I wonder if anybody really, truly knows. The myths, stereotypes and other inaccuracies that are plagiarized over and over, somehow transform opinion into “popular” belief, or even worse…”fact.”


Preston and Me

I’ve written about my dog, Preston, on numerous occasions. From the known background of his past, his current present day living with me, to our future together until one of us departs this current life form. I adopted him from a rescue, who saved him from a shelter that rescued him during a drug bust, where they allegedly used him for fighting purposes. The perpetrators were never charged with the animal fighting crime, so I only know fragmented pieces of the conditions he came from. When I adopted him in late 2008, he was the most human affectionate dog I’ve ever been in contact with, but he appeared to show some intolerance towards other dogs, and especially smaller animals (cats, squirrels, rabbits, etc.), which I perceived to be aggression. At one point in those earlier days, I actually thought I would have to seclude him from all other animals for the rest of his days. This was extremely difficult to accept since other members in my immediate family had dogs. My parents had two in their household, and my sister (at the time) had three in hers. Holidays and other gatherings were always filled with a house full of dogs, and I wanted to bring Preston to these special occasions too. Even though I’ve had dogs since I can remember, I admit, I treated him different. I felt I had a huge responsibility to uphold, and could not afford to mess up, not even once. One of the reasons I did this is because I live in Ohio, where, for 25 years the state law singled out these dogs by labeling them inherently vicious, and requiring owners to abide by unique requirements. By repeatedly telling its citizens they were different, they became different. I was also part of the problem.

When I got introduced to Pit Bull dogs, I, like many, believed in some of the hysteria that surrounds them, and I unknowingly made statements that were damaging and unfair to the same dogs I thought I was trying to help. I believed Pit Bulls were stronger than other dogs. I felt they had tendencies to be more aggressive. I bought in that they were somehow different than other breeds. And because of this, I believed I had to treat Preston different than the other dogs I’ve shared my home with. But, I am not alone. I’ve been told by people in rescue and advocacy that these dogs fight like no other; and never trust two Pit Bulls together, especially ones of the same sex.


Era in the Metroparks

Even with a dog I thought was animal aggressive, I continued to take Preston on daily walks at the park, where he saw (from a distance) many of the things that would trigger an almost immediate response. After a year passed, I began noticing a slight change in his behavior, and slowly things that previously made him quickly react started occurring less and less. Soon, squirrels would pass right in front of us, and rabbits would run off on the side, with little to no response. After a few years of being an only dog, I decided I wasn’t doing enough in the rescue community, and opened my home to a six month old “Pit Bull” puppy, who I named Era. I didn’t know what to expect from Preston, but by this time, I’d seen a huge transformation in his willingness to be with other dogs, and felt comfortable knowing his body language. On June 30, 2011, Era was saved from Cleveland City Kennel, and came to her new temporary home. From minute one, Preston and Era got along great. It was as if they were separated at birth. Everywhere Preston went, Era went, and vice-versa. I saw Preston was extremely tolerant of her puppy ways, none more evident than when I’d see Era hanging from his jowls without as much of a peep from him. This new experience was an indication that I didn’t know much what I thought I already knew about him. I saw a dog that needed companionship, and allowed Era’s bad puppy manners, so after a few months I decided I wanted to officially adopt her. She was home, and there was no reason to ever let her go.

About this time, I started seriously doubting breed labeling. I am by no means a breed expert, never claimed to be, and don’t really care to be one either. But, I’ve been involved in this debate for so long, I noticed one common trend to all the dogs labeled “Pit Bull” – they all looked so different. No other type of dog is there this much doubt over what it is and what it is not. Look no further than media accounts and eye witness identifications of 100lb Pit Bulls running havoc in our neighborhoods. As of late, I have found the conversation starts at the very beginning…what are we exactly talking about when we say “Pit Bull?” Clearly, there is a definition of what an American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier is, but “Pit Bull” is a rather cloudy term that is a little less definable. Because of the watered down use of the words, it’s nearly impossible to be on the same page when discussing it. It’s been proven that visual identification is a less than acceptable method to identify the breed of dog one may be. That point has been made countless times when disproving animal control department observations in cities around the United States, and world, where breed specific legislation exists.

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Fergie on her “Freedom Ride” out of the Cleveland City Kennel on Aug. 11, 2012

Another year had passed, and I was seeing another dog, Fergie, being circulated on Facebook needing help at the Cleveland City Kennel. There was little interest, and her time up was approaching fast. She was previously being used as a breeding dog, and was diagnosed heartworm positive along with several other treatable and less severe ailments. I decided to donate hoping a rescue would pull her to safety, but when one didn’t I began contacting the local rescues I know, and gave my pledge to get her better in my home on a foster basis only. I don’t live in a big home. I rent, and when I picked this house it was only Preston and me. This became a new challenge, as Fergie had to be segregated for around two months while going through treatment to cure and rid her of the heartworms that would have eventually taken her life. She could not be stimulated in any way, only allowing brief periods out of her crate for bathroom breaks and couch cuddling. Any stimulation could kill her. When I brought her home on August, 11, 2012, I decided to keep her in my home office, since it was the only room that wasn’t easily accessible to Preston and Era. By accident, Preston out of curiosity snuck in the room the next morning when I went to check on her. He looked at her in her crate, and she let out a series of growls and barks. My first thought was Preston would react back, and quite frankly I wouldn’t have blamed him if he did. It was then, another defining moment, I realized there was something special about this little black dog I fell in love with. Instead of aggressing, he calmly backed up, and when I instructed him to leave the room, he quickly ran out. No aggression. None.

The word aggression gets overused and tossed around quite a bit, to the point where nobody is trying to figure out what is bothering the dog to act in a way to be perceived aggressive in the first place. It’s a trait that is commonly associated with dogs people call Pit Bulls. Generally speaking, true Pit Bulls, meaning dogs who are American Pit Bull Terriers or American Staffordshire Terriers, may possess some levels of intolerance towards dogs or other animals instinctively, but this is a terrier trait, not a Pit Bull trait. Some people even excuse a dog’s behavior because it’s “common” to the breed. I’ve even had a friend tell me her reasons why she knows her mixed breed dog is a Pit Bull – “Because she is dog aggressive.” Technically speaking, dog aggression can exist in all breeds. Socialization is the key to success for all dogs, and proper management is essential and the responsibility of their human counterparts. I actually don’t even like using the word “aggression,” because it gives a false sense of where the problem actually is. I prefer words like reactivity, because in most cases there is a variable the dog is responding to. Aggression sounds like something unfixable, or for that matter, unmanageable. I use Preston in these examples often. A dog I once believed could not be around other dogs, or even see a squirrel without looking like the Tasmanian Devil, be able to be desensitized and accept other animals in the area he is in. There is a famous quote by a well known American speaker, Wayne Dyer, that goes “When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” I truly believe in this.

After a few months of segregation, I began to see a change in Fergie as well. She was cleared of being heartworm positive, and given a clean bill of health. I decided to start letting Fergie out the front door, where she had to pass Preston and Era locked behind a child gate in my bedroom. Her whole body language became better, so much so, she sought them out and kissed them through the gate. A dog, who clearly was in defense mode prior, letting her guard down. She was no longer in a scary place, with the unknown around the corner. She knew what to expect, and confident I wasn’t going to let anything happen to her. I built her trust. The same thing Preston wanted and expected from me years before. I am convinced, if either one of these dogs (Preston or Fergie) were in a different home, a home that didn’t try to understand their behavior, they would be labeled aggressive and never able to break that barrier.

Fast forward to the other day, and the reason this post even exists publicly. The person I was “debating” with made several claims relating to Pit Bulls and dog aggression. What she didn’t understand is, the photo was a joke of sorts. I didn’t discount the fact true Pit Bulls (again, terrier in general is more appropriate) may have higher risks of intolerance towards other dogs and animals. But that is saying we are dealing with a Pit Bull, and not just a “Pit Bull” with dog issues. We just have not been able to reliably identify breeds, and even the makers of DNA tests won’t 100% guarantee their results. But she still argued, and made preposterous claims that even if there is a “chance” a dog has any Pit Bull, the owner has a duty to be alert of possible dog aggression. She also stated she talks people out of getting this “breed” whenever possible, and that is what really upsets me, because by doing so it is actually promoting breed specific legislation, and I can only wonder how many dogs died due to talking out a viable candidate because the dog “might” have “Pit Bull.” Our time would be better served if we had a blanket good dog owner manual covering all dogs and their owners, regardless of whether a dog is a Chihuahua, or a Golden Retriever…, or a Pit Bull. Understanding our dogs and their limitations is something every dog owner should do, so that we do not set up our dogs for failure. Words are that powerful. They affect how we see, treat, and feel about things. Once they’re said, you cannot take them back. Sometimes through our actions, we are a “Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing.”

72 responses to “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

  1. Very well written!!! So glad you decided to go public with the article! I follow your FB page and have so much respect for you…Thank you for all you do. My pup and I work hard on showing others how amazing the breed is. It is a true privilege to share my life with him:) Thanks again to you and your pups!

  2. What a wonderful post.
    I’ve always loved your posts on facebook and somehow missed that you have a blog.
    It’s discouraging when some people that I respect in rescue say comments that don’t help the breed. The rescue I volunteer for adopts out 100s of pit bull a year into great homes but there are comments that are made on occasion that drive me nuts.
    Our first “pit mix” wasn’t reactive when we adopted him but developed reactivity. We thought he may have to be an only dog because we didn’t understand his behavior. Adding a second dog was the best thing we could have done for him. He can still react to dogs on a leash but he shares his home with foster siblings and makes new dog friends all the time. It was definitely a learning process for me but now I understand how he works and what his reactions mean. He was my first dog–I was a little clueless in general at first but I made it my mission to learn so I could help more dogs like him.

    • Emily – yeah, this is more of my editorial blog, which I rarely promote. I have another blog that I work on as well, http://www.DogsByte.org, but both suffer because of the film. There is not enough time in the day…I did want to comment on your comment though. I think everybody is learning, even seasoned professionals, and the day you decide to stop learning, is the day that you become reckless to the cause. Never stop learning 🙂

  3. I’m confused… Are you saying that a Pit Bull IS the right dog for everyone? Doesn’t that discount all of the traits that are inherent in the breed? All breeds have certain traits that are more likely to be present, that’s what makes them breeds to begin with. Pit Bulls tend to be dog aggressive, it’s part of their Terrier heritage, and their fighting heritage.

    No different than sighthounds running, hunting dogs baying, herding dogs herding, retrievers bringing things back to you. If you don’t like noise, don’t get a Beagle. If you don’t like playing fetch don’t get a Labrador. If you can’t deal with a higher probability of dog aggression, don’t get a Pit Bull.

    What does that have to do with BSL??

    • Nope, Michelle, you missed the point completely. The point of the post is not everything is what it seems. Just because we think a dog is a Pit Bull, doesn’t mean it is. There is too much variation in Pit Bull dogs (the umbrella term), because they are not a breed in the first place. They are a type of dog, that may or may not have APBT and/or AST. They may not have any terrier at all. And, to argue your point, I know plenty of retrievers who won’t retrieve, or Beagles who don’t make noise (whatever that means). It has everything to do with BSL when people make assumptions and try to label it as fact. And, advocates cause just as much harm to dogs as the anti-dog community, which I am wondering what part you belong to…

      • well said! In same cases you’re left wondering whether your point will ever sink in, even after you repeat it a hundred times. But that’s why we’re so grateful to have patient, responsible advocates like you that are willing to state the facts however many times necessary!

      • Beagles who don’t make noise? I have never met a Beagle that doesn’t bay/howl/whatever that infernal noise is called… and that sound carries and carries and carries… since they were bred to work away from their handler, but also need to alert and be found.

        No, of course, just because you think a dog is a pit bull (general term) doesn’t mean it IS a Pit Bull (breed term.) And the reverse can also be true…

        But if a dog might be a pit bull, then being aware of a higher chance of dog aggression is simply prudent.

        I have three Pit Bulls. My female has never shown any signs of dog aggression, my male will happily kill other dogs. However, he doesn’t mess with her. Do I leave them alone together? NEVER. Why? They haven’t ever had an issue that hasn’t been caused by a specific trigger (food.) My husband’s male is generally fine with other dogs, but will tangle if provoked. His dog is also fine with my female, but again, they are never alone.

        When people ask me about our dogs, all three of which were certified therapy dogs, compete in obedience and other sports, I can’t say enough good things about the breed. And, no I do NOT recommend that most people even consider them. Why? Because Joe Average dog owner doesn’t want to crate and rotate, and doesn’t even want to entertain the possibility. Jane Average dog owner doesn’t want to worry about the loose dog that wanders up to her leashed dog and then gets beat up. Joe and Jane Average want to go to the dog park, doggie day care, and bring his dog to every parade, picnic and event in the world. Pit Bulls (and pit bulls) have no business at any of the above.

        That’s not BSL, that’s just life. Recently in Canada, LEASHED Pit Bulls were attacked by UNLEASHED dogs. Which dogs were impounded? The Pit Bulls, for doing nothing other than defending themselves when ATTACKED. So, the pit bull owner has to be more aware of their environment – because if/when something happens they WILL be blamed, regardless of what dog starts the issue.

        I was walking my first pit bull, who was highly dog reactive, and a loose dog ran up to us. The owner was 30 yards back, yelling “don’t worry, he’s friendly” while I was trying to keep my dog from attacking and screaming “MY DOG ISN’T.” Who would have been blamed when fluffy was killed? My dog. No one cares who the instigator was when the little fluffy dog goes to the e-vet.

        I don’t think her comments had ANYTHING to do with BSL. They have to do with reality.

      • I would also like to add that I can comfortably leave my personal dogs unsupervised with my smaller animals, three guinea pigs and two bunnies, without any problems. I also have a friend with a greyhound who has both a cat and a rabbit. Just anecdotal evidence that dogs should be judged as individuals rather than some fictitious and, frankly, fallacious breed standard of personality/traits.

      • Actually if I am correct in what ive read about terrriors they were bred for hunting vermin. They were not bred to be dog aggressive. Unfortunately society has interbred theses ” pit bulls ” for fighting and this could have changed many things but again pit bulls are not dog aggressive on their own. They are den animals. The owners is what makes this breed a aggressive whether but choice or truly not knowing how t o raise a dog. Cheers to you Preston for doing a wonderful job the not only 1 ” pit bull ” but 3, even though fergie is a foster. I cherish this breed of dogs, they are always worth it.

    • Michelle – what you said is exactly the problem with “pit bull advocates” who do more harm for the breed than good. I have an AmStaff (I think), a Chow X, currently fostering a Basenji/whippet, and an Akita/GSD. We don’t have fights in the house. And I don’t leave them alone because the fosters think the house is ok to potty in when mommy isn’t looking (incorrect boys haha).

      I would say that it sounds as if you have difficult dogs on the spectrum of dogs. The key word there is *dogs*. There are many dogs of any breed the average owner shouldn’t have, but having fostered a number of “pit bull” type dogs as well as dogs of other breeds there doesn’t not appear to be a correlation between the identified breed and adoptability. My friend and I call these dogs unmessupable (ok, we use the F word….), and there have been a number of “pit bulls” who would be placed in that category.

      I can’t bring my “pit bull” to every picnic or parade, but that’s b/c of her, not b/c she’s a “pit bull”. She is scared she will be attacked (again… almost a yearly thing, unfortunately) by a dog while out on a walk or at an event. But I’ve had numerous foster “pit bulls” I could, and did, bring basically everywhere with me. You should perhaps consider the shortcomings of your dogs are specific to your dogs and not the breed as a whole. I believe that was the point of the blog post, but Jeff can speak more to that. Just had to get my two cents in because it’s rhetoric that claims “pit bulls” are inappropriate in social situations or not good for the average dog owner that create more problems and add fuel to the fire of those who are pro-BSL. Because that is the rhetoric they use as well.

    • Michelle- You obviously just want the satisfaction of telling people you have or RESCUED a pitbull.. when in fact all you are doing is downing the breed every chance you get. Nothing you said was positive about the breed at all which makes you a hypocrite for talking them down but yet owning one at the same time… I have a pitbull and she wouldnt hurt a fly. She also loves all dogs she comes in contact with!!! I also have had a siberian husky who has bitten my father and killed numerous different rodents. Whenever he got the opportunity actually!!!
      And about the whole being bred to hunt thing.. German Shepards are bred and used to attack human beings but yet everyone is under the impression that they are great dogs to have. The reason people think poorly of pitbulls are because of terrible owners such as yourself. If your dog is that mean to other dogs.. he probably isn’t getting the proper guidance from the people that are pupposed to be caring for him & teaching him the way to be!!! Perhaps if you think so poorly of them, you shouldn’t even own one at all!!!

  4. WOW!! Great blog! You are a great writer! Love this: “When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” Love this: “Sometimes through our actions, we are a “Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing.”

  5. i loved your article- i too will share this on my face book page. i am the proud owner of my first american pitbull terrier- his name is dozer- we adopted him from a family who lived in an apartment. when i first saw him i was a little scared- not because he was a pit bull, but because he was a year old and so big- and mostly because i was unsure of how he had been treated. i have kids and a fuzzy old cat- and i worried about how he would be with them. needless to say i had nothing to be worried about. he is a great nanny to the kids- so protective and playful. and the cat! they are best friends. i am so glad i didnt follow my first gut feeling and turn my back on him- he is a family member who completed our family. it is heart breaking trying to convince people that pit bulls arent monsters. thank you for standing up for those who cant

    • Thank you Annette! Most of us who have opened our minds, our hearts (and our homes) have recognized quickly that Pit Bull dogs are dogs first and foremost. They do things that dogs do…no more, no less. They all deserve an equal shot at life.

      • recently rescued a female 4 month old boxer-pitbull mix from a shelter. i was very concerned how my male dog would take to her- needless to say my two dogs and the house cat curl up together on the couch. pitbulls are amazing dogs- im just sad to see and hear of so many people who dont give them a chance

  6. I had a Rottweiler, I loved Rotties, I was not looking for another dog, our first APBT came quite unexpectedly as a 30 day foster for someone my husband knew through work. That was almost 7 years ago he is still here. Since then we have gotten 2 more that were labeled at their rescue as a boxer mix (dna test says amstaff/ am. bulldog cross) and amstaff mix (dna test says 100% amstaff) They live together in relative harmony at 80, 60 and 40 pounds, respectively, it is a perfect picture. My Sara(the amstaff /am. bulldog), I shared her picture once, is effectively Preston’s long lost twin sister in looks. Although she is almost catlike in attitude and demeanor. The APBT, Cypress, has a Great Dane personality you can almost hear a dopey Marmaduke background song when ever he is loping around. Sadie the tiny one (amstaff) is a tiny ball of fire and acts more like a Jack Russel then any Pit I’ve ever met. The point is through different places at different times I ended up with 3 completely different dogs, that all happen to qualify for all the sorta stupid BSL laws places tend to pass. They are all different sizes, with completely different personalities. Thanks for all you do to tell the truth and bring light to the issue. My husband and I are both originally from the Cleveland area, we currently live just outside Detroit.

  7. Thank you for sharing this with us. I know quite a fes people who could benefit from reading this.

  8. The motor pattern for “grab-bite” is what this breed type was bred for, and motor patterns are often very “adjustable”. Not practicing the behavior is just one way to weaken the genetic propensity. Another is to remove the motivation. And a third is to teach incompatible behavior. You have done all three with your dogs. Adding to this comment, MOST “pit bulls” I have do not have this exaggerated grab-bite, often referred to as “gameness” by people who are involved in the blood sport of dog fighting. Take the animal out of that environment and work on counter conditioning and desensitization, and you get a happy pet. Well done my friend, you are what I would call a GREAT dog owner!

  9. I couldn’t agree more. Love this, shared this.
    When we were looking for a dog friend for our female pit mix we found a blue male at the humane society. They said he had to be an only dog but I insisted on them meeting. It was love at first sight. A dog who was thought to be aggressive now shares a home with his best friend and cuddle buddie 🙂

  10. thank you for this, as I read this I found that I was guilty of judging the bully breeds. Your article is spot on. I own a terrier (schnauzer mix) and he has issues with other dogs and smaller animals ( bunnies, rodents and such). He is a work in progress and the love of my life and we work on it every day. My boss brought a bully into her house that was labelled dog aggressive. She shares her life with a Shepard, golden, boxer mix and a kings charles. The bully loves them all and she has had no problems. Feeding is the only time she needs to be careful but I think that is with all dogs not bullys. My point is, my 21 pound schnauzer would not be good in that type of situation. Thank you for opening my eyes and mind.

  11. Great post, Jeff! I agree with you 100% about ‘breed’ ID and ‘breed’ traits. Most breeds of dogs have come from show lines, which means they are bred to look a certain way.

    A couple of generations of selecting for ear set or gait and, well, you know what happens to all this supposed ‘breed-specific’ behaviour. Heh heh.

    I wish people would move with the times and forget everything they think they know about dogs in general and breed in particular. Most of the info is decades out of date.

    Keep up the good work, Jeff!

  12. Reactivity is definitely not limited to “Pit Bulls”. I had a pure bred Golden Retriever (had him since birth) that was extremely but selectively dog reactive. Made things very difficult at dog shows as we never knew what would trigger him. I warned other dog owners that he was reactive but because he was a Golden they didn’t really believe me. I ended up with bone deep cuts on my fingers after another owner brought his dog nose to tail with mine during agility class. I had to pull back on my leash, my hand slipped and the nylon webbing cut my hand.

  13. Thanks for this wonderful post! I completely agree with what you’ve said here and have had the same frustrations.

    I disagree with the statement that Pit Bulls have “no business” at social functions, doggy day care, or dog parks. I personally stay away from dog parks because you never know what kind of owners are going to be there, however my Pit Bull is a social butterfly. I do take him to doggy day care, where each dog that is admitted has been evaluated and must pass a trial day to see how they behave with other dogs. They are in small groups and are closely monitored, and he is overjoyed whenever we go there! I have carefully researched the places that I take him, and trust their judgement. The people who say that pit bulls have no business at doggy day care are the same ones who would be raging in protest if a doggy day care refused to accept pit bulls.

    I take him everywhere that I can, and he has become a better dog for it. He is bomb-proof, and enjoys meeting all kinds of people and other animals. I would never deny him that social interaction out of my own fear.

    I have fostered several pit bulls, and have only once encountered one that was dog reactive. She has since been adopted, and with the help of a trainer and her new owner, she is doing wonderfully and is no longer exhibiting these behaviors. I understand that dog aggression is a commonly accepted trait of Pit Bull type dogs, but why? Do we believe that because that’s what we’re told? I know there are Pit Bulls that are dog aggressive, but are they the majority? Sure hasn’t been my experience.

    Dogs are individuals, and should be judged as such.

  14. Thank you so much for the article! this gives many owners hope that a dog initially adopted and thought to need to be “an only dog” for life can change and welcome a loving furry family! so often we see people who will give up on rescuing a pet that initially seems “aggressive” to others because they already have a few at home!

  15. Reading this post is like I wrote more than a few paragraphs myself. Example; thinking these types of dogs “different” and initially treating my first dog different because of it. I ASS-umed dog aggression and one time I even described how “unique” their skulls were (head hung in shame). Our family has been blessed to now have had 3 of these dogs over 22 years. NOT a one has been dog aggression and when they get hurt, they can be worst than little kids It is truly sad how many people are, have been and can be ignorantly influenced by myths, rumours, and the hype media perpetuates for the sake of either cheap online “hits” or paper sales. I am now SO careful about what I believe and when I am interested in something always check out various sources and do MY own homework. Serious lesson learned.

  16. A beautiful story, one that should be an inspiration to any dog owner because it demonstrates what time, patience and understanding can achieve. Thank you for sharing your experience, your dogs are gorgeous and you are obviously a great doggy dad.

  17. Very well told…and so similar to my experiences with my pitbulls. They sure know how to talk to us, don’t they. Peace to you.

  18. Pingback: todays topic : Wolf in sheeps clothing - BulldogBreeds.com Forums·

  19. I was one of those people who would never own a pit bull because they were so “dangerous”. Then I educated myself. I now have a four month old pit , who lives a wonderful life with a boxer , boxer mix, and children. Imagine that ! Thank you for this wonderful post!

  20. Love this post. I’m only going to quibble with one sentence:” I didn’t discount the fact true Pit Bulls (again, terrier in general is more appropriate) may have higher risks of intolerance towards other dogs and animals.” Assigning a specific behavior/temperament to a breed — even when generalized to terriers, and qualified with “may” — carries on the idea that breed and behavior are linked. That you can reasonably expect a certain behavior from a dog based on it’s breed.
    Trouble is, the majority of pure-bred dogs in the US are bred for looks, not behavior. Breeders strive to match the standards set by the AKC (if you want to show) or the public (in order to make sales). For example, English bull dogs were originally bred to fight bulls, but it’s been a long, long, long time since that was true. The same holds true for the vast majority of dogs in this country — very few breeders are producing true working dogs. So even the generalized term “terrier” includes breeds that are no longer bred to hunt small animals (and haven’t been for a long time) or fight other animals or dogs. I would even go as far to say that the majority of “pit bulls” born in this country do not come from dog fighting breeders. They come from unfixed dogs doing what comes naturally and back yard breeders looking to make some money — so even the statement we hear that “pit bulls” are bred for fighting is highly questionable — some are but most are not.
    Now add in the fact that many “pit bull” dogs are actually mixed breeds of unknown parentage and you can pretty much discount any expectation of certain behaviors.
    Go to http://www.nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com and download the free booklet “The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog.” A science-based look at breed and behavior.

  21. Whatever the arguments may be and Jeff’s humbleness, Jeff’s knowledge and the recommendations he gave us when we took in little Presley (a “pit bull type dog” rescued by Jeff and a team of other great people) as a foster, has truly helped! We have a reactive “lab mix”, so taking on a foster was quiet a challenge. But by slowly introducing them to each other in our home and outside with positive reinforcement, as per Jeff’s recommendation, has resulted in our dog being the most patient foster sister: Presley wants to play all the time and he bounces up to her, gives the play bow, climbs on top of her and under her, etc. etc. and she responds with a calm body language and they play until they just lay down and occasionally nibbles each others cheeks. The playtime often ends with them sharing some water out of the same bowl. If Presley would have bounced up to her a couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have wanted to know the outcome.

    To my point, breed has little (or nothing) to do with aggression – it has to do with how we raise them, socialize them and us being aware of our dog’s body language, their signals and identifying the variables that causes them to be reactive. Since most dogs in our society are more or less mixed breeds, there is no or little way to predict their behavior based on the breeds involved in the mix. For more on this topic see: http://animalfarmfoundation.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/a-closer-look-at-all-dogs-are-individuals-infographic/

    Thank you Jeff for sharing your experiences (that have formed into knowledge) 🙂


  22. Really enjoyed your perspective on BSL and ‘Pit Bulls’ – as an owner of a GSD (and many before) they too have suffered in the past from ‘breed labeling’ which did them no justice (and still occurs). If potential dog owners were taught to understand the canine psych and learn to interpret their body language – i believe that there would be no need for BSL or breed restrictions. It is our failing – not the animals, we bring our phobias and judgement to them (they are not born with these). Unfortunately, ‘Pit Bulls’ are desired by the criminal element to use as objects of power and corruption; they (the dogs) need to be protected from theses individuals/groups. Good luck – and we can only hope that one day all dogs will be treated equal…

  23. Excellent article! This gives me hope that my rescued pitbull labelled “dog aggressive” by the MSPCA may someday be able to have a canine companion of her own! Can you tell me a bit more about how you worked Preston through his issues?

    • Patience, Julie, patience. You have to pay attention to your dog’s body language, and when he/she is showing signs of stress. Take things slow. I gradually introduced Preston to things he would react to. I must admit, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I felt giving him daily walks in the park were good for both of us. Gradually, things he would react to would spark a reaction less and less. He lives with 2 other dogs and goes on walks with other dogs all the time with no reaction now. It took a few years, but I noticed he actually likes other dogs, he just didn’t trust them, or trust me to protect him in the beginning. Give it time, exposé him/her to some of the variables delicately that he/she would react to. Don’t let him/her get over stimulated. If he/she reacts, remove him from the scene. Pay him/her with treats when he/she shows positive behavior signs. In the beginning, I had a bag of really good, high value treats (like cut up pieces of chicken bits), and I paid him well when he acted good. If he/she is treat motivated, it won’t be long before the treat is more important than whatever he/she is reacting too. Let me know if you need more help 🙂

  24. I really enjoyed reading your blog, editorial, post, whatever you would like to call it! :). I have also always had dogs, but adopted my first “pitbull” a year and a half ago. Admittedly, after I had her DNA tested (rescue said she was mastiff hound mix, and trainer said catapults leopard dog) I was really nervous to find out she was a pit mix. First of all, the looks and stares we get walking down the street is crazy! She is a beautiful dog, not a 3 headed monster, but people are pejudiced against pits, it is a reality. I also will admit that I started to do some research on how to be a responsible owner of this breed, not because I don’t trust her, but she is still a dog and if something were to happen, she would probably end up being taken and euthanized because of her breed. Example: we don’t go to dog parks, however I do take her to daycare occasionally to a place that the leases know her and are okay with pits and that I how I keep her socialized.
    Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but the point is that despite the challenges, Roux is the best dog I have ever had and I will never own another breed, ever. She is an amazing ambassador wherever she goes, that is when people are willing to give her the chance to do so.

  25. I adopted my “pit bull” Paisley ten months ago, after a lot of research and thought. I don’t know her past, only that it was rough. When we first brought her home (into a house with two older children, a dog and five cats) I was on edge. Everything thing she did I was like, “She’s being aggressive!” Then I realized it was me, I was looking at her and judging her actions with the eyes and thoughts that the media and the world had put into place. I needed to stop. She is a dog, all I needed was to respect the things I already knew about dogs and dog behavior. Once I calmed down it was all over, she just fit right in. This is a great post!

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  27. karen sandy n is the key to success for all dogs, and proper management is essential and the responsibility of their human counterparts.I would humbly add “To learn dog behavior, training, patience, and consistancy strenghtening the dog-owner relationship in positives-” . You don’t know something until you are taught it……your dogs teach you alot if you are proficient in “dog”. Many owners need help and training . What Ken Mc Cort said……and yes i have pitties

  28. Excellent read. I was one who originally fell for the “pit bull” stereotype but still defended them because I had Akitas and knew they were one of the next targets for BSL. Then it suddenly occurred to me — if my Akitas were misunderstood, perhaps Pits were as well? I love to ask people who label certain breeds as aggressive to answer a simple question, “What is the most likely dog to bite?” They start tossing out the names of the usual breeds, to which I reply, “The most likely dog to bite is an intact male chained or running loose of ANY breed”.

  29. Wonderful work. I lost my beautiful 5-year-old pit bull Blake to leukemia in March. I waited a few heartbroken weeks, then adopted Bryce, a 10-month-old pit. He’s as beautiful, sweet, and playful as Blake was. I’ve learned to tune out the negative noise about pitties, but it’s refreshing to read something positive. Keep it up.

  30. Thank you for this blog! I feel in love with my princess Sadie, the moment I met her a six weeks old. For the next ten months, we spent time socializing with people, children and other animals because I know it to be my responsibilityto any dog to have her well exposed. Then came the awful day when my husband took her to the Pantano wash where an unleahed dog repeatedly attacked Sadie and my husband, leaving Sadie at the animal hospital having to be retraumatized by the experience of having her fixed by surgery and the following healing process. Sadie now sees the animal work as a very dangerous place and becomes insane with fright and what you would call aggression. she is two years old now, loves her at home dog brother and sister. Hearing that as she ages and we continue to expose her to parks and trails, these reactions May ease, brings me hope for her. if you have any other suggestions, please let me know! Thanks again!

    • Stacy, just keeping doing what you do. Trust your instincts when you see her in uncomfortable situations. Remove her from those when she tells you (and she will tell you). You’ll do just fine. Trust yourself, and know behavior is great because it works both ways – they can learn bad and good behaviors. Put the time in, and you’ll be fine 🙂

  31. I was very interested to read your post. Thank you for posting it. I am a veterinarian and I want to make sure I give the best advice possible to my clients. I have had a few incidents with “pit bulls” that have scared me. I do find myself talking people out of them if they have other small dogs or
    little kids. On the other hand, I have met many who are so lovely and of course would do anything for any one of them, regardless is their individual temperament. I do think of them as very strong dogs, as are some other breeds, that often have a tendency to be very reactive with other dogs, with a greater chance of an interaction getting ugly. How would you suggest I counsel people, i.e. those that want to adopt one, or those that already have one? I would greatly appreciate your advice/insight.

  32. Great Post! Enjoyed reading this. But frankly.. Can’t bare to see these comments from ‘Michelle’ any longer. Continue doing what your doing and helping spread the word about how great Pitbulls are.. In fact, I believe they are perfect dogs. The ONLY dogs to have. Actually, that’s probably why it’s the poster dog for the movie The Little Rascals 😀

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