Dog bite expert & animal behavior specialist

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Dr. Richard Polsky - The Dog Expert

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Pit Bulls, Poor Breeding & Standard of Care

Expert Pit Bull BehaviorI read the article in the San Francisco Gate about a recent dog bite fatality involving a pit bull and your quoted statement that a “higher standard of care for certain dogs, like pit bulls, may be needed.” To me, this seems similar to the sport bike or “crotch rocket” analogy. These bikes are for the skilled rider and are too much bike for most people. Without proper training they are easy to flip and crash. But with proper training, these bikes are extremely fun for some people. The pit bull is the same.

Chris V. , San Francisco

Response from Dr. Polsky: The problem most American communities face with the so-called “pit bull” problem is that the population of these kinds of dogs have markedly increased over the last 20 years. Thus in the current American population we have many poorly bred pit bulls, and consequently the behavioral tendencies of many of these dogs deviate markedly from the standard from which this breed was first developed. This standard calls for a behavioral genotype favoring docility towards humans and aggressiveness towards dogs. Many pit bulls are poorly bred and therefore deviate markedly from this standard.

Shelters are overrun with poorly bred pit bull type dogs. In recent years, the practice among some has been to breed a pitbull type dog with a mastiff type dog with the intent of producing individuals who are larger and who possess aggressive inclinations. This may have been the case for the dog involved in a California dog bite fatality in August 2011. This was a “family” dog, identified as a 125 pound pit bull, but the standard for a purebred American Staffordshire Terrier or the American pitbull Terrier calls for a dog approximately half this size.

Obviously, poor breeding practices, and breeding for the wrong reasons by irresponsible individuals, backyard breeders, or breeders who lack competence are the cause for this pervasive problem. Poorly bred pit bulls are produced, and these dogs markedly deviate from the standard from which the breed was developed. Unfortunately, these dogs now make up a good portion of the overall pitbull population in any given American community, particularly in inner-city urban environments.

Given this, if one does not know the background of a particular pit bull type dog, for example, the pit bull which is adopted from the shelter or found on the street, or if the individual is from a poorly bred line, or if the individual is encouraged to display aggressive behavior and not socialized or trained properly, then caution is needed on keeping this kind of dog. A higher standard of care is required by the owner/keeper. This however does not necessitate the need for breed-specific legislation because:

(1) Not all pit bulls are dangerous by nature;

(2) The implementation of breed specific legislation is impractical and largely ineffective;

(3) Many poorly bred pit bulls, or pit bulls used for the wrong purposes, can be rehabilitated through proper training and socialization, as in the case of the dogs owned by Michael Vick.