“Pit Bull” Dog Advocates: Is the Info You Share Hurting or Helping?

What happens when animal advocates promote “pit bull” dogs for adoption and advocate for their fair treatment while ALSO communicating outdated, fear-inducing information about the very same dogs?

Answer: You wind up hurting the dogs you’re supposed to be helping.

We’re betting the public are left scratching their heads when organizations and/or individuals that are seemingly FOR “pit bull” dogs, are simultaneously putting out information that makes the dogs they’re advocating for look like highly deviant, potentially even deadly, dogs.

Think we’re exaggerating? A quick look around the Internet at various “pit bull” advocacy pages and the average person (who may have no prior information about “pit bull” dogs) will discover subtitles such as “Pit Bulls: Never Trust Them Not To Fight,” among other inflammatory and subjective pieces.

If our mission is to promote the adoption of “pit bull” dogs from shelters and to advocate for breed neutral laws that do not discriminate, then what purpose does it serve to scare the public, with articles that perpetuate fear and have little to do with the individual dogs themselves?

Pit Bull Dogs: Playing and Tired
We trust that these two “pit bull” dogs are simply playing. To set them up for success we get to know the dogs as individuals and we supervise the dogs during play groups. No breed-specific warnings necessary.

That kind of negative information promotes fear not fact, and hardly supports our collective work to end canine discrimination and save lives.

Could it be that some advocates and organizations don’t consider “pit bull” dogs to be normal dogs? That’s the only conclusion we can come to based on the inflammatory information we find on some “pit bull” advocacy websites, such as “because of their strength and fighting ability, Pit Bulls can easily do a lot of damage in a short period of time.” After reading breed-specific hype like that (the same stuff is also on anti-pit bull websites, by the way), how can we expect anyone to adopt a dog labeled “pit bull” or not be afraid of them?

Sometimes, the very people who are supposed to be advocating on behalf of the dogs are making them look like deviant monsters, set apart from all other canines.

Dogs are more alike one another than they are different. There is NO behavior that is unique to one dog breed.
Dogs are more alike one another than they are different. There is NO behavior that is unique to one dog breed. You can get to know “pit bull” dogs by learning more about DOG behavior.

If our goals are to save lives, help the public to better evaluate the right pet dog for their families, to properly care for the “pit bulls” they already own and love, and to end discriminatory polices, then animal welfare organizations and individual advocates need to promote accurate information, not hysteria-inducing sound bites that further marginalize dogs labeled “pit bull.”

In short: Scare tactics are not resources.

And further: our opinions are not facts, even when they’re based on our personal experiences.

“Pit Bulls” are dogs. The behaviors they exhibit are DOG behaviors. Not ONE of these canine behaviors are unique to “pit bull” dogs alone.

But just looking at some websites and articles with “pit bull” dog resources would make anyone think that “pit bull” dogs are in need of highly specialized, vigilant, and skilled handling.

If advocates use fear in order to get the public to be responsible (like some sort of canine “Scared Straight!” for dog owners), they’re missing the point.

ALL dogs need responsible owners.

We don’t need to make “pit bull” dog owners afraid of their own dogs in order to discuss responsible dog ownership or give them excellent resources to help them set their dogs up for success. Fear-based generalizations aren’t helping the dogs.

All dogs need responsible owners who manage them properly and care for them based on their individual needs. Don’t single out “pit bull” dogs as different than any other dog or burden them with breed-based generalizations that may cause more harm than good.

It is our responsibility as advocates to constantly re-examine our language, the information we’re sharing, and the research that we’re promoting. Rather than weeding out old content published back in the ‘00s, many sites have kept outdated, inflammatory posts and information on their websites and in their resources. This information, published years ago, might have been the best information and advice available at the time, but in the progressive world of animal sheltering and canine research, five to ten years is a lifetime ago. Our work has changed, as the information and research we’re privy to changes.

The dogs are depending on us to stop adding to their problems by recycling old content and tired warnings.

Stereotypes, myths, generalizations, and opinions that are floating around the internet are promoted and perceived as fact. We owe it to the dogs to be vigilant in the information we provide to the public, even when that means admitting we were wrong in the past or that new information has come to light. We must also be aware that what we say might be misunderstood in and outside of the animal welfare world, resulting in serious, real life consequences for the dogs and their people. And we need to stop using fear and warnings in place of solid, fact-based information and resources.

The dogs need us, the experts and advocates, to revamp the outdated information that perpetuates the misconception that “pit bull” dogs are uniquely different than all other dogs and further marginalizes them in shelters, in the law books, and even in the homes of the people who love them.  Fear isn’t Fact.

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