accepting criticism,  culture,  how do we know what we know is true,  politics,  the ethical life

responsibility, the ability to accept criticism and pit bulls.

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I’ve written about some of the questions around bullying, and whether individuals need to grow thicker skins or be treated gentler, and about boundaries and people’s different abilities to accept criticism. In all of these there are questions of what is normal acceptable behavior, what to do when different people’s behaviors cross those lines (is someone being firm or being a bully), and how people deal with criticism (are others being too judgemental or is the person being oversensitive).

Now similar questions come to my attention in an article about pit bulls:

“Pit bull owners live in a dream palace, where all dogs are good, and when they are bad, it can be attributed only to bad ownership or the dogs being “provoked” by the animals or people they ravage. Never to genetics, never to the fact that pit bulls were bred for impulsive aggression of exactly this type.”

In some ways this quote reminds me of the idea that “guns don’t kill people.” Guns are made to do violence. The author of that article is saying pit-bulls were too. I’m not sure. I don’t know enough about pit bulls. What interests me more is the questions of responsibility.

I’ve heard different arguments about banning breeds. I’ve heard people say:

1) Punish the deed, not the breed. The assumption is pit bulls should be innocent until after they’ve committed a crime and then punished. This probably isn’t much comfort to people whose children have been hurt by pit bulls. Yet if we extend the same concepts of rights and individuality to dogs that we talk about for humans, then it makes sense to do this. We can’t punish a person because they might hurt someone, why punish a dog? (Because dogs aren’t people!)

2) There aren’t bad dogs there are only bad owners. Perhaps, but then what do you do when the owner maintains that their dog was provoked and that it was not unacceptable behavior on their animals parts, but acceptable normal dog behavior?  I guess society then has to decide collectively what the rules for dogs are, and bad owners are defined as those who don’t follow them. In that case, it appears the teenagers in Calgary whose dogs got mauled by some pit bulls were the bad owners, because their dogs weren’t on a leash while the pit bulls were.

How do we get owners to recognize when they are bad owners or not? The author of that article is criticising pit bull owners with being insensitive to criticism. They tend to reflect responsibility. That’s a broad generalization. I don’t think she’s surveyed all pit bull owners, but perhaps a person’s willingness to own a dangerous dog is saying something about the person’s unwillingness to believe that they could fail. I’m sure all pit bull owners believe his or her dog won’t do anything wrong. Others perhaps, but not his or hers, because he or she is doing the right thing in caring for it. I think a person nervous, unsure of oneself and thus willing to take criticism to heart more, would probably be less likely to take risks with owning a potentially harmful dog.

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One Comment

  • Bookwyrm

    On the pit bull question specifically, the claim “pit bulls were bred for impulsive aggression” is problematic. “Pit bulls” as defined in Ontario law, at least, encompass 4 separate breeds: pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, and American pit bull terrier. They were, generally, bred to fight bulls or other dogs. As such, they may not fight in as ritualised a fashion as most dogs, and may give fewer ritual warnings. In specific situations with specific species, then, they were selected for aggression without prior warning.

    Generally, too, they were bred to be entirely different with humans.

    The “pit bull terrier”, per se, does not exist as a breed of dog. It is not acknowledge by the Canadian or American Kennel Clubs, the FCI, or even the United Kennel Club. The UKC recognises the “American Pit Bull Terrier”, but the law lists that as a separate breed. Because the “pit bull terrier” as such does not exist as a breed, I cannot find a breed history for it.

    The Staffordshire Bull Terrier originated in Britain some 200 years ago and was bred as a pit fighter which he excelled at for more than a century.

    The Stafford is courageous, tenacious, stubborn, curious, protective, intelligent, active, agile and has a strong “prey drive”. These personality traits together with his affection and devotion to his family and children in particular, make him a wonderful family companion. The Stafford has been referred to as the “children’s nursemaid” or the “nanny dog.” They are extremely tolerant and affectionate toward children.

    The American Staffordshire Terrier originated sometime in the 1800s, when dog fighting was a popular sport in the U.S. The Am Staff was also used for farm work, hunting large game such as wild pigs and bears, as a guard dog, and for general companionship. The breed, known over the years as the Half-and-Half, Yankee Terrier, Pitbull Terrier and American Bull Terrier, was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1936 as the Staffordshire Terrier. The name was changed to the American Staffordshire Terrier in 1972 to avoid confusion with the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

    The development of the American Pit Bull Terrier started sometime during the 19th century in the United Kingdom with the cross of “Bully” type dogs and Terriers with the aim of developing a dog who had the combination of a Terrier’s gameness with the strength and athletics of the Bulldog. This resulted in today’s American Pit Bull Terrier — a dog of strength, courage, and gentleness with loved ones. Early “Pit Bulls” were used for bull baiting and dog fighting. After being imported into the United States, farmers and ranchers took notice of the APBT and used them for protection, as hunters, to drive livestock and as family companions.

    Sport, farm work, and companionship are recurring themes that require working co-operatively with humans. Based solely on breed history, it makes sense to ban these breeds from a dog park, but not so much from human society.

    I think that an important point left out of your consideration of responsibility, though, is the breeding of these dogs. Responsible breeders breed dogs to fit today’s families and environments. They select for health and temperament, culling (usually by sterilisation) most of their dogs and breeding only the best. They screen their buyers severely to make sure the dogs are going to a suitable home — that an athletic dog won’t be cooped up in a small urban apartment, for instance, and that the tiny, bald Xoloitzcuintle isn’t expected to spend winters outdoors in Sudbury. 🙂 They are also not looking to place their dogs as fighters, do not breed for fighting characteristics, and will try to avoid selling to people who fight dogs.

    A major problem with breed bans is that they disproportionately affect the responsible breeders. The breeders who don’t care about temperament, and especially the “oops” litters from dogs whose fertility is not controlled, will not be reduced by the restrictions. Certainly, the law requires sterilisation for all pit bulls in Ontario, but that certainly doesn’t mean it has happened; nobody is doing a door-to-door canine census and checking for proof of sterilisation. A quick web search turned up several litters of “pit bull” puppies in the Toronto area. Dog fighting is illegal; those who deliberately breed dogs for fighting will not be particularly dissuaded by new laws against breeding their dogs. This restricted breeding by people who believe in canine eugenics can only result in the specimens we do have available being less likely to be the dogs we want in our communities.

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