Pit Bulls – the kids of a nasty divorce

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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.). 

This is understandable. I’m not stranger to humiliating my dog. Image
(Sir Dax says: God help me)

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?

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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. 

 

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8 responses to “Pit Bulls – the kids of a nasty divorce”

  1. NTCHBL says :

    LOVE the part where you say they’re just dogs! I’ve been screaming that forever. They’re no more and no less dangerous than any other breed in my mind. I’ve been working with dogs for almost 20 years and didn’t get the opportunity to work with a Pit Bull until about 10 years ago, they just weren’t common where I was living at the time. I went and adopted a Pit mix a month or so after my first real interaction with one lol now my family has two mixes and a pure Pit Bull. Granted there have been rough patches, but I’m an addict, there will always be a Pit or mix in my home.

  2. BorderWars says :

    Congratulations on the new blog! And this is an excellent post to go viral with.

    I’d say most people who do this are complete posers. Like most people who have racing stripes on their sports cars. They don’t race. They just paid for an accessory piece of jewelry for their car to invoke that quality.

    I’d say that it’s a safe bet that MOST people who pose as anything, be it teens who wear skater clothing (most have probably never skated more than 5 minutes in their lives) or cyclists who wear spandex (yeah, like you need the 0.04 seconds shaved off your time around the block), or 4×4 off-roaders who put manufacturers stickers all over their cars as if they’re sponsored by those companies, are anything more than rank amateurs at best or complete posers.

    The same is likely true of Pit Bulls. If you’re an actual fighter, I doubt you’d take your scarred up dog out in public at all. It’s not the public you’d want the attention of, it’s only others who are insiders. Posers want fame. Pros want the sort of recognition that comes only from the jealousy and respect of your competition.

    So I doubt 99% of the pit bulls ever surrendered to shelters or put on display brandishing hardware have ever seen the inside of a real fighting ring, been seriously bred (recently) for fighting, or anything of the sort.

    I’ll bet most Jeeps, let alone Mercedes SUVs, let alone the one that costs $135k have ever seen a dirt road or an unmarked trail or a mud bog. Because why would you take $135k into a mud pit or over a trail where you could dent all the panels, break the axles, and roll it on its roof when you can have a more capable machine do all that for under $10k.

    I still think there’s a problem with dressing your dog up like a thug. It sends the wrong message, especially with a breed like pit bulls which has heaps of image problems already.

    • jescargill says :

      Maybe they’re poseurs, but I think it may be less calculated than that. The thing about all of those things you list is that all of them are social signalling. Your Mercedes SUV is your car-of-choice because you wish to signal to other people that you are 1) well off and 2) “outdoorsy”, and it’s probably more about being accepted and easily recognizable to your social group than any desire to actually BE the image that you’re projecting.

      After all, most of the whitebread thug kids I grew up with would’ve peed their pants if they’d spent too much time in South Dallas. They don’t really have any desire to do anything in the subculture they’re miming than be attractive to other people with similar tastes in music and clothing.

      I can’t really hold that against them. It’s a shortcut to identifying people that you’re compatible with.

  3. Jaime says :

    Great post! I wish my mom was around to read it. She was a HUGE APBT and Bully advocate and foster-mother. My favorite dog we ever had was a female pit who had been rescued from a guy in Harlem. He was training the litter to be fighting dogs and she was used as the bait dog. She was the most loving, sweet (and kinda chicken) dog, but she was very protective, especially of my mom. She didn’t like dark skin and it took forever to get her to like men, but with patience and good training we both got her to a point where she could greet male visitors after a slow introduction. I miss that dog, and I will miss her forever. I try not to, but many times I find myself comparing every other dog to her, like comparing every other boyfriend to your first love lol.

    (oh and we never dressed her up all dopey…in fact, I don’t dress my dogs up at all lol…my pug is goofy looking enough without a costume)

    Anyway, I loved your post and I hope it gets lots of hits and attention!

    • jescargill says :

      Jamie,

      I have a question – did you directly obtain the dogs from the person in Harlem, or did you get the dog from a rescue that told you that story? If you got her directly, then the rest of this comment is inapplicable, but a few things are probably inaccurate if you got this story from a rescue.

      1) It’s extremely common for rescues to claim that their pit bulls were “Bait dogs” when no such thing is true. A real bait dog frequently doesn’t survive the experience, and when they do, they’re torn to pieces in such a way that they have obvious, disfiguring, horrible scarring. In other words, if a dog has been a bait dog before, there is absolutely, entirely NO doubt about it – they look like they’ve been through a meat grinder. I know because I’ve seen actual bait dogs versus rescue “bait dogs”.

      Rescues will use the “bait dog” story to sell dogs to people out of sympathy. Often they believe it themselves.

      2) Dog fighters don’t use bait dogs very often. There’s a difference between a dog fight and just siccing your dog on a helpless animal, and as horrible as the thought is, the latter doesn’t encourage your dog to be more game. It’s just a sadistic, useless practice.

      3) “She didn’t like dark skin and it took forever to get her to like men”

      What’s funny about dog prejudices like this is that often it has nothing to do with abuse, and everything to do with socialization. If a dog has been raised in an environment completely without dark-skinned people, they’re going to think those people are WEIRD ALIENS.

      It’s just as likely (if not more so) that this dog was raised with light-skinned women almost exclusively (and if she’d been in rescue a long time, that’s a common demographic) and just thought men and dark skinned people were WEIRD ALIENS.

      As horrible as dog fighting is, rescues have jumped onto the “my pit bull was abused/baitdog/etc” narrative with both feet. It’s not conducive to helping the dog out because people get stuck in that narrative. They excuse a growl or a bite because “oh, she was abused by a guy in a purple hat, obviously” and instead of seeing these problems as challenges to help the dog overcome and as unacceptable behavior, the story enables them to continue letting the dog live in fear.

      Ultimately, what the heart of my post is about is the concept of working with the dog in front of you, and not letting the narrative get in the way. The welfare of the pit bull as a whole rests on that.

  4. Di says :

    They are just dogs. I dont use tutus or sunglasses, but i do dress them up. I dress up my parent’s Bichon too though… She’s the dog agressive one! Lol. Love her though!

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