Fighting the truth

Fighting the truth

Contrary to what their fans say, pit bulls require extra-special attention

By John Grula 11/26/2013

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My Oct. 17 Pasadena Weekly article about pit bulls generated quite a few comments. So, I’m addressing this subject again to offer a rebuttal and delve more deeply into some of the issues. One viewpoint expressed several times went something like this: “It’s not the dogs, it’s the owners.” 

Well, let’s return to the story I related at the beginning of my initial article, which provided details of the ordeal suffered by a good friend of mine (a 67-year-old retiree), who was attacked along with his dog on Sept. 22 by a loose pit bull (according to the official report written by the animal control officer who arrived at the scene and apprehended the pit bull). 

It turns out that the owner of the pit bull also soon arrived after the attack, and was greatly concerned about his escaped dog as well as the victims of its attack, my friend and his dog. The pit bull owner in this case was later revealed to be a middle-aged man who is married and has at least one child. He holds down a job to pay the mortgage on his nice, single-family home in a solidly middle-class neighborhood near Pasadena’s Victory Park. The man’s pit bull apparently escaped from his house while he was unloading some items from his car. The dog’s owner apologized to my friend and later paid him $200 in restitution for his out-of-pocket medical and vet bills of $125, his time (about three hours at an ER for treatment of his serious bite wounds, plus a visit to a vet for his dog’s injuries), and trouble.  

In other words, the owner of the pit bull in this case is not some stereotypical low life, but instead appears to be a responsible citizen who most likely is also (usually) a responsible dog owner. Nevertheless, his pit bull perpetrated an unprovoked (again, according to the official report) and vicious attack against my friend and his dog. While this is only one example, it certainly is not consistent with the theory that “it’s not the dogs, it’s the owners.”

There is widespread agreement among scientists who study the subject that the grey wolf (canis lupus) is the wild canine species from which the domestic dog (canis lupus familiaris) was derived. In fact, dogs are considered a subspecies of the Grey Wolf, and wolf-dog hybrids are known to exist. So, the domestic dog has a genetic legacy inherited from the Grey Wolf, an aggressive predator that kills other animals for food.   

For the last several hundred years, humans have developed many different breeds of dogs using artificial genetic selection (as opposed to natural selection) to produce breeds that exhibit huge variation in physical appearance and behavior. Let’s consider a few dog breeds that have been genetically selected to perform certain tasks involving breed-specific behaviors that are often rather complex.

In the British Isles, a breed of dog was developed that can expertly herd sheep. We call these dogs “collies.” A second example is a breed that has a keen ability to locate game fowl, and then indicate the location of the bird for a hunter by standing at rigid attention and pointing to the bird’s location with its muzzle. We call these dogs “pointers.” Another breed willingly, even joyfully, leaps into large bodies of water and swims long distances to retrieve a duck killed by a hunter, and then, holding the bird gently in its jaws, swims back to the hunter and drops the duck at his feet. We call these dogs “retrievers.” Finally, a fourth example is a breed that was developed to aggressively fight and sometimes kill other dogs and certain large animals. We call these dogs “pit bulls.”

While these various breed-specific behaviors can be refined and enhanced by human trainers, by and large these dogs behave the way they do by instinct, because their behavior has been genetically encoded through the process of artificial human selection. Think you can easily train a collie to do what a Labrador retriever does, and vice versa?    Good luck with that.   
When authorities investigated then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s illegal dog-fighting operation in 2007, they discovered more than 50 dogs on the premises and nearly all were pit bulls. Of course. They are the dog-fighting breed of choice. Vick later pled guilty to multiple felonies and spent 18 months in federal prison.  

Since 1988 there have been at least three reviews of fatal dog attacks on humans published in the medical literature (for example, the Journal of the American Medical Association). In each review pit bull-type dogs were implicated in a very large percentage of the fatal attacks (29 percent to 45 percent), despite making up only a very small percentage of the total US dog population (1 percent in 1988 to 4 percent more recently).  
Do we need to pay special attention to pit bulls? Absolutely. Stay tuned. 

John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.


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Your comments are sadly lacking the truth.

Since you brought up the Vick dogs, known in rescue circles as the 'Vicktory' dogs, let it be known that of the 51 dogs rescued from that yard, 49 survived and granted some were so traumatised that they will never leave rehab. However, the vast majority were successfully re-homed into multi-dog households, families with children, some became service dogs and all of those re-homed dogs passed their canine good citizens tests - three times in the case of Hector.

Pit Bulls are in the top 5 most popular breeds in 33 of 50 states, they are in the top 10 in 46. That is a huge number of Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes so your claim that they are a minority is incorrect by a very large margin (Source: Vetstreet).

It is sad that your friend and his dog had such a bad experience. I wonder how the owners of the Yorkie and Poodle recently attacked and killed by Golden Retrievers feel.

Perhaps you could talk to some of the police dog handlers enjoying the stellar talents of this breed in narcotics and bomb detection, search and rescue etc. Google Shaaka (described by her police handler as the best k9 partner he has ever had) or Popsicle who won a significant seizure award, Neville is another star not to mention Kris Crawford's dogs who won her a Red Cross award for the work she does teaching kids to be safe around dogs using her three Pit Bulls Cheyenne, Tahoe and Dakota. She and her dogs were also involved in the recovery of the astronaut's bodies when their shuttle failed on re-entry and also in the recoveries at ground zero following 9/11.

Cotton is currently completing his training as a narcotics dog and is showing real promise.

Perhaps you could check out the latest American Temperament Test Societies latest reports which found Pit Bulls second only to Golden Retrievers in soundness of temperament.

Dog-on-dog aggression is not unusual or in any way restricted to Pit Bulls. It is a result of poor socialisation.

posted by Karen Batchelor on 11/27/13 @ 01:42 p.m.

I have been bitten by dogs three times in my life, twice on the face. None of the dogs that bit me were pits.

posted by Vivavilla on 11/27/13 @ 04:33 p.m.

As far as I can tell, we have, on the one hand, a fact-based article written by a professional scientist (who, being a Ph.D. has probably spent most of his life studying in academic environments where you are forced to defend your arguments with facts).

And we have, on the other hand, comments by people who have two main qualifications: 1) personal opinions and 2) an affection for pit bulls.

One the one hand we have citations of scientific articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals by leading professionals in their field, and the un-debatable fact of purposeful breeding of dogs for tasks, and on the other hand we have an opinion-based defense, citing Shaaka, Popsicle, Neville, Cheyenne, Tahoe, Dakota and let's not forget Cotton.

I am not a scientist. But I am a dog-lover. I have owned dogs most of my 37 years and am extremely biased towards the species.

However, I can hold two conflicting opinions in my brain without imploding because of my emotional reactions.

I have such a thing as rationality.

Dogs are of the genus Canis. So are wolves. They are related to wolves. Distantly, but related. They are not related to butterflies. They are related to a wild, aggressive predator.

There is one more thing I would like to say.

Eddie Izzard debunks the NRA's defense of guns when "left-wing liberals" attack guns every time there is a mass shooting. They say "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

To this, Eddie Izzard says "Yes, guns don't kill people. People kill people. But the guns HELP."

So yes.

Pit bulls are not the ONLY dogs that attack people and dogs. Golden Retrievers also attack people and dogs. But Pit Bulls attack people MORE than Golden Retrievers do.

What are the statistics across every single breed of dog-on-dog violence and dog-on-human violence?

I direct the fine readers of the Pasadena Weekly to this article by the CDC:

But I will quote the relevant paragraph here:

"From 1979 through 1996, dog attacks resulted in more than 300 human dog bite-related fatalities. (DBRF) in the United States. Most victims were children. Studies indicate that pit bull-type dogs were involved in approximately a third of human DBRF reported during the 12-year period from 1981 through 1992, and Rottweilers were responsible for about half of human DBRF reported during the 4 years from 1993 through 1996."

Go ahead. Post venomous hateful, opinion-based comments in response to mine. I know you will.

posted by Admiral_Adama on 11/30/13 @ 10:23 a.m.

Awesome comment, Admiral.

posted by pone on 12/01/13 @ 06:12 p.m.

Excellent article. There will always opposition by those who do not want the truth to be known. Tell the truth anyway.

posted by Vanessa Jachzel on 12/17/13 @ 08:28 a.m.
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