Pit Bulls – the kids of a nasty divorce
Recently, I had the privilege to watch a heated conversation on Facebook about pit bulls develop.
If you’ve been on the internet longer than a week and you have a dog, I’m sure you’re familiar with such conversations.
It was, in truth, about image. What is the image of the pit bull? There’s a massive subset of the dog-people population that heatedly advocate for pit bulls, desperately trying to change their image as vicious fighting dogs with locking jaws (which is entirely legitimate – pit bulls are not either of those things). They spend thousands of hours in arguments, giving out anecdotes about their dogs being angelic, innocent, they could never hurt a fly, and are more creative in costuming their dogs to try and make them look innocent than any other group of dog people I know.
After all, you don’t see too many pictures of German Shepherds in tutus, but Google “Pit Bull Tutu” and you’ll have enough pictures of slightly awkward dogs in frilly costumes to last a lifetime. (Actually, if you Google “German Shepherd tutu” it pulls up pictures of pit bulls in tutus.).
But I’m not doing it because I think my dogs are scary and people need to be reassured they’re not. I’m doing it because all dog trainers are secretly sadists.
But image IS important. For example, none of the service dogs in my program are allowed to wear tutus, or have painted nails, or generally put up an appearance as anything other than serious, businesslike, working animals when they’re on the job. Just like in a job interview, nobody will take you seriously if you show up in a wife beater and chucks.
So what does it say when you have a dog outfitted like this?
It’s an interesting question. I’ve been mulling over, because the knee-jerk reaction is “Oh, that’s a dog with a log chain and spiked collar, so it must be evocative of dog-fighting”.
And I’m not sure it is, any more than Lady Gaga is evocative of Goth culture. Sometimes it could be viewed that way – but Lady Gaga’s costumes are meant to be exaggerations, wild, fantastical, and sometimes cartoonish. They’re representative, but not literal.
So what is it meant to be viewed as, when you put an exaggerated spiked collar and log chain on your dog?
Well, I’ve had the opportunity to be present in a breeder’s group of American Bully and APBT fanciers that are critical of exaggerations in the American Bully type, and advocate for more ethical breeding practices. These people are serious about their dogs, knowledgeable about breeding practices, but they like to dress their dogs up like this. They’re proud of their dogs’ power, stamina, and masculinity. There could be said that there is some machismo present in the culture of the American Bully and the APBT.
That, to me, is really what that image is meant to project. And that’s not a negative thing. Perhaps, the log-chain-and-spikes wear is meant to combat the infantilization of the rescue pitbull die-hard advocates, to accept that their dogs are powerful animals, and deserving of respect. The image may be exaggerated, but so is putting a tutu and sunglasses on your dog.
It seems to me that maybe this is a message from people who deeply love these dogs enough to try and improve the breed away from fighting roots into a modern working-bred animal, a mission that has to be FAR from easy considering the relatively low demand for pit bulls due to their negative overall image and the overabundance of dogs available in rescue. They’re trying to change the tide of the pit bulls’ future and make it to where not only fighting dogs are bred, but instead that nice, steady, working animals make a mark on the genetic future of the type.
And it may be an image that is more honest than the marketing of rescue pitbull die hards. NO dog is entirely innocent. No dog is incapable of violence. No dog is completely nonaggressive. Pits, much like Yorkshire terriers and Australian Cattle Dogs, frequently have issues with dog aggression. Trying to deny that is dishonest, and likely dangerous to the dogs themselves and to the landrace of the pitbull.
It’s just as dangerous to assume that a dog is incapable of any aggression as it is to assume that is all they are capable of. Case in point, when people get Golden Retrievers that have aggression issues, they are far more intolerant than somebody with a breed of dog that is accepted to have some protection or guarding background. Intolerant to the point of automatically rejecting that dog because it wasn’t what they expected, the happy-go-lucky-totally-nonviolent-Golden.
This is patently unfair – there may be nothing more wrong with the dog than being spoiled a little too much, nothing that discipline and structure won’t fix, but their expectations having been violated, they kill or dump the dog.
Neither the image that a pit bull is a violent killer or an innocent, unmarked saint is true, and both images are equally as harmful to the individual dog.
They’re just dogs.
The only way that we can improve the future of this landrace is by being straightforward, realistic-thinking, and pragmatic – and ideologues get in the way of that, no matter their ideology.