Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lessons from the late, great Dirk

After working with boatloads of shelter dogs over the years, we've dropped the belief that pit bulls are an inherently dog aggressive breed. We certainly consider them to be one of the more improperly socialized breeds in our crowded cities right now, however. We don't always do right by dogs in this big busy world of ours: Rushing them into dicey nose-to-nose greets with strange dogs, setting them up for failure in chaotic, poorly run dog parks, leaving them to their own devices at home with other dogs and no playground monitor to enforce the rules - or just plain isolating them from other dogs altogether in lonely backyards. Then, when they get into trouble or come to the shelter and show bad manners with other dogs, we blame them instead of their handlers - or especially - we blame their breed. "Damn pit bulls! Can't trust them with other dogs!"

Poor dogs - What have we done to them!

The sadder side of this story is how much damage we can do to a dog's psyche within the shelter walls. Shelters are impossible places for dogs to live - What, with raging hormones, constant noise and stress, fence fighting with neighbor dogs, distracted handlers and never enough time to help a dog stay exercised or improve his dog-dog skills.

We faced these challenges head-on last summer, when we started selecting dogs for our Ambassadog program at Oakland Animal Services.

Dirk was a big, sexy beast who showed us that he was able to co-exist and even play appropriately with other dogs. A good start. We got him going with training (he was a champ!), took loads of photos and fell ever more in love with his handsome face. And then, the worst happened ... We learned of an accidental fight that occurred between him and another large male in the outdoor kennels during the noise and chaos of the morning cleaning routine. After that fight, Dirk started looking for trouble at cleaning time. And then, he started creating trouble whenever a dog walked near his kennel. And finally, he triggered whenever he was near a dog that offended him. Watching him unravel from dog tolerant to dog aggressive behavior was a heart crusher. With no experienced foster home available and no way to re-school him at the shelter, we made the painful decision to put Dirk to sleep. It was AWFUL. He died because the world, and finally, our system failed him.

Out of this tragedy came a new gameplan: All dogs designated for the Ambassdog program were now to be shuffled to a smaller, quieter, calmer ward where all would get used to each other's presence and live like roommates rather than jailhouse gangstas. Peace and quiet was rewarded and reinforced. And best of all, we created a little oasis (photo: above) where dogs could get out of their kennels and become socialized to other dogs in a relaxed, safe setting.

Every shelter needs an oasis for their long term dogs. In this environment, they learn that they have to follow rules and good things happen to them when they show appropriate behavior. They looove this place and what it represents (learning! attention! fun!) and scramble to get inside during their out times. Dog intros can go as slow as we need here using crates and tie-outs, and everyone is rewarded for loose, happy body language around other dogs. They hear us laughing here and they get to let go of their stress and be a real dog - a pet dog - for a small but very important part of their day.

I was especially grateful for this space the other day when we introduced Salvador to a dog who is brand to the program. Salvador had been snippy with dogs when he first came to us. Not surprising, he had an injured front leg, he was skinny, unneutered, and the shelter was full of edgy dogs ready to push his frazzled buttons. 'Not to worry,' we said - 'We'll get him over this.' Thanks to the team's guidance and especially, Miss Retha, Sal has learned to expect that only good things will come from other dogs - All this, while living among dozens of reactive, barking shelter residents. Last week, Salvador imparted an "All is well" lesson to new dog 'Bemis.' Here's a video of their first play session, inside the oasis otherwise know as our trailer. Listen to how Tim and Mike are rewarding the dogs for their appropriate play. Look at how damn happy those dogs are. Every shelter needs a space like this - Really.

Many, many thanks to our supporters who helped make this tiny island a reality. And forever thanks to Dirk for a lesson that's saving so many dogs.


Unknown said...

thank you for making the best of this unfortunate decline. I know exactly the sort of situation you mean, and I saw it too often in my shelter time too. It never failed that our "favorite" dog would end up in some weird fight or show some signs of aggression after a lengthy stay.

unfortunately, the dog always got blamed. it was usually a "thank god we saw that bad behavior here, before it went into a home" situation. I have so many regrets over following that line of thinking.

keep striving. you're doing amazing work!

Kirsten said...

Poor Dirk. :/ I know that situation all too well, too. Shelter environments are so tough on dogs, and it's always heartbreaking to watch a nice dog spiral down. We try everything we can, but feel so powerless. (I've now quit shelter work, but am fostering...)

You're right; every shelter does need a space like that. Lookit those waggy tails! :)

The Foster Lady said...

Oh Donna, how well those of us in shelter/rescue/foster work with pitbull understand this. The terrier, by and large, has generally a much easier 'flash' point than most and combined with the stresses you mentioned, it is surprisingly how some of them last as long as they do at most shelters. And too, too few foster homes. RIP, you were a good, good boy.

And thanks for the video Donna...gives us hope for the future and a window into how pibbles can behave when all the proper precautions, like slow intros, ending play while it is still fun, are taken.

becky said...

Hey Donna - wow, you could have been writing that sad story about our shelter. So many similarities and always the same sad ending. I'm glad you have your little oasis to give those dogs a break, it's a tough world in a shelter.

Anonymous said...

Hey Donna!

Fantastic, groundbreaking idea as usual! I have to admit that our dog-to-dog play monitoring skills aren't as strong as they need to be, ever thought of offering a class on dog play monitoring?

thanks as usual - we sent your story up through our shelter management preparing them for our next endeavor!!

Lynn in Nor Cal

BevAndBailey said...

You guys do such good work!!! I was really touched by Dirk's story and the good that came out of it. I hope you don't mind, but I've put Bad Rap Blog on my premier weekly list of recommended sites to visit.

Thanks for all you do for animal welfare!

The Other Sally's Mom said...

Those happy tails!

I wish every shelter employee could read this post -- and would then feel empowered to generate the kind of changes necessary to give dogs what they need, rather than what their "system" allows for.

Pam said...

I just forwarded this posting on to our shelter director. This makes so much SENSE! Thank you, especially for the opening lines about pit bulls not being inherently dog-aggressive. Environments certainly have much to do with how all living beings behave.

maryellen said...

wow i wrote a comment that apparently wont be posted.. which it should. why was this dog left with another dog in a kennel? dog lesson 101 with this breed is never leave 2 pitbulls or 1 pitbull and another dog loose together unattended.. sorry, but the public has the right to know the 2 dogs were kenneled together which is something the shelter knew not to do...

Donna said...

maryellen - Your post was insulting and accusatory. We're not interested in beating up on OAS staff for decisions made early on in the game.

Escapes and mishaps are common in shelters -- during hectic cleaning hours especially. The dogs were not kenneled together.

Creating change in any shelter involves understanding the culture and bringing solutions, not insulting or shaming. As I'm sure you can see from the blog post, change is happening and we're all very happy about it.

Donna said...

Lynn - we should talk sometime about creating a one workshop for local shelter folks on dog/dog testing and play match ups. I'd love to share some of this work in detail with people who would use it to help their dogs.

Anonymous said...

"After working with boatloads of shelter dogs over the years, we've dropped the belief that pit bulls are an inherently dog aggressive breed."

The comment above scares me. Yes there are dog social pit bulls (I won one) but to make a comment that they are not inherently DA is not only extrememly irresonsible but very dangerous for a new pit bull owner. I admire everything your rescue does but that one comment does a huge diservice to the breed.

Pit bulls have a history of fighting..yes many current pit bulls may have never been in a fight but you cant change genetics.

Have a good day:)

Donna said...

WeI used to feel the way you did, anon.

But the dogs kept reminding us that - while dog aggression is not uncommon in terrier breeds - the trait is so extremely common and normal in other breeds that we're actually talking about DOG behavior rather than breed behavior. At the end of the day, Dirk was a DOG -- a very stressed out dog in an impossible setting.

Here's an article that helps to explain.


Dianne in DC said...

This is great! The shelter where I volunteer (click on my name) has just hired a second CPDT, and gotten the adoption staff involved in training and enrichment. We try to den dogs together, so we do "play dates" in the community room or the big yard out doors. Not every dog has a den mate, but the little pit I mentioned a couple weeks ago is denned with a puggle, and they sleep on the same bed together. Maybe our folks would be interested in such a class and could provide experience? I'm also wondering if any of you are using head halters/collars. We have been using them and finding them helpful. I have heard negative things about them as well.

Anonymous said...

"Every shelter needs a space like this - Really."

While that's a nice idea, most shelters don't have the resources that you folks have in Oakland. Do you have any suggestions for under-funded rural shelters?

Donna said...

Do you have a space to put a large-ish shed or trailer on your grounds, anon?

Oakland Animal Services is an open admission shelter run by the police department. There are ZERO resources available and freakishly scary budget cuts going on. (Tomorrow is a mandatory shut down day due to the budget constraints)

During our search for a trailer, we found several places that were willing to donate one to us or give us one at low cost. We finally found one on Craigslist for a dollar (really!). We enlisted volunteer help to scrub it down and raised donations to move it, fit it with a tile floor, crates, etc.

Kirsten said...

Having spent the past eight months working in a shelter up to 6 days per week, no breed stands out as more dog aggressive than another. Dog tolerance levels and stress levels differ from dog to dog. Makes sense, given the various factors involved: how socialized they were prior to landing in a shelter, how long they've been there, genetics, health, accumulation of stressors w/in the shelter, etc., etc.

Unknown said...

I mean this in the most non-confrontational way, but it appears to me that BAD RAP has made the decision that the breed's inherent nature is unacceptable, therefore instead of encouraging people to accept and be safe with DA and love these great dogs for everything they are, you are seeking to NOT accept what they are, and force them to change.

Anonymous said...

"While that's a nice idea, most shelters don't have the resources that you folks have in Oakland. Do you have any suggestions for under-funded rural shelters?"

As a volunteer at OAS and with the Ambassadog program - I can tell you the only extraordinary resources that OAS has are Donna, Tim and a very dedicated cadre of volunteers. I think if they put their minds to it, they could spin straw into gold.


Lori said...

Congrats on taking lemons and making lemonade (or some type of stiff drink :)

I am truly amazed at the ideas, concepts and work you all do out there. We thank you each and every day for making this world a little better for those pit bulls!

To the naysayers out there - congratulate the innovation these folks are participating in and finding solutions to problems man has created - don't just poo poo their work; they are truly amazing!


Donna said...

> you are seeking to NOT accept what they are, and force them to change.

Hm. I think I hear what you're saying .. "We should accept dogs no matter how much dog aggression they might have." Is that right? Truly dog aggressive dogs are A-Okay in our book. We call them 'solo flyers' and we fully support their right to live a good life with responsible owners.

But why wouldn't you want a pit bull - or any dog for that matter - to have the opportunity to increase its dog tolerance and learn the social skills they might've missed out on in their former home? Especially if it means they can enjoy a few dog friends in their owners' circles? Didn't the Vick dogs just teach us that this so-called "intolerant" breed is happier to enjoy other dogs than we ever imagined?

That doesn't mean homes get a free pass to get lazy and let dogs run wild without supervision. But the same is true for non-pits .. all breeds can demonstrate dog aggression and all dogs need to be managed to some extent around other animals.

Dogs are individuals, and they're social animals, too. Given the right kind of leadership, I truly believe just about any dog can enjoy a dog friend or two. Heh. Now I'm starting to sound like Cesar Milan.

The good news is that Salvador's social skills with dogs improved so much that he was chosen by a therapy dog handler to be her next healer. He'll be living with a female rottie.

Why not offer dogs like him a chance to improve? It opens up so many more options and opportunities for them.

Anonymous said...

Dogs are pack animals, therefore, they naturally should be with other dogs. The problem is that too many owners don't take the time to socialize their dogs, pit or any other breed, so when they do get together, they don't know what to do. They try to find the natural pack order, and who doesn't want to be the alpha? They are just dogs people. What Badrap is doing is amazing in every way. They are angels on earth.

leigha said...

poor dirk, that is truly heartbreaking. when good things come from tragedy it does ease the pain a little though. and yes every shelter definitely needs a quiet space for dogs to chill. i hope better days come real soon for all dogs in shelters.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all you and BADRAP do. Dirk is a sad tale but many have also been saved due to your diligence.

Anonymous said...

"While that's a nice idea, most shelters don't have the resources that you folks have in Oakland. Do you have any suggestions for under-funded rural shelters?"

"As a volunteer at OAS and with the Ambassadog program - I can tell you the only extraordinary resources that OAS has are Donna, Tim and a very dedicated cadre of volunteers. I think if they put their minds to it, they could spin straw into gold.


Hi Yvette, I beg to differ. Bad Rap and OAS have MONEY, something rural shelters do not.

Pitgrrrl said...

The fact of the matter is that most pit bulls will display some degree of dog intolerance in their lives. Can it be managed? Certainly. But that does not mean that you can make them be friends with other dogs. I have been rescuing pit bulls since 1999, and my very first one was a discarded fighter that I found in a dumpster. Since that time I have either fostered, temp tested or transported hundreds of pit bulls. The majority of those dogs displayed some dog aggression. Was that because they weren't properly socialized? Perhaps, but I also believe that these dogs are pre-disposed to dog aggression because of their heritage as fighting dogs.

I do agree with you on these points:

1. All dogs have the possibility of behaving aggressively.

2. Know your dog; and don't set your dog up for failure.

3. Everyone should be responsible, not just pit owners.

However, when other dogs behave aggressively they don't do nearly as much damage as a pit bull. How many folks here reading this blog have had to break up a dog fight? I mean a real one, not a quick skirmish. I have, more times than I'd like to admit, and it sure isn't easy or pretty, and someone is almost always going to need to go to the vet. Everyone should know their dog and not set them up for failure, but the fact of the matter is that your average citizen is a big dummy, especially when it comes to dogs and behavior, which leads me to the last point that though everyone should be responsible, sadly they are often not.

Another point here is that many rescues cherry pick their dogs. They purposely look for easy and laid back dogs, which is fine. We are dealing with a different caliber of pit bull here in the South and most of our pit bulls are extremely DA. My personal dog is horribly DA with dogs she doesn't know, despite my best efforts to thoroughly socialize and desensitize her.

Many rescue organizations, especially all-breed ones, will cull dog aggressive dogs, so technically the dogs they are adopting out aren't necessarily more dog aggressive than any other dog they would place. However, it sends the wrong message to say that pit bulls are not inherently dog aggressive, so you can feel free to get one from anywhere and expect them to be fine with other dogs.

Donna said...

Shelters cherry pick their dogs too, Pitgrrl, via the evaluations. Most toss aside any that show dog aggression - which may be for the best. Without time and breed experience, it can be hard to navigate dog-dog intros.

Don't forget that many of BR's best dogs have come from the south. We brought back several loads of Katrina survivors, 10 Vick dogs and of course help in out in other fight busts when we can. I'd hate to think that pit bull advocates are saying that dogs in certain parts of the country are so hard wired for dog aggression that they can't be helped. What a damaging message that would be.

I think the disconnect that's happening comes from the fact that BR doesn't really talk about the work that goes into shining up our dog's dog manners before they go to homes. We aren't cherry picking cold dogs because IMO cold dogs are few and far between. We're selecting dogs that show a willingness to learn how to co-exist with other dogs - with management of course! - and we're giving their homes support so they succeed as family units.

I'm sorry if that's hard to hear of if that goes against the grain, but it's what we've been doing for 10 years.

Anon - I really don't know what gives you the impression that a city run shelter like OAS has money - We're in a devastating budget crisis in Oakland with 1 in 5 homes being foreclosed and a shelter that's been forced to shut down several times a month in order to keep the light bills paid.
I think what BR shares with OAS is that we're resourceful and we're good at begging up help for our animals. Today in fact the shelter has been shut down for the day and volunteers are coming in to help clean kennels since the staff has been chopped.

Despite all that, the pit bulls have their little trailer.

The Other Sally's Mom said...

Labeling a dog as dog aggressive is just too simplistic. What I've learned in living with a Southern pit bull rescued after Hurricane Katrina is that her reactivity is situational. She lives companionably and tolerantly with three other dogs and has dog friends. She requires a slow and respectful introduction to new dogs, but after that she's fine. She's very interested in new dogs she sees on the street and reacts to them if they react to her, but does that make her dog aggressive? That term is really losing meaning for me ...

Kale said...

As a pitbull owner i would like to say that any shelter that provides care to the breed is going above and beyond what alot of the shelters out there do so i commend you. However there are a couple of things mentioned in this blog which completely threw me off. First of all, all breeds should be socialized properly, but pitbulls in EVERY social encounter with other dogs should be supervised. It is also mentioned that pitbulls are not prone to dog aggression, although my current dog shows zero signs of aggression this is a trait that usually comes on between the ages of 1-3 years. I think it is highly irresponcible to send one of these dogs to an unaware owner. Its an accident waiting to happen and if there is ever a fight between dogs the pitbull will take the fall 99% of the time. You seem like a very intelligent lady who is genuinely trying to help a breed, the issue is that everyone needs to be informed of the extra care that pitbulls may need. One bite from a dog in the hands of an uneducated owner would be more detrimental to the breed than all the positive work you have done to date.

Donna said...

Kale - I hope the video demonstrates that we do believe dogs should be supervised during play. Have no fear - our materials always have and always will preach responsible management. But our credo is almost identical to the management guidelines that other breed rescues offer their adopters. Do a search on these rescues and the guidelines they outline to their adopters: boxers, jack russell terriers, akitas, german shepherds, rottweilers, australian cattle dogs ... and on and on. When it comes down to it, we could cut and paste the language many non-pit rescues offer their adopters and still be giving the same strong message of responsible ownership. We have more in common with other breed people than we ever imagined.

For more info on how to ensure that your dog grows up to be a good citizen, you might want to peruse some of our most popular web pages. (by the way, One of the biggest compliments I ever received was from a Great Dane owner who told me he read these materials to help him learn to work with his dog's dog-dog issues!):

dog tolerance levels - http://www.badrap.org/rescue/dogdog.cfm

keeping the peace - http://www.badrap.org/rescue/keepingthepeace.cfm

socializing - http://www.badrap.org/rescue/socializing.cfm

Unknown said...

Donna you said: "Hm. I think I hear what you're saying .. "We should accept dogs no matter how much dog aggression they might have." Is that right?"

Well not exactly.

I am saying people should accept that all pit bulls are likely to be DA; that this has always been a known, accepted, and managed trait of the breed ...

... And that giving people the impression that DA can be "trained out" of the pit bull is inaccurate at best, and tragically irresponsible at worst.

BTW I do not fault any shelter (or any individual for that matter) for humanely putting a dog down for being DA, when there is a lack of resources or inability otherwise to safely manage it.

But what I am saying is all shelters and rescues, especially those that specialize in placing pit bulls, should not give potential adopters an overly rosy impression that they can trust their dog alone with other dogs, take them to dog parks, etc. because "they have been trained and socialized to be dog tolerant."

That IMO is dangerous.

You can make a pit bull feel more comfortable around other dogs, and they may play nice 100 or 1000 times after that, but there is likely to always be that part of them that will fight that 101st or 1001st time.

The socializing is great, don't get me wrong; but pit bull owners still need to know that, if they choose to leet their dogs play with other dogs off leash it should be very well supervised, including having a break stick handy and knowing how to use it.

Donna said...

Tonya - It sounds like you're unfamiliar with our materials. I listed them for Kale to read and invite you to do the same. Let me know if you have questions.

Pitgrrrl said...

"Shelters cherry pick their dogs too, Pitgrrl, via the evaluations"

Here's the crux of it all. You're referring to cherry picked dogs whether a private rescue or public shelter has them. What about the other pit bulls that don't go through a rescue or shelter? What about those born in backyards and on the yards of old blood pit bull breeders? Or the ones found as strays in the street?

To make a blanket statment that pit bulls are not inherently dog aggressive is simply irresponsible. Of course we can agree to disagree, but the average pet owner is not capable of handling a regular dog responsibly, let alone a pit bull with the strength and drive to do some serious damage. I can only hope this slippery slope doesn't lead to more bad press for pit bulls.

Unknown said...

Donna, it has been a couple of years since I read the BAD RAP materials but as I recall they were good and in fact gave me much of my (I believe sound) knowledge about pit bulls to begin with.

But what I (and several others) are responding to here is not your basic fact sheets, handouts or other materials but rather the above blog posting.

The fact is that BAD RAP, once recognized as one of the most knowledgable and responsible pit bull rescue org's and info centers, has now "dropped the belief that pit bulls are an inherently dog aggressive breed."

That is a huge, revolutionary, and IMHO irresponsible and incorrect statement to make.

Donna said...

Don't forget that the strays on the streets are the same dogs we work with at the shelter(s).

I think it does more damage to the dogs to broad stroke the entire breed as *inherently* dog aggressive when so many don't meet that label. There are certainly dog aggressive individuals and situations and triggers that will create conflict between dogs, but the same is true for other breeds. How can we continue to say that pit bulls are inherently DA when our homes are filled with dogs that succeed other dogs? And especially while the world is full of other breeds that cause problems in the hands of irresponsible owners?

I understand the desire to protect adopters from a bad match and good samaritans from a bad experience- but that's where education is so important. It's why we offer responsible management materials and give shelters and rescues workshops and tools so they help homes make good decisions with the personalities they bring home.

I've had this same conversation with numerous non-pit breed rescuers who deal with the exact same dog-dog issues we do - But they would never dream of calling their breed 'inherently dog aggressive.' Dogs needs management. Period. And while it's true that some individuals need it more than others, that doesn't mean we need to overstate our worse case scenario warnings to the detriment of the breed. It's not fair and it's not accurate.

Donna said...

Well Tonya - We've never been shy about sticking our necks out for what we believe and experience with our dogs.

I thought our numerous quotes about the Vick dogs though made it clear that we don't believe the breed can be broad brushed for any behavior.

Until somebody identifies a genetic marker for canine directed aggression that can prove us wrong, maybe we can both agree that some dog owners - of all breeds - are inherently unrealistic and irresponsible about dog behavior as a whole?

Unknown said...

Donna, we can certainly agree on that and we can "agree to disagree" on some other things.

Such as, I don't personally see it as damaging to the dogs to be honest about their tendency toward DA anymore than it is damaging to a border collie to say it will have the tendency to herd sheep.

And I agree that not all pit bulls will display DA, like any other breed there will be those individuals that are and those that aren't ... but I do think it is important to remember that when a fight is triggered between dogs, a pit bull will be more likely to participate and more likely to do so more tenaciously and with more damage than with most other breeds.

IMO is not disparaging the breed in the least to acknowledge these facts.

Just because we have "not found a genetic marker" yet does not mean we can not expect different breeds to behave in different ways depending on what they were originally bred to do. It is horrible that the APBT came into being because of dogfighting, but out of this terrible history we do have these amazing dogs (I equate it to a child of rape; the act that produced it was horrible but we love the innocent and beautiful "byproduct").

Unknown said...

Edit, I meant to say

... a pit bull IN GENERAL will be more likely to participate [etc. in a dogfight, than other breeds]

Pitgrrrl said...

"How can we continue to say that pit bulls are inherently DA when our homes are filled with dogs that succeed other dogs"

That's just it, those are OUR homes, and we are pit bull savvy people. The average pet owner is not, and certainly not the average pit bull owner!

You guys do great with education and have lots of resources available, but none of that matters when the average pit bull owner is less than intelligent and doesn't bother to look at your materials. Giving those folks ammunition to say their dogs aren't dog aggressive because Bad Rap says pitbulls aren't inherently dog aggressive is a nightmare waiting to happen.

At any rate, I suppose we will have to agree to disagree.

Donna said...

You are supposing Tonya that pit bulls were bred to aggress. I tend to believe they were bred to endure an extended battle - both physically and psychologically. A slight difference in perspective.

Because a pit bull will last longer in a fight than say a dog aggressive husky does not, IMO, make them 'more' dog aggressive than other breeds. The tendency to flash is in terriers but we don't tend to think of JRTs as fighting dogs for example - when I believe they might actually be more than capable of doing the job in the pit for some sick minds.

My ball possessive husky, btw, came close to killing a small game dog years ago. He didn't put his teeth on her (my arm got all of it) but he would've crushed her small skull had I not intervened. How much damage any dog can do in a fight is related to much much more than breed.

I am resisting the all-too-common tendency to let the dog fighters themselves tell us what these dogs are all about. The dogs themselves are constantly telling us that they are much more than their history of exploitation. We only need to listen.

Dianne in DC said...

Well, Donna you got quite a thing going on here.

I went into doing volunteer work at the shelter with no preconceptions about pitbulls.
The shelter is very pitbull friendly, and as I've said, we frequently den our pitbulls
with other dogs after assessing their compatibility. They are not more or less dog aggressive
than our other dogs. One of our most dog social dogs was a pitbull named Chardonnay (since adopted).
We would take her to adoption events in the neighborhood and she had to make friends with
every dog and every child at her level.

Perhaps we should distinguish between dog aggression and reactivity. This is something we
are working with our dogs on using positive reinforcement. The most dog reactive dogs we've
had have been herding dogs. Of course, the most scary is the pitbull mastiff mix, but that's
because she's big and dark and scary. She also puts her paws on your shoulder and licks your face.

Many of our adopters who take home pitbulls come back for a second. Many of our adopters have a
pitbull or another dog at home and are looking for a second dog who's a pitbull.

Please read the information on the National Canine Research Council's web site or Karen Delise
"The Pitbull Placebo". I went to a seminar and was fascinating to learn the history of "dangerous dogs"
starting with the blood hound.

I noticed that the web site run by WHS for our public shelters has stopped identifying most dogs by breed
and isn't calling any of them "pitbulls".

Two dogs I'd call pitbulls were identified as "wiggle-butts".

I just learned that we have a blog for kids. Check out the June 3rd entry
Know your pit bull facts.
Nice links, huh? I hope it sends lots of kids your way.
Although I apologize in advance, I believe the dog pictured is Edna, an American Bulldog.

Donna said...

> but none of that matters when the average pit bull owner is less than intelligent and doesn't bother to look at your materials.

So better to blame an entire breed when people are irresponsible and set their dogs up to fail?
And when a lab kills a dog at a doggy daycare, etc, it's just "an accident" - since labs weren't "bred to fight"?

Sorry Pitgrrl - I can't go there.

If people think our message is to be irresponsible, then they're probably the same people who were screwing up even when we were* giving bigger worse case scenario warnings. I've come to believe that we can't (and shouldn't) try to control people by scaring the crap out of them. Better to give solid information that holds dog owners of all breeds to the same standard. What they choose to do with their dogs is ultimately their decision *or their error* -- because responsible dog owner info is certainly very available - not to mention all over our law books. Being a good dog owner should not IMO be a "for pit bulls only because dog fighters used to exploit them" discussion.

Unknown said...

"You are supposing Tonya that pit bulls were bred to aggress."

A lot of them were, even though "gametesting advocates" (dogfighting apologists) may try to tell you otherwise.

Many will try to tell you that their precious "dogmen" bred only for "gameness" (yes which I know is not the same as dog aggressiveness), but from what I have read DA was also a generally valued quality. Which makes sense in a sick way.

leigha said...

i just wanted to add, i do a have a concern about a dog being put down strictly due to dog aggession. i just think some dogs (regardless of breed) need to be an only dog. and those dogs should still have a chance at a furever home.

leigha said...

on the topic of dog aggession, i must add that pit bulls were never originally bred to be fighting dogs or dog aggressive as many of you already know. they were bred to be strong and brave, and loyal and durable. they were nanny dogs and war dogs (look up "stubby" the most decorated war dog ever) and family dogs before the "dog men" ever got their hands on our beloved breed. they do not use pit bulls because they are more aggressive, they use them because of their positive traits: bravery, loyalty, durability, determination, and strength. they use what is good in our dogs to exploit them.

i have two pits, very different from each other. my boy does well with my female dog, his mom. and he has done well with other females and my male chow mix i had. but i would never take him to a dog park and the vet comes to my house rather than sit around other dogs in a waiting room. as he has a high prey drive, like many other terrier breeds. my female is more tolerant, i would take her to a dog park and know she is going to be fine. i sit at the vet office and she only wants to play with every other dog small or large. no high prey drive there, only interested in a tennis ball. but if another dog took her ball she would react. is that a breed thing? or just my dogs and the fact that i haven't done all the training i could have to curb this behavior? either way i as a human take full responsibilty. i have read on other pit bull sites that a pit bull will never turn away from a fight. yet i have had a pit bull, my 75lb brindle girl, who would've never fought, she would have been one that if in the hands of a dog fighter, would either just be bred to death or put down.

she was sweet as any dog ever. tolerated everything. my friends have a pit and she is the same way. but i admit i am guilty of having told people that pit bulls can tend to be dog aggressive and that its not unusual for them to be. but looking back i would say that about other breeds too. its just that the majority of my dog experience has been with pits. and it does depend on the dog and the situation. period. not the breed. i stand by that statement. they are truly individuals and must not be judged due to breed.

Pitgrrrl said...

"Better to give solid information that holds dog owners of all breeds to the same standard."

That's just it, though. As pit bull owners we are automatically held to a higher standard whether we like it or not. I would rather adhere to that standard than see more BSL spreading because you want to ignore the history of these dogs. Labs are not being banned from cities and their owners being denied housing and homeowner's insurance. So while I don't like the discrimination that our dogs suffer, I'm certainly not going to deny that they can be dog aggressive, and in my experience and opinion, are disposed to be that way.

I have a multiple pit bull home, 6 to be exact, and for the most part everyone gets along well with a few exceptions, and one of my dogs is from your Oakland streets. I agree that pit bulls can be socialized and live in harmony with other animals, but ONLY when handled by breed savvy and responsible owners, which the average person simply is not.

Kirsten said...

There are quite a few weighty points expressed here, all worthy of note. No one's arguing against owner responsibility. However, at risk of sounding trite:

um... What about the days prior to all of this controversy, when pit bulls and bully breeds were the family dog of choice? There are countless images of them lolling around with toddlers in black and white photos (circa the time Bloodhounds were the feared breed, as mentioned in an above post).

All dogs need supervision and responsible ownership. Fear breeds hysteria and pit bulls have had enough of that to contend with.

The Foster Lady said...

Very interesting discussion for us pibble lovers, owners, rescuers and foster people. BadRap has always said, and I too believe, each dog needs to be judged as an individual. If 20% are DA, 60% DS, and 20% DS, then what those statistics say are that 80 percent will not like some dog, at some point in their lives. It's a question, we all know, about management. You either have what it takes to manage, or you need to get another type of dog. DA is infinitely manageable. I only ever ask that a dog not be HA, which is a no-no in my book, a dog ruined by a person or genetics and who needs to leave this world peacefully.

I currently have 5 here. All 4 females would kill each other if they were placed together. Each adores my one male. Are those females DA? Yes, they are to females. Not to males. Would I adopt out any of them to others? mot unless I could prove to myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were experienced pit people.

It is true that many people do not have a CLUE as to what they are getting when they adopt a dog, any dog. As is true in society, they want instant. Instant perfect pet with no effort on their part. This is probably 75% of the adopters I have seen at the shelter where I have volunteered for the past year and fostered for.

I am sure that BadRap and OAS do their job to educate adopters and not one dog in that Ambassadog program leaves to a less than educated home. And, I am also sure that if an experienced foster family had been available, Dirk would have gone to that home to de-stress and get back to being Dirk. The shame of it all, for me anyway, is that there are not enough good pitbull experienced foster families out there for the thousands that are dying by the minute.

jess said...

Hi Donna,

Thanks so much for this post. Since I got back from camp I've been talking to my director about creating a real life room and the rest of the staff is really excited about it. We've had a couple of Dirk's here too - they were the inspiration behind my own pit bull group. I'm working to honor them by doing better next time.

As for the posted comments about OAS having money - that's just bananas. I recenty visited OAS and was so impressed with the hard working staff and the dedicated volunteers that were fighting to make this overburdened shelter function, even on days when the city forced them to close in order to save money. Almost every shelter and rescue in the country is stretched to the limit right now and we're all struggling to do our best despite the immense challenges we face. Thank goodness for groups like Bad Rap that step in to lend a hand.

p.s. Donna - I introduced one of our shelter dogs, a Husky, to an adopter and their Husky at work today and used all my new pit ed camp skills to make it work for the two dogs. Really good dog-dog intros are tough with any breed, but luckily I learned from the best and now on more dog has a home tonight.

Donna said...

Oh Jess - it does my heart good to know that your smart intro allowed a husky to go home today. Brava!

Pitgrrl - Recent history is showing us that cities are willing to ban breeds based on nothing more than the same worse-case scenario warnings that you believe breed advocates should broadcast:

Lakewood Ohio for example: http://lakewoodobserver.com/read/opinion/columns/city-council/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-proposed-pit-bull-banby-councilman-at-large-brian-powers

... So which is more damaging, an avoidable conflict between dogs - instigated by irresponsible owners who should know better (and who probably broke a containment law) - or a breed advocate who highlights their own breed as unpredictably dangerous?

All we are asking for is reasonable, intelligent discourse that defuses the hype and helps dog owners make better decisions for their pets. I don't think it serves the dogs to dumb the conversation down with hyperbole - I believe people can be smarter than we've allowed them to be.

Foster lady - I can put you in touch with several non-pit people who are, or who have been, in the exact same situation as you with sassy bitches and lots of crate rotation at home. Bless you for making it work. You're absolutely right -- living with more than one high drive female dog is a bitch. Your grief is supported by science, as you probably already know.


This has been a great conversation by the way and has instigated some lovely talk in our circles. Thanks to everyone for participating.

Donna said...

Oops - by the way, during discussions with Tim about this* discussion, we both admitted that we think Dirk was not really much of a pit bull. He was 75+ lbs and may have been any mix of guardian breed. Not that that ultimately matters, but how funny would it be to argue all day about pit bull dog aggression when the dog that started the talk was probably a 'mutt'?

Life's ironies.

Unknown said...

Excellent post!

Boris said...

"Requiem for Dirk"

I met you from afar and then had the opportunity to hug you up close. Just knowing you so remotely, I still fought through the 5 stages of grief, this posting helping with some closure. The pictures in mind and framed forever in my camera have taught me a valuable life lessons, that remain truly fundamental of the breed. In my heart, you are so like people. You deserve to be treated as an individual with all the appropriate consideration now in death even more so than in life. May your story be heard and retold, especially, for those who could not experience your big-head smiles and butt squirming wag.

Our energy continues to be focused on our cherished ‘am-bas-a-dog’ project. Now, reliving your story gives us even more resolve than before. For at the time, our family wanted to personalize our support to your project. Namely, sponsoring a dog that so reminded us of ours would be more than a trailer donation. Call us na├»ve or common dog owners; we thought that cutting off hormones would put thing right for you with that quick ‘fix’. Your life lesson again. Change requires more than chemical balance. So at that time and in your situation, hard choices had to be made. No one blamed the ‘genetic dice’. Your foster family struggled with the decision within their limited opportunities (hoping the man with the farm home would come back for you). In our way, we acted like self-centered bloggers rather than pit bull lovers and friends. We missed that opportunity to provide our real support, not in dollars or words but in compassion.


D –
Determination & Discipline, as you can’t get over the stereo-typing without work and boundaries;

I -
Inspiration & Innovation – insanity is expecting different results from the same action (that only works with bad computer software);

Responsibility & Remembering when pointing blame, those other three fingers;

K -
Kindness – Kindred Spirits, Keep supporting and praising the quality pit bull temperament

DIRK Wiggler,
I won't forget you!

Boris' OEL

(Boris at ~75#, as you said could be a cousin of Dirk, so that makes him a real individual. Can't say we notice those guarding dog traits when he snores in bed next to us. Always well mannered and compassionate with his kennel mate Sheena.)

Anonymous said...

My Lab, that we got as a puppy and fully socialized was attacked by another Lab, and is still not good with other dogs. Very picky and choosy. My rescued Pit that was never socialized as a puppy is making new friends all the time. In a fight, my Lab would do a million times more damage than my pit. I brush his teeth and have seen how large they are and how strong his jaw is!

Dianne in DC said...

I neglected to mention that the dog social pit I described earlier, had fight scars on her face. At 30 lbs, we think she may have been a bait dog. So add that to the mix!

Anonymous said...

I think it is being missed that BADRAP teaches and trains all owners that choose to adopt a pitbull from thier ranks. I was unaware before adopting what having a pitbull meant, that is until I met Donna, trained MYSELF, and worked with all the great people at badrap. It was through the dedication of the staff that I was brought up to speed on how to control not just what my dog does but what I do to ensure a happy and healthy life for my girl! I do think that it is great to have wide open discussions on a forum but I think it is also important to remeber that Bad rap has worked with many many many pits, not 5 or 6 or 7 but many(hundreds?. So I do feel that they may have a better understanding of what this breed is all about! Ultimatley it is up to the prospective owner to get educated, does that always happen, no... but that is what they are trying to change! I thank you for all the work you have done!

Anonymous said...

"Truly dog aggressive dogs are A-Okay in our book. We call them 'solo flyers' and we fully support their right to live a good life with responsible owners."

Thank you. When I adopted a 1 year old female pit from Berkeley Animal Care Services, she was described as "gamey" with "high prey drive". I was told she should be kept as an "only dog".
Over the past 2 1/2 years, we've been through multiple obedience classes, partially to keep her skills up, mostly to keep her around other dogs, although at a bit of a distance, depending on her level of excitement.
She doesn't go to dog parks; she does not leave my house or fenced yard without a leash; when we go to the vet, I make the first appointment of the day and check the lobby to make sure it's clear before I bring her in (the vet staff is very helpful and understanding)....the examples go on.
Is she worth the extra work and effort? You bet. Wouldn't trade her for any other dog, ever. She loves me and every person she meets. She has learned to walk alongside other leashed pits on walks. She is showing less reactivity on walks. When she gets excited by another dog barking at her, she has learned to "leave it" and park her butt in a sit, waiting for a treat.
She's set to go through yet another pit bull obedience class starting next month, along with an on-leash hiking class with other dogs. She goes to swim lessons.
And at night, when she snuggles up on the bed next to me, under her blankies and gives me a big lick on the face....she is so worth it all.
I have to agree with you....she does deserve to live a good life, and I will never quit trying to do right by her.


leigha said...

anon, i completely relate to what you are saying about your "solo flyer" being so worth it. thank you for being one of those people who appreciate their "high maintenance" pittie.

Marie said...

I am so glad other dogs are getting a chance to learn better. Here is a story about a pitbull that I (and my local shelter)learned hard lessons from as well. May these dogs that we lose in the battle never be forgotten.


vchiumw said...

I think this is a wonderful new perspective on the APBT and I am in full support of the efforts BR is making to rehab/ recondition traumatized dogs. However, I'd like to say that it is not necessarily the "inherent" DA that concerns me as an owner, rescuer, student it is the potential damage that results if, for whatever reason, an APBT does get into a fight. Sure, aggression is not relegated to APBTs alone, it is a dog thing, not a breed thing. However, the WAY APBTs fight is incredibly frightening to the average human, even if injuries sustained in the fight are inflicted upon the APBT and not the other dog. When you experience a well socialized 45 lb APBT get jumped by an aggressive 120 lb guarding breed and take it down without any trouble you have to acknowledge that there is something there, something pervasive in the genetic sauce. With APBTs you have so any factors involved that could be effecting the DA factor, from genetics to a generally ignored critical socialization window combined with a pool of breeders who are, have been and continue to be broadly uneducated with regards to animal care and husbandry in general and canine development specifically, to novice owners, to professional trainers, to the aggression exhibited by dogs of all breeds etc. etc. I mean the list goes on and on. Having been involved with working breeds from herders, (GSD, Malinois, DS, Rott, BC, ACD,) to ABs and APBT I have really been exposed to the vast, and I mean VAST, difference in bite human inhibition expressed in the APBT. If I acknowledge this trait of extremely high bite thresholds towards humans as genetic, (and from using my personal experience as an unscientific undocumented basis for this statement,) I must conversely acknowledge that there may also exist a genetic predisposition towards the oftentimes low bite thresholds, tremendous pain tolerance and one explosive grab, hold and sometimes shake often exhibited by APBTs towards other dogs. Perhaps DA is universal, but the way it manifests is what concerns me most. As opposed as I am to the breeding of APBTs right now, I am really interested in scientifically documenting an ethical breeding program specifically geared towards breeding APBTs with high bite thresholds towards other canines. I don't know where I was going with this but here I am.

Donna said...

Thank you Vincent.

I've never seen the 45lb dog vs the 100+ mastiff scenario you describe but have to imagine all sorts of crazy things go on between all sorts of dogs all the time. As you can guess, our work involves preventing dog-dog conflict so those sort of situations don't come up. But a friend has video-tape of a series of dog fights that have broken out at a doggy daycare where she works, and she reports that the grab and shake is rather common to most breeds, including huskies (I have seen this in my own husky), other terriers, and even a very offended golden retriever -- Of course the loser of any of those fights would be the smaller or weaker dog if no one breaks them up. But the blog was not about fight styles -- the blog was written to highlight ways that humans (shelters, in this situation) can cause a dog to to lose its dog tolerance.

A dog's individual bag of genetics will always play a factor in how easily triggered he is into conflict (and, as you pointed out - whether or not he'll stay handler-soft during a fight) -- but we have to remember that we humans control the triggers and we are also responsible when we take a dog tolerant dog and set him up to fail - whether it's in a dog park or a shelter. I'm keenly interested in helping shelters learn ways to improve dog tolerance in under-socialized dogs despite all odds because doing so allows us to open up better opportunities for these same animals.

To me, this is just common sense - although I understand it must be really hard to digest when so much literature that's out there tries to tell us that certain breeds are hard-wired to fail with other dogs. This obviously needs more discussion and we look forward to your feedback as we continue with these blog posts.

Anonymous said...

It's not accurate to say "dog aggression is inherent in the breed," because that would mean all pit bulls have a genetic predisposition to being dog aggressive, which is very clearly not true.

From what I have seen, though, dog aggression is inherent in a higher percentage of pit bulls than many other breeds of dog. I'm particularly referencing dogs with known histories that have been raised in good homes with an abundance of socialization.

Just as you get a higher percentage of Labs that have the natural desire to retrieve or a higher percentage of Queenslands that have the natural desire to herd because of their selective breeding histories, I have certainly seen a higher percentage of pitties that have dog aggression.

I've seen plenty of pit bulls without dog aggression, but it still seems to me that percentage-wise more pitties have a higher propensity toward same.

Anonymous said...

Hey Donna. On the topic of the blog post, I have to say, I've always thought about how amazing it is that animals _can_ be resilient in a shelter. Cats and dogs that are still willing to be friendly even after a total upheaval of their life? I'm always hoping for the day when there aren't so many animals in the shelter we have to ignore the not so happy animals. Sometimes it just takes a little time to settle down, and that's time that the average dog and cat doesn't have at most shelters _nationwide_. When learning the lessons of how hurtful a shelter can be to an animal's psyche, keep in mind even for the well behaved how much they go through and how resilient they can be. It's just amazing to me.

Hey, I'm not in the Bay Area any more but I saw this article while searching for stuff:

Have you heard of any of these bills? Know if any will pass (not that you have a crystal ball)?
-Charles S

dog training said...

that's really nice work done. lovelly.