Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fighting Dogs

Pit Bull type dogs that are found near a fight bust are often inaccurately labeled as fighting dogs. Often times this does not accurately reveal the true history of such a dog. Sometimes the dog isn’t always the perpetrator but rather in many cases it’s the victim. Sometimes neither label is true and it was not used for fighting at all.

This misconception is a direct result of the media hype over pits. Many do not realize that the Pit Bull is not the only type of dog with a fighting background. Many “common” breeds also have fighting breeds in their lineage.  However, we don’t hear about those as much in the news. The sad truth is the misidentification and misunderstanding taints this amazing dog.

What needs to be realized is that just because a Pit Bull may have been fought in the past it doesn’t mean that it’s more dog reactive then one that has not. The Terrier generally has less toleration for other dogs.

This trait is exploited in the dog fighting world. Dogs of any breed and in any setting can be set up to react in a defensive manner. If an owner put them into a setting where they feel defensive they will react. If they are then rewarded for such a reaction they can and will become conditioned to do so. The dog is then trained to always react in a given manner.

However, dogs saved from this way of life may not be anymore dog on dog aggressive then those that have never fought. Much depends on how often that dog has been fought and reinforced for doing so. Also how much the Terrier trait displayed in that dog’s behavior. This is an individual thing. Each dog is different and should be treated accordingly. Good dog management and positive leadership combined with socialization and training are key for curbing negative behavior.

Throughout history dogs used in fighting rings have had close contact with humans. They were often accompanied in the ring by their handlers. During the fights they were routinely pulled from the fray. After the fights they would handle the dogs and even treat their wounds. Therefore if they redirected their attention in an aggressive manner toward the handler or were deemed too aggressive it was not tolerated. They would not be used in future breeding. This type of handling necessitated a very human responsive human friendly breed of dog.

Dog reactivity varies widely within this breed and various others. Therefore they must not be judged by breed but on individual temperament.

It’s common knowledge among the rescue world that there’s some dogs rescued from busts that have no reaction to other dogs.  While others in shelters from non bust backgrounds that have reactivity to other dogs. Some dogs have had such abusive pasts that they’re damaged beyond rehabilitation and are never suitable for adoption no matter the background. This is an important thing to remember. Whether that dog has been put into a fight ring or not it may or may not have issues with other dogs.

For example dogs that are left outside day after day (usually chained) and have had little to no socialization with other dogs or humans can be so damaged that they can and do react in a negative manner.  Dogs that come from these backgrounds or from a fight ring should be assessed properly. Not until they are fully evaluated should it be decided whether they are adoptable.

It has been said that dogs taken from fighting rings can never lead a normal life. This has been proven to be untrue. Pit Bulls are amazingly resilient dogs. Many have been saved from the fighting life and have gone onto live in homes with other dogs, animals, and even children. In fact it’s often said by those that rescue bust dogs that they are some of the best dogs. They are willing to please and love all types of people.

Dog aggression and human aggression behaviors are not related. These wonderful dogs can be loving and safe companions. They just need socialization, training, and responsible owners as does any dog. Pit Bulls respond extremely well to behavior modification. Since they truly want to please their people even dog reactivity can be manageable.

Whether the dog is a Pit Bull or any other kind of dog the same rules should apply.  Responsible ownership is key. All dogs should have supervised play sessions. They should never be left unattended. Dogs of any breed in a multi dog household should always be separated when left home alone.

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