Pit bulls and reputations as self-fulfilling prophecies

by gm99 • Posted in: Awareness/ PR

In the last post, I wrote that even if we could get reliable data, they still wouldn’t prove that a certain breed is inherently aggressive.  Why is that?

Bad owners will seek out and obtain dogs with bad reputations and will raise dogs to be aggressive. And while bad owners are seeking out this breed, the average owner is not.

Once a breed gets a bad reputation, the proportion of that breed belonging to bad owners shoots up. In my next post, I’ll write about the strong data that exists about how to raise an aggressive dog.

In her book, Ms. Delise traces dog breeds and their reputations back to the 1800’s.  Throughout this history, society has demonized breeds.  Some kind of trigger event(s) will cause hysteria and myths to be born (“they don’t feel pain”, “they have locking jaws”, etc).  Before the trigger events, there is very little evidence of attacks from that breed.  But after the events, reported attacks increase because bad owners have sought out the newest “killer” breed. (And there is plenty of hysteria and erroneous reporting in the media, but more on the media in a later post.)  Eventually, society will come up with a newer, “more dangerous” breed and reported attacks from that first breed will then decrease dramatically as bad owners move on to the new breed.

In the 1800’s, Uncle Tom plays became incredibly popular.  Part of the story in these plays were savage dogs who were released by their owners to hunt down and attack slaves who tried to escape.   In fact, some plays even  added live dogs to the show.   The breed of these dogs was the Bloodhound.  The dogs in these plays terrified crowds and as a result, the Bloodhound in the 1800’s  probably became as feared, hated, and misunderstood as much as the pit bull today.  One myth of the Bloodhound was that they were named for their insatiable desire for blood.  Once that reputation was set, reported attacks from that breed skyrocketed.

Bloodhounds were eventually replaced by a new breed and today most people are shocked to learn about their reputation over 100 years ago.  Once their bad reputation went away, their reports of attacks plummeted.  Newfoundlands, German Shepherds, Dobermans are some other breeds who also suffered the same cycle:

no or few attacks by breed A -> trigger event(s) for breed A -> lots of reported attacks by breed A -> trigger event(s) for breed B -> attacks by breed A stop and are replaced by lots of reported attacks by breed B.

(All of the information in this post comes from THE PIT BULL PLACEBO: THE MEDIA MYTHS AND POLITICS OF CANINE AGGRESSION.)

One Response to "Pit bulls and reputations as self-fulfilling prophecies"

  1. authorsays: October 21, 2009 at 10:09 am

    In my experience, a dog is virtually a mirror of his or her human. If you have a mean, aggressive, dominant owner, you will likely have a mean, dominant, aggressive dog; regardless of the breed. The public likes to buy into the hype, and it doesn’t make a good story when there’s a happy ending. Unfortunately, I think we will always be fighting the “aggressive” breed stigma’s. Just keep fighting the good fight, and stay positive. Thank you for your post!