Saturday, September 29, 2012
Why I Care About Pit Bulls
Fernando Camacho, a North Jersey dog trainer recently honored for his rescue work at Pets & Heroes, has been there. I asked him if he’d write a guest post about breed discrimination and pit bulls based on his personal and professional experience. So read on, then share your own opinion here or on Facebook:
About seven years ago, something happened that really surprised me. I was walking my dog, Hayley, through the park by my house on a beautiful summer day. Tons of families were out enjoying the day together, and kids were running and playing everywhere.
It wasn’t long before some of the kids spotted Hayley and ran over to us in excitement. They were all very polite and asked if they could pet her. Hayley is always up for making new friends, so I invited all the kids to come over and give her some love.
In an instant, Hayley was swarmed by a small pack of little people. Five boys and girls patted her head, stroked her neck and hugged her belly. Hayley tolerated all the aggressive petting as she always did, with a calm and quiet tolerance.
Soon, Hayley’s allure died down, and the kids began to disperse back into the park to play. As the children were leaving Hayley’s side, a new little girl approached with her mom in tow and asked if she, too, could pet my dog.
“Of course,” I said. The little girl began stroking Hayley’s head as I exchanged smiles with her mom.
After a moment, the mom asked, “What kind of dog is she?”
I happily replied, “She’s a pit bull.”
In an instant, her smile transformed into a shocked grimace and she quickly yanked her daughter away from Hayley. Her daughter’s questioning of why she was being taken away from this nice dog went unanswered as the pair backpedaled away.
That was the first of many experiences I would have with the misconceptions of pit bulls. Back then, I wasn’t a dog trainer and actually knew very little about the breed. All I knew was that I fell in love with Hayley the moment I met her, and that she’s a truly amazingly loving dog.
Years later, after many other similar encounters with people who have let media hype and hearsay — not personal experience and facts — shape their beliefs, I have realized that if any animal needs a hero, it’s pit bulls.
What really gets me fired up over the bad perception people have of pits is that most of these people have never, ever had any kind of face-to-face encounter with one. If you’re afraid of something you’ve never had experience with, it’s considered an irrational fear. And making decisions when you’re irrational is never a good idea.
The problem with listening to the media for information is that in addition to being sensationalized, it’s being reported on by people who have little or no knowledge of dogs. Go ask any dog behavior professional, and you’ll get some educated information to base your beliefs on. I have yet to meet a dog trainer who thought pit bulls were bad.
Physically, they are built like tanks and are incredibly strong. Because of this, they are equipped to do more damage than most other breeds. So if they do bite, they can cause much more damage.
But take it from someone who has worked with hundreds of dogs and been bitten more than a few times: Pits are not the ones doing most of the biting. They’re just the only breed newsworthy enough to make headlines. For some reason “Dachshund Attacks Ankle” never makes the ten o’clock news (Dachshunds, by the way, statistically bite more people and dogs than any other breed). According to the American Temperament Test Society, pit bulls actually score about the same as golden retrievers and standard poodles on temperament tests.
This is no surprise to me and other dog professionals — we have the ankles scars to prove this.
So here’s the deal: Pit bulls are no more dangerous then any other breed. Any dog can be trained to be a well-behaved lover of life, and any dog can be trained (intentionally or inadvertently) to be aggressive. Pits are just designed to do more damage when things go bad.
That’s why I believe that having a pit bull comes with a great responsibility to train them well and to show the world the real dog — the ultimate family dog that loves everyone with tongue-dripping enthusiasm.
All I really ask is that you don’t generalize and make assumptions of dogs you don’t know. Keep an open mind, stop watching the news and start meeting some pits. If you can do that, I guarantee you’ll have your kids hanging off my dog the next time I bump into you in the park.
Fernando Camacho (aka Fern) is certified in dog behavior and training, and owner and operator of his own training company, FernDog LLC. In addition to his private training and consultations, Fern teaches group dog classes, and conducts seminars throughout New Jersey and New York. He is an AKC Certified Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Evaluator, a Training Partner with the Best Friends Animal Society, created his own mentoring program where he instructs aspiring dog trainers, and this year launched his own online program to become a dog trainer, called Make Dogs Your Life. Fern is also involved in animal rescue and is the founder and director of the FernDog Rescue Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to aiding animal shelters and rescue groups. He is the author of two books: a dog behavior book, and a novel inspired by his own pit bull.