Friday, June 01, 2007

Dog Breeds: Trust your Instincts!

I am too darn lazy tonight to create a post with loads of photos, so I’m posting something I wrote a few weeks ago. Instant Post!

There’s a chance I’ll probably take a lot of heat from Pit Bull breeders but I need to talk about something that’s been on my mind for many years. I truly believe that there are no bad dogs and they all go to heaven because I’m a dog lover.

I listened to a news commentary on the radio today from a breed specialist who commented: “The only dog attacks reported by the media are by Pit Bulls. What we don’t hear are attacks of other breeds such as German Shepherds and Rottweilers. These dogs [Pit Bulls] get a bad wrap.” Well, I think the latter two breeds are excellent guard dogs and they don’t intend to maul or kill.

I don’t think a week or two goes by that I don’t hear of a Pit Bull on the news that has mauled a human or another animal and sometimes they attack their owners. They include any breed labeled American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, or any dog determined to be a Pit Bull type.

In many States such as New Jersey, ownership has its consequences and restrictions. I believe it’s necessary in all States.


Recorded in Best Friends Network, this breed was, at one time, referred to as “nursemaid”, because of its devotion to young children and family.

Quoted in the above article: “Today, however, the breed often attracts the worst kind of dog owners--those who are only interested in them for fighting or protection. It's a shame what has happened to this loyal and affectionate breed-but as the pit bull population has increased so rapidly, shelters are now struggling to deal with an overflow of image-plagued, hard-to-place dogs. And despite its illegality, people are still training and breeding pit bulls to participate in dog fights in cities and towns across the country.”

Why does this hideous, illegal sport continue all over the country? I’m outraged. Greedy breeders and irresponsible dog owners are responsible for the maligned reputation and behavior of this breed.

Because of this, I will admit that I will never enter a home of a friend with a Pit Bull present. Sorry - my fear of its unpredictable aggression will sound an alarm and I'm scared. I have a story to tell about my dilemma with this breed.

During the summer of 2005, I was living in Delaware and was preparing to move to North Carolina. Six weeks prior to our move, our wonderful military U.S. Air Force neighbors moved away and rented their home to a family who brought their two pit bulls home two days after they moved in. It was a Monday evening, after dark, and I was surprised. I met them outside and, masking my fear, inquired about their dogs’ social skills. From the owner, I learned her dogs hadn’t been socialized much. Well, that was just GREAT NEWS and I could feel the hair raise on the back of my neck! There was a split-rail fence lined with heavy-gauge wire separating these two massive bulls from my little Boston Terriers. There was a female (alpha) and a male romping around quite energetically!

My decision was to keep my dogs on lead and supervised while in the yard. I observed the Pits' behavior next door often, as they were usually unsupervised and I felt determined to get to know them with treats and neck rubs. There was no play-bowing between the four dogs. Chloe and Bella sensed something different from other dogs they loved to play with. Bella, my younger Boston who is easily frightened, raised her hair and shouted to them, sensing something not quite apparent to humans, I think. I surely didn’t need Bella to piss off a Pit Bull, so I became more guarded. Chloe was passive but would join in with Bella's blasts when she thought it was necessary.


There was no more of this for the next six weeks. They were on a lead most of the time and I was always present. Something told me I needed to be with them and to never let my guard down.

Two weeks after getting acquainted with our new canine neighbors, I took Bella outside on lead to relieve herself at 10pm. I was looking at the yard next door to see if the Pit Bulls were outside and I missed a step off the deck, tumbled and broke my ankle in two places, but I held on to Bella’s lead! I had ankle surgery the following day, but that’s another story. My husband was working in North Carolina and I was alone.

During the next month while I was on crutches, I was fortunate to have neighbors come in to let the dogs out several times a day. I always insisted that Chloe and Bella be taken out on lead and asked that everyone be aware of the dogs next door, please… Including my husband and daughter, most people thought I was overreacting and my fear was unjustified. There was eye-rolling. I love my dogs deeply and didn’t care if family and friends were annoyed with me. There was a lot at stake here! My gut told me so.

Two weeks after our leaving and settling in our new home in North Carolina, I received a phone call from a neighbor who had helped me out in Delaware. She had news. Those two Pit Bulls, within a minute or two, chewed through the wire on the split rail fence and attacked a Sheltie on the front street who was being walked by a ten-year old girl. Cries of help from the little girl brought two men onto the street with two-by-four lumber to beat the dogs off the poor, severely injured Sheltie. The little girl was unharmed, physically… The animal control agency imposed strict rules on the owners of those dogs. Too late, in my opinion.

For six weeks, I was blessed. They could have chewed through my side of the fence whenever they had the urge. If I heard mayhem, with my ankle in an air cast, I would have crawled down the steps of my deck, hopped on one foot, and used my crutches as a defense weapon to save my beloved dogs. I can’t even bear the thought of what might have been.

Does anyone have a beloved Pit Bull who doesn't have these characteristics? Has anyone had a similar experience? If so, I'd like to know about it.


Cathy said...

Mary - The lesson here is always to trust those gut feelings. Yours were spot on.

A few months ago a Labrador Retriever attacked a dog that a new neighbor was walking while he pushed his toddler daughter in a stroller. After many vet bills the dog is recovered, but I'll always remember the sound that wounded dog made. When I got to them, the dad almost seemed shocky. What a lousy welcome to the community.

Sadly - the young girl walking the Labrador is mentally handicapped and wasn't able to maintain adequate control.

So your ankle is a result of your passionate caring for those precious pups. (I always pass the laptop to my husband when you post pictures of Bella and Chloe:0)

Mary said...

Oh, Cathy. Dogs can be unpredictable - all of them - but I knew to be very cautious in this case. There's nothing worse to hear than a dog attack! What a terrible welcome to a community. Labs are gentle souls, usually.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mary,
Thanks for sharing your story. As a dog owner and lover, I also believe there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. However, in the last month, there were 2 different pit bull vs. human incidents reported on the Twin Cities news.

I think any responsible dog owner owes it to their dog and themself to train their dog, especially a dog that is perceived to be dangerous just because of its breed.

I have met some perfectly sweet pit bulls. By the same token, I think my Sophie is a perfectly sweet German Shorthair, but let another dog walk past our house or come into the yard and she gets pretty nasty (a result of my not socializing her at an early age).

I'm glad all turned out well for your pups and that your ankle has now healed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and letting me share mine.

LauraHinNJ said...

My SIL has a pit bull that she got from the shelter after it was seized because the prior owners had plans to fight it. It's a perfectly sweet dog, but on our last visit to their house it scared me. Just normal playful doggy stuff, but I was frightened by it and I've heard what dogs may do when they sense fear.

My husband's family always had Rotties - my FIL trained them to be guard dogs, but they were very sweet inside the house, but I always felt like I had to be careful with them.

I'm fearful of golden retrievers, sweet as they are, because one nearly took my hand off a few years ago.

Alyssa said...

Hi Mary, Yes, were very lucky those pits didn't chew through you fence while you were there. I agree whole heartedly that pit bulls should be VERY regulated. They have been bred with those strong fighting tendencies more and more until, eventually, the good traits have been nearly bred out. No, it's not the dogs fault, but that doesn't matter. We must protect ourselves and our dogs. I also have negative feelings about Rotts. A young girl was mauled to death a few years ago in Wisconsin while visiting her friend by these dogs. Too many people (men especially) have these types of breeds as some sort of sick "macho" thing and don't know the first thing about dealing with aggressive breeds. As for dog fighting, no words are strong enough for my disgust and hatred for the people who stage and participate in these types of things. That is one of the reasons I give generously to PETA, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society (national and local). These organizations have a real "handle" on keeping the pressure on our representatives and the legal aspects of animal abuse. You've got my blood up now! Thanks for the post. Alyssa

Susan Gets Native said...

I love you and I am glad that those two dogs never attacked you or the pups.
Yes, there are aggressive, wired-wrong pits. But in a transverse to your story, our Sheltie, Wilson, had to be put down because he attacked Isabelle when she was two. He had major issues that we could never fix, no matter what we tried.

It's not the pit's fault that evil people are breeding aggression and scariness INTO them. I think that someday, with proper breeding practices, pits will be back to their intended spot as the "Nursemaid".
One pit that sticks out in my mind was one we met at the dog park. He had one eye and scars, and I have never met a happier, more well-adjusted dog. He was playful, secure and gentle. The girls tackled him with kisses, and all he did was roll over and enjoy the affection.

The "bad" pits are first bred for violence, and they are also taught to be afraid. Ever heard the story about how these "breeders" feed the dogs gunpowder and beat them to make them mean?
It's evil. But you can't be afraid of every pit you see.
Some people are afraid of our Nellie. NELLIE. Just because she "looks" like a Rott.
Maybe someday, when laws have eradicated the "bad" ones, the good ones (the ones that are truly an example of what the breed can be) will resurface.
My fingers are crossed.

NatureWoman said...

Wow Mary, I'm glad you and your pups made it out of there without an incident. All I know is there are so many jerky people out there owning cats and dogs it drives me crazy. I once saw a guy driving a pickup truck in front of me beat the shit out of dog out the back window of his truck. Ohhhh, I saw crimson - I wanted to get out and beat the man with a huge stick (I'm *not* the violent type, but when it comes to animals. . .). Those type of people should not be allowed to have any animals or kids.

Anonymous said...

My family has had pit bulls for decades. We've never had a problem. In fact, they've always been trusted and cherished members of the family--like every other dog we've had. With all the children past and present, never once has one of us worried for their safety or ours.

As is the case with any dog, it's not the breed but the upbringing that determines disposition. I would gladly trust my life to any of our pit bulls without a moment's hesitation, and their affectionate manners and loving personalities have made them a favorite for multiple generations of our clan.

Unfortunately, the worst impressions of pit bulls generally come from those who've never had one and who are basing the premise entirely on what the article points out: the proliferation of bad news about the breed. All other breeds attack and maul and pose a danger under the right circumstances; only pit bulls seem to make the headlines, though. Very sad--and very unwarranted.

Unknown said...

The kinds of stories you relate and the kinds of stories that are appearing in your comments are why I will never get a dog from anywhere other than a responsible breeder. A responsible breeder breeds for the health and temperament of the dogs first and foremost.

Any breed is capable of being unpredictable. Dogs bred for fighting and dogs bred for guarding are way more likely to fall in this camp because they have a quick trigger on their protective instincts. Add to that breeding that doesn't look at temperament as being an issue and you can get very unpredictable dogs very quickly. When you add in a desire for fighting into it and people breeding for that characteristic things can get ugly fast. That is what has happened to pit bulls. People breed for fighting and aggresion and that's what they get.

I bred and showed Labradors for umpteen years and saw things at the Lab ring that would make your hair stand up too. Any breed is capable of violence and that is why I could never support breed specific legislation. But, people rarely get to the underlying problem, in my oh-so humble opinion. Dogs don't cause the problems . . . people do. And, that's the sad truth.

I've got a wonderful friend who is an excellent dog trainer. She rescued a pit bull and he is a fantastic member of her family and her pack of labs and pugs. But, she didn't kid herself that he's a pussycat -- she has trained him well, she is his pack leader, and she jumps on any misbehavior appropriately and swiftly. I would trust her dog without any qualms. But, I wouldn't trust most fighting breeds nor, to be honest, most guarding dogs.

And, lets not get started on people who get itty-bitty dogs and treat them like they are moving stuffed animals instead of recognizing that they are a few steps away from a wolf. Sigh. You hit a real trigger point on this for me, Mary. I'll stop now and just say how grateful I am that Chloe and Bella weren't the victims of the neighbor's dogs. And, that I hope your husband and daughter apologized for disrmissing your instincts when they heard the story! :)

Larry said...

I don't know why anyone would choose a dog that has been known to be a problem.-At the very least,they cause fear in other people.-
A guy I knew had a Rotweiler who was trained to attack.-he repeatedly bit the owner in the chest and left him with a scar from dozens of stitches.-

Anonymous said...

Dear Mary,
As a dog breeder and at one time a breeder of Rotties and Labs I can only say that I also do not believe in breed specific legislation. In my humble opinion any animal with teeth can bite. My best rottie Miss Molly was a trusted companion during the years that my sons were very young. She watched over them with gentle love and both boys grew up loving this breed. A few short years ago my youngest son was at a friends who had a huge male Rottie and of course because of his early experiences Andrew was not in the least bit afraid of this dog. A thunderstorm came up while he was there and the dog out of an irrational fear of the thunder whirled around and almost took my son's finger off his hand. This from a dog who had never even bitten a flea... so that said I am now of the opinion that as dogs are only a few short steps away from wolves genetically that anyone of any breed with teeth can and will bite when afraid. Training is good but not always the lack of it triggers the attack response sometimes it is simply fear. Like a horse that runs for no apparent is simply what they do as animals. I am so thankful that neither Bella or Chloe were injured by those dogs, but you might be surprised at the damage they could inflict upon another animal if backed into a corner. I have seen Miss Maeve look like the devil incarnate when she feels I am being threatened!

Dorothy said...

Wow Mary, what a story. I'm glad you or your pups weren't attacked but I'm sorry to hear about your ankle.
What a thing to have happen at any time, but at night, when your hubby was away..must have been awful for you.

I was attacked by a german shepherd when I was a little girl.
I was running and he thought I was running from him. I love animals and truly believe there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. But that doesn't remove my fear of certain breeds. There are so many wacky people out there who are irresponsible with their pets. I'm so glad you listened to your gut and stuck to your guns!

Mary said...

All - Your comments are invaluable. We all have had our experiences with neurotic dogs - I've owned one or two.

You are right, Jane, a Boston can be formidable, in a very determined but sweet way!

It's t he responsibility of breeders and shelters to place high risk dogs in the right hands! *Not* to some slug off the street...or any person who is not an experienced dog owner.

They are a blink away from wolves and none of us ever forget that on a daily basis.

I have never met a Rottie who wasn't sweet. I have been intimated by Shepherds a few times. A doberman mix bit my face once. My own American Cocker was snappy.

Stupid and greedy humans are setting dogs up for disaster and it breaks my heart.

All dogs deserve heaven.

Anonymous said...

You're so right, Mary! All dogs do deserve heaven.

We have one pit bull at our family farm right now who can endear herself to anyone. In fact, she's never met a stranger and has nothing but love in her heart for every living thing. We always joke that she'll help a thief carry the valuables to their car as long they promise to stop and pet her from time to time.

Having had the breed there for more than twenty years, they've never posed a threat to the cats, chickens and other fowl, cattle, rabbits, other animals, or people who live or frequent the place. In fact, three generations of my family were there last weekend when I visited, all of whom have been around the breed for most--if not all--of their lives, and I know every one of them would say the same thing. It's not the breed; it's the people.

We have a blue heeler there at the moment who actually picks on the pit bull (as well as the cats and guinea fowl and us humans, something for which she's chastised regularly!). When she gets a bit uppity, the pit bull backs off and whimpers, hoping to incite some protection from us humans. Despite your experience and impression, I think you'd fall in love with that dog. If you survived the slobbering kisses, that is!

Mary said...

Jason, thank you so much. I would let my guard down if someone said, "My Pit (or any other breed) will lick you silly." But I need to be reassured beforehand. I've had large guard dogs sit on my lap and swoon before. But my experience in 2005 scared the heck out of me...

After all of this, I still believe there are no bad dogs out there - just bad breeders and owners.

Q said...

Dear Mary,
I once was a dog owner. The dogs were our friends and our companions. I totally understand the care and devotion you have for your dogs.
Glad you honored your intuition, regardless of what others thought.
You are a wise woman.

dmmgmfm said...

A pit bull attacked my dog when we were camping. If it hadn't been for my quick thinking brother, I shudder to think what would have happened.

My dog was on a leash (as the law required) and the pit bull was roaming free. The owner paid for the staples required to treat my dog (who I loved like a child) but none of us ever forgot that horrible moment and the thought of what could have happened.

Good on you for protecting your dogs. I hope that little Sheltie survived the ordeal.

Anonymous said...

Mary, why do you believe that because two dogs ("pit bulls") attacked that the whole breed is bad? Under this philosphy, Labs are exteremly dangerous. And Chihuahuas. I've been bitten a total of 5 times. Twice by Labs, Twice by Chihuahuas, and once by a hound. I have a APBT mix, and I take care of a kennel of them. Not once have any of these dogs bitten me. In my old county (just moved) in NC (still live in NC) I have the bite data from 1-1-1999 through 3-12-2007. It consists of 3,484 bites. Out of those bites, Labs and Lab mixes have counted for 456 bites (13%). Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes counted for 314 (9%), German Shepherd & mixes for 255 (7%), Chow Chow & mixes for 157 (4.5%), and Rottweiler & mixes 116 (3%). That alone would raise questions right? But were any of the non-pit bull bites reported by the media? NO. If you call that newspaper in that county and ask them why, they say because the stories aren't as sensational as the pit bull stories. (WHAT?!?) But, yes, let us judge a whole breed of animal based on one or two incidents... and while we are at it, lets judge all red cars as speeders... Makes a lot of sense to me. Oh, and by the way, my family consists of my husband, my daughter (age 3), three dogs, four cats, and me. The three dogs are a German Shepherd who was not socialized by her previous owner, a "pit bull" mix who was semi-socialized, and a black and tan coon hound who lived as a stray for some time before coming to live with us. The black and tan is the most recent addition by 2 months, followed by the "pit" mix by 3 years, and then the German Shepherd by 6 years. Not once have any of these dogs showed any aggression to my child or any other child. In fact, the "pit" mix lives for children. She considers it her personal duty to make sure every kid is licked and then watched over by her. If someone she doesn't know tries to mess with the kids, she barks to let them know to back off. I couldn't ask for a better dog with her! So the next time you hear of a pit bull attack, call your paper and ask them if they will also run a story about other dog attacks. And then, as I always say to everyone, educate yourself better. Do not let one day go by that you fail to learn something new.

Carla from coastal NC

Mary said...

Carla, thanks for your insight. I commend you for standing up for the breed and you obviously have done a great job of socializing them. Your kind of story is what I (and everyone) need to hear. It is a shame that pit bulls get bad press but I truly believe it's not the dog - it's uneducated owners who are doing harm. I will always be careful with them, though. I am wary of all breeds because they are all capable of attacks.

Radiodevin said...

I haven't read your whole blog, but, you are aware that Mr. Biggens, that you photgraphed playing with the boston terriers, is a pitbull right? Also the comment "Well, I think the latter two breeds are excellent guard dogs and they don’t intend to maul or kill" shows your ignorance on the subject.

Emily said...

Hello Mary:)
I have a Very affectionate pitbull named Sunshine. Socialization is most important for raising a good dog. Sunshine has been around lots of people everyday sense i got her at the age of six weeks. Children have ridden on her back and dressed her up and she just patiently smiles loving every min of it. I saved some baby squirrels last sping. We would let them run around the house a couple hrs a day in the same room as Sunshine and she would just curiously turn her head an watch them sometimes but mosly ignored them. I love my dog as if she were my child, so i understand you being protective of your dogs! Although Sunshine looks tough, i honesly dont see her winning a fight, so i am coucious when it comes to other dogs. She is way too friendley and just runs up to any thing wagging her tail and submissive when another dog acts aggresive. Sunshine being so talerant of puppies and other animals is not typical of a dog left out side with no humane interaction. People should be aware they are bred to be dog aggressive so they can properly train them. Your story makes me upset becasue i think people should be more responsible! Any dog needs love, training, and socializing to be a good dog. So not all pitbulls are mean but i also get a lil nervous when first meeting one.