Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pooches: On the Dangers of a Good Reputation

I've recently recognized one positive thing about owning pitbulls was their negative reputation really scared me into becoming over-responsible.
 I adopted Miss M on a fluke, and I didn't know anything about owning a pitbull-type dog. This was enough to move me into training overdrive where we immediately enrolled in a slew of training classes--even walking 2 miles (each way!), having strict rules around the house, and consistently making sure our dogs are well-behaved in public.
As a pitbull owner, I was quick to realize I had a responsibility to show our dogs in the best possible light because people will often judge the entire breed based on what they see from our single dogs. And I have found many other pitbull owners who work hard to show this also.
At the same time, I know if I had adopted any other type of dog I wouldn't really have put this much time and energy into training. In this way a positive reputation can work against a breed. So many people believe positive stereotypes of specific breeds and their specific dog will be just like that positive stereotype.
But we all know it doesn't work this way.
People always bring up the idea that it's only certain dogs that bite, but as I was sitting around talking with friends we could all recount times we were bitten by dogs, even needing stitches or leaving scars. And every single one of these dogs was on the stereotypical 'family-friendly' list.
These stereotypes have become dangerous as it seems people aren't taking the proper precautions just because they do own a certain breed of dog.
Just curious, how have positive or negative stereotypes impacted how much you train your dogs or the precautions you take?

33 comments:

TheQueerBird said...

Hah, I got bit at the dog park by a goldendoodle a couple of weeks ago. a GOLDENDOODLE.

I do think that I take it all a lot more seriously with my pittie than my hound. Hound barks and lunges at people? I'll work on it eventually, but mostly we'll avoid going out in public. Pittie gives a dog a look when there's a tennis ball nearby? WE ARE WORKING ON IT RIGHT NOW.

It's not a super conscious thing, and I suspect some of it has to do with the hound being an adult dog and the pittie being a somewhat pliable puppy, but still... when the hound runs up to a kid and barks, I apologize but am unafraid. When the pit runs up to a child to lick their face, my heart stops a minute. Because no one is going to say "A hound bit my kid!" but people might think my puppy is up to no good, even though she's better with people. Sweaters and bowties help for sure, though :)

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

This is a great point. When my mom got her Havanese she started becoming obsessive with training classes. When I asked why she noted "your pitbull isnt the only one with the ability to bite, jump on people, and disobey rules." Great point, mom. Good role model, mom.

Ashley said...

We have worked extra hard training our pittie and it has paid off! When we first decided to get a pittie for our first dog, our parents were not too happy with us. Now that they see what a wonderful dog Prime is, they are in love with the breed. They make sure eveytime someone says something negative about the breed, they are right there with grandpooch pictures and stories.

daultonja said...

I have been very aware of the negative stereotypes that having a bully brings. I have put much more time and effort into training my pittie than my other dogs for that very reason. Izzy is half pittie and half rottweiler which makes her look quite intimidating. Many times, people will cross the street when they see her and it just makes me mad everytime. Of all the different types of dogs I have had, I have found that pitbulls are by far more trainable and loyal. They are so willing to please. To say any breed is "safer" than others is just false. I have been bitten by beagles the so called "family friendly" dog.

Mayzie said...

MayzieMom here. While I certainly do worry more about how people perceive Mayzie (and pit bull-type dogs in general) if she's not on her best behavior, I tend to worry a lot about how BOTH dogs behave. When we got Ranger, we took a couple of training classes with him and we've always made sure he didn't jump on people or act like a heathen.

Did you read the story on Life with Dogs about the chihuahua that was declared vicious because she got loose and bit a girl walking on the street? The owner was laughing about it and it was amazing how many people excused this dog's behavior because it was small. Sorry, but responsible dog ownership applies whether your dog is 8 pounds or 180.

Kate said...

I see this with small dogs sometimes. People think that because a dog is small, it can't do any damage. Not true! Those tiny teeth still hurt! No matter the breed or size of the dog, teaching basic obedience is a must. And aside from the safety aspect of having an obedient dog (which is so so important) training is a great way to bond with a dog too.

Claudia said...

Guilty. SO GUILTY. We spend so much more time training Lola than we do Franklin. Yet he's the one that jumps all over people and dogs, and is the one who has broken skin while being mouthy more than once.

How bad can an adorable little terrier be? Really bad. Thanks for making me confess, and get on the road to recovery. And maybe one of these weeks I'll bring Franklin to SociaBulls rather than Lola, so he can get some schooling.

Loren said...

I used to have some very negative stereotypes about certain dogs. And then my two-year-old cousin was attacked by a Golden Retriever while trick-or-treating. One of the most 'family friendly' dogs. That's when I realized that it's the owner not the dog that is the problem in 95% of cases.
We adopted a medium sized boxer-mix a couple years later and even though he is usually a very submissive dog I made sure I put the crack down on aggressive behavior towards strangers. When I run across people with poorly trained dogs and they compliment how polite he is all I want to respond with is 'Maybe you should tell your Pomeranian not to growl at me.'

Dain Chimera said...

From childhood to being an adult today, I cannot remember a Labrador or a Golden Retriever that I have met that HASN'T bitten me - and I was a dog groomer for a spell, so that's an amazing amount of dogs.

On the flipside, I've never been bitten by any bully breeds, ever - or any other breeds with horrible reputations - although I have been bitten by a Chow Chow once who didn't like his bath, ha ha.


I think a lot of it boils down to the fact that because those breeds are so positively reinforced as family dogs, they are also so popular they are backyard bred and inbred to pieces...and you ruin personalities and temperments quickly that way.

Amber said...

It's not just the family-friendly list whose stereotypes "allow" them to become biters: the small-dog list does, too! The negative stereotype of small dogs as yappy little anklebiters leads people to think, "Well, he's a little dog, he's going to do that!"

I'm a non-confrontational person with an insecure small breed puppy, and every time someone reaches for her face I get a little nervous. Everyone wants to pet her head, and she just wants to lay down and have her BELLY rubbed, or her chest scratched. I'm going to have to step outside my comfort zone in telling people that they can't pet her like that, to let her keep HER comfort zone, and not start being a biter.

Gin said...

I guess I'm a little guilty when it comes to our babies. Our girls (pitties) are great with kids and adults. I do warn people when they walk into our house for the first few times because they can be a little overwhelming when greeting new people. We are working on our Maria's jumping problem. My old man (my mutt) I have to watch like a hawk with kids cause he tends to growl at them. I'm very cautious with him. He's never bitten anyone but I don't want it to ever happen. And he stays home when we do our rendezvous (re-acting 1800's) camping cause of too many people. My girls go and are great. But other dogs aren't so much and it drives me nuts. One year a sheltie was trying to herd a group of women that where doing a toss game. IT came close to biting a couple of times. But no one yelled that the owner to put the dog on a leash (which was a rule there) or to make her dog stop. I was very upset and was glad the dog didn't try the jump biting with me, I probably would of punched it in the head and rolled the dog. I treat all big and little dogs like they are the same.... well my sister's argentine dogo I'm hoping I never have to roll cause she weighs almost as much a as do, and that would be a bit hard to do. But my sister is a trainer and has 2 great dogs, one Amstaff and the argentine dogo.

Rebelwerewolf said...

Stereotypes never factored into our decision to train our dogs. We just figured it would be a lot more pleasant to live with dogs who don't bite or jump. Also, our dogs are both medium-sized mutts, so stereotypes about big, small, and specific-breed dogs don't really apply to them. We do avoid the dog park and areas with BSL, though, since they both look like they could be bully mixes. I definitely noticed that people react much differently to 45-lb Badger than our friends' 12-lb Chihuahua/Dachshund mix (and guess which one is human-aggressive). They give us a wide berth and steer their kids away, which I actually don't mind for the time being, because a few "dog-loving" neighbors have reinforced that it's okay to jump on strangers, and it is an uphill battle trying to teach him otherwise.

Luv My Rosie said...

When I got my Rosie I really didn't want a pit. My sister had pits but I really didn't want such a high energy dog. When I met Rosie I just knew she was mine. I did extensive research I read as many manuals as I could before I got her. The book "Pitbulls for Dummies" was a godsend. I learned right off the bat that she was going to be extremely smart and a houdini so I was able to prepare ahead of time. I also extended alot of time and energy socializing her with people and other dogs, training and over all love and patience. I taker her everywhere I can to show people what a good dog she is and honestly haven't had much negativity. People are always surprised when I tell them Rosie is a pit. She is very, very friendly. BUT I am also responsible and I keep her out of bad situations and ALWAYS keep an eye on her!

Sarah said...

I think I've thought more about behavior modification and training with Sadie, our pit mix. I don't really attribute that to breed awareness as much as her specific set of issues (people-based fear aggression) were much more dramatic than the issues Maggie, our dog-reactive lab, had. I am equally concerned about their behavior in public (relapses can and do happen and I'm ever vigilant). But I trust that Sadie will not snap at a person again far more than I trust that Maggie will not react aggressively to another dog.

When we were working with Sadie's fear aggression, I had to become very conscious of reading people's reactions to Sadie. If someone was afraid of her, I did not let them have any interaction with her because I knew their fear triggered her fear response. In that way, I had to be more aware of how her breed impacted people's reaction to her.

I made mistakes with Maggie, our adorable lab. I'm honestly not sure how much of that was thinking that a lab would not have those issues and how much of it was me being an inexperienced dog owner and not seeing the signs. What I struggle with now is that people don't believe me when I tell them how Maggie can be sometimes with other dogs. Until they see her Mr Hyde side come out on their own, they don't believe my adorable lab is capable of such behavior. They never doubt that Sadie's capable though. Sigh.

Tanaya said...

Owning a pit bull mix has certainly made me be a conscious responsible dog owner. I am hyper aware of how other people might look at her or us.

I only wish that more people would take the time to be responsible dog owners regardless of breed because not only does my dog behave well, but she is happier and healthier because of training.

Lindsay said...

You hit the mark- I couldn't have said it better myself! When we adopted Cider 3 years ago, I had no idea that her being a Pit Bull would make me the over-cautious, super-worrisome doggie mom. I felt that she had to always be above reproach so that people could see how wonderful Pit Bulls truly are. I'm proud to say that my baby girl has her CGC and is a registered therapy dog at many local hospitals. I truly believe that every Pittie owner has the obligation to make sure their Pittie is the best they can be. Oh, and I've only been bitten once...by a Daschund! :)

In Black and White said...

I beat myself up all the time about Billy's training progress (or lack thereof), specifically because I am hyper-aware of the fact that other dogs will be judged by his behavior. I think I'm motivated not only by the bully breed stigma but also as an advocate for rescue. It's harder to convince someone that adopting is the best route when Billy is having a tantrum. It's extreme, but somewhere in my convoluted little mind I equate each public incidence of bad behavior with another bully breed pup NOT making it out of a shetler.

birdbrain510 said...

I have rescued for 15 years. Dealt with pitties that have been fighters and bait dogs. And guess what bit me so bad he broke my knuckle. A beagle-chihuahua named Buddy.

a lil bit of Sarah said...

We love the dog park but are very careful when there because Summer will snap at a dog if they run up to her face. There have been instances of other dogs running up to her, head held high, and trying to mount her. Of course she turns and snaps at them (unfortunately she makes an extremely high pitched yap). Every time people look at Summer as the one with a problem, not the other dog who is trying to be dominant. We spend a lot of time working on this and watch her closely at the park.

It still breaks my hurt when people see this and then freak out when she goes near them. First off, she's only doing what is natural. Second, she loves people.

Also, I worked at Petsmart in the Pethotel and in the store for two years. Never did a pit bull bite anyone. 95% of the time it was a small dog that was the culprit.

a lil bit of Sarah said...

We love the dog park but are very careful when there because Summer will snap at a dog if they run up to her face. There have been instances of other dogs running up to her, head held high, and trying to mount her. Of course she turns and snaps at them (unfortunately she makes an extremely high pitched yap). Every time people look at Summer as the one with a problem, not the other dog who is trying to be dominant. We spend a lot of time working on this and watch her closely at the park.

It still breaks my hurt when people see this and then freak out when she goes near them. First off, she's only doing what is natural. Second, she loves people.

Also, I worked at Petsmart in the Pethotel and in the store for two years. Never did a pit bull bite anyone. 95% of the time it was a small dog that was the culprit.

Molly said...

The main issue I have with my Pit, is a persons reaction. I live in the Loop with a Pit, she walks by 100s of people every single day. And almost every day one person screams when they see her and runs. This draws attention to the said person and scares my dog. So now the dog is curious and/or scared and must say hello or see what is going on. I wish people who didn't like dogs would just ignore her and walk by, she wouldn't even notice them if they did that.

I feel such reasonability to show the world (ok, maybe just Chicago) that you can own a Pit and live in the Loop and she will sit every stop light and wag her tail when I say “go say hello”. It’s a ton a work! But the second a random person says, “Wow your dog is so good.” A big smile comes across your face and you know it’s worth it, and the dog usual smiles too!

Molly said...

The main issue I have with my Pit, is a persons reaction. I live in the Loop with a Pit, she walks by 100s of people every single day. And almost every day one person screams when they see her and runs. This draws attention to the said person and scares my dog. So now the dog is curious and/or scared and must say hello or see what is going on. I wish people who didn't like dogs would just ignore her and walk by, she wouldn't even notice them if they did that.

I feel such reasonability to show the world (ok, maybe just Chicago) that you can own a Pit and live in the Loop and she will sit every stop light and wag her tail when I say “go say hello”. It’s a ton a work! But the second a random person says, “Wow your dog is so good.” A big smile comes across your face and you know it’s worth it, and the dog usual smiles too!

Erika, Blair and crew said...

I am so guilty of this. In fact Koda is well trained yet Sophie is not. Size difference and expectations there. I have huge future pitty plans but they all include extensive training too.

Two Kitties One Pittie said...

I mean, I feel like I've said this to you a zillion times, but I've been bitten in the face by not one, but two cocker spaniels. And a beagle. And a golden retriever tried to bite me but missed. So, yeah.

But as I've said, I am definitely more aware of Zoe's behavior b/c of her breed. When she misbehaves, I feel a double kind of guilt because my dog was bad, and b/c she was being a bad representative of her breed. That's where all the cute clothes come in...

A&A Friese said...

I have always valued a well behaved dog. My first dog that was "mine" when I was a teenager was an Aussie mix that we rescued and I spent countless hours working with my boy, taking him to to classes and training him in general. Though we are hyper aware of making sure our pitties are well behaved, it wouldn't have mattered to us what breed they were we still would have taken all the same steps with training, there is nothing better than a well mannered dog and nothing worse than an ill-mannered one!

Tucker The Crestie said...

I think it's very true that our own perception of how the public will view our dogs definitely has an influence. I grew up with quite a few dogs and they were all on the medium to large end of the spectrum size-wise. My first dog as an adult was my 70+ pound Malamute mix, and I was definitely conscious, because people often thought he "looked scary" to make sure that I worked hard on his training, so that when we went out into the world, he gave a good accounting of himself.

I always thought of myself as a big dog person. Now, though, I somehow have these two little "ankle biter" dogs, as some people insist upon calling them. And because I myself had some misconceptions about small dogs I have been very conscious, for completely different reasons, about making sure that Tucker & Phoebe are also as well-behaved and socialized as I can make them, because I want people to look at my dogs and not see a pair of little yappy ankle biters, but two well-behaved and socialized dogs.

I guess the message here is - ALL dogs need training and socialization, and lots of it, on an ongoing basis, to be the best dogs they can be.

ErinShanendoah said...

When we had our boys, I used to tell people "I have one dog that looks cute and one that looks scary. The one most likely to bite you is not the one you think."
Now part of this was personality. Our Aussie was very much a working dog trapped in suburbia. He wanted to herd everyone. Whereas our Lab/Pit mix wanted so crawl up in your lap and fall asleep.
At the same time, I always worked harder to show people Smokey's good side than I did Moree's. No one was going to complain about our cute herding dog, but the Pit mix was always eyed with caution, until the kids started crawling all over him and giggling. Then I was told how handsome he was.

ErinShanendoah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Of Pit Bulls and Patience said...

I realized after adopting Skye how much more time and effort I put into her training. Parker is small, fluffy, and white. And rude sometimes.

In my profession, I so often come across dogs whose breed is working against them. Labs who couldn't possibly bite, fluffy dogs with resource guarding, goldens that have to love other dogs. So many dogs that aren't allowed an individual personality until a problem is unavoidable. Which is generally when they come to me, baffled.

All in all, I'd almost prefer starting with the bad rap and proving it wrong.

kissa-bull said...

definately get you on this one as i constantly spend hours training the pibbles until i took them to paws in the park and tiger went berserk on all the dogs he saw. then i realized i completely ignored the training with him because he was so small and cute lol

Nola said...

I've in counted a lot of rude people since bring Nola into my life, but I'm happy to report that once they see how well she is behaved they quickly change their minds!
I was bitten by a Dalmatian when I was a kid
Dachshund Nola's Mommy

Two French Bulldogs said...

mom is sending you our Lily
Benny & Lily

Stephani said...

I got my little mutt Tess first and I didn't realize how much I had let her get away with until our pit Schultz came into the house and tried to do the same thing. I've had to make sure I am holding both of them to the same standards, because what is cute when Tess does it is obnoxious and a bad example for his breed when Schultz does it.

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