The author’s study shows pit bulls’ natural habitat is the bed and breed-specific behavior is cuddling
By Anna MacNeil (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)
My heart was stolen by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier 17 years ago – a brindle ball of muscle we called Buster Brown. (photo right)
Breed-discriminatory legislation overshadowed our community, transforming me into a pit bull type dog guardian.
Media reports whittled at my peace of mind. Laying on his bed, barely raising an eyebrow, Buster was a threat to no one. Do I have the only sweet, tolerant pit bull in the world, I wondered? Or are there other pit bulls like Buster, living in sub-standard conditions? My heart broke. I needed to know the answer.
At my university, I visited campus libraries expecting to delve into a pool of pit bull literature. Instead, I found myself ankle deep in a mud puddle. There was nothing substantial!
The first handful of papers described seized fighting dogs or tallied bites from hospital reports or newspaper articles of dogs of unknown origin. The second handful described the flaws and weaknesses of the first bunch.
How could a global breed discrimination movement be launched from such a crippled body of knowledge?
I knew what was needed: a hands-on approach for gathering details on each dog, guardian and environment, and a control group for comparisons.
In The University of British Columbia’s Animal Welfare Program, my study began to take shape.
Shelter pit bulls were the perfect subjects. They had a variation of genetics and environments, and fit the breed-discriminatory definition of pit bull type dogs.
(photo above and below by Melissa Lipani)
As (82) dogs entered the shelter, they were placed in either the pit bull group or the control group of other breeds (similar size, age and coat length).
Aggressive behavior was measured at three points in the journey: in the shelter by euthanasia rate (for biting), by return rate for aggression and across 10 aggression-eliciting scenarios in the adoptive environment.
A questionnaire was used to guide face-to-face interviews in the adoptive home, exploring details of the dog, guardian and environment.
Pit Bull Guardians
The interviews revealed a unique pit bull guardian. They intended on adopting a different breed, but were wooed by a pit bull. They were average dog guardians who just happen to have a pit bull.
Further investigation showed that these pit bull adopters provided the same home life for their dogs as the other breed adopters. Dogs were acquired for companionship, lived indoors, were alone less than four hours a day, and had regular playtime and exercise with their families. Pit bull guardians were slightly more likely to take their dogs to the dog park (p<0.10).
This provided the perfect environment to study the behavior of pit bulls. Similar environments could neutralize typical environmental effects and expose any real breed-specific behavior.
What the Study Revealed
A new profile of pit bulls emerged from the study: They were not more aggressive than the other breeds. Pit bulls were more likely to sleep on the bed [62% vs. 16%, p<0.05], more likely to cuddle with their owners (p<0.05), and less likely to show aggression to their owners (p<0.10) – three things associated with strong human-animal bonds. Pit bulls were more likely to pull on the leash (p<0.05).
There was no difference in the number of dogs euthanized at the shelter due to aggression. Likewise, there was no significant difference between groups for aggression to strangers, other dogs, cats, children under 12, skateboarders/cyclists, joggers, over food, when stepped over, or when moved while sleeping.
There was, however, a trend for the other breeds group to be returned for aggression (p<0.02). For those still in the home, there was a slight trend for the other breeds group to show aggression to their guardians (p<0.10).
Seven bites were inflicted on people: one by a pit bull, which did not break the skin, and six by the other breed group, four breaking the skin.
Keep in mind: No participants were informed that the study was pit bull specific!
The pit bull adopters have characteristics associated with strong attachments to pets. They were younger (under 30), tending to rent (rather than own) and adopting the first dog of their own (aside from family dogs). Strong bonds have been attributed to young adults (Roll et al., 1997) without children that live singly (Albert and Bulcroft, 1987, 1988, and Turner, 2001), and have previous experience with dogs (Serpell, 1996).
(photo by Melissa Lipani)
Strongly attached owners: 1) will overlook undesirable behavior (chewing and pulling on leash) (Staats et al., 1996); 2) are less likely to relinquish pets due to housing issues (our pit bull adopters are renters) (Shore et al., 2003); 3) regularly visit veterinarians and buy pet insurance; 4) enjoy walking and spending time with their dog; and 5) are more content with their dog’s characteristics (Ledger, 2000) (Endenburg et al.,1994) (Patronek et al., 1996).
The unintentional (unexpected?) pit bull adopter and shelter pit bulls came together to create a super attachment!
Average Pit Bulls in Average Homes are Average Dogs
This study provides the much needed evidence proving that pit bull type dogs do not harbor genetic aggression. Otherwise, we would have seen aggression in the neutral home environment. Thus, legislation should focus on the environment and irresponsible owners.
His muzzle now grey, a handsome Elderbull, Buster suggests a new breed-specific law to ensure that pit bulls be allowed to sleep on the bed! (photo below)