GARY WULFF, canine behaviorist and dog trainer, Queenstown, NZ
[I]t's simple the nature of some breeds to be more aggressive. ... [I]f you're going to have children, just be aware of what you've got, because a bull terrier will snap and go from naught to 10 in about two seconds.
NANCY DEMORY HARRISON, retired clinical psychologist, active AKC approved judge of St. Bernards, bull terriers, and miniature bull terriers
What makes a pit bull a pit bull? This dog and generations of its relatives were selected for breeding to enhance the tendency to fight. The goal was to have a dog that would bite and hold, and have a need to dominate so strong that it would fight to the death rather than give in. There are unintended consequences of this selective breeding. When selected for breeding because it is stubborn, dominant and has a strong prey drive, the tendency to bite and hold (think of the beagles and greyhounds, which also are bred for specific behaviors, if you doubt such selection is possible) then this dog cannot be expected to discriminate among dogs, small animals and children.Pit bulls are the only domestic dogs that still are being selected for breeding based on their ability to attack and kill. Yes, there are pit bull mixes that are gentle, and training seems to help. But it is impossible to know which dog has a high dose of fighting genes and which does not. How do you know that your shelter rescue pit bull mix puppy was not the smallest in a litter sired by a very aggressive and dominant fighting dog? Smallest in the litter, so not a competitor, but ended up in a shelter. Yet this puppy may carry the fighting personality. And the cues that draw the attack behavior are not quantifiable or predictable, as evidenced by reports of dogs’ unprovoked attacks on children or other dogs after months of peaceful coexistence.
MARTIN PENKALA, veterinary clinic and emergency animal hospital staff
After having worked in two veterinary clinics and an emergency animal hospital, and seeing the statistics on pit bull attacks on both animals and humans, and after having now had two close friends’ dogs viciously ravaged by pit bulls, I feel compelled to address this issue very frankly.
I have heard both sides of the argument dozens of times, and when I put all the facts, opinions, stats and justifications together into a final perspective, this is what I conclude: Many pit bull supporters don’t seem to realize they are populating this country’s towns and cities with a lethal attack dog that needs to be rigorously controlled.
All the characteristics that make this breed notorious were selected centuries ago. They were used in the sports of bull and bear baiting. They were bred to attack without provocation or warning (hence their “unpredictability”); clamp on to a vulnerable area of the victim’s body with a hold-and-shake grip to inflict major physical damage; and sustain tremendous pain in order to continue damaging the victim. They were not intended to be household pets. They do these things for the same reason pointers “point” – it’s bred into them. It has nothing to do with “irresponsible ownership.”
It’s long past time to bring some common sense (and compassion for victims) back to this debate.
TARYN BLYTH, Dog TrainerTRISH KING, Director, Behavior & Training Dept. Marin Humane Society
- No one is saying that a lot of Pit Bulls can’t be “successfully” socialised with other dogs. Many socialised from puppyhood are very friendly and outgoing with other dogs. The problem arises if and when fighting behaviour is triggered. Even if the Pit Bull does not start the fight, getting into conflict with another animal will often trigger their “grab, shake and kill” response.
- “Normal” dogs engage in “ritualised” forms of aggression when they come into conflict. This involves lots of noise, but no real damage. However, when Pit Bulls fight they engage the shake-bite/kill-bite part of the predatory sequence with often fatal or near fatal results. There is seldom time to intervene to rescue the other dog before serious damage is done.
- When Pit Bulls engage in a fight, far from this inducing an aversive state of mind (most dogs are in a defensive, survival mode during fights), opioids and dopamine are released in their brains making them feel really good - this feeling is so pleasurable that they will often seek out this behaviour again. In the same way that a border collie is built to feel really good when herding sheep, Pit Bulls are built to feel really good when fighting.
- Due to the opioid release during fights, Pit Bulls do not feel pain and so fight on regardless of injury - trying to stop a fight is incredibly difficult.
- When “normal” dogs fight, they usually respond to appeasement behaviour from their “opponent” i.e. as fighting is not designed to kill, but to resolve conflict without serious harm, one dog may “give in” and display behaviour which will cause the other dog to back off. Pit Bulls do not respond to appeasement behaviour during fights as this would have been counterproductive in the fighting pits and has been bred out of them.
- In my experience Pit Bulls have a very low reactivity threshold - this means that stimuli at low intensities which would be ignored by other dogs are often triggers for aggressive behaviour in the breed. They also have very high arousal levels - they become physiologically aroused very quickly and to extreme levels.
One of the huge problems is actually the fact that the breed is extremely friendly and when well-socialised they are usually quite tolerant and very sweet. What people don’t realise is that the danger does not lie in the fearful, defensive under-socialised Pit Bull (as is so often the case with other breeds), it lies in the dog who will be triggered not into defensive behaviour, but into a predatory/fighting behaviour which is enjoyable and carried out in a happy state of mind - therefore a happy, outgoing dog is in this case no guarantee that one will not have a problem. In fact, due to the sociable nature of the dogs and apparent easy-going temperament, Pit Bulls are often put into situations which they are not equipped to handle - this is how so many tragedies occur.
There is no direct eye contact or very little direct eye contact. It is very quick and over with. Which is one reason why with pit bulls and rottweilers, we have problems. Because they're bred to do direct eye contact and so they are off putting to other dogs and actually scary to other dogs."TIA TORRES, Celebrity Pit Bull Rescuer
The fourth undesirable characteristic - arousal or excitement - is actually the most problematic. Many bully dogs cannot seem to calm themselves down once they get excited. And once they get excited all their behaviors are exacerbated. Thus, if a dog is over-confident and has a tendency to body slam or mount, he or she will really crash into the other dog or person when he's aroused, sometimes inadvertently causing injury. He may begin to play-bite, and then bite harder and harder and harder. When you try to stop the behavior, the dog often becomes even more "aggressive." In this way, play can turn into aggression fairly quickly. Research on the brain has shown that excited play has exactly the same chemistry as extreme anger. This allows a play behavior to switch quickly into aggression. And, once the dog has become aggressive a few times, the switch is much easier.
Some of you have Pits that will NEVER EVER display dog aggression. Great! Congratulations! And yes, some of that should be credited to you as an owner for not putting your dog in a situation that warrants him/her to have to fight back. But more than likely you just got lucky and your Pit just has a kick back temperament combined with a lifestyle that keeps him out of harm's way and trust me...I wish all Pit Bulls could live like that. But truthfully, in dealing with hundreds to thousands in my rescue career, most Pit Bulls that have come thru here, display some form of dog aggression. Maybe not full blown, "I want to kill another dog" but even so much as giving each other the "stink eye" has caused a ruckus.RANDALL LOCKWOOD, PhD, Senior Vice President ASPCA, Vice President - Research and Educational Outreach The Humane Society of the United States
Randall Lockwood, who said he has witnessed the best and worst of pit bulls, said illegal dog-fighting is perpetuating dogs that are hazards to humans and other animals. Shaped by dog-fight enthusiasts, they are "a perversion of everything normal dogs should do. What they've created is a canine psychopath."
"Fighting dogs lie all the time. I experienced it first hand when I was investigating three pit bulls that killed a little boy in Georgia. When I went up to do an initial evaluation of the dog's behavior, the dog came up to the front of the fence, gave me a nice little tail wag and a "play bow" -- a little solicitation, a little greeting. As I got closer, he lunged for my face."
The pit bull, in its purebred or mixed form, has been responsible for most of the fatal dog attacks on humans in the last two years. In 1987, there were eight deaths from dog attacks in the country, and seven involved pit bulls. In 1986, there were 13 deaths, seven involving pit bulls. But pit bulls have been victimized by hype.
The dogs are no strangers to ordinances. A pit bull ban was passed in London in the 1400s.
These dogs can be canine crocodiles. They have a dark and bloody history.
In the United States, pets are considered property in the eyes of the law. And one of the most hotly defended rights of the individual is the right to own anything, no matter how stupid or dangerous the choice — even when what someone wants to own is a threat to them, their family, and the community around them.DIANE JESSUP, pit bull expert, breeder, former ACO
"Jessup, the animal control officer in Olympia, uses two pit bulls to train police and animal control officers on surviving dogs attacks.
Unlike dogs who are nippers and rippers, her pit bulls are typically "grippers" who bite down and hang onto their victims."
Jessup believes that much of dog behavior comes from their genes. “I truly believe that a dog is about 90% genetics,” says Jessup.
Jessup on protection sportsMICHAEL BURNS, Los Angeles Animal Control Lt.
This difference in “sheepdog versus bulldog” mentality in a trainer is best understood when training the "out!” or release command. It is common practice for those training shepherds and sheepdog types to use force such as hard leash corrections or electric shock to get the dog to release the sleeve. Sadly, I had one young man come to me because a club trainer was slugging his little Am Staff bitch in the nose, till she bled, trying to get her to release the sleeve. She would not! And of course she would not! She was a good little bulldog, hanging on for dear life, just as her bull and bear baiting ancestors of old did. She was a super little gripping dog, who took the pain she experienced as just “part of the job” once her owner set her upon the sleeve. And this is the response from well bred pit bulldogs—to ignore pain while gripping. It is, after all, what they are bred for! Give me a bulldog like her, rather than one which will allow itself to be yanked off the sleeve due to pain.
You have a dog that has aggressive tendencies enhanced through constant and incestuous breeding. If there are some recessive genes on the aggressive or psychotic side, they will make themselves manifest.
They are different. There's an absence of the normal sounds a dog makes when it attacks. It's almost a workmanlike way they hold on in an attack. It's a persistence I haven't seen in any other breed.KURT LAPHAM, a field investigator for the West Coast Regional office of the Humane Society
Most breeds do not multiple-bite. A pit bull attack is like a shark attack: He keeps coming back.DAVID GENDREGSKE, Clare County MI Animal Control Director
“In my opinion they appeal to the most irresponsible pet owners and to younger people,” he said. “The younger people have no jobs to support the animal, or they have to move where animals aren’t allowed and (the dogs) end up here.” Certain people like pit bulls because they are intimidating, he said. “They want to scare people. It’s an intimidation thing. They’re number one with those being incarcerated. If there’s a dog left behind (when someone is sentenced to jail or prison), it’s always a pit bull,” he said. He cited the time a pit bull got out of a car and attacked a horse. He was pulled off, but he went back and grabbed the throat. He was pulled off again and again and went back after different parts of the horse. “What kind of a dog but a pit bull would do that?” he asked. “All dogs can bite but not with that ferocity. “ Some people will say that how a pit bull acts and reacts is dependent upon how the dog is raised, he said. “But he was raised to kill for centuries,” he said. “You can’t breed it out in one generation.” If the popularity of pit bulls is a fad, it’s a long term one, he said. “I keep seeing more and more pit bulls,” he said. “It’s getting worse.” Pit bulls, he said, are not good as a working dog, except for perhaps wild boar hunting. “And they’re not one of the smarter breeds,” he said, despite other’s beliefs that they are intelligent.KEVIN COUTTS, Head Dog Ranger, Rotura, New Zealand
There was concern among dog authorities about American pitbulls being allowed into New Zealand as they were dangerous, unpredictable animals, Mr Coutts said.GARRETT RUSSO, dog trainer
"A lot of people in this town get them because they are a staunch dog and they will fight. They are perceived as vicious ... It's frustrating they were ever allowed in the country ... we can't go back now though," Mr Coutts said.
COUTTS' comment on a pit car mauling
This sort of thing happens when people own this breed of dog and then don't look after them.
I estimate Medical & Veterinary bills related to injuries caused by pit bulls in the Tompkins Square dog run in 2011, $140,000.00. Estimated Medical (human) & Veterinary (canine) bills from all other breeds and mixed breeds combined during the same period, $5,000.00. (Estimate gathered from reports to by owners to the dog park association.)VICTORIA STILWELL, celebrity dog trainer
Presas are not to be fooled with, they're dangerous. You've got a fighting breed here. You've got a dog that was bred for fighting. You've got one of the most difficult breeds to handle.CESAR MILAN, celebrity dog trainer
"Yeah, but this is a different breed...the power that comes behind bull dog, pit bull, presa canario, the fighting breed - They have an extra boost, they can go into a zone, they don't feel the pain anymore. He is using the bulldog in him, which is way too powerful, so we have to 'make him dog' (I guess as in a "regular" dog) so we can actually create the limits. So if you are trying to create submission in a fighting breed, it's not going to happen. They would rather die than surrender.". If you add pain, it only infuriates them..to them pain is that adrenaline rush, they are looking forward to that, they are addicted to it... That's why they are such great fighters." Cesar goes on to say..."Especially with fighting breeds, you're going to have these explosions over and over because there's no limits in their brain."STEVE DUNO, dog trainer, pit bull owner
"The dogs that participated in these attacks weren't Pekingese. You don't have herds of Pekingese roaming the city attacking people. When someone says all breeds are created equal, well then they're denying the definition of what a breed is. Breed serves a particular purpose."
"I like them. They're eager. They're athletic. They're aesthetically pleasing. But even if they're bred perfectly, they can be problematic, particularly with other dogs."
"When you combine the breed specific behaviors ... with owners who either don't give a rip, or with owners who (have) too much dog, you have a problem."JEAN DONALDSON, dog trainer
Most commonly, she sees dogs with aggression problems. While she's a fierce opponent of "breed bans" like the proposed outlawing of pit bulls that San Francisco debated two years ago, she believes it's undeniable that some breeds are predisposed to violence. Many breeds that were bred as guardians or fighting dogs were carefully designed to not like strangers, she says. She thinks it's disingenuous of breeders to further enhance this trait, and then expect owners to compensate with training.ARLENE STERLING, Newaygo County, MI Chief Animal Control Officer
"It is genetically inbred in them to be aggressive. They can be very nice dogs, but they are very prey driven and they are extremely strong. It makes them high risk dogs and it makes them extremely dangerous."BOB KERRIDGE, New Zealand SPCA executive director
"That is the only real way to solve this problem - is to license owners and to give them the responsibility that goes with owning a dog. It would be extremely useful when you have a neighbour who is concerned about that dog next door. You can look at it and see they don't have a license and take it away. That's owner responsibility."
"We led the charge to stop the importation of the pitbull because of the concerns they would be crossbred with other dogs... But there's not a lot we can do about that because it's happened. We wish someone had listened all those years ago."JIM CROSBY, pit bull hired gun
"Line breeding tends to concentrate recessive traits. The propensity for violent attacks by a dog would be a recessive trait."MELANIE PFEIFFER, veterinary assistant
Working in a veterinary hospital, you are exposed to all kinds of animal trauma. One of the more common ones is dog fights. I can honestly say that in three out of four cases, an American pit bull terrier is involved. Many times, we are able to save the life of the afflicted, but yesterday, we were not.
I propose that all owned American pit bull terriers be registered and all breeding be halted indefinitely. How many mutilated faces, mangled limbs, butchered pets and even human deaths does it take to convince us that this breed needs to be phased out?DIANE JESSUP, Washington pit bull owner and expert
"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."JOHN ROCKHOLT, South Carolina dogman
"It's inhumane not to allow them to fight. If you have to encourage them to fight they are not worth the powder it would take to blow them away. To never allow them any kind of combat...That's inhumane."RAY BROWN, former pit bull owner, breeder, dog fighter
Pit bulls didn't become dangerous because we fight them; we fight them because the English specifically bred them to be dangerous.MARK PAULHUS, HSUS southeast regional coordinator
If it chooses to attack, it's the most ferocious of all dogs. I've never known of a pit bull that could be called off (during a fight). They lose themselves in the fight.F.L. DANTZLER, HSUS director of field services
"They're borderline dogs. They're right on the edge all of the time. Even if the dogs are not trained or used for fighting, and even though they are generally good with people, their bloodline makes them prone to violence."KATE RINDY, co-author Pit Bulls Are Different, former HSUS employee and assistant to Randall Lockwood, former executive director of Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society
"Dog owners are naive about the dogs strength and stubborn character."PEGGY E. WARFLE, Manager Wake Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animal Shelters, Raleigh, NC.
"People have Pits and do not understand the potential risk factor."
"All Pit Bulls should be spayed and neutered" ..."That way we could do away with the breed, couldn't we? It wouldn't be a great loss to dogdom."Adapted with thanks from Craven Desires