Monday, June 23, 2014

Really, Time Magazine? The Problem With Pit Bulls?

Time Magazine, on June 20, ran the article "The Problem With Pit Bulls". I only just read it, and haven't really heard it discussed in my usual online watering holes. Go read it; I didn't watch the video or anything, so can't vouch for that, but otherwise it doesn't have any terrible pictures or language or anything.

It's hard to read things like that, because they aren't wrong. This is Time Magazine here; they're able to present a compelling argument and back it up with sources. It's what they're for.  But they aren't right, either, and I feel leaning on PETA for citation weakens their case. "Even PETA, the largest animal-rights organization in the world, supports breed-specific sterilization for pit bulls" says Time magazine. Well, PETA thinks it would be best if this convention of keeping pets never existed. We all probably know by now about PETA's high euthanization rate of animals surrendered into their care (that one's from Time, here's one from The Washington Post).

The problem with pit bulls? Not every dog recognized, owned, and reported as a pit bull is one. I'm not trying to be semantic between American Staffordshire Terriers and American Pit Bull Terriers; I mean there are a number of other powerful, square headed breeds which might be recognized and mislabeled as such, from Presa Canarios, to Cane Corso, to Boxers, to American Bulldogs. And then there's the mixes, and mixed breeds cannot be reliably held to any breed specific behavioral rubrick.

The CDC page on Dog Bites links to a paper done by the American Veterinary Medical Association, "A Community Approach on Dog Bites". It's interesting to note that article says "singling out one or two breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment." It also says, no the very first page:

 Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they
do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite. Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular
large breeds are a problem. This should be expected,
because big dogs can physically do more damage if
they do bite, and any popular breed has more individuals
that could bite. Dogs from small breeds also bite
and are capable of causing severe injury. There are several
reasons why it is not possible to calculate a bite
rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds.
First, the breed of the biting dog may not be accurately
recorded, and mixed-breed dogs are commonly
described as if they were purebreds. Second, the actual
number of bites that occur in a community is not
known, especially if they did not result in serious
injury. Third, the number of dogs of a particular breed
or combination of breeds in a community is not
known, because it is rare for all dogs in a community
to be licensed, and existing licensing data is then
incomplete. Breed data likely vary between communities,
states, or regions, and can even vary between
neighborhoods within a community.

The ASPCA website has a nice "The Truth About Pit Bulls" article I recommend. It discusses the importance of training and socialization, though it does seem to keep everything relentlessly cheerful.

So, is the problem really Pit Bulls? Is the problem people who breed them casually, with no eye towards temperament or health, because they have two dogs to throw together? Is the problem the type of people who want pit bulls to have that reputation?

Many of the "pit bull people" are unable to acknowledge, at all, that some of these dogs can be dangerous. And many of the "anti pit bull people" are unable to acknowledge, at all, that some of these dogs are as safe as any other dog.

And that's the thing. We want dogs to be safe. We have a certain level of expectation regarding these animals we've welcomed into our lives and homes. There are so many factors, breed included, that go into an individual dog's makeup that decide whether that individual dog is "safe" or not, and some of these factors change over time. There are also many factors which go into why a dog might bite.

A dog might bite due to pain, injury, or health changes (thyroid having gone off, for an example). A dog might bite due to perceived threat to his or her own personal safety.

Then there is the bite with intent, where the dog sees a "target" and proceeds to that target. There is the redirected bite, when the dog was already biting or focused on another dog, say. There are the bites we will never know the cause of, because a very small child was left with a dog and the results were damaging if not fatal.

I think education is perhaps THE primary thing to prevent dog bites, because nearly every other opinion I have on this predicates upon people knowing things. Knowing about temperament, about spaying and neutering, knowing about socialization and training and appropriate housing. Of course, my assumptions also predicate upon peoples' intent. If somebody breeds two of their fighting dogs together and then sell the puppies they don't want to keep on Craigslist...well, those puppies, from their origin, theoretically have a higher potential to be "less safe" than somebody who bred two of their non-fighting pets together, or bred two titled and health tested champions together.

Stop breeding dogs when your only criteria is having a male and a female. Spay and neuter if you are unwilling or unable to handle an intact animal.
Stop fighting dogs (though I doubt regular dog blog readers are doing this. I had to include it on principle).
Socialize your dog.
Train your dog.
Love your dog.


  1. A smart and reasonable skepticism about this post. I also found an excellent point-by-point argument at

    What I find most frustrating is that blind hatred of pits and pit-like dogs does nothing to keep anyone from being bitten or killed.

    1. Thank you for linking that, it's unbelievably fantastic!

      That is another good point: breed bans have not reduced dog bites.

  2. Really great, balanced approach to this topic. I read the article and do think it's very heavily biased, and I agree with you that there is no black or white here. I've personally witnessed two loose pit bull types violently attack a small on-leash dog in a public park, and I've personally known several sweet, totally trustworthy pit bull types.

    1. I guess I'm still terribly naive, expecting venerable magazines and newspapers to have reasonable and well-researched articles.

      I've been happily ignorant, and never seen a pit bull attack. Or any REAL dog attack, actually. The few that I've known have been perfectly "normal" dogs.

  3. Any news source that cites PETA has lost all credibility among the growing numbers who know that they are a kook/killing machine. TIME doesn't want to inform, they want to write hit pieces that get them noticed. I am surprised that they still have readers.

    1. I still hoped Time was an okay magazine ;) But I definitely fell prey to the clickbait and got up on my self righteous high horse. It is really disappointing to see Peta being sourced as though it were a reliable organization.

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  6. I really agree with you, and Pits aren't the only breed that this could be said about. GSDs and Dobermans have both been the public crosshairs before, too. In the city where I work, Pitties are a status symbol and they aren't bred well at all. Just because you can put two dogs together and get $50 a piece for the puppies doesn't mean that you should, and it doesn't make you more of a man to walk a dog down the street on a chain, but they do it all the time. A lot of the kids in my school have never met a big dog who is friendly before. There are so many cultural factors that play in to the "Pit Bull Problem" that it's very hard to sort out.

    1. I'm typically inclined to blame the people, first and foremost. I hear that feral dog communities, when they have their choice of breeding, normalize into medium sized dogs with longer muzzles, etc. Nature isn't responsible for the dog breeds we have, people are. And that's the good and the bad.

  7. "Many of the 'pit bull people' are unable to acknowledge, at all, that some of these dogs can be dangerous. And many of the 'anti pit bull people' are unable to acknowledge, at all, that some of these dogs are as safe as any other dog."

    I think this is the worst ramification of our pervasive belief that breed=temperament. Combine the fact that pit bulls aren't a clear-cut breed with the natural variations in temperament that happen in any breed, and there is really a radical spread in things like prey drive. Some pit bulls are quite drive-y. Some are like Norman from My Two Pitties. They're also strong, even when they aren't that big. If an inexperienced dog person gets a pit bull thinking that they're getting Norman, and instead gets a high-drive, strong, athletic dog, the fallout is ugly and almost inevitable. And then, of course the breed gets the blame, instead of the person who got a dog they couldn't handle.

    I think other breeds suffer from the same thing--see "What do you mean, my Golden Retriever isn't automatically good with kids?--but pit bulls have it the worst.

    1. The fact that they aren't a clear cut breed is probably one of the worst facets of the entire discussion. Pit bulls aren't any one thing. And yeah, it does go both ways. The popularity of Goldens and Labs and such has been damaging to them as well.

  8. The story that TIME published seems to be turned on the wrong subject. A KFC employee asked a little girl to leave the restaurant??? I think this story should have been catered to the indecency of said employee and how inhumane of a reaction that is towards an innocent girl AND the absolute inappropriateness of that request.

    The media took this story, oversaw the rudeness (of what seems to be an ignorant person) and then flipped the switch on pit bulls as a whole. It amazes me that if you pay money ($30,00 in this case) to say "sorry", all is forgiven.
    But, you have to kill your dogs and then face media attacks to even attempt to demonstrate your remorse.
    That entire article was an attack on a breed that clearly the writer has absolutely no hands-on experience with. Instead, only relying on what "statistics" say.

    I appreciate your article and your due diligence. It has great points and more reliable references that I wish more people would consider when 'slamming' pit bulls. The media is very unreliable and there are some of us out there that are responsible with our pit bulls and have raised them to be over-sized lap dogs and lovable family members.