Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Advice for New Pit Bull Owners

 When I "accidentally" adopted my first pit bull, Miss M, I really didn't know what I was getting into.Even with all the research I had done to prepare Miss M for success, it didn't prepare me for initial experiences of people scooping their dogs out of our way, mumbling under their breath as we passed, and the time a crazy man--wearing a cape in the middle of summer--yelled in her face that she shouldn't be in public places with children.
Though, luckily, things really haven't been like this as much for us anymore. 
 I was reminded of these experiences when we received an email from a couple who just adopted a young pitbull pup. They were already receiving negative comments before they even adopted:
Since we decided that we were open to adopting a pit, we have gotten some interesting reactions. One person said of a pit-lab mix we were considering that it would be "conflicted: happy as a lab and aggressive as a pit. It would never know what it wants." We went to a petstore that we *love* to get toys and supplies for our new baby, and the owner told us we should never play tug with our pit bull puppy, as it's an "aggressive breed" and "even though there are no bad dogs, just bad owners, you don't want to bring out the aggression." I did not mention to him the study showing that tug is actually a *fine* game to play with your dog, regardless of breed (
So, all of that said, we are bracing ourselves for more comments like this and are looking for ideas about how to respond. We will be going through all the obedience classes with our pup, and hope to get her Canine Good Citizen Certified... all that is a ways away, though, and we are wondering what we can or should say in the meantime.  
Have you dealt with these kinds of comments, and how do you balance the desire to educate people with the frustration that people are so closed-minded? 
Make our Dogs More Approachable
 We have found that when our dogs are 'geared up' they become that much more approachable. People are drawn to dogs with backpacks, bowties, even bandanas. And of course, Mr. B does much to dispel the myth by just walking around with his stuffies still intact. Once people come over to talk to our dogs, we're able to show them the true nature of pitbulls.

Be That Much More Responsible and a Good Role-Model
 We know that when we go out with our dogs, we are 'representing all pitbulls'. So many people will judge the entire breed based on what they see from our single dogs. We have to be that much more responsible and we need to be that much better trained because we know any misrepresentation from our dogs will impact the entire breed.
If anyone were to say anything negative about our dogs, I make them do a fun trick, like: waving, circling around me, or standing at our side. Even foster dog Levi who doesn't know many tricks now is learning to sit nicely at corners. I think people seeing us working with our dogs like that also does change perceptions.
We also don't let our dogs play on leash because usually that will result in the 'hungry gremlin noise' which is their play voice, but people thing it means aggression.

Outweigh the Bad with the Good 
 I have found by doing most of the things above, we have so many more positive experiences. We love when people come rushing over with their cell phones to show us photos of their own pooches, when heads turn to check out the pooches as we're walking by outdoor eating areas, and when people yell out "Those are beautiful dogs" as we walk by. Interestingly enough, we were at a neighborhood festival with some friends the other weekend who told us it was interesting to see people's reactions to the pooches: how some people are really excited, while others walk by in disgust.
Disgust? Really?
I honestly never saw that. So maybe there are some people out there who despite everything won't be changed, but I don't even really notice. I'm too distracted by all the positivity surrounding our dogs.
I do know we are lucky enough to live in an area with a lot of pitbull positivity, but we were hoping to hear some other experiences. If you have a breed that is misinterpreted, how do you deal with negative comments and the desire to educate people with the frustration that people are so closed-minded?
And if you have another breed of dog, how do you get people to overcome negative stereotypes that might be associated with your breed?


TheQueerBird said...

Thanks for posting about this (and isn't Faegan adorable?? :) ). I can't wait to read some responses! We are going out to buy her a jacket today, so hopefully that will also make a difference... today will also be our first foray into public so we can fit her for said jacket.

Unknown said...

You do such an amazing job with the dogs! I don't know how anyone could be disgusted by them, but I think they're absolutely adorable!

jet said...

I've had Barbie for more than a year. People are always spouting rubbish about greyhounds. It annoys the hell out of me. Barbie is CGC certified and has great manners in public. I am getting very sick of answering the same questions.

Road Dog Tales said...

We experienced some of the same stuff when we had five German Shepherds, but my husband would just show off how well-trained they were and try to ignore or avoid the negative stuff.
Your family are such wonderful ambassadors for Pitties!

The Road Dogs' Mom

Kate said...

omg that puppy is TOO CUTE!!

I agree with everything you've said. Whenever I hear those kinds of comments from I figure I only have two options: educate or avoid. If the person seems reasonable (and I have time!) I don't mind talking to them about how great pitties are. I figure even if I don't change their mind right then and there, if a lot of people talk to them maybe they'll have a more positive image of the bully breeds in the future. On the other hand, I encounter plenty of people who will obviously never change their minds, so I just walk away.

bigalrlz said...

I try not to take the negativity I encounter on doggie walks personally, 'pitie' people need to remember some folks just don't like ANY dogs (Their loss!) It's funny, I have a staffie and a presa, two completely different dogs in size, shape and coloring, but when I walk them together I get the "Are those pits?" question regularly (Followed by, "Do they bite?") I always take the time to explain the differences in breed and let anyone that wants to meet and pet them. It's good practice for the dog's training and if I can enlighten even ONE person, that's exciting! Trying to stay positive is always the best bet. Kill them with kindness!

PS Faegan IS adorable!

Sarah said...

I think the key is to engage those that want to be engaged and ignore the haters. We do have to be more responsible owners.

When people are really interested, I like to throw a few facts their way - known as America's dog in earlier decades, always known as a great nanny dog, biggest personality trait is their desire to please their people, little rascals dog was a pit, war heroes, etc.

But I don't spew all that out unless the person has shown an interest or asked about the breed.

Tara said...

When I adopted Penny (a senior pit who was 8 when I took her home), many people who heard I was bringing home a pit said something along the lines of "Why?" or "Be careful!" - enough to make even me a bit worried about what Penny might do! My mom was one of those "Are you sure you want a pit bull?" people. And now she LOVES Penny - who, I must admit, is an extremely lovable dog! So I have found the best course of action is to introduce those people to your baby and show off her friendliness and good behavior. I know I'm echoing what was already in the post, but wanted to add my encouragement. Good luck!

Marlyn said...

This is a wonderful article. I always make sure to be a breed ambassador and not set up Jasmine for failure. I think the key for changing people's minds is to see a well behaved pit bull.

I do my best just to ignore the haters. Trust me, I get some crazy looks when I am walking with my almost 3 month old baby and Jasmine, my pit bull. I just go about my business. I love that all of the neighborhood kids know and love Jasmine and will run up to give her hugs and kisses.

In Black and White said...

I think it's important to remind people that in judging a dog based on it's 'pitbull' appearance they're making assumptions on about 7% of the dog's DNA (which is about how much goes into dictating the look of a dog).

It's even more important for us NOT to talk about pitbulls as particularly 'special' dogs - even if we're putting a positive spin on it we're laying them open to criticism by admitting that they're different in some sort of way. I was on a walk with Billy, Buster and Flower the other day and a cop pulled up to ask me about him. Someone needed a temp home for a pitty and she was worried about how she would do with her other dogs and wanted to know how to deal with a pit as she'd never had one. I asked her if she had dog experience, which she had, and then explained that pits are just dogs like any other and you just treat them like any big dog!

SherBear said...

Luckly Wrigleyville is extremely pit bull friendly, but it is still a crowded area and we live in a 48 story high rise so tons of people for Nala to impress. I have started having her sit for a treat in the elevator, neighbors are impressed that she will sit still all the way up or down with her tail doing a little wag to get the biscuit, even if there are other dogs in the elevator. I recently had one neighbor say he wished all dogs in the building were like her. A couple women have asked what she is and when I say pit bull they are like "oh, but I'm usally scared of pits" - they cannot believe my sweet and playfull baby girl is all pit. It's unfair to her that she has to be an ambassador for her entire breed, but she does a great job :-)

Anonymous said...

This is sort of the price pittie (or even dogs that looks like pitties) owners unfortunately have to pay at times.

I agree with what most people saying are "by ignore or educate". We recently encountered a man who stepped off the sidewalk and onto the street to avoid our dogs. I told him that it was alright, they were friendly. His response was "yeah right ... until they bite your face off. I've seen it happen." I was insulted and I felt that this man was almost being racist. Well, there was no educating this man, only leading by example. When we encountered him again, we had the dogs sit on command and wait for him to pass.

Dressing up is also key! It's silly, and I never thought I would do it, but who can resist a dog in a cute jacket or bandana? It makes them much more approachable.

And just know, that with the negative comments and glares, there are tons of positive ones and you have the wonderful opportunity of enlightenment to the ignorant.

The plus side of the negatives? Well, no one will ever bother you when you are walking the streets alone at night :)

Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kate, I think that the majority of people are just uneducated about pitties, and when they meet Turk or Ginger and say "Oh, THIS pit bull is actually nice!" then I take that as my cue to do some praise and encouragement (and dispelling myths) about the breed. I've found when I keep it positive, that people really respond to that. If someone is just rude, then I don't even bother because I probably won't change their mind anyways. Luckily, most people I've encountered are willing to be taught and leave our encounter with maybe at least a bit of a change of heart about the breed. :)

Daisy Dog said...

I think the best thing is modeling good behavior, like you all do. I am so inspired by your hikeabull sucess I am thinking about trying to start up a group in the Pasadena, CA area! Can you offer any tips on how to get it started?

Alexis said...

Neither of my dogs are what I would consider an "intimidating breed (Australian Cattle Dog and Weimaraner) but when I walk them, I frequently encounter people who are scared. I think it is something about seeing two dogs coming down the sidewalk towards them that does it. I often have people cross the street, pick up their children, or mumble rude things as I pass. This happens despite the fact that both of my dogs have nice leash manners, and walk calmly beside me. So, I think there is something to be said for the fact that some people are just scared of all dogs. I try not to let it bother me.

Two French Bulldogs said...

You guys bring a different light on the temperament of a pitbull. We believe the owners, like you, that dedicate their time to socialization and exercise your furry babes helps tremendously.MORE people should be like you.
Benny & Lily
Pee S. Its sad that almost daily there is news about a pitbull mauling a child, etc..

houndstooth said...

Well, we have two breeds that are often misrepresented.

With the Greyhounds, people expect a hyper, untrainable dog. I also deal a lot with people who tell me about how horribly abused my dog was before she came to live with me. I'll be honest, that's a tongue-biter for me. I think the single biggest turning factor for people on that front is actually meeting the hounds. Greyhounds aren't perfect, but they are innately well-mannered. They aren't usually excitable in the way most dogs are, and I demonstrate some of our girls' obedience for people who don't believe us.

With Morgan, it's a little different. As we've read more and more about the breed, basically everything that you can do wrong with a GSD puppy happened with her. We do a lot of work with her, and she does wear a back pack and her cute collars when we go out. She is innately goofy, so I think a lot of times, when people meet her, they might expect a fiercely protective dog, and she is under the right circumstances, but usually she sits on her hip and rolls her tongue out, or flops over on her back to wave a paw in the air. You just can't be afraid of that.

I think that our dogs themselves change more peoples' minds than I ever could with any words that I said. So, I try to let them be themselves and get them out so people can see for themselves what they're really like.

Of Pit Bulls and Patience said...

Great points! I still have plenty of people respond to Skye in a negative way, but they are outweighed by the positive responses. Her small size often has people asking if she is a pit bull, and I usually have her do a trick as I respond. It helps that Parker is also there- who can be afraid of a little blue pit bull next to a 15lb fluffy dog?

Recently we've had a lot of great experiences with the dogs in the car. At the bank, Dunks, and the tolls, I've had people ask what Skye and Sinatra are. While I'm waiting for whatever, I explain that they're just dogs- I do a lot of training with them, but they're genuinely sweet pups regardless of the breed category they fall under. It helps that they get treats or munchkins at these locations, so they're on their best behavior!

Brenda said...

You guys do a great job in working to educate the public about the misunderstood breeds. Even though I don't have a pit bull myself, I appreciate your efforts as a German Shepherd enthusiast!

Kimberly said...

Lover your blog and your dogs are adorable!

Jennie Bailey said...

I find people are more apt to approach or at least less likely to say mean things when I get Lily in a sit-stay off the sidewalk to let them pass. She also sits at every corner. People see the well behaved dog and are drawn to her. I am in much better mood when she sits because people smile rather than glare. She's won most of the neighborhood over. "She's such a good girl." "I wish my (insert dog name) was as well behaved as she is." When people approach to pet, I am able to educate them about the breed while they're giving her a good belly rub.

We have a ton of unsocialized little dogs in the neighborhood and I stopped letting her greet when she was a puppy because she was bit so many times. I didn't want her having a bad experience. Instead, I started giving her treats when they barked. So now, when a dog comes barking, she looks straight to me.

Anne-Kathrine said...

I think you are doing an awesome job with your dogs. I love nothing more than the "dangerous" breed dogs lol.

My heartdog was the sweetest rottie you will ever meet. He didn't have a dangerous bone in his body. A very soft dog who loved people especially women. He loved other dogs especially small blonds (size of shih tzus lol) but didn't like small black dogs since he got attacked by 3 small black dogs.

We went thru a lot of the same omg your dog is going to eat my child thing. People always wanted to pet my terrier mix who was cute and cream and soft. But not the rottie. I kept having to explain that she was the one that would bite. Looks are totally deceiving.

Hug your bullies for me :)

A Confessed Pit Bull Addict said...

I think it's so important for us to be better than the average dog family, fair or not. Having a well behaved dog is the first step - being cute just isn't enough for our pups. Letting our dogs be their happy selves or cuing for a trick can make a difference, though really the people who are truly hostile won't notice or care anyway.

I do always try to keep a set of short, educational responses on hand to pull out ("Did you know they used to be called Nanny Dogs?" "Do you know labs are responsible for more bites each year than pit bulls?" "Nope - two of our dogs actually lived in a dog daycare for a while and they all still go just to play. They get along great with all of the dogs there!" etc.). I definitely make sure I always use my most pleasant, cheerful tone when I do this - I don't want my short temper to reflect poorly on my dogs!

By far, though, I'm learning that the positive experiences and the people whose attitudes are changed because of our dogs outweigh the negative experiences. Good luck!!

Greer Goings said...

The bride petting Levi is such a great snapshot!

Kari in Alaska said...

I think the hardest thing is not pushing the issue too hard and driving people away


Jacquelin Cangro said...

I think it's funny how many preconceived notions people harbor about different breeds.

Reggie is a springer spaniel and I've had more than one person tell me that I shouldn't have adopted him because the breed has "springer rage" and he will suddenly turn on me.

Kelsey said...

So many great points I especially love the bit about dressing them up a bit. People are such suckers for pups in sweaters! It was great running into you and your pit bulls on our wedding day! I'm certainly going to be reading this blog regularly :)

Vicki said...

Ahhh, "gremlin voice" is the perfect way to describe it! My Makai makes the same type of sounds, which sound so funny and sweet to me, but it startles people who don't know him. Occasionally I still see people cross the street to avoid him, even though he's old and frail and walks about as fast as slug. He def makes way more friends if he's wearing a t-shirt. :)

Tanaya said...

I live in Los Angeles which in my experiance over the last 3 years really seems to be a pitty friendly town. Our Bella is sort of like Mr. B in that she loves getting loving from people on the street but she can be a little more standoff-ish. But she is always calm and people and KIDS are always wanting to pet her when we are out an about. I notice the negatives too but really its all the positive reactions that we get that stay with me. I love it when people are surprised when I tell them she is a pit. It is really 90% her calm nature and 10% training that makes our Bella a wonderful pit advocate.

Cheryl Huerta said...

As a pit bull advocate I am constantly trying to share with people that the best and perhaps the ONLY way to change the public's perception of pit bulls is to make your dog an ambassador for pit bulls and then get your butt out there as often as possible to show off your well behaved, perfectly safe for all living things, loving and fun pit bull. We hold monthly Bully Walks in Portland Oregon to do this but all of us when we aren't having a Bully Walk are out there with our wonderful pit bulls changing minds...

Anonymous said...

My boyfriend and I adopted an adorable pit puppy (probably mixed with something else, but totally looks like a skinny pit bull) about 4 mos. ago and he's the greatest dog EVER.

One experience of mine happened when I was walking the little guy and was told by a (RUDE) dog owner of some mini breed, that she gets worried about pit bulls. So I replied as a hardcore pit advocate, that people are usually just uneducated and they're actually one of the most friendly breeds out there. She looked me dead in the face, brushed off what I just said and told me that's all find and good but that my dog could kill her dogs. Uh, get attacked by any dog of his size and they could kill your teeny tiny dogs.

Anyway, what amazes me is how rude people can be to you as if they are magical dog-breed experts and you're pissing them off by walking around with a pit bull. Well, I hope someday they encounter a pit bull that they fall in love with!

And seriously, who can resist that pit smile?

JMC679 said...

The one thing I didn't see you mention, and if I over looked it I am truly sorry.. They're all snoring bed hogs if you allow them to be one:-) My 70 pound ten year old male ÀPBT, and his older sister, a 14 year old 45 pound female can manage take up near all the real estate of a king size bed. Both under the blankets, happily snoring away while they sleep. I couldn't imagine it any other way since I've adopted them.

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