Pit Bull
April 10, 2020 11:26 AM - by Dickey, Bronwen - Subscribe

When Bronwen Dickey brought her new dog home, she saw no traces of the infamous viciousness in her affectionate pit bull. Which made her wonder: How had the breed—beloved by Teddy Roosevelt and Helen Keller—come to be known as a brutal fighter? Dickey’s search for answers takes her from nineteenth-century New York dogfighting pits to early twentieth‑century movie sets, from the battlefields of Gettysburg to struggling urban neighborhoods. In this illuminating story of how a popular breed became demonized--and what role humans have played in the transformation--Dickey offers us an insightful view of Americans' relationship with their dogs.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a great book and a good myth buster to give someone to read if they're the type to spread anti-bully breed propaganda while claiming to love dogs. It's meticulously researched and an in depth look at how a dog once touted as "America's breed!" could fall to such lows in the eyes of (white) America. Two conclusions can be derived from this book- One: with the exception of the rare pure breed- the vast majority of "pit bulls" are nothing of the sort- they're mutts. Now that we can DNA test dogs, we're finding that it turns out when a bunch of street dogs have babies over generations the "pit bull look" is one of the ways multiple breeds of dogs mashed together look like. The vast majority of "Pit Bull Terriers" in pounds are majority Lab and Shepherd! Therefore the prejudice against Pit Bulls is really a prejudice against mixed breeds. Which leads us into the second conclusion, which is that like everything in America, quite a lot of the hysterics about the "dangerous pit bull" is in fact racism against their owners. The book shows how long ago it was the evil German Spitz dog that was considered the most dangerous breed- the evil dangerous biting rabies carrying Spitz being... The Pomeranian. A good read about good dogs- because they're all good dogs, even the evil bitey Spitz sent to pollute our shores from the Kaiser himself!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

HN, would love to know if the book addresses something I heard - that pit bulls just really really want to please their humans so much, that if their human is encouraging them to be mean and nasty they go along with it in an effort to win their human's approval.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on April 15, 2020

Well that's true and false- because the really *isn't* a breed called a pit bull. Unless you're talking about the rare purebred one from a breeder, the book uncovers that the vast vast majority of "pit bulls" or "bully breeds" when they have the DNA tested are just mutts. *Mutts* like most dogs really really really want to please their humans and *dogs in general* will be nasty if trained to be. And in all dogs you can have an animal that is born aggressive no matter the breed. Basically even among purebreds the idea of behavior classification (this dog does this that dog does that) is really fraught because you can have the most purebred labrador retriever ever- and he might not retrieve! In a dog that's not so inbred, it really really really comes down to how it's trained, which is also true for the purebred dog! And it's not that there *aren't* certain kinds of dogs bred to be guards or hunters or herders that wouldn't be very suitable for kids- but even then depending on how you train it and it's individual personality you might end up with the laziest sweetest no-prey drive German Shepherd ever who just wants to let your kids dress him up. (though it's more *likely* you end up with a dog that'll chew up the baseboards and maybe you if you don't give him 2 hour walks every day and give him a job)

Most classifications of dogs that are not insanely purebred are basically just-so stories. To classify a "pit bull" as having a trait or not makes little sense unless you have observed said trait because classifying dogs based on how they look in absence of breeding papers (and even then) is as futile and problematic as doing it with people- and in the case of pit bulls (and earlier dogs like Rotties or even earlier Spitzes) often comes from the same well of racism/xenophobia against people. (X dog was bred in X country and therefore has the same traits as the X people- in the case of the Spitz) (Y dog is bad because it's owned mostly by Y group and Y group is bad- in the case of Pit Bulls and Rotties)

Basically- dogs are dogs. Some dogs can be bitey and aggressive, but it almost always is due to the individual dog. Some purebreds can have a tendency towards that behavior regardless of training, but in the case of the "pit bull" you find all over America, 90 percent or more of those dogs aren't an actual breed but therefore a mutt and so all tendencies go out the window. Which is why breed specific legislation is just so unscientific and silly, and often has more to do with racism and classism then any actual statistics or safety of people and pets.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:30 AM on April 15, 2020

I read this book a few months ago and absolutely loved it! It was very thoroughly researched but also full of personal anecdotes.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 10:37 AM on May 7, 2020

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