In Ohio, pit bulls have been removed from the vicious dog list. The nondiscriminatory new law will define vicious dogs by their behavior, not their breed. Pit bulls, however, are not a specific breed, but comprise a group of different breeds.
“Removing the breed specific legislation was the right answer,” said Stuart Mykrantz, executive director of the Wayne County Humane Society. He added that it’s better to base action on the actual behaviors of the dog, not generalizing by the breed.
Jim Wright, trainer at Brigadoon’s Canine University of Wooster, explained that society has cast out many breeds of dogs throughout the years. First it was the bloodhound, then the Doberman, then the German Shepherd, then the Rottweiler, and now, it’s the pit bull.
“I don’t think it’s a breed issue. I think it’s a perception. People want to demonize something,” said Wright. “It’s about social perception and not about the breed.”
Wright also said he has not come across a mean pit bull in his experience as a trainer. While he knows there are aggressive ones out there, he finds that most are loving and loyal. He is currently training a pit bull to be a service dog for a child with autism. One of the hopes for both Wright and the family of this dog is to reduce the stigma associated with pit bulls.
There must also be consideration into the way pit bulls are raised and trained by humans. Dogs who are neglected, abused or trained to fight may have a different reaction to humans than dogs who are nurtured and properly trained. Just like with human children, parenting is crucial in the development of the behavior of an animal.
“And even when you try to make them mean and nasty, it doesn’t work,” Wright said. “It is not the breed. We’ve tried to make this a demon dog. It’s not working.”
Both Wright and Mykrantz spoke to the attention pit bulls receive by the media for aggressive and violent behavior. Since a smaller dog’s bite isn’t as dramatic, it doesn’t make the news. The stereotype about pit bulls has a definite root in the media.
“What’s OK for the Chihuahua will put this dog down,” said Wright, motioning to Kanga, the pit bull laying her head on his lap. Kanga is good with children, adults, other dogs and is extremely calm for being just 11 months old. “The chance of them biting people is very small.”
There has been a drastic change in the way pit bulls are viewed since the earlier part of the 20th century. The show, The Little Rascals, even portrayed Petey the Pit Bull as a friendly pet. The evolvement has taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction.
“This was America’s dog 40 years ago. This was the dog of America,” Wright said.
So how can the public dispel these myths? The ones that are labeling pit bulls as dangerous and prematurely ending their lives? How can the stigma be reduced?
Wright suggests educating oneself and doing the research. He suggests the book, The Pit Bull Placebo, by Karen Delise, which can be found at http://www.pitbullproject.ca/placebo.pdf.
“Once you read through it, you feel so much more educated that it’s just a stigma,” Wright said.
Published: June 21, 2012