Sunday, October 27, 2013

Goldens are Good – Pit Bulls are Bad!

Goldens are Good - Pit Bulls are Bad!

In the U.S. and some countries in Europe there is an increasing effort to have various breeds of dogs banned completely.  Considering that the number one behavioral problem that owners seek help for or claim as an excuse for dumping the dog at a shelter is aggression this is an issue that definitely requires attention. And, there definitely appears to be an increase in the problem.   But – what about the breeds involved?

Dog bite fatality statistics for a 15 year period in the U.S. show that Rottweilers and Pit Bulls were responsible for about half the cases but little is mentioned about the fact that the list included Great Danes, Huskies, Malamutes and Akitas. (All of these breeds of dogs are powerful, and with the exception of Pits, all are big.  Clearly any aggressive behavior on their part will cause far greater damage than is likely from the smaller breeds of dogs but size is not the only issue, to be sure. (A Pomeranian was responsible for the death of an infant!)

Blame for what causes good dogs to “go bad” range from lack of concern for breeding practices by the AKC (American Kennel Club) to poor management by owners, lack of socialization and education of the basics by breeders and owners, and back yard breeders,  who haven’t a clue how to breed with care and concern for the animals and the people who will come in contact with them – and furthermore don’t give a hoot!  Many so called professional or seemingly responsible breeders need to be included in that lot since they produce a lot of pups with problems.  

The current popularity of tough dogs adds lots of fuel to the fire but that is not the fault of the dogs!  To ban a breed of dog simply sends the creeps out to fire up some other likely breed and so the pattern continues. Dogs that have been bred to fight do present a serious problem when in the wrong hands because they can direct that behavior towards humans and most especially towards children.  And, there is an arousal level with Pits, for example, that almost defies description.  People whose dogs cause havoc need to pay and pay dearly for it. And, NO - not all Pits can or would hurt anyone or any other creature!

According to Stephen Budiansky in his book The Truth About Dogs a veterinarian did a survey of 2,249 dogs, corrected for the differing popularity of different breeds and topping the list of reported aggressiveness of biting with 14% were – Dachshunds! They were followed by Great Danes, Lhasas, German shepherds, St. Bernards and Malamutes.  If one did not adjust for breed popularity one would surely see Goldens in that list since the sheer number of them mean lots of people get bitten by Golden Retrievers.

While I have no doubt that breeding practices and management issues contribute enormously to the behavior problems people encounter with dogs (behaviors not limited to aggression) I believe that our urbanization has eliminated so many of the ways that dogs used to be able to live.  I do not nor would I ever advocate turning dogs loose on the streets so they can have “fun” and a social life but the reality is – there were lots fewer problems in those days of old.  And – for the most part – the dogs we refer to as “street dogs” are less likely to bite than the pampered, never-leaves-the-house-never-went-to-school dearly loved pet.  This is true everywhere – not just here.  Dogs, all too often, lead dreadfully boring lives and that is a horrible thing to do to dogs bred for work and there is no work to do!  That pent-up energy will out one day and all too often what one hears is – “It happened out of the blue!!  He never did X before!!!”

Another major problem is what I call the “Lassie Syndrome”.  People seem to believe that dogs should simply come to us housetrained, desiring to please our every wish, have total bite inhibition, love kids, know what is expected of them, and just “do it” with no efforts on our part.  Well – ya know, folks?  There is no Lassie!

Dogs bite.  That is one of their major ways to communicate.  We can channel their natural behaviors towards suitable directions and acceptable items but that does take time, energy, understanding how and when or we can simply hand them over to a shelter and go get another dog and make the same mistakes all over again.  The choice is ours and sad to say those dogs paying the price with their lives don’t have that same advantage.


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