Animal Behavior

I saw a segment on the Daily Show recently about pit bulls:

Tia Torres on Daily Show

Jon and Tia discussed how sweet these dogs are, and it reminded me of the Facebook never ending meme of the same idea.

These are ridiculous and dangerous ideas to disseminate.

Have you seen the adorable photos of the polar bears playing with chained up sled dogs?  There’s even a National Geographic video about it:  Polar Bears and Sled Dogs

But often, the dogs get EATEN by the bears.  Of course.  Someone who lives near the man featured in that NatGeo video wrote a counterpoint:  http://mytraveltales.com/2008/11/13/update-on-polar-bears-and-dogs/

Most of the sled dog companies here lose no more than 1-2 dogs per year (usually due to the elements or illness).  The man who owns that property for “bear tours” loses an average of 20 dogs per year — all due to bear attacks.

What does this have to do with pit bulls?  Polar bears are wild animals, and pit bulls are domesticated pets, right?

Yes.   All animals have 2 influences on their behavior:  Instinct, or the behaviors they are inclined to exhibit due to their genetics, and training, or the behaviors they learn from their environment.  Training in wild animals mainly takes the form of what we call bad habits – eating out of garbage cans, or frequenting areas where people leave a food source.  There is also Sea World, circuses, etc, where animals are trained in the more traditional sense.

Domesticated animals are generally unable to live without people to provide them with food, shelter, medical care, etc.  But they still have those 2 influences on their behavior.  And people have modified the genetic side of behaviors through animal husbandry.  This means that if you hook up a draft horse to something heavy, it is going to pull.  If you have ever seen a horse pull, you know that those horses don’t pull because they are afraid of the trainer, or looking for a treat, or anything else.  They love it.  Watch racehorses that are put out to pasture.  Even young weanlings.  What do they do for fun?  They race each other.  All day long.

I have never tried to train my Jack Russell terrier to do anything other than come when called.  But if she smells a rodent, there is no way to stop her.  She will kill it at the first opportunity, and chase it anywhere, down any hole, to get to it.  My springer spaniel?  Not interested in the rodents.  But she will run after anything that is flying.  She bites at flies.  Follows butterflies around.  Chases turkeys.  Not really trying to catch them (and always surprised when she ends up with an insect in her mouth).  And she seems unable to deliver a hard bite.  Even when she tries to help out the JRT with a groundhog, she often ends up with it hanging from her lip.  Then she goes home!

So, what is going to happen with a dog that is likely to have been bred to fight other dogs?  Well, I would suspect that dog would be born with a tendency to get into dog fights.  What about its behavior toward people?  I guess it depends, if you are a person who believes that dogs think all other animals are dogs, then a pit bull might seem even more dangerous than it does to me.  Personally, I just think that these dogs are more likely than non-fighting bred dogs to behave in an aggressive manner or to react to aggression with its own aggression, and what is even more important, I think that once a pit bull starts to behave in an aggressive manner, it’s not going to stop until it is physically restrained.

In addition to the logic for why pit bulls really can, and by human intention, should be the most aggressive breed, there are the statistics, from DogsBite.org (note:  this is an anti-pit bull group):

By compiling U.S. and Canadian press accounts between 1982 and 2013, Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, shows the breeds most responsible for serious injury and death.

The combination of molosser breeds, including pit bulls, curs, rottweilers, presa canarios, cane corsos, mastiffs, dogo argentinos, fila brasieros, sharpeis, boxers, and their mixes, inflict:

  • 81% of attacks that induce bodily harm

  • 76% of attacks to children

  • 87% of attack to adults

  • 72% of attacks that result in fatalities

  • 81% that result in maiming

  • Embody 9.2%+ of the total dog population

The ASPCA acknowledges the problem, but advises that each dog should be treated as an individual.

It seems to me that people should be encouraged to spay and neuter their pit bull type dogs, and not to pay a breeder to obtain one.  Breeding of dogs with these characteristics should be discouraged, not by law, but by society.  The breed should die out from lack of interest.

Oh, and just for the record, what Tia Torres is actually doing is a great thing.  She spays or neuters EVERY dog she takes in.  And her support for parolees is also a wonderful and humanitarian thing to do.  It’s just all the “sweet pit bull” talk that is objectionable, in my book.

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