Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Breed ban redux, part 2

Pit bull and her children
As promised, this is the second of two responses I've been mulling over regarding pit bull breed legislation. The discussion below is made up of several email messages I received from Christine Mallar, owner of Green Dog Pet Supply. I found them very illuminating, particularly the idea of the impracticality of increased breed legislation as a whole.

What it comes down to is responsible dog ownership for all breeds. Legislating restrictions on one breed is incredibly impractical, for the very reasons you mentioned, as well as the fact that only the "good" owners would be the ones suffering the ramifications of greater restrictions (people are still chaining dogs, letting them roam unneutered etc.) greater laws don't equal greater funding to enforce them.

There are no end to the numbers of breeds with individuals who are poorly socialized, and a restriction on a certain breed or breed mix doesn't begin to be practical or effective, and doesn't address the bazillion other individuals of other breeds that can be dangerous. I’ve met a Border Collie that I'm terrified of and I'm certain will put someone in the hospital before too long.  Why shouldn't those owners have been required to bring that puppy through classes when it was little?  I assume that acquiring that Border Collie had required planning, was expensive to buy, and his owners thought they were responsible people, but they didn't socialize it at all and it's like a Tasmanian Devil on a leash as a result. It's certainly not that dog's fault - he's terrified to be in public is all, and feels like he's defending his own life when out of the safety of its home. The owners refuse to work with a positive trainer, and so continue to punish that "bad" behavior mercilessly, so the dog is convinced that being near strangers in a strange place is even more dangerous than ever, creating a spiral of aggression.

So often when people say there was no sign of aggression before a bite, they simply weren't picking up on the dog’s cues. Also, so often as a trainer I saw people who punished warning signs repeatedly.  The dog stiffens, or growls when the toddler is manhandling the dog, and the owner punishes the growls over and over. The dog then suppresses the warning signals to avoid the punishment, but this starts having the effect of cutting the rattle off a snake. The tension rises and rises for the dog until something frightening or painful crosses the threshold of what the dog can handle and the dog reacts, and the people say it came out of nowhere. No dog is pathological enough to simply bite with no warning, but dogs all have a limit to what they can handle.  Dogs are dogs, and all dogs can be dangerous.

There have been many speculative reports of throwing numbers around 1800 lbs per square inch bite pressure; however, these are not based in fact.  The scientifically verified number is around 320 psi, the same as all other similarly sized dogs (humans average 175-200 psi by the way).  The larger the dog, the harder the bite, of course, so very large dogs like Rotties, Shepherds, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, etc will be a great deal more powerful than a 45 lb pit bull. Also, no breed that exists has a "locking jaw", so ignore reports of this. All breeds grab and shake as well. An 8 week old Papillon puppy will grab and shake a sock when you're playing with it.

It would be impossible to identify the breeds presented in a mixed breeds dog (in my opinion, those genetic tests aren't worth anything yet), and the breed of a dog does not predict its behavior.  Upbringing/socialization/teaching a soft mouth is critical to all dogs to make them safe to be around. All dogs need responsible ownership to avoid being injurious to others, but that's a very difficult (I'd suggest impossible) thing to legislate.