If It Bit, It Must Be a Pit

What nonsense!  The negative attention pit bulls have garnered in the last few years has spawned ridiculous statements such as this that would be laughable if not so seriously misguided.  October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month and a perfect time to debunk myths and education those around us.

First, “pit bull” is not a breed, but a loose, undefined, and shifting grouping of breeds.  The American Kennel Club, the largest dog–breed registry in the US, does not recognize “pit bull” as a breed but folks frequently lump the following together under that title:  Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.  Mixes of any of these breeds also can be called a pit bull, and even those who are familiar with them can have trouble identifying them accurately.

Second, it is the smaller breeds – a couple notables are Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers – that bite more readily and more frequently.  Of course, the concern for “aggressive breeds” is that their bite mechanics are, in fact, quite different than that of their smaller counterparts.  When the so-called “bully breeds” bite, they lock their jaws and don’t let go.  That, coupled with more powerful jaws, larger teeth, and a dog’s natural instinct to thrash the prey caught in its mouth side to side makes the average bite from a bull terrier or a Rottweiler more serious and damaging than that of a Lhasa Apso or a Cocker Spaniel.

While it’s true that a bite from a larger dog is likely to be more severe for very natural and logical reasons, the trend in some areas toward breed bans is reactionary, misguided, and unwarranted.  Everyone from the Humane Society to the Obama administration opposes breed-specific legislation, because of evidence it just does not work.  Take a look at the American Bar Association’s official statement against such breed restrictions here for a good summary of the issues:  www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/pitbull.html.

What’s more, it’s just that – a trend.  The trend decades earlier had folks ringing their hands over German Shepherds (in the 70s) and Doberman Pinschers (in the 1980s).  Did pitties suddenly and mysteriously become more dangerous and Shepherds and Pinschers less so?  No, most likely not but pitties have become more popular and, in my humble opinion, more and more people are unaware of the conversations occurring between ourselves and other animals every day. 

That is, to me, the real crux of the matter.  Critters of all kinds – not just dogs but cats and birds and equine and camelids... – are communicating with us all the time.  Sadly we don’t speak their language, pick up on their body language, or mind the cues and warnings they give us.

Perhaps worse, we fail to realize that we’re conveying volumes to them!  Without being aware or mindful of our own body language and innate traits, we come across to critters as inconsistently (and unwittingly) aggressive.  And then we’re stunned when they respond with hostility and take their behavior as aggressive when, in fact, it’s often defensive.

This month, as you encounter pit bulls and other so called “aggressive breeds,” or any unfamiliar critter for that matter, practice the following techniques.  Observe closely to see if you don’t get a different response. 

The Approach:

  1. Roll your shoulders and angle your body so you’re not approaching the critter straight on
  2. Turn your head and avert your eyes
  3. Keep your hands close to your sides; avoid sudden gestures, loud noises, or anything that may startle
  4. Modulate your tone of voice; notice what responses you get with varied tones ranging from very high-pitched baby talk to low, calm, soothing words
  5. Allow the animal the freedom to choose whether or not to close the distance between you or maintain it’s own sense of personal space

If friendly and comfortable:

  • if or as you choose to close the gap yourself, move slowly keeping your eyes averted and body angled
  • slowly lower yourself to the critter’s level being careful not to do so right over the top of the animal
  • slowly extend a hand in greeting for it to catch your scent; notice any difference in response if this is done with an underhand verses overhand and / or overhead gesture 

 May your critter conversations this month be numerous, rich, rewarding, and educational!

Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based speaker and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s classes on preparedness (Animals-In-Disaster) and critter body language (Deciphering Doggie Dialects, Cracking the Kitty Code, & Honing Your Horse Sense) offer unique perspectives and practical resources. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and to better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more, register for classes, and sign up for free eNews at www.JoBecker.weebly.com