Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Canine racism

In the early 20th century German Shepherds were reviled. They were regarded as aggressive, mean and untrustworthy. The mental association of the breed with German Nazis didn’t help its image either. What turned the tide in the negative public perception of this breed was the advent of a nationwide television hero named “Rin Tin Tin.” Suddenly, a breed that was shunned, feared and hated became adored as a family pet and admired for its courage and loyalty.

Every era needs its scapegoat, and so it goes today, with the popular media and even some so-called “dog bloggers” (who really should know better) railing against “pit bulls.”

For decades, one of the most popular types of dog in this country has been the “bully”-type breeds. This type of dog has served as the mascot for the “Little Rascals”, the logo dog for “Target” stores, the dog listening with rapt attention to the RCA Victrola, and the “Spuds Mackenzie” dog in beer commercials. Helen Keller owned a beloved bull terrier. Millions choose dogs of this type when selecting a family dog, and why not? According to aficionados, the Bull Terrier was known in Victorian times in England as the “nanny dog” because it was so reliable with children. Whether the legend about this nickname was true or not, it certainly COULD have been true. Bully breed dogs are smart and loyal and brave, known on many occasions to save the lives of their owners. Just like all dogs of all breeds.

Breeds that are popular tend to be over-represented in shelter statistics and bite statistics. This only means that there are more of them around, not that they are a problem based solely on their type of breed. There are a lot of Chihuahuas in shelters too, and they figure way up at the top of the list for dog bites as well. The most pressing concern about dog bites is the risk of rabies, and that risk is the same regardless of whether the bite came from a bulldog or a Chihuahua.

It's amazing that people who would be immediately offended if a human racial slur was slung are so willing to fall into that sort of insulting and ignorant activity when it comes to dog breeds.

Now we are seeing unsubstantiated claims thrown about that “pit bulls” are a large percentage of shelter intakes and deaths. To illustrate the fallacy of this idea, here is a message I just received from a friend of mine in response to an article I posted about shelter stats on our breed club list:

“I am not sure where they get the information on "Pit Bulls" - it seems to me that pretty much anything large can get that designation. A neighbor's AKC Labrador escaped and was impounded. They swore they had not had any Labs brought in, yet there he was. But he was a Pit Bull. Good job she went and checked personally instead of just taking their word for it.”

This is a typical scenario. Shelter workers are conditioned to be disgusted at the sight of “pitbulls” and to watch warily for them at every turn. And all those misidentified dogs are lumped into the statistics claiming that “pit bulls” are rampant in shelters.

The California Federation of Dog Clubs has produced a Breed ID workshop for shelter workers. There is a quiz included with pictures of dogs of many breeds, and quite a few of them look similar to so-called “pit bulls”. In fact, according to the CFoDC, there are 25 purebred breeds that are commonly mistaken for “pit bulls” including Boxers, Rottweilers and (yep) even Labrador retrievers.

Try for yourself and see how easy it is to identify a dog breed just based on appearance alone:

At the risk of sounding trite, how we can treat man's best friend this way? He gives his all for us, and we villainize him, outlaw him, and kill him. 


  1. I looked at their big piece of evidence that claims dogs that look like a pit bull were DNA tested and found to be mixes.

    That's a joke. They use the MARS wisdom panel! That test is worthless. It's one of the biggest frauds in the dog world.

    Here's a crappy test that can't even determine purebloods from mutts, it almost always spits out impossible mixes and hasn't been shown to be accurate for anything... but we're going to use it to show that you can't ID a pit bull.

    Sorry, that's indicative of nothing. Just read their FAQ:

    "Can Wisdom Panel® Insights™ be used for a purebred dog?
    Wisdom Panel® Insights™ is intended for use on dogs that are mixed-breed to help determine their breed history. The test is specifically designed to look for the combination of ancestral breeds in mixed-breed dogs. Where pure breed dogs are concerned, most often the report will simply indicate the pure strain of the breed in question. However, although our sample database covers 185+ breeds and comprises more than 8,700 samples in total, there are several cases in which pure breed dogs may not be reported as such by Wisdom Panel® Insights™ test. For instance, if the breed is not or was not bred within the continental US, then we may not pick up the breed signature, as foreign lines often have very different genetic signatures. In addition, if there has been a very isolated breeding line for the pure breed, then we may not have enough coverage of that breed's gene pool to identify the dog as purebred.

    For these reasons, we do not advertise or recommend the use of Wisdom Panel® Insights™ as a test for confirming the purity of a purebred dog. This is due to the fact that Wisdom Panel Insights is specifically designed to find multiple breeds in an analysis, under the assumption that the dog it is testing has more than one breed in its mix. A test to determine breed purity would need to be designed for that purpose and its accuracy validated."

  2. Pit bulls get so much bad press. They are actually really loving dogs. It would just be nice if people were aware of the fact that it is not always the breed that is dangerous, it's the way the owners raise the dog that has a lot to do with it. People tend to forget that part!

  3. The moment you enter that thought you will realize that this is not the view we are looking for. All dogs are given by God to befriend with us in an incomparable companionship.