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Mark Belling is Wrong about Pit Bulls

By Aaron Rodriguez

Pit bull While channel surfing the AM frequencies on Monday, I caught a snippet of WISN's very own Mark Belling talking about Pit Bulls. To my amazement, I heard Belling endorse South Milwaukee's ban on Pit Bulls suggesting the breed was not only inherently violent but altogether worthless. I was surprised because Belling usually gives an informed and cogent commentary on local issues. However, even strong thinkers have their limitations.

1. Mark Belling's Unprincipled Position

I expected Belling to take a more principled approach to banning dogs like he does on banning guns. In one of Belling's articles, he stated

The cliche that "guns don’t kill people, people kill people" sounds trite but the peace of the Wisconsin deer hunt proves its truth. The shooting gallery in Milwaukee’s central city and near south side has nothing to do with access to guns and everything to do with a breakdown of culture.
Belling's point is based upon a clear and faultless logic that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

My position on dog control is based upon similar grounds. Whether intentional or unintentional, dogs are a direct product of their masters. Watching just a few episodes of the “Dog Whisperer” should make it clear that Cesar Millan rehabilitates unruly dogs by “undoing” the damaging effects of their owners. To use Belling's phraseology, Pit Bull attacks have nothing to do with access to Pit Bulls and everything to do with a breakdown in how they are raised.

But in all fairness, I can see the direction of Belling’s point. He thinks that Pit Bulls are naturally more prone to violence due their nefarious breeding history. His point is further bolstered by frequent and disproportionate reports of Pit Bull attacks across the country. Thus, it would appear then that the gun analogy wouldn't really work here since nobody is suggesting that guns, due to breeding history, are inherently violent or evil. However, Belling's theory that Pit Bulls have an inherent quality of viciousness isn't supported by dog experts either.

For example, if you are looking for a good guard dog, you are better off with a German Shepherd. The reason is that Pit Bulls are much more likely to lick a stranger’s hand than to bite it. Dog experts say that Pit Bulls have a naturally strong desire to please humans, and unless trained to do so, their natural aggression is aimed mostly at other dogs, more specifically at members of the same gender and breed.

2. If Pit Bulls are not more inherently vicious than other dogs, then why all the hysteria?

It's a matter of learned behavior. Pit Bulls learn to be aggressive in two distinct ways: either they are mismanaged by an owner who confuses dog psychology for human psychology, or they are deliberately trained to be violent by malicious owners. By nature, Pit Bull Terriers are “pack leaders”, they like to be in control. And here is where some of the problems emerge. Pit Bulls are strong willed dogs, and therefore they require a strong hand of leadership. When owners pamper their dogs and treat them like they have human emotions, they can become psychologically unbalanced and unruly. This doesn't mean they are naturally vicious, but rather they are natural pack leaders. It is important to understand that this is not the dog’s fault.

athletic pit bull Part of the hysteria is that Pit Bulls are intimidating. Their medium size and solid wide gait make them very versatile for defensive maneuvering, and their muscular neck and powerful jaws provide an excellent capacity for attack. Although Pit Bulls don't have a "locking jaw" as widely rumored, this myth has been perpetuated by their absolute unwillingness to relent. No dog in the canine kingdom rivals their level of tenacity or sheer will. Unfortunately, these unique attributes make Pit Bulls a prized possession and a symbol of power for incompetent owners. And this has led to mass neglect, dog fighting, and a tarnished image.

However, banning Pit Bulls from a city is not the answer. It is an over-reaction based upon misdirected fear - like swinging a sledgehammer at a pestering bee. I would suggest that all municipalities start by increasing regulatory restrictions on Pit Bull ownership, thus focusing the attention on owners, not their dogs.

Unlike South Milwaukee, Cudahy’s Common Council made a prudent choice toward progress. Although they mistakenly contributed to the hysteria by defining Pit Bull Terriers as “dangerous animals”, they now require them to be licensed and proper confined. This is a step in the right direction; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Interestingly, the Cudahy Council rejected an amendment that required Pit Bull owners to attend “dog behavior” class. I believe this is one of the better ideas suggested, and it would help reduce dog biting incidents. Remember, a dog training class is more about training the owner how to be a pack leader than it is training the dog to be a pack follower.

3. Legislating Pit Bulls out of Fear

Mark Belling has accepted the widely spread myth that Pit Bulls are naturally inclined to be vicious. This myth has been perpetuated by an undeniable statistical prevalence of Pit Bull attacks. And although reports indicate a greater prevalence of Pit Bull attacks than any other single dog breed, the numbers are often read out of context.

Three basic facts account for the disproportional statistics.

First, media sensationalism contributes to inflated numbers. Media outlets often use the designation “Pit Bull” to headline their stories on dog attacks. Some journalists have admitted to airing stories without actually verifying the staring breed of their storyline.

Second, ignorance of a Pit Bull's identifying characteristics have also contributed to inflated numbers. The “Bully” breed includes more than dozen different kinds of dog like Boxers and Bull Mastiffs. And some of these dogs like the "Dogo Argentino", the "Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog", and the "American Bulldog" look so similar to Pit Bulls that they can even confuse Pit Bull owners from a distance.

And third, Pit Bulls are more likely to fall into the hands of ill-prepared or malicious owners than any other breed. Right now, the over-breeding problem is so bad with Pit Bulls, they represent one-third of all stray dogs brought into the Human Society nation-wide. This is a serious problem and probably the most pertinent fact underscoring the nation-wide statistics on Pit Bulls.

Final Thoughts on Pit Bulls

We need to make laws that address the responsible ownership of Pit Bull Terriers, and not legislate in such a way as to propagate the myth that Pit Bulls are inherently more violent than any other breed. Simple regulations like licensing, confinement, posting a "beware of dog" sign, or even keeping a dog collared will go a long way reducing attack incidents.

Comments (4)
  • andy

    i have a pit bull that is 2 years old, and he is more harm to himself than other dogs, he has never attacked another dog in his life, but has been attacked by many as you would call family pets with responsable owners,
    its all crap your dog will behave however you let it im 20 years old and live on my own and have never own a dog, before this one and he is well behaved. and as for pit bulls attacking kids, its a dog whatever one it is they are animals and can be very unpredictive and shound never be left aloan with a kid whaterer breed they are

  • rajne

    hey i love looking at pitbulls but id haye to get atacked by one , they are very dangerous

  • fullmoonfever  - pit bulls

    I am 51 & have always had lab mixes, altho some think my current 1 yr. old dog that i just acquired may have some pit in her (i don't know & actually not sure i want to know). I agree with Andy that any dog can be unpredictable. Altho i do believe there is some truth to certain breeds being more protective, this can be misconstrued as a violent dog that likes to attack. If a dog is protecting you, it wouldn't matter the breed. For years, German Shepherds were the dogs everyone was afraid of. I think alot of it is how you treat the dog; if you abuse it or teach it to fight, well, then there you go. I give my dogs lots of love, play with them & yet am stern with them in discipline w/o resorting to violence. And i believe they respect that. My 13 yr old lab mix is the best dog i've ever had & ever seen! She minds like no other dog ever. I believe she may have a bit of terrier in her, & i would suspect, she could have been made to be mean if someone had pushed her in that direction. But she is just an all-around excellent dog--minding & temperament. The new dog, she is well-minding, I'm her 3rd owner & last. This dog will not be pushed around anymore. I will make sure she has positive reinforcements & always treated with love, in case she is part pit, & someone does comment someday to me that she is, i will say, if she is, she is sweet, loving & likes to give kisses! (Which she does!) I think whatever the breed, in a larger breed, like Andy said, don't leave them with kids. It's a rare dog that could be alone with a child; i had one lab mix that passed in '99 that could've been with a baby & never hurt it, but she was a rarity. Just my thoughts on the subject. But since pit bulls have been the dog to train to fight, maybe we need the owners to prove their capability with these dogs by signing something stating that this dog will not be used or taught anything violent. And if something ever did happen, that person would be held legally responsible for any injuries or deaths of people or animals. Maybe that would deter some of this horrible training people are doing to the pitbulls.

  • Anonymous  - I have this hammer...

    I have this hammer. It works really great as a hammer, but I like to use it for a toothpick instead. I just hope it never slips and knocks out one of my teeth.
    The above analogy is exactly what your idiot brain is thinking in terms of pit-bulls. You think a pit-bull is taught to be mean? IT'S A ******* PIT_BULL! It was made to kill. You can't change that!
    I'm having trouble thinking of how to explain this to you because I can think of a million idiot excuses you'll have. Have you ever looked at the bite statistics for pit bulls? Most deaths by dog are from pit-bulls killing children, and the owners always swear up and down..."oh, I just can't believe it...he/she was such a sweet little dog!" SHUT THE **** UP AND GROW A BRAIN. Pit bull owners are by and far the most ignorant people when it comes to dog behavior, breeding, and training.
    How about the pounds per square inch their jaws are capable of? Ever looked at pictures of what a pit bull does to a small child when it kills it? If you have a pit-bull, you have a dog that was bred to fight. You can't take that out of that breed. If you did, it wouldn't be a pit-bull.

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