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The Problem with Pitbulls

It matters not what one is born, but what they grow to be.

- Albus Dumbledore

I recently wrote a post on why I love (accurate) breed profiling. I briefly mentioned pitbulls, but didn’t really go into depth about them as a specific “breed” of dog. Right now pitbulls are a polarizing breed, which is impressive, as they aren’t even a breed per se.

Lovers or fighters? Vicious or victims?

As I’ve previously written, I’m all for accurate breed descriptions, or profiling. Name things accurately and appropriately. Describe things correctly. As Dumbledore pointed out to Harry Potter, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Sage words.

Polarizing things, such as pitties, puts them in angel or devil categories, each side slinging skewed statistics and unrealistic qualities, towards the other:

  • Their jaws lock on their victims/There’s no such thing as an aggressive pittie

  • The pit bull terrier is the breed of choice for criminals./Pit bulls are the best family dogs.

  • Pit bulls will readily fight other dogs/Pit bulls are the most social dogs out there

Who’s right? The problem lies within the fact that we only have two choices within to categorize pits: angel or devil.

In 1820, Sir Walter Scott wrote his famous Ivanhoe, a medieval romance set in 12th century England. One of Ivanhoe’s characters that doesn’t get a lot of credit is Isaac of York, a Jew. In 12th century England, where the story is set, Jews were basically a pariah and treated horrifically. Hated and maligned, (and apparently quite capable of witchcraft against Gentiles living there, according to the ludicrous thinking of the period) they were constantly portrayed as the villain.

Jews had mostly, if not always, been portrayed in European literature as evil, base and cowardly. After a bit of time, a small, group of people began to loathe the treatment of Jews in literature, and life in general, and portrayed them to be enlightened people, who were innocent beyond reproach (even Rebecca, Isaac's daughter in Ivanhoe, was treated as a pinnacle of beauty and innocence). Obviously neither description of Jews was accurate – any large group of people cannot possibly be all good nor all bad.

Then comes Isaac. Sir Walter Scott did something amazing when he created the character of Isaac: he allowed Isaac to be base and elevated. Kind and cruel. Able to be callous one moment, and show extreme tenderness the next. In other words, Scott made him real. To my recollection, this was the first time in history that Western culture had portrayed someone Jewish as, well, neither angel nor devil.. He was merely human. He was just like other humans. And we need to remember to judge humans on a case-by-case basis, not by gender, by ethnicity, or by…well, anything other than who the individual is.

Consider Isaac when debates about pit bulls come up. The best thing we can do for pitties as a “breed” is to allow them to land somewhere between angel and devil, just like any other breed of dog living being. Pitties are not perfect. Please don’t put that label, so full of pressure, on them. Pitties are dogs, no more, no less. Just like every other dog, they have their quirks, and they have their amazing redeeming qualities. Most importantly, they are individuals, not to be defined as a one-size-fits-all breed standard.

I am admittedly a pittie fan. Being a trainer, I am familiar with these dogs. I’d say roughly 60% of my clients own pitties/pittie mixes, however, I have never been bit by one. They can be very timid sometimes, and occasionally very submissive, but stand-offish is not a word for to describe them. They are usually not aloof. Sometimes shy, sometimes boisterous. Always a riot, though. They're the type of dog who’d apologize for apologizing too much.

I can use that description for just about any dog I train.

When I'm called to a client's house, I'm not there to train a Lab, nor am I there to train a Dachshund. I'm there to train Lola the Lab. Or Lucy who happens to be a Dachshund. I don't train breeds, nor do I have any special affinity for any particular breed, except for the one I happen to be working with at that moment.

My husband teases me about a common conversation we have.

Guess what kind of dog we need!!!!
*eyeroll from husband* "X", and "X" being whatever breed you trained today.
How do you feel about Borzoi/Border Collies/Maltese?!!!

I’ve worked with a few clients who had dog-reactive pit bulls, but then again, I’ve had 4 pugs in the last week who were all dog reactive. Pitties are not suitable for every situation, but then, no dog is. But I’d confidently say they’re appropriate for most situations. I will not lie and say they are without fault; believe me, they can have faults, just like every other dog. But they have heart. They have loyalty. They seem to be willing to try to do what ever you want them to do. They are a dog. I happen to have a soft spot for them.

Don't get me wrong, I still think they look like alien space babies, but let's not body image shame here, m'kay?

If you follow Darwin Dogs, you'll know that I "foster failed" my own pitbull, Ellis, in March of 2020. He's definitely not the dog I imagined getting (find out how I ended up with him here), but I couldn't imagine life without him. He's so chill in the house, except when he's hyper. He's amazing to walk on the leash, except when he's an asshole. He's super polite, except when he jumps. He's relatively easy to groom, but he farts so badly it would make a maggot gag.

In other words, he's more than the sum of his parts, just like every other dog out there. Stop chasing the myth of the perfect dog, and start learning who would best suit you and your lifestyle (learn how here).

So instead of serving the Kool-aid of “Perfect Pitties” or the poison contained in the BSL’s, it’s time to give the victims of the BSL laws what they deserve: the opportunity to be looked upon with all their glorious faults and beauty. In other words, just a regular dog. Perfectly imperfect. So rather than going into a shelter and being dismayed that "all" they have are pitbulls, instead be amazed by how many unique personalities you have to choose from. You'll be sure to find the one that works perfectly with yours.

Keep Calm and Pittie On!

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


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