During our Pit Bull Leash Manners class this week, a woman came up and asked why her "Pit Bull" was somewhat leery of strangers. I looked at her dog and he was NOT a Pit Bull at all, but what looked like a very large American Bulldog mix.
Of course, no matter how much of an expert one might be, it can be very hard to tell a dog's breed from looks alone. Dogs that come from shelters are often mistakenly labeled as one breed or another. Based on temperament, which is what I like to go by, this dog seemed more like a guardian type of breed than a Pit Bull. The shelter that the woman got him from called him a Pit Bull, the neighbors called him a Pit Bull, and she called him a Pit Bull. But honestly, I'm not sure that he had any Pit Bull in him at all.
A Pit Bull's temperament makes them effusive with strangers, not leery of them. They are generally 30-65 lbs, not 100-150 lbs. Of course, any dog, purebred or not, can have temperament or conformation problems that aren't correct for their breed. The problem is that many different dogs that look somewhat similar are all lumped into the "Pit Bull" bucket. And when these dogs have fear issues with strangers or don't do well with people, it reinforces an incorrect and negative stereotype that is inconsistent with the temperament of true Pit Bulls. It's like a bad case of mistaken identity in a bank robbery.
Temperament is the way to go when judging a dog's behavior. A wiggly butted boy that will walk up to practically anyone and give kisses is more likely to be a Pit Bull. A dog that is more reserved or leery of strangers is probably more of a guardian type — and this behavior is actually correct for their breed. I'm not saying that one is bad and one is good. I'm saying that one often gets confused with the other, and too often it's the Pit Bull name that's used to describe dogs that are NOT Pit Bulls at all.
Many of our readers already know this, and those of us who work in animal welfare with Pit Bulls have known it for eons. BUT sometimes we need to just reiterate that HEY, this is a problem for Pit Bulls. If a dog bites someone because he's stressed and uncomfortable, and his breed is jotted down as a Pit Bull in the newspaper, the shelter euthanasia (and reason for) statistics go up, and the conditioning effect on the public continues that these dogs are not good with people. The sad irony is that they are one of the best breeds with people.
I would like dogs to be judged based on WHO they are, NOT by what they look like, and in fight bust cases on WHO they are, not WHERE they came from. I think it's best to judge dogs on an individual basis. We keep saying this again and again, but after class I realized that it NEEDS to be said again and again, like a McDonald's commercial. I guess there's a reason they don't just play commercials one or two times.
— Marthina McClay, CPDT