Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Should pit bulls be profiled?

An article published quite some time ago remains meaningful to those in the dog world  who advocate for pitbulls.

In 2006 in the New Yorker Magazine: Troublemakers: What pit bulls can teach us about profiling, The New Yorker February 6th, 2006.

Specifically, the article addresses the much-publicized problem with pitbull attacks, and how to identify those pit bulls that are most likely to attack. The author raises the the following question: If profiling is needed because of the supposed dangerous nature of this breed, then should it be done based on the individual characteristics of a dog, or should it be based on broad, general breed characteristics? This is a controversial issue which often places the policies of lawmakers in conflict with those who favor the breed.

If profiling is needed, then how should it be done? The author uses the analogy of the methds used for screening potential terrorists. For this purpose, he notes that New York City uses specific criteria in profiling a potential terrorist, rather than general characteristics such a person’s race or gender. The argument is made that this same model should be used to screen out potentially dangerous pit bulls. Unfortunately, as the author notes, condemning a breed as a whole is the easiest way out for many municipalities in their attempts to deal with public concern often fueled by much-publicized pit bull maulings.

The intent of the article is not to make recommendations with regard to what specific factors to utilize for profiling purposes, but the author does mention such obvious ones as past aggressive history, gender, reproductive status, how the dog is maintained, and owner responsibility. I add to this by noting that these factors cannot be used in isolation but rather in combination and in a composite manner to identify potentially dangerous individuals.

The value of this article is not in that it raises the issue of how to deal with dangerous pit bulls, but rather in the fact that it draws the analogy with the profiling of potential terrorists. If government uses a model of specificity to weed out terrorists, then would it not be reasonable to apply a model of specificity for use with pit bull terriers? Many governments seem hypocritical in that they use one standard for terrorist and imply another standard to pit bulls. And further note that even if a model using specificity is applied, then there is the problem that it could be applied to the wrong breed of dog because other breeds of dog are often mistaken as being “pit bull.” Note, there is no breed of dog such as a pit bull; the term is used descriptively as breed marker based on physical characteristics. And note further that in some municipalities in Florida using physical characteristics to identify breed is no longer allowed. The interested reader should visit another page on this website which allows testing one’s skills in breed identification.

The fiercely contested debate over breed-specific legislation continues despite recent scientific findings that demonstrate breed-specific legislation does not reduce the instances of people being attacked by dogs, that even removing a large number of pit bulls from apopulation will not necessarily reduce the number of pit bull attacks, and the widespread belief amongst animal behaviorists that the disproportionately high number of human dog bite fatalities involving pit bulls result from lack of owner responsibility


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