The state of the American dog


Reviled, pit bulls have become representative. There is no other dog that figures as often in the national narrative—no other dog as vilified on the evening news, no other dog as defended on television programs, no other dog as mythologized by both its enemies and its advocates, no other dog as discriminated against, no other dog as wantonly bred, no other dog as frequently abused, no other dog as promiscuously abandoned, no other dog as likely to end up in an animal shelter, no other dog as likely to be rescued, no other dog as likely to be killed.

In a way, the pit bull has become the only American dog, because it is the only American dog that has become an American metaphor—and the only American dog that people bother to name.

I love all dogs (except poodles) and hate seeing them treated poorly. And no dog has been treated as poorly, both in real life and in the media as the pit bull. I’ve met some wonderful pit bulls in my life with wonderful owners. Sadly, I’ve also met some really bad owners which predictably reflects in their dogs.

  • CapnVan

    Sadly, and sorry for the strong language, assholes are going to produce badly behaved dogs. Just like they all too often produce badly behaved children.

    The only difference there being that the child is going to develop intellectually, and potentially realize that her parent isn’t the best role model.

    Unfortunately, dogs just don’t have that level of intellectual capacity. Nor, in general, that level of exposure to other stimuli from non-assholes.

  • I remember a time when you could have replaced “pit bull” with “Doberman” in that paragraph. It’s a shame that when a certain breed becomes fashionable for low-lifes the blame goes to the breed instead of the human garbage where it belongs.

    • I’ve been bit by both breeds. Also, a miniature poodle cross and (I think?) some sort of Lab cross.

      Guess what? I’ll take the damn poodle bite.

      Sure, it’s all the people raising them. But it’s still dangerous to people like me that had nothing to do with those people or their pets.

      • It sounds like you would do well to stay away from all dogs. There must be something about your body chemistry that makes them think you are food.

        • Yeah, it’s called “riding a bike” for most of them. When I was a kid, I used to ride past hundreds of dogs; those big dogs were the only ones so poorly trained that they chased a bicycle and bit the kid riding it.

          (The poodle was different; the owner let it bite me.)

  • Sigivald

    It’s okay to dislike miniature poodles.

    The standard (“dog sized”) poodle is a fine and noble beast.

  • rb763

    You need to reflect on that poodle statement. They can’t help the way they look.

    • When I think about how they look, I think I would bite people if they made me look like that.

  • rb763

    I have met some nice pit bulls too, but there is no question in my mind that the strain was bred to kill other dogs just as my retriever naturally loves the water and brings me stuff because of breeding and my last dog (a terrier) didn’t.

    • CapnVan

      Well, part of the problem is that there really isn’t an actual breed, “pit bull.” The term is more generic than that, and refers to a number of different breeds.

      Check out the linked article.

      • rb763

        True, and thanks for pointing that out. Interesting article. Regarding the “mix” aspect, my retriever is half poodle and still loves to retrieve. From the poodle side i see uncanny human characteristics.

    • Mikey

      I think your comment is just the kind of FUD that puts pits in the situation the article provides. As SSTeve said above about dobermans, this is a perception based on cultural whim. Actually if you are older, as I am, it started with German Shepherds, then Dobermans, then Rottweilers, and Pits are the current love-to-hate favorite.

      These dogs were bred not to fight, or attack, but to be companion dogs. The common thread in the breeding lines of these dogs is not to be vicious but to be smart and loyal. The desire was a dog that could learn, be explicitly trainable, but at the same time be a companion that could lay at their feet, in their home, not in a caged environment outdoors. After all, at the time these lines were established there was a legitimate need for protection from marauders and robbers.

      Pits and these other breeds are used because the fiercest thing about them is their loyalty and intense desire to please, so intense that they will go against their very nature. Over the past decade I have owned, fostered or rescued dozens of dogs. I have always been a “Labrador guy”. Love their personality and loyalty.

      Our current foster is our first Pit-Mix. All I can say is “what a dog”. He is right up there with Labs and may surpass them. Already having thoughts of adopting him myself (as a foster you learn how to overcome that), so loyal, such a pleaser. It makes him learn so quickly and is the most “cuddly” dog i’ve ever owned.

      The bad behavior comes from people whose lack of integrity and self esteem also makes it OK for them to sell drugs to children and turn minors in to prostitutes. With apologies to those sensitive: F*CK THEM. They are the ones that need to be removed from society.

      • rb763

        Sorry but I pretty much stand by my comment. As I dog owner and observer, I amazed at how much of a dog’s traits are bred into them. I am sure these dogs are bred to absolutely love their owners to death but those muscular jaws are not an accident. How is your dog with other dogs?

  • Paul Chernoff

    Poodles don’t get to choose their own haircuts. While I believe that many pit bulls are they way they are due to poor training and care, I do wonder about breeding. I had neighbors who had one, a gift from their daughter. Very nice people and they had dogs before. This dog terrorized anyone and anything it saw, it got loose a couple of times and we thought it would kill another dog if it had the chance. It became a threat of its owners and they reluctantly gave it up to the shelter (where is was probably killed). I realize this is a data point of 1 but makes me wonder if certain breeds are more likely to be overly aggressive.

  • The White Tiger

    I’m more of a Pug man, myself. Not exactly intimidating, but I do not like the energy of the pit bull. It’s also somewhat reassuring that, even if my dog snapped and bit someone, he’d have to be damn lucky to break the skin!

  • Brandon

    I believe that there are good pit bulls out there, but there is also clearly a problem with the breed’s aggression when compared to other breeds. It’s not just media bias. If the same imbalance existed in crime stats amongst cities, safety records of vehicles, or food poison in restaurants, we would also take notice.

    • Really, blame falls on the owner not the pet. I worked in animal control in ’89 and people were afraid back then. There were bad dogs that were trained to be vicious and fight. And others that were beautiful and sweet with bad owners.

      Gypsy was a pit bull that I’d find tied to a picnic table in the middle of the park first thing in the morning because her owner got too drunk and forgot her. (Panicked mothers would call in saying there’s a vicious pit bull in the park.) Sure, she’d growl when you got close but tell her to be nice and she’d be a sweet puppy right after.

      She had to be put to sleep because her owner never bothered to pick her up from the shelter after being contacted.

      Years earlier, a pit bull terrier (totally different breed) almost killed my dog when my sister was walking him. The owner said my dog looked like another dog the pbt knew and missed. So he snapped.

      Breeders and owners are to blame not the animal.

  • When I see a pit bull, the first thing I do is size its owner. Is it a man masking feelings their own genitals are inadequate? Is it a woman who romanticizes poor misunderstood dogs with bad reputations? Is the owner present? Are they paying attention? Do they have leash control? Voice control? Are they harsh, hysterical, calm, attentive, collected?

    Pit bulls are dogs with above average training and exercise needs that seem to attract a disproportionate number of sub-par owners. With a good owner they can be great dogs, with a poor owner, any dog can be a disaster waiting to happen.

    As for (standard) poodles, I think they get a bad rap, perhaps for similar reasons, they attract people who get them for the wrong reasons. Poodles are smart working dogs. They need a lot of exercise and stimulation (similar to border collies). A lot of people get them to give them horrible haircuts, or because they don’t shed much and are less allergenic than most dogs.

  • Friends own two pit bulls, Mumu and Gnarles Barkley. Sweetest, most obedient dogs. I only wish my fiancée’s dog was half as good.