Want to be my- friend? Oh,- please?!
|Barked: Sat Dec 20, '08 8:49am PST |
|Many pit bull rescues, shelters, websites and blogs across the world tell potential owners and the general public that pit bulls cannot be trusted around other dogs. The general mantra is that pit bulls can "turn" once they reach maturity, giving the perception that pit bulls in particular, of all the breeds of dog, will suddenly become dog aggressive due to their "fighting history". First, the use of what we refer to as "pit bulls" as farm dogs far predates their fighting history. Second, not all pit bulls have fighting in their recent "genetic history". Most importantly, the truth is that ALL dogs react differently to a huge variety of situations once they have fully matured, like most other species on the planet. Do humans react the same way to a threat at age 2, age 16, age 30..? Of course not! The level to which even pit bull advocates spread this information is mind-blowing. Of course a mature dog may become less tolerant of dogs, but that is certainly not a breed specific trait.
A pit bull is a dog, and all dogs have developed and mastered cues and signals throughout their evolution in order to survive as a species, meaning those same cues and signals serve to avoid fighting within the species. A well socialized dog has fine tuned these skills by being subjected to millions of different situations, meeting new dogs and new people everyday for his entire puppy hood and adolescence. Throughout these years, a dog learns how to handle frustration and how to tolerate inappropriate behavior from other dogs. "Genetics" do not override learned behavior. A dog is not going to suddenly "turn" or react with fatal force without warning if it has been practicing giving and receiving cues for years. It is regular trips to places like dog parks that provide these fundamental experiences!
Understandably, it is worrisome for pit bull owners to visit dog parks due to the expectations and reactions of others. Yes, a pit bull can be blamed if any incident occurs. It is imperative that pit bull owners are vigilant about monitoring play and knowing when to keep moving, or leave the park, if necessary. I am not in favor of small dog parks that don't provide plenty of space, a number of acres at least, for the dogs to feel comfortable. Nor do I recommend dog parks for people that simply are not comfortable there. Regardless, feeling unable to bring pit bull type dogs to the park furthers the stereotype that pit bulls don't behave like other dogs. Further, it robs them of the experiences they need to practice good dog-dog interactions. If you raise your dog believing they simply cannot ever be trusted around other dogs, that is exactly what you will get.
More often than not, the opinion that pit bulls are inherently dog aggressive is voiced by people who work with rescued dogs, pit bulls who have been abandoned, surrendered, or found as strays. We must keep in mind that just as the media is not an appropriate place to get information on the nature of dogs, neither is a shelter. The guidelines one should follow with a rescued dog are far from the guidelines appropriate for an 8 week old puppy. No dog with an unknown background should be immediately trusted in ANY situation.
Likewise, an 8 week old puppy should not be treated like a rehabilitated fighting dog.
If you bring your dog to a well maintained dog park on a regular basis, you are giving that dog countless new experiences meeting new dogs of ALL temperaments. You are giving that dog the opportunity to become highly skilled in dog-dog interactions, whether those interactions are good or bad. Further, you are providing a highly mentally and physically stimulating experience ON A REGULAR BASIS that keeps your dog from becoming over aroused or under stimulated, two factors that can greatly contribute to aggression. When it comes down to it, the more varied dog-dog interactions a dog has, the better he is able to deal with any dog-dog situation. Expecting ANY dog to never encounter an unsocialized or aggressive dog is unrealistic. Preparing your dog to diffuse or ignore such a situation cannot be achieved without practice, and what other place to do this than a park dedicated to the playful interactions among dogs?
If every person who adopts or otherwise obtains a pit bull puppy believes they are unwelcome and unable to visit dog parks, every single one of those dogs will not have any experience meeting different dogs of all sizes and temperaments in an open, off leash environment. Those puppies will not learn how to deal with dogs of different sizes, dogs with different play styles, dogs who are not properly socialized or dogs who are downright unfriendly. Further, those dogs will not have the opportunity to run freely with other dogs, a wonderful way to exercise mentally and physically for them, and a joy to watch for us! Those same puppies will grow up into dogs that cannot be trusted around other dogs, because they were not given the chance to learn HOW. Don't pit bulls deserve that chance? As lovers of the breed, it is our responsibility to make them the best that they can be, and by insisting that they can't be trusted around dogs, we are not helping them, or our cause, at all.
I cannot stress enough that there is no scientific data supporting "aggression" as inheritable. This is not to say that genetics don't play any role in behavior- they do. There are dogs that are raised with all the proper socialization they should have and still have aggression issues. Regardless, this is not specific to pit bulls. By insisting that "pit bull type" dogs cannot be trusted with other dogs, we are doing the breed a major disservice.