by Branwyn Finch
As the mother of a teenage daughter, I am very aware of the cultural messages young women receive regarding interpersonal relationships, especially those surrounding the issue of domestic violence.
The 2014 media firestorm over NFL player Ray Rice’s assault of his fiancé in an elevator brought renewed focus on how we, as a society, view violence against women when perpetrated by a husband or domestic partner. Preventing teen dating violence and educating young people about healthy relationships has been the goal of a domestic violence prevention group in my community. I once served as a parent representative in a focus group held by this organization, and have watched a few of their presentations to our Parent/Teacher Organization. I also attended a very moving lecture sponsored by this same group, where a young woman described her own experience as a victim of domestic violence.
I have come to notice striking similarities between the messages sent by advocates for aggressive dogs, and the messages internalized by victims of domestic violence. In particular, pit bull rescuers/supporters and the perpetrators of violence against women and children seem to share the same techniques for convincing victims that they are to blame for the injuries they suffer at the hands of a violent partner.
Dogs are unique among animals, in that they have evolved alongside us. Current research shows that dogs can read human facial expressions and emotions, understand non-verbal cues and gestures, even experience true affection for their owners. We live with dogs as social partners, and as such we have the right and the obligation to live safely, and without fear of violence.
Yet promoters of dangerous dogs tell victims of dog attacks that they are the ones responsible for the dog’s violent actions. If only they were better owners, if only they hadn’t provoked the dog by not recognizing his discomfort, if only they had understood the dog’s triggers, the attack or bite would not have happened. The dog just needs more love, more understanding, more training. Sound familiar?
The dog is sometimes affectionate, just as the abusive husband or boyfriend is…he is “nice” much of the time. But don’t get him angry, don’t upset him, don’t let him get frustrated, or else you deserve what you get. This message is being sent to women by virtually every shelter that is adopting out bully breeds, by every reality show trainer who tells the owners of clearly dangerous dogs that everything will be fine if they would just change their behavior. Women and children have been fighting this culture of violence for centuries, which has been bolstered by the widespread belief that violence within a relationship is somehow acceptable. And it’s not. It’s not acceptable for a husband to beat his wife, and it’s not acceptable for a dog to bite and inflict injury on its owner.
Advocates for violence
Relationships with pet dogs should be held to the same standard as our relationships with each other––and violence should not be a part of it. Humane organizations have become advocates for violence, blaming victims of dog attacks, telling the public that they should accept dangerous aggression from their pet as part of normal dog behavior. Shelters and rescues prey on the mentally ill, emotionally unhealthy, and the intellectually weak by exploiting the public’s natural love for animals through guilt and manipulation.
This cultural message is promoted by a host of reality show dog trainers, whose heavily edited performances set the stage for a “blame the owner” mentality. Violent, dangerous dogs are portrayed as misunderstood “victims” of their owner’s poor training methods. This popular TV storyline was evident on one recent show where a trainer told a sobbing, clearly disturbed young woman, who had crated a rescued pit bull in her bedroom because he had attacked her and her other dogs multiple times––she displayed her arms covered with scars––that she just needs to “try harder” with this dog.
It’s hard to imagine the emotional disconnect that drives dangerous dog advocates. If a daughter, mother, sister, or friend came to me, bruised and cut, confessing that her human partner had attacked her, my response would be swift and certain: I would tell her to end the relationship immediately, for her own safety. I would not suggest that she “give him another chance,” or that she “should have known better to bother him while he was eating.”
I wouldn’t suggest that she should rearrange her life and walk on eggshells to avoid being attacked by her husband or boyfriend.
Yet as a dog owner, if you don’t commit to keeping your dog, even if he bites you, even if you are afraid of him, even if he brings no joy to the relationship. Rather, you are shamed by the rescue community for “giving up on the dog” or “not trying hard enough,” “condemning the dog to death.” It’s a message we, as a society, need to reject.
Young women seem particularly vulnerable
As responsible adults, we have a duty to help young people recognize and define what constitutes a healthy relationship. A loving relationship between social partners is based on trust, respect, and shared affection. The humane community has launched a campaign to convince the public that loving a dog means having to accept and tolerate aggressive behavior.
Young women seem particularly vulnerable to this damaging message. As “dog experts” continue to lower the bar as to what is considered normal dog behavior, an entire generation is growing up thinking that keeping a dog means accepting physical aggression toward people as a fundamental part of the human/animal bond. This is nothing short of tragic, a perversion of everything wonderful about sharing our lives with pet dogs.
While social media continues to reflect our collective outrage over the latest celebrity case of domestic violence, perhaps it is time to examine how attitudes about healthy relationships are cultivated closer to home.
Dogs who maul children become social media heroes, while their victims are forgotten. Celebrity dog trainers glorify ownership of dogs so vicious that their owners live in fear of them. Shelters and rescues spend enormous amounts of time and resources “saving” dangerous, aggressive, non-social dogs, while safe, social, friendly dogs are ignored. Owners who suffer serious attacks by their own dogs are accused of being liars, animal abusers, or of causing their own injuries because they failed to “properly train their dog.”
Until we all recognize that no one should accept pain and fear as the price of loving another being, cruelty and violence will continue to be a part of our lives.
Humane organizations have a moral responsibility to promote safe, friendly, behaviorally healthy dogs as pets, and to stop convincing families that being afraid of the family dog is acceptable and normal.
If they won’t, those who love both dogs and people must reject their message and show the next generation what a loving relationship between two people––or a person and their companion dog––should look like.
See also: “Don’t bully my breed, but we will bully the victims,” by Beth Clifton; “Three pit bull stories to chew on,” by Barbara Kay; and “The science of how behavior is inherited in aggressive dogs,” by Alexandra Semyonova.
This is such an excellent observation. It hadn’t occurred to me, but the analogy is striking. I especially liked the second paragraph under “Advocates for Violence.”
Regrettably, in the 90’s, I was one of those trainers who told owners that THEY had messed up their dogs and needed to change their entire lifestyles to manage and correct aggression. Today, I and most other trainers realize that temperament is virtually all genetic, and is completely unrelated to socialization or training. But even today, it would be the instant end of one’s business to suggest euthanasia for a dog with a history of attacking dogs and humans.
I eventually switched to another career, partially so I could freely recommend euthanizing aggressive dogs.
But just because I didn’t have a business to attack didn’t mean I was immune to attacks. Years after switching careers, a rescue group called me out of the blue after I made a donation, asking if I could do an emergency foster. After fostering the dog for 5 weeks, I sent a private e-mail to the groups president. This dog that had attacked multiple rescue volunteers and all human and pet members of two foster homes (incl. mine), and I suggested euthanasia instead of adoption placement. The dog was quickly taken from me and shipped abroad to an adoptive home that was not informed about the aggression problem. The associated rescue group proceeded to vilify me online, and hundreds of members sent e-mails offering to kill, burn, torture, throw bleach at, or dismember me. Although I hadn’t worked professionally with outside dogs in years, they claimed I made my living by stealing dogs from rescue groups, pretending to train them, and then torturing them to death.
People who push aggressive dogs as adoptable pets are bullies, and are very similar to abusive domestic partners. But I hadn’t thought about your contention that the aggressive pets, themselves, are similar to abusive partners. This is so true. It’s like one abusive guy egging on his friend/brother to abuse a third-party.
Branwyn Finch says
Thank you for your insight, Sharon. I once read that, decades ago, dog trainers dealt mostly with “normal” dog behaviors; housebreaking issues, barking, destructive chewing, etc. Now a great deal of the work dog trainers are contacted to address involves aggressive behavior. Most trainers today would be thrilled to get a call from a client whose biggest problem is that they cannot housebreak the dog.
Like Pat Miller, I was an aggression specialist. I worked in the field from 1995-1999 and 2002-2005. (Intervening years were spent in the UK working with “Pets As Therapy”).
I worked with around 300 dogs in their homes, and nearly all of them were biting dogs that had sent multiple people or pets to the hospital/vet. About half were German Shepherds and GSD mixes. At that time, and even today, I and pretty much all of my trainer friends had been bitten by GSDs and only GSDs (and their mixes). I had the chance to witness one GSD attack a teenager who was merely walking on the sidewalk a ways ahead of the leashed dog, The dog jumped up and bit the boy’s back and chest repeatedly, until he had over 20 puncture wounds. (The boy was rushed to the hospital, the dog was taken directly to the vet for euthanasia). Probably half of all GSDs I’ve met (professionally or in regular life, or at dog competitions), have either tried to take a chunk out of me or out of somebody else in the room.
At that time, if I was going to outlaw a breed, GSDs would have been first on the list. I never would have imagined back then that pits would become popular outside of dog-fighting rings, and would easily cause 100x more damage per attack than the worst GSD attack. Today, the type of aggressive dogs I worked with–with their mere 20 puncture wounds per attack–are almost laughable compared to the pit bull and its gripper relatives.
So working with aggression cases is not new. I was doing it almost 20 years ago. The difference is that the dogs back then were normal dogs. They showed signs in advance. They growled, lunged, barked, had hackles up, gave people the “evil eye,” pulled back their lips or ears, etc. They had particular triggers that could be worked out, and the dog desensitized to.
But how does one work with a dog like a pit bull, that has been bred for explosive, unpredictable aggression without any warning or provocation? A dog that acts as the best buddy to a kid for years, and then suddenly charges out of a room unprovoked and kills the kid in a 20 minute prolonged attack–tail wagging the whole time? A dog that immediately runs up to the first responders asking for a cuddle and a hug?
In a local case, after two pits killed a toddler, the police arrived and the dogs’ owner begged them to shoot the dog. The cops wouldn’t, because the dogs were acting completely friendly with them.
Again, this is an analogy to the abusive spouse, who acts perfectly friendly in public and may be very popular among their friends.
Sharon, I really appreciate the time and effort you have put into such an intelligent letter here, commenting on the difference between normal dog attacks and those by Pit Bulls. Your experience and thoughtful letter has educated me for sure.
Thank you very much.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Here’s more if you’re interested: http://www.thetruthaboutpitbulls.blogspot.com/2012/10/no-one-can-be-great-thinker-who-does.html
Jamaka Petzak says
Domestic violence ran in one side of my family, so I would say I am not a stranger to it. No matter how you spin it or what species is being talked about, a bully is a bully is a bully (and I don’t think it’s any accident that these pit bulls are the poster dog for those seeking to further the agenda they are pushing!)
“Blame the victim” is an old game and one I refuse to play. Everyone else should, too. Maybe it’s time we ALL educated ourselves as to the subject of bullying, and responded accordingly.
Charles Vreeland says
“Blame the Owner” or “Blame the Breed”. Neither choice provides an adequate answer to the problem of vicious dogs.
Merritt Clifton says
To me, having crunched the numbers on well over 5,000 dog attacks over the past 32 years, “blame the owner” vs. “blame the breed” is like discussing motorcycle safety. Because a motorcycle has only two wheels and no surrounding steel body, but can go just as fast as a car, it is inherently more dangerous. Compound that inherent elevated risk by riding at excessive speed, intoxicated, under dangerous road conditions, and/or without a helmet, and the inherent hazardous aspects of riding a motorcycle are multiplied many times over. As a society, we long ago recognized the need to regulate riding motorcycles much more stringently than we regulate driving cars, with helmet laws, higher insurance premiums, and in some states, special tests for the riders. We now need to respond in a comparable manner to the possession and breeding of dangerous dogs.
Karel minor says
Except the trend is just the opposite in that example, too. Helmet laws are going out the window, insurance premiums are lower because they are based on the lower risk of damaging someone else’s vehicle, there is no requirement of health insurance to cover the disproportionately expensive head injuries, we we are all cajoled that WE need to be extra careful of the dummies on bikes. It seems a direct parallel.
Carol Miller says
Interesting and valid observations Branwen. Below is a link to video of Cincinnati pit bull owner Tammy Tucker describing this very phenomenon from her hospital bed. She tells a reporter that a year prior to her very near fatal attack by her three pit bulls she was also bitten. She saw a specialist dog trainer in Indiana for the aggression issues and was taught to look for triggers. She tells the reporter that “I thought it was me and I tried to change myself but it was the dogs.” The attack almost killed her. Police had to shoot one of Tucker’s pit bulls to get it off her and her own dogs were consuming her flesh This needs to stop, this is not normal.
Branwyn Finch says
Thank you Carol. This is a major concern of mine; trainers cannot “cure” aggression, they can only offer some advice on how to manage it. But in cases where the dog is large and powerful, encouraging an owner to keep a dangerous animal in the house is unethical and immoral.
I recently found out that a rescue dog belonging to a very nice , non-dog savvy family I know, has bitten someone. The signs were there, the dog was a year old and was “mouthy”, and grabbing the owners arms hard enough to cause bruises. They are seeing a trainer, but I fear they will be told that this will be some sort of quick fix. My daughter has been at that home and interacted with that dog, and I am concerned about her going there in the future..
Training can cure some types of aggression. It’s crucial to look at the dog’s motivation for behaving aggressively. Canine aggression can be sorted into three types: aggression meant to increase the distance between the dog and its target, aggression that occurs in the context of reducing distance between the dog and its target (i.e., predatory aggression), and pathological aggression, caused by illness or genetic conditions.
Distance-increasing aggression tends to be noisy, with a lot of posturing, growling, and threats. It’s usually clear that the dog is issuing “warnings” and trying to get the target to go away. This kind of aggression is unpleasant for the dog, and dogs are therefore motivated (and hence, can be trained) to avoid it when possible.
Predatory aggression tends to be quiet, with little or no apparent warning. It is inherently rewarding to the dog. A predatory dog will go out of its way to attack a target. Dogs that break through barriers or cross wide spaces to attack a target, or that persist in attacking for several minutes, are clearly exhibiting predatory aggression.
Pathologically aggressive dogs have diseases or brain abnormalities that cause them to behave aggressively for no external reason. A dog with rabies or “rage syndrome” falls into this category.
Dogs that behave aggressively due to fear can certainly learn to overcome their fears. Food-aggressive dogs can learn that allowing people to approach and handle their food is more rewarding than trying to guard it. Dogs that acquire distance-increasing aggression habits generally respond well to training, and because these dogs typically issue clear warnings and don’t go out of their way to harm anyone, this kind of aggression is usually pretty predictable and therefore fairly safe to manage.
Dogs that view other animals or humans as prey are far less likely to respond to training. This is the type of aggression that leads to unprovoked and sustained attacks. Pathological aggression (“rage” syndrome) also cannot be cured by training.
Pat Miller says
Nevada has it right… some aggression *can* be modified. Defensive aggression can be modified by changing the dog’s association with the fear-causing stimulus; when the dog no longer fears the stimulus, there is no need to be defensive or aggressive. And when humans stop doing stupid aggressive things to dogs, dogs stop aggressing back.
“Predatory aggression” is a misnomer – it is not true aggression – although the result to the victim can be the same. Predatory behavior is simply food-seeking behavior, and brain scans show that a different part of the brain is active than with true aggression. The dog is not angry or defensive, but rather simply engaging in a enjoyable, important biological survival skill. Hence, methods commonly used to modify aggression aren’t as successful with predatory behavior.
One form of true pathological aggression, unfortunately tagged “rage syndrome” several decades ago but more appropriately called idiopathic aggression, is exceedingly rare. In 40+ years of working professionally with dogs, I have never seen a case. Other forms of pathological aggression – resulting from brain tumors or other neurological abnormalities, are also rare, although I have seen some of these.
It is quite likely that Pit Bull aggression is actually a genetically enhanced version of what was initially predatory aggression – hence the common absence of “warning signals” and the propensity to continue mauling once an attack starts. No intelligent predator wants to warn his prey away, and his goal is, indeed, to kill his prey. As I said earlier, just because it isn’t biologically “true aggression” doesn’t make the results any less devastating to the victim, and doesn’t make the behavior any more acceptable.
Indeed, in breeding Pit Bulls for fighting, humans increased the dogs’ propensity to engage in these behaviors, That doesn’t mean Pit Bulls are monsters. It means we need to understand and accept them for who they are, and own, handle, train and manage them accordingly. I am far from a Pit Bull apologist. I cringe every time I read misinformation about the breed (it’s all in how they are raised, etc.) because people who truly understand them accept that they require an enhanced level of owner responsibility and management and don’t try to pretend otherwise.
I think its better we do not have pits in the population at all. We do not need them for any reason, and why should the public have to take the risk that is inherent in an animal that can snap and kill at any point. Pits have NO margin of error, and this makes them utterly unsuitable for living with humans.
Pat, I don’t agree. I believe that is the very definition of a monster, a dog that attacks to kill, often with no warning, after years of sleeping peacefully in your bed. We cannot normalize these dogs. Pit bulls are not dogs we should own in any context. I believe that people have a right to choose dangers to themselves, but not the dangers they inflict on the innocent.
Owning a pit bull, in any context increases the chances that an innocent pet, child, elderly person, or even a perfectly healthy person in their prime might be severely maimed or killed. We need to stop this. We live in society to be safe. Pit bulls are not safe, by any stretch of the imagination, they are a danger to everyone around them.
Please, let’s work to make this breed extinct.
Nevada, that is a very good and thorough analysis of the types of aggression in NORMAL dog breeds. But what about the fourth kind of aggression? That is: artifically-selected explosive aggression towards all types of living creatures with no provocation or warning. The type found in pit bulls and other grippers who have been selectively bred for at least 500 years for this behavior.
I suppose this might qualify as “predatory aggression on steroids,” but it is far more unpredictable than normal predatory aggression. I’ve had an extremely predatory dog, a Jack Russell from hunting lines. He killed around 200 small animals in his life, all while on leash or in a secure fence. If he glimpsed any animal smaller than a lamb, he would immediately attempt to grab the back of the animal’s neck and shake it to death.If such an animal was out of reach, my dog would quiver, shake and wail, not eating for hours, in hopes of getting the animal. At one point, I lived with a room-mate who had two cats. We set up an “invisible fence” to divide the house in half (cat side, dog side). My dog sat about 1′ outside the shock zone for two entire years quivering, trembling, and working his little jaws, dreaming of getting those cats. (He never did).
So maybe there are three types of predatory aggression:
Wolves – prey on other animals only in order to eat.
Jack Russells / hunting dogs – go after any animal in the target group (whether size, species, etc.), ANY time one is spotted.
Pit bulls and other gripping dogs – act perfectly normal and friendly for years, playing with kids and playing with other dogs at the dog park. Then suddenly go into predation (???) mode and rip the head off a toddler or a pet.
I’m not convinced that pits have predatory aggression, and I’m tentatively putting them in a fourth category: fighting-bloodlines aggression. The behavior seen by pits does not very neatly fall into any of the three categories described by Nevada.
Gee, your comment about your Jack Russell terrier killing “over 200 small animals” sounds disturbingly like the brags I hear from game pit owners. A dog who kills wildlife wantonly, and with its owners endorsement is as sickening to me as a pit owner who doesn’t care when their dog attacks pets or farm animals or kids. Owners who aren’t competent to manage their pets don’t get a pass from me no matter what their beast is killing. If, of course, you lived in a hovel where your Jack Russell terrier had to fend off rats, I apologize.
As much research has yet to be performed on the exact nature of the aggression exhibited by “game” dogs, this is a still matter of opinion. I’m in agreement with Pat Miller — devastating attacks by pit bulls seem to have the classic hallmarks of predatory aggression: the attack is not apparently motivated by fear or a desire to guard, the attack is often quiet, the attack is sustained despite victim’s attempts to flee, the dog sometimes goes well out of its way to attack, and the attack often involves gripping and shaking, which are characteristic of the predatory killing bite.
In regards to the apparently unprovoked nature of these attacks, I think it’s helpful to look at other examples of the predatory fixed action pattern (FAP) occurring “unprovoked” among dogs. All dogs have the predatory FAP, which includes stalking, chasing, grabbing, and killing. In some breeds, we’ve exaggerated portions of the FAP so that the dog displays that behavior more readily and outside of its natural context. By breeding border collies with an exaggerated stalking behavior, we ended up with border collies that herd sheep, but sometimes also try to “herd” motorcycles, baby carriages, and even inanimate objects. It takes very little to trigger a border collie’s stalking/herding behavior.
I think it’s the same thing with pit bulls — they’re displaying predatory behavior well outside of natural context, because we’ve exaggerated the grab and kill bite portion of the breed’s fixed action pattern to the extent that the dog needs very little trigger to display predatory behavior, and it also becomes very difficult to stop the attack.
I also agree that pathological aggression probably plays a role, if only because there is less of an incentive to cull fighting dogs that exhibit pathological aggression. For most breeds, displaying unpredictable aggression would be a detriment to the dog’s chances of reproduction. For fighting dogs, it could actually be an advantage. Because some kinds of pathological aggression are so easily inherited (something like 80-90 percent of an affected dog’s offspring are also affected) it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover much higher rates of pathological aggression among pit bulls.
I’m also not convinced that there aren’t typically warning signs that a dog is capable of engaging in a serious predatory attack. Most people do not know how to distinguish playful behavior from predatory behavior.
Merritt Clifton says
A “warning sign” that humans and other dogs don’t recognize as a warning sign is not really a warning sign at all. The whole purpose of a warning sign is to warn; if a gesture does not do that, it may be an indicator to an expert, but to call that indicator a “warning” is a gross misnomer.
Also of note, the assertion that “Most people do not know how to distinguish playful behavior from predatory behavior,” even if true, has no applicability as regards what is necessary and appropriate in terms of public policy to ensure public health and safety. Most people should never need to distinguish playful behavior from predatory behavior, just as most people should never need to know how to drive at racing car speeds, survive a shoot-out, or fight high intensity chemical fires. Effective public policy prevents life-and-death crisis situations from occurring by preventing the conditions that lead to life-and-death crisis.
Merritt, that’s a good point. It also applies to other dogs. Pits frequently attack other dogs at dog parks and pet stores. Many/most times, the attack is described as out-of-the-blue, without even the victim dog seeing it coming. If a dog can’t even read the pit bull’s signs that it’s going to attack, how is a mere human supposed to read these signs?
I should have been more clear. By “warning signs,” I meant signs that a dog is likely to display exaggerated predatory behavior, not the obvious signals issued by a dog who is trying to avoid hostility. Signs that a dog is dangerously predatory tend to be misinterpreted by the public, which is why the public cannot reasonably be asked to take in and “manage” aggressive animals.
One popular explanation for pit bull attacks is that the dog suddenly “snapped” or went crazy or that it is caused by idiopathic rage syndrome. I don’t believe the evidence points generally in this direction. The qualities of a devastating pit bull attack are quite different than the random idiopathic rage episodes seen in breeds like cocker spaniels. While I would expect higher levels of idiopathic aggression in pit bulls, I don’t believe that severe pit bull attacks result from the dog suddenly “snapping.” The qualities and patterns of attack behavior points to a dog consciously engaged in a deliberate predatory attack, albeit to a highly exaggerated, self-sacrificing degree. Even wolves will typically back down when their prey stands its ground, whereas pit bulls can keep attacking despite being shot, struck, or as one dogfighter put it, having “three broken legs.”
People routinely confuse predatory behavior as playful, cute, excitable, or high-energy. They don’t realize that such a dog is dangerous until it’s too late. This is exactly why the humane community must do its best to prevent dangerous dogs from ever being born in the first place, let alone entering the pet population. The public cannot be trusted to “manage” an aggressive dog. In no way was my comment meant to imply that it is the public’s responsibility to deal with aggressive animals. Consumers have a right to obtain safe products. Companion animals are beings, not things, but they are products for all intents and purposes. The burden of making products safe lies with those who produce and market the product, and dogs are no exception.
Branwyn Finch says
I’d like to thank the professional trainers for their valuable insight. I do want to suggest that trainers consider that the average pet owner looking for a family dog is generally not an experienced handler or an expert in dog behavior. I agree that some forms of aggression can be modified, but the risk involved has to be weighed carefully. A six pound toy poodle that guards food and toys does NOT present the same risk as an 90 pound GSD or a 60 pound pit bull. I also believe that, when there are young children in the home, we should err on the side of caution when advising owners to keep a dog that shows aggression.
Of the many, many average dog owners I have known over the years, very few were happy living with a dog with aggression issues. While I know many folks who live with nuisance barkers, diggers, destructive chewers, escape artists, and the hard-to-housebreak, few are willing to keep a dog that shows aggression toward family members, or even scary aggression toward strangers or other dogs. . There is a great deal of stress involved in owning an aggressive dog; for those with children, it can impact them emotionally and socially, when classmates and neighbors children are not allowed to visit because parents don’t trust the dog that lives there..
Here in New England, Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue explains their policy on aggressive Goldens on their website..
They describe a tragedy that occurred many years ago with a Golden they placed that was given up because he growled when children approached his food dish and had “nipped” several times. Despite being evaluated by an experienced breeder, vet tech, and trainer, working with an obedience instructor for two months, and showing no signs of aggression, the dog eventually mauled a child at a family party. This is an extreme example, I know, but it brings me back to the point of my article. The way people live in the real world is often at odds with what “dog advocates” imagine when they place a dog with behavioral issues.
No one should feel guilty for deciding that they can’t or won’t own a dog that growls, lunges, snaps at, or bites them in the course of everyday life. The humane community needs to address the source of dogs like this, not try to rebrand them with expensive marketing campaigns.
I read the YGRR policy whose link you sent and love it. I wish every rescue put the safety of adopters and their human and animal friends FIRST, instead of putting an aggressive dog first. Yay for YGRR!
By the way, when I lived in Istanbul from 2007-2012, Goldens were once the “flavor of the year.” All the rich people were adopting them, even though Turks have no history of keeping pets and have no idea how to house train a dog, much less any other training.
The thing that amazed me was that virtually every Golden I ever saw there was extremely aggressive. I routinely witnessed them biting owners and strangers on walks, lunging at other dogs, etc. Once I saw two women trying to lift a Golden into a car to go somewhere, and it bit both of them repeatedly.
Most of the dogs coming into Turkey tend to come from Eastern European puppy mills, and thence to Turkish puppy mills. This goes to show how–when the first few imports are aggressive–this can quickly lead to an entire population of aggressive dogs.
Merritt Clifton says
While Turkey may have little history of keeping dogs as indoor companions, Turkey has overall a very positive record pertaining to street dogs, including in connection with two notorious mass maroonings of street dogs on islands off Istanbul, where civic authorities left the dogs to starve.
The first marooning off Istanbul occurred at some point prior to 1869, when Mark Twain described it in The Innocents Abroad, along with “the howl of horror” from citizens that stopped the practice.
The second marooning came in 1910. “This act so disturbed the modern Turkish republic,” Companion Animal Network founder Garo Alexanian recalled in 2009, “that newspaper columnists have attributed difficult economic times in Turkey to the curse of Turks having done it.”
Turkish legislation has since 2004 mandated neuter/return for dog population control. The implementation has often been badly botched, but only one other nation––India––has mandated sterilization instead of extermination for longer.
The Mark Twain account:
“Once a sultan proposed to kill off all the dogs here,” Twain wrote at the end of several pages about the street dogs of Istanbul, “and did begin the work–but the populace raised such a howl of horror that the massacre was stayed. After a while he proposed to remove them all to an island in the Sea of Marmora. No objection was offered, and a shipload or so was taken away. But when it came to be known that somehow or other the dogs never got to the island, but always fell overboard in the night and perished, another howl was raised and the transportation scheme was dropped. The dogs remain in peaceable possession of the streets.”
Then don’t let her go there. Is hurting their feeling worth your child’s LIFE?
And people like HER are the ones swaying courts and city councils! Yes this DOES have to stop.
craven desires says
sharon, your description of recommending the dirt nap of the dog you were fostering and them quietly shuttling it into another community reminds me of the catholic church and their protection of pedophile priests. when will society’s attitude toward dangerous dogs catch up and treat these threats appropriately?
brilliant analysis branwyn, as always. i do think that our energy should be directed more at the institutional level rather than the individual. and by institutional, i mean law enforcement, courts, legislators and of course school curriculum. i don’t know what percentage of women are drawn to violent men but i suspect it is significant and there is not a lot that society can do about it. just recently there was a woman pleading to have the gripper spared that her abusive husband/boyfriend sicced on her. trying to convince her of the pathology in both of her relationships to the man and the dog are pretty much a waste of time. focusing on the system that has to deal with her is the only option.
Branwyn Finch says
I agree that we need to focus on the systems that allow dangerous dogs to stay with their owners. The current Modesto mauling is very disturbing to me; authorities have stated publicly that they may not file any charges against the owner of the four pit bulls that mauled a neighbor to death in his own yard, and critically injured his elderly mother. Drunk drivers are held criminally liable for injuries they cause, regardless of their intentions, and dog owners should be held to the same standards.
Albert Schepis says
Ruth Steinberger says
This is a timely article. A dear friend is being harassed, bullied, and otherwise targeted because of a policy of not releasing pit bulls for adoption (but welcoming bona fide rescue organizations that are able to re-home them following screening).
My friend is the ED of an SPCA in a medium sized city in the Midwest. She originally became a board member after expressing interest in the shelter following the adoption of her beloved dog and her commitment later evolved into a position as a part time ED. As a board member she questioned certain things and the then-ED resigned. The former employee (or her spouse) is one part of a team of people who harass her over the pit bull policy, that in fact originated under that former ED. The policy and is carried forth because of the illegal ( and horribly cruel) use of pit bulls in this region. Again, they will release them to bona fide rescues, but none have room–no big surprise.
In the time she has been ED my friend has successfully written over $60,000 of spay/neuter grants and sponsorships (several thousand animals have been spayed), got the shelter a great deal on a new piece of land (moving the animals from a remote building in a flood plane to a great location on a major thoroughfare), has broken ground, has brought in a pet point training seminar for any rescue that wanted to attend, has initiated new, sophisticated fund raising strategies, and with the support of a great team of workers and a compassionate board, the place now saves (and prevents) many more at-risk animals than ever before.
For all of this she has been the subject of cruel harassment (including the posting of her home address so other wingnuts can contact her), extreme and bullying online activity including a facebook page allegedly managed in part by a city employee..
Instead of supporting someone who has taken an organization to new heights and maturely disagreeing over one policy, their goal is to trash out all of the good this person has accomplished. This is about way more than the pit bull policy, it is about a campaign of harassment and cyber-violence that reflects a pathological style of communication that has no place in the animal welfare movement.
Thank you for the great article–it is very timely.
Branwyn Finch says
I am so sorry to hear of your friend’s dilemma. Your post highlights another concern I have; that sane, intelligent, compassionate people are being driven out of the animal welfare field, as more and more pathological extremists are drawn to animal rescue and sheltering. I think this is a huge threat to the future safety and well being of both people and animals.
Pit bull advocates seem to be especially aggressive toward any perceived or imagined threat to their ability to have easy and instant access to owning a pit bull. . They often are completely irrational, as your story demonstrates. I hope that people in your friend’s community will rally around and support her, and shout down the crazies that are attempting to derail all the good work she has done.
On the radicalization of Animal Control and the ‘humane’ community: http://occupymaulstreet.blogspot.com/2012/11/animal-un-controlhave-animal-control.html
Gil Michaels says
Hell yes!!!!!!! I couldn’t agree more.
“We must not turn our eyes and hearts away from that which they cannot turn their bodies.”
Pat Miller says
I am a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant, and my specialty is aggression cases. I would argue that reality is somewhere in the middle on this issue. I am certainly not a fan of a “Blame the owner” approach to dog behavior modification, and there are certainly dogs who are too dangerous to be considered for behavior modification/rehabilitation, regardless the breed. There is never anything to be gained by guilt-tripping an owner into keeping (or adopting!) a dog who presents a significant risk to the safety of humans.
That said, I disagree with the comparison to domestic violence. An abusive human has cognitive abilities that far exceed that which we believe dogs to have, and is expected to have morals and ethics unique to the human species. A lot of canine aggression is. in fact, due to inappropriate human behavior (not saying the aggression is okay, mind you), thanks in part to training methods promoted by one TV trainer (and other trainers before him: Monks of New Skete, Arthur Haggerty, Bill Koehler, to name a few…) who has no education or formal background in dog training and behavior. We do need to find the middle ground and blame neither the victim nor the dog, but take appropriate measures to keep humans safe – which includes a cessation of training tools and methods that often elicit or exacerbate aggression in dogs.
I think you missed the point of the post.
It is NOT a comparison of the behavior of attaching dogs and people that are domestic abusers.
It is a comparison of the talking points, and psychology, that are common to both people that excuse aggressive dogs and people that are victims of DV.
Maybe read it again.
I do think that this article has some valid points. What is different though is some of the reasons people stay with abusive partners. Sometimes the abused party grew up in a bad household and they do not realize that human relationships do not have to be violent. That is the only type of relationship they know. Some stay because of financial issues, as they literally have no place to go. The relationship with the aggressive dog is even more perverse. That person is paying for the feeding, vet care, etc., of the aggressive animal. Now it used to be that dogs were portrayed as man’s best friend, and the idea of the dog turning on its owner was unacceptable. Now it seems that the dog has been elevated into a status above people, where people have to tiptoe around not only their pet but everybody else’s pets. Why should I have to study the body language of dogs so I should know which ones not to pass on the sidewalk? Why should I have to move into the street to pass the dog and owner on the sidewalk because of the possibility that me passing the dog from behind may trigger something and I get attacked. The culture of making excuses, for abusive partners and aggressive dogs, has to stop.
The behavior I have seen from an apparently large percentage of pit bull advocates is the most aggressive I have seen anywhere in the animal welfare movement. Yes, some argue their points in a calm manner, but they are far out numbered by people who verbally attack and threaten others who disagree, and say hideously cruel things like “the child deserved it.”
It should be noted that for years the animal use industries have attempted to paint people who care about animals as being haters of human beings. I just want to say that if animal rights and welfare groups continue to embrace the pit bull fan community, they are playing right into the opposition’s hands. All of these attacks and callousness toward victims will come back to bite, hard. If we want to keep making headway for all animals–not just a single breed of dog–we better start paying attention.
I often have that feeling myself, that people who love animals hate humans, particularly children. And it mostly comes from pit bull owners, who have been rude, abusive, and even homicidal towards my family on the occasion when my children were attacked by a pit bull in a playground.
This makes me much less willing to donate to animal rescue associations and much less willing to vote for animal rights, even if I do see the other side of the argument. I fear for the rights of people and children, and its no small matter. I am not the only one.
Many families I know have specifically chosen not to own dogs, because they don’t want to interact with dog owning people. We do not own a dog, because we are afraid of pit bulls, and the entitlement of the dog owning culture.
I remember (in the pre-pitbull era)when I used to love seeing dogs, but that has changed. I used to love dogs. Alas, my family does not. This is due to our actual experiences with dogs and their owners. Whether or not you like children or people in general, our family does not want to interact with rescue associations. We do not want to adopt rescue animals.
My husband used to tell everyone that I hated dogs, when the truth was….I hated how he raised his own dog. She was a very friendly chocolate lab who was a complete nerve bag, had terrible leash manners, and took begging for food to the extreme of constantly trying to eat off of people’s plates at each and every meal. It wasn’t a matter of me hating dogs. It was a matter of he and his family expecting everyone to “love” their dog as much as they did. Everyone was expected to tolerate and encourage poor manners because they were okay with setting such a low standard of expectations and were incapable of setting boundaries for their dog. The dog’s perceived “needs” constantly came before the needs of all humans.
As extreme as I found this to be….I find myself blown away at how mild it was in comparison to the attitudes expressed by the pit advocate community. There just never seems to be a point where they state, “enough is enough”. First, they blame the victim. When the victim is clearly not the problem, they blame the owner. When the owner turns out to be a fellow advocate, then obviously, the attack was all a misunderstanding and simply a matter of a “good” dog having a bad day. There is always a justification. There is always a way to deny reality. It is always dogs over people.
Clova Abrahamson says
When considering agression in dogs, I would add that no dog of any breed should have to live a life at the end of a chain. When a chained dog kills somebody, I think it is fair to say that the owner really is responsible for the tragedy.
Like battered women’s syndrome, but with MORE denial and recklessness! http://thecaninegamechanger.blogspot.com/2014/03/like-battered-womans-syndrome-but-with.html
Eric Anderson says
I agree wholeheartedly. And education is key. Men, those brought up in an unhealthy home or abusive environment, will act out. Men aren’t born that way, I certainly wasn’t nor was anyone I know. But with the high profile cases in the media you would think that all men have this genetic disposition to be abusers. I know you aren’t saying that, nor do I believe you think that. But if I had been conditioned as a child to believe this is ok, if I saw abuse every day and was treated badly, I would have turned out differently. Thank god for my wonderful parents and the thoughtful environment that created me.
I draw many parallels between messages sent by pitbull advocates and the way we used to treat victims of rape or molestation..:
Minimization-get over it
Victim Blame: He/she must of provoked the dog.. What did She do to make him to that
Denial.. It never happened, you are a liar
Protection of the aggressor: He/She would never do that
Telling victims of dog attacks to hide or _______ will get put down/telling victims not to tell anyone or .._________ will get in trouble..
Secondary wounding: I can’t support you — he/she is family–I can’t support you: it will make some people mad at me..
A dog that is willing to seriously harm or kill one type of social partner, another dog, will be willing to do the same to another type of social partner, a human. Dogs that harm humans have NO place in human society.
This is brilliant and long overdue.
Thank you so much.
You have no doubt saved lives, with this post.
We all need to work together, and support one another, so that the bullying and the hateful shaming is seen as such, and not seen as “normal”
A lot of the social media stuff is learned behavior by the people who show up thinking they can help by sharing dogs mindlessly and begging for money and help.
They have no real concept of how little space is out there, even for the sweet and well behaved dogs.
They just repeat what they read, and attack without context.
But they are incredibly dangerous, in groups.
Able to sway people into making horrendous decisions.
It is abuse, pure and simple.
And it must stop.
This is a godsend.
I realize this is an older post but, it is timely for me. Just today, I found myself thinking about which shelters and rescues I should donate to. I never used to think in such a selective manner about this issue. One rescue organization has a petition up to save 24 “rescued” fighting dogs rather than euthanize them. Keep in mind the dogs were found in a place where a pit bull ban is in place. This rescue proposes farming these dogs out to an area where they are not banned. They want them to go to a shelter where no doubt they will be rehomed or languish for years. I completely disagree with this approach.
It isn’t the first time lately I’ve seen organizations I used to fully support take a stance like this on fighting, gripping breeds. It’s unreasonable to me and because of that I am not donating the way I used to. Pit bull advocates and advocates who keep shaming people who want a reasonable solution to keep their communities and families safe are harming the efforts of all rescue organizations.
In fact I no longer trust many of the adoption places around here anymore to tell me the truth about why the dog was brought in, leading me to sadly think if and when we get another dog, as we are thinking of doing, that going to a responsible breeder might be a better option, so I can have all the information I need to make a good choice for our home and our community. We’re not a family drawn to aggressive breeds. Any dog can bite, that is true but, only a fool would not think that some breeds are far more suitable as family pets than others.
Because these rescue organizations continue to advocate for pit bulls, cane corsos in one instance in my community and because of recent deaths and maulings caused by adopted dogs, my faith in responsible rescue organizations and adoption agencies in slowly waning away. I was for decades a staunch supporter of these groups. I think due to this pit bull gripping dog issue they are losing crediblity and harming many other types of animals in the process.