This seems like a no-brainer, but it deserves a brief discussion since a dog’s behavior is strongly affected by its environment, though not always in the way popular wisdom holds.
While our media gives dramatic reports of dog attacks, they often exclude important information about the manner in which the attacking dog was kept.
Family Pet or Guard Dog?
Dog attack researchers have observed that many of the dogs implicated in fatal attacks are not really kept as pets. For instance, around 25 percent of the dogs implicated in fatal attacks were tethered at the time of the attack. Karen Delise has observed that many attacking dogs are dogs obtained for the purpose of guarding or protection.
Consider, too, that many of the breeds and types of dogs commonly implicated in attacks are large, muscular dogs that are obtained as status symbols or guard dogs, not pets. “Pit bull”-type dogs and Rottweilers have a certain reputation; consequently, antisocial and dangerous owners are disproportionately attracted to these breeds. The environment they create for their dog, in turn, influences the dog’s behavior.
It is important to understand that dog owners decide what their dog is going to be used for. Though pit bulls are popularly thought of as fighting or guard dogs, responsible pit bull owners have produced not just pet pit bulls, but also champions in the fields of Shutzhund, tracking, agility, disc competition, and even herding. Marjorie Darby observes
“Perception. Expectation. Belief. They’re all so subjective. And all can pervert what we teach our dogs.”
Abuse of Certain Types of Dogs
Pet-Abuse.com is a registry of dog abuse cases throughout the United States and several other countries. The problem of pit bull abuse is so severe and unique that they have a separate category specifically for abuse cases involving “pit bull” type dogs. Overall abuse of “pit bull” type dogs makes up 20 percent of reports of dog abuse in their U.S. database. Of tethered dog abuse cases, “pit bull” type dogs make up 40 percent of the total.
With so many abuse cases involving “pit bull”-type dogs, why does it come as a surprise that “pit bull”-type dogs are so frequently implicated in dog bites and attacks?
But more to the point, considering how many “pit bulls” suffer at the hands of cruel masters, why aren’t even more “pit bulls” involved in attacks?
Fighting dogs are the least of a community’s worries when it comes to the dangers of dog fighting. Dog fighting also typically brings with it weapons, drugs, large amounts of cash, and some very dangerous people.
Dog fighters get their kicks out of watching two dogs tear each other apart. What does such an attraction to violence and cruelty say about a person’s sense of morality and humanity?
As for the dogs themselves, these dogs have often been trained and encouraged to exhibit strong species-specific aggression (aggression towards other dogs). Some of the less knowledgeable dog fighters, such as casual street fighters, also encourage the dog to exhibit aggression toward humans. These thugs typically abuse their dog in order to get the dog to exhibit aggression.
Fighting dogs that are still under the control of their abusive and dangerous owners can pose a threat to the public. However, it seems that this does not hold true for rescued fighting dogs.
Rescued Fighting Dogs
The high-profile fighting dog case involving Michael Vick provided ammunition to both people who support the rehabilitation of fighting dogs and people who oppose such rehabilitation. Some of Vick’s dogs were judged too aggressive toward other animals to re-enter mainstream society, and were placed in a refuge for the rest of their life. Others were judged safe, and were adopted out. Several of the adopted dogs are now making names for themselves as therapy dogs and Canine Good Citizens.
So are rescued fighting dogs safe, or not? As the Vick dogs proved, this population cannot be judged as a group, but each dog must be evaluated individually by competent professionals. Some fighting dogs can exhibit extreme aggression, while other fighting dogs can be managed.
Automatic euthanization of fighting dogs often takes place in communities where resources are too scarce to fund rehabilitation efforts. Michael Vick had a lot of money, and additionally, the public donated a significant amount of money to help the dogs in this high-profile case. Most other dog fighting cases simply do not receive the quantity of publicity that this case did.
Public sympathy toward victimized pit bulls is often shamefully deficient, with some individuals actually suggesting that pit bulls “deserve” such treatment. It is important to remember that fighting dogs do not choose to be placed in such an abusive environment, and that their owners force them into a kill-or-be-killed situation. Fighting dogs are victims, and it is a sad comment about our society when we further victimize them after extracting them from a fighting operation.
To create a more humane community, that community must be willing to do what it takes to put a stop to dog fighting. Additionally, the community must work to stop the cycle of abuse that fighting dogs endure even after being “rescued” from a fighting operation.
To achieve a safer and more humane community, abuse and dog fighting are two practices which must be of primary concern to animal control and police departments. Sadly, resources to tackle these two serious issues are often lacking.
Karen Delise writes:
“Only when, and if, society becomes committed to applying the energy and resources needed to actively and forcefully penalize dog fighters and animal abusers can there be any hope of reducing aggressive dogs in the community.”
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