The news is not dying down regarding the Pitbull Breed, and the attacks seem to be escalating, lives being lost are escalating, the abuse in a mob-style fashion, is escalating, and the sudden fear of the breed, by their owners, are being surrendered to their local SPCA, is cause for concern. I think we need to take a step back, be realistic, and realize what we have in front of us and what we are dealing with.
Let me unpack a few questions that the media has put in front of me over the last few weeks.
Why do Pitbull’s go from docile to vicious so quickly?
There are so many things to unpack and to research to get to the actual reason why, in a particular scenario, a Pitbull or any dog for that matter, has gone from docile to vicious.
Let us look at the genetic component and what a Pitbull was bred to do, reality is, they are traditionally bred for dog fighting purposes.
Pitbull’s are genetically predisposed to animal-directed aggression, therefore there is a genetic basis for this behaviour, and heritability for this behaviour is more than 60%.
A Pitbull showing human-directed aggression was humanely euthanized.
There are a number of reasons why a dog, any dog, might behave in an aggressive manner.
- Fear, warding off of a perceived threat, (fight response)
- Over arousal, when a dog is over-aroused, there is a flood of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and the dog ends up “making poor judgement calls”.
Arousal is a state of energy that the dog is excited or on high alert, the dog’s brain is flooded with excitatory chemicals: adrenaline and cortisol and these chemicals dull down the logical and rational part of the cerebral cortex. Therefore, leaving our dogs in survival mode – FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE, and FIDGET.
An aroused dog will be reactive to his environment, therefore reaching a threshold in response to stimuli more easily. They will then be rehearsing this behaviour and more likely repeat it and become very good at it.
Arousal in itself is not a bad thing, however, leaving your dog in a constant high state of arousal without managing it, is the problem in itself and flows over into aggression.
Therefore, owners need to reduce the dog’s arousal levels, ie. managing the environment, and the stimuli that cause the negative emotional response, things such as, delivery men at the gate, people arriving, children playing and screaming, loud noises, fast movements, etc.
- The dogs history (including the dogs lineage, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, whether there is inbreeding, backyard breeding, etc )
- The dogs learning and early experiences (if the mother is in a constant state of stress or suffers trauma, these stress hormones pass to the puppy in utero) or if the puppy has been raised in a poorly managed environment by a fearful mother, the likelihood is that the dog will turn into a fearful adult.)
- Early weaning, which is a major contributing factor, if the puppy has been weaned too soon or removed from the mom and littermates too early, early being anything under 8 weeks of age.
- Early trauma, as they will be more sensitive to fear responses
- Lack of socialisation
- The dog’s environment (when dogs are restrained, kept in poor or small living environments, restrained or left to their own devices, without owner guidance and meeting the needs of the dog, can lead to frustration)
Why are they considered to be so dangerous?
There are several breeds of dog that are labelled Pitbull’s, but they are bull breed mixes, Pitbull mixes, and poorly bred dogs.
Any dog, with a big head and strong jaw is labelled a Pitbull.
Pitbull’s are strong, powerful dogs, and in the wrong hands can be dangerous, as with any large, extra-large or giant breed dogs.
These dogs are not security dogs, they are not the ideal family dog, they need knowledgeable and skilled owners. Attacks on humans are normally tracked back to human management error.
Breed identification is important, before acquiring a Pitbull, you need to familiarise yourself with the difference between animal-directed aggression and human-directed aggression.
There is a stream of misinformation regarding Pitbull’s, this information itself is dangerous.
Just an example:
They are not meant to be left alone with your children, they are not a“NANNY DOGS”
Genetics are fixed, no amount of affection and love can change that, however, with proper care and raising, it will make it less likely.
You need not be “ALPHA”, this comes from very outdated observations of unrelated adult wolves in captivity.
Owners of Pitbull’s need to have realistic expectations of the breed.
All over the world this misinformation about them is causing the breed serious harm.
Owning a Pitbull, or any powerful breed dog, needs to be done responsibly, and with balanced care.
All dogs, put into a situation that requires them to defend themselves, will bite. We need to ensure that every dog is respected, we need to teach adults and children how to respect dogs.
Anyone who breeds human aggressive dogs, or encourages this behaviour, even those who rescue the breed, and place them in unsuitable homes, are the danger.
Another danger is the method of training used, the irresponsible owner training the dogs to be aggressive, or to use punishment in training, because they want good security dogs, or to train bite work, just feeds the ego. It is DANGEROUS to teach them to be human aggressive.
Owners need to dedicate themselves to their Pitbull’s, proper socialisation, training with science-based and force-free training methods and continual environmental management. To keep your Pitbull in a secured property, ensuring their needs are adequately met, throughout the Pitbull’s life.
Owners need to ensure the safety of their families, especially young children, and their dogs. If you have a highly excitable dog, put the dog away when engaging in games and fun with your children, in the backyard, again, screaming and running around can excite the dog leading to overarousal, which can spill over to aggression.
You must never leave your child unattended with ANY dog, teach your child how to interact with a dog.
“A well-managed and trained Pitbull can bring the most incredible joy into a person’s life”, Dr Malcolm de Bude.
*Credit to Dr Malcolm de Bude, board-certified Veterinary Behaviourist, for verifying information and adding valuable information.