One of my recently discovered passions is dog literature. I keep ordering books on dog behavior and training, but upon arrival they just get in line behind my last order of books that I’m not even close to reading. Essentially anything by Patricia McConnell is on my bookshelf, along with books by other well known trainers and behaviorists. Right now I’m reading “Fight! - A Practical Guide to the Treatment of Dog-Dog Aggression” by Jean Donaldson. She is very well known for her book “Culture Clash,” and in general is thought of very highly in the dog training world. However, she chose to devote a small section in this book to breeds that are bred for dog aggression, specifically pit bulls. When I had finished reading the few paragraphs, I was left with my mouth hanging open and a swell of anger toward this highly influential individual. Here is the entire section, nothing is left out. After I’ll explain why I’m angry, and I’d love to know if you are in agreement, or if I am looking too much into this.
Just as dogs can be selectively bred for exaggerated stalking, which translated into herding or pointing, dogs can be bred for increased aggressiveness to other dogs. There are various breeds that have been employed in dog fighting at various points in their history, the most well known being the pitbull. Pitbulls were originally bred for a suite of characteristics that made them excel at fighting: a low threshold for dog to dog aggression, “gameness,” an uncompromising pugnacity that makes a dog willing to fight on rather than retreating in spite of grievous injury, a characteristic body type, and a failure to read aggression cut-off switches from other dogs, so that although the other dog may be doing all the right things to inhibit aggression, a pitbull continues to fight.
Interestingly, although the threshold for dog-dog aggression was bred low, which makes for a high incidence of fighting, the threshold for aggression directed at humans was bred high in the original stock. What this means is that a game bred dog would be immediately culled if it showed any tendency toward biting people. The reason was to avoid the risk of redirected bites when owners waded into the fray of a dogfight to retrieve their animals.
Pitbulls who have been randomly bred, or bred for other characteristics, such as size (so called “big head” breeding) or, sadly sometimes, aggressiveness to people, may have none, a little, or a lot of the original game-bred characteristics. It’s easy to spot some game-bred dogs as they present as extremely scrappy puppies that cannot be left in their own litters for fear of constant fighting. In other cases, the dog presents normally as a puppy and then starts fighting intensely around age two or three, even in spite of competent socialization efforts. It’s also important to note that a pitbull without aggression threshold problems might present for dog aggression of another sort, as can any dog.
Now the first two paragraphs are fine. I would have liked an inclusion that the pit bull was not originally bred for fighting, but for farm use, and this was a change that occurred later on, but it isn’t a huge deal. Yes, pit bulls are ideal for dog fighting for a number of reasons. Yes, they were bred for a high tolerance toward humans. Lovely. However, the third paragraph makes steam come out of my ears! A pitbull may become dog aggressive at age 2-3 despite an owners best efforts, and with no prior indication! Any potential dog owner is going to read that and, out of fear of picking a “bad dog,” completely avoid bringing home a pit bull puppy. It gives other dog owners a reason to fear any pit bull it sees in a social situation such as a park. To me, she is saying that pits are aggressive genetically, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Yes, she indicates that “gameness” is present at varying degrees, but she never once says that a pit bull can be dog friendly. That they can go from having poor socialization with other dogs, and learn to interact with them. That you can successfully raise a well rounded and social pit bull. In my mind, she is writing the breed off as a lost cause, when as dog professionals it is our job to educate the public about misconceptions. If she had added a single sentence to make it clear that pit bulls are not destined to fight with other dogs, I would be able to accept it. But I have a little blue pit sleeping next to me that gets enough judgment and stereotyping from the world. I don’t need to read about it in a book by a world renown behaviorist who should know better.
So that’s my take on it. Am I out of line? Do you think a first time dog owner would read that and understand that it doesn’t mean every pitbull you walk by, see at the dog park, and meet at the beach? I certainly hope I’m overreacting, because the last thing this world needs is evidence from Jean Donaldson’s book that pit bulls are aggressive to their core, and cannot be helped.
Because where does that leave Skye?
|Careful- I might turn on you!|
|Oh wait, I can't read, so I don't realize I'm supposed to be aggressive!|
|All I know is that the fluffy one is in charge.|
In other news, Blogger hates me. I cannot leave comments on other blogs unless I do so as a guest, and even then sometimes they just disappear. So, fellow bloggers, please bear with me. I'm reading (and loving!) your posts, but can't seem to communicate it at the moment. But unless I give up hope and drown my computer out of frustration, I'll figure it out soon. Promise!
This is also my first time joining the Saturday Pet Blogger Hop- so much fun!