Sunday, December 2, 2012

Beyond the Image

Things have been a little hectic lately with the addition of our daughter, but I've somehow managed to find time to continue being as stubborn and determined as ever in my attempts to help educate our community. I'm happy to say that with the help of some friends (and by way of a few miracles) I'll be hosting a showing of the enlightening film, Beyond the Myth on Wednesday. The maker of the film, Libby Sherrill, will be attending. If you are anywhere near Owensboro, KY and haven't seen it yet, I encourage you to join us. There are still tickets available for purchase at the following link:

This film does a remarkable job of putting our current "pit bull crisis" into perspective and I believe every dog lover (or hater) should take the time to watch it. However, there are some other issues that I'd like to touch on in a bit more detail regarding the plight of the bully breeds.

Over the years I've observed a steadily growing number of trainers coming out of the woodwork to "specialize in aggression" or "rehabilitate difficult dogs." You almost always see them next to a pit bull or other commonly-discriminated breed; usually several of them, actually. And they often portray a very "tough" image. Now, before my readers get too offended I want to point out that it's not the look of these trainers themselves that upsets me. Trainers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. There is no dress code involved in being a dog trainer. My concern is the image of the dogs they are using to help promote their business.

No matter which facet of "the pit bull problem" you're looking at, it ultimately boils down to one thing: image. The people creating breed bans and fostering the idea that these dogs are born killers see them as inherently evil. The sight of a pit bull to someone who has never worked with them regularly elicits fear or anxiety. Why? Because the media tends to focus on any tidbit of negative information they can find. And why is that? Because it sells. Pit bulls are regarded as rugged, tough, aggressive dogs.

The pit bull image sells a lot. It sells news stories, rap albums, countless backyard-bred puppies and yes... the pit bull image even sells training. You may not have consciously stopped to think about it before but the fact of the matter is, people tend to extend a certain amount of respect toward someone who regularly works with bully breeds. Why? Because people truly believe that they are tougher to handle than other dogs.

Before we can fix this, we must first recognize that it isn't the truth. A pit bull responds to the same exact training as a maltese or a great dane. A pit bull with aggression issues responds to the same exact training as a collie or golden retriever with aggression issues. Period. You do not have to be heavy-handed with any of these breeds. You don't need to shock or prong your way to obedience by any means. And no, [Alpha Trainer], you do not need to teach a four month old pit bull puppy to fear you in order to keep it from growing up aggressive. It needs socialization communication, understanding, and proper training just like a beagle puppy would.

My point is this: Pit bulls are not inherently evil and they absolutely need our help. Your goal may be to train (or as some people call it, "rehabilitate") them in an effort to help but if you don't focus on their image in the process you are ultimately doing more harm than good.

Toss the spiked collars, the prong collars, and the temptation to use the pit's misfortune to boost your own popularity. Allowing people to believe that you're special for being capable of living with or training pit bulls only feeds into the belief that there is something wrong or especially dangerous about the pit bull to begin with.

My goal in 2013 is to help more pit bulls/bully breeds get on their way to CGC titles, therapy work, and positive public appearances. I've already seen them do remarkable things and my community needs to see the same. They are capable, willing, and deserving of the same humane treatment that all breeds should enjoy. Until more people agree with this, we as dog lovers and trainers really need to remain hyper-aware of how we're presenting them to the public.