More often than they should, pit bull owners wonder about the dog park issue, finding themselves explaining to others that their dog is not a "killing machine," it is not "one of those pit bulls" and there is no reason that their dog can’t enjoy off leash time with unknown dogs. Some will even insist that "you only add to the misconception toward this breed when you don't allow your friendly pit bull to go to the dog park.” After all, these people argue that it is all about "how we raise them" and providing socialization is the key to no problem dogs. Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Dog aggression in our own dogs should not be a problem. Good management and knowledge prevent trouble. Responsible and caring pit bull owners have done their homework and know what to expect from the breed. This breed's genetic traits involve dog aggression, to varying degrees. Even the most well socialized pit bull can one day decide that other dogs are not play buddies. It happens most often when the dog reaches maturity between two and three years of age, and it can happen without apparent reason.
Here are some good articles for basic breed information:
Because of the breed's background, it is unfair to expect dogs to behave the way we want them to when it comes to dog aggression and dog to dog relationships. We set our dogs up for failure when we decide to let them off leash in a public place and allow them to romp with other dogs. Dog parks are a place where people like to chit chat with each other, paying very little attention to what happens around their dogs. Posturing, body language, subtle looks and even vocalization are often misunderstood or overlooked by dog owners. Even when dogs let us know what is about to happen we might not see what is happening until it is too late. Most dog owners have no idea of what body language means, and don’t know how to intervene if things go wrong. They panic, scream, yell, and hit the attacking dog; all of which often just makes things worse. A fight between two dogs can be hard enough to stop; now imagine a fight among 4 or 5 of them. In fights like these, pets and even people can be seriously injured.
Dog parks are also a place where unknown dogs are present. We don't know if they’re fully vaccinated or in good health. They can be sick and our dogs can get ill as well.
We don't know if they are truly friendly dogs or if they may be aggressive. Everybody's dog is friendly, according to their owners. When the "friendly" dog decides to snap at ours, a fight starts.
Who is going to be blamed for that fight? Will it be the pit bull or the cute little fluffy dog? The answer is obvious.
Here is the story of one accident at a dog park, involving a pit bull.:
Below is an article about a pit bull named Nettie that attacked a police horse, in San Francisco, in 2003. Nettie was let off leash at a public park by her irresponsible owner. The dog did nothing wrong, but she was set up for failure by the person who should have protected her. Nettie belonged to an SPCA volunteer and she was often taken to senior centers to comfort the elderly. Nettie was a good dog. This pretty pit bull female paid the price for her owner’s ignorance and irresponsibility with her life. Many dogs have lost their lives the same way, due to the same kind of irresponsibility. It took her life for her owner to "get it.” Like most situations of this sort, the events that ultimately resulted in Nettie’s unfair death were totally preventable.
Each time a pit bull is allowed to harm another pet all pit bull owners and their dogs suffer. One common defensive reaction of dog park lovers is "the dog is mine and it is nobody's business where I take it.” This is not true. It is every pit bull owner's business as well. We are surrounded by BSL
(Breed Specific Legislation) all over the Country. The news media report dog to dog attacks or dog to cat/cow/horse/sheep attacks almost every day, and with the same attention as if Osama Bin Laden had been captured. Reporters often compare human aggression to animal aggression. How many times do we hear "it was a dog but it could have been a child"?
It is ridiculous but it happens every day. “There goes another vicious pit bull attacking an innocent dog or cat!” What happens after a pit bull attacks another dog in the neighborhood or at the local dog park? It is like we suddenly own wild animals that have no right to exist. Our friendly neighbor suddenly stops talking to us and no longer lets her children come around our dog. The person we used to walk our dog with is no longer available because she fears for her pet. The two men down the street no longer come and pet our dog when we walk by their homes or rush into the house if they have their dogs with them. People ask for a ban. We did not change and our dog is the same as always but this is the result of one mistake, caused by someone who obviously did not care about the rest of us. It is a sad situation to be in.
This breed doesn't need any more accidents, we can't afford them. We are in this situation thank to those who failed their own dogs. When a whole breed suffers because of someone's action it is our business as well. No doubt on that.
Vet bills aren't cheap, emotions can be overwhelming, the guilt stays, so why to risk it? It isn't fair that only one breed is targeted when dogs of other breeds have killed or attacked other dogs. Today, a dog behaving like a dog has become a sin. Fair or not that is how the situation is and every pit bull owner needs to understand it.
The point of socialization is for a dog to have positive experiences with other dogs. When people take their dogs, perhaps puppies, to a park and something happens, they are responsible for the consequences. A young dog that is attacked for no reason won't be so willing to be friendly the next time it meets an unknown dog. An experience like that is a bad start and can often lead to problems in the future. There are no guarantees on what can happen at a dog park because dog parks are often full of different dogs with different personalities and tolerance levels. Even an easy going adult dog can change its approach after an attack. It is hard enough for a dog of this breed to tolerate other dogs and it is a big mistake to contribute to bad experiences. Dogs should always rely on us to defend them--the trust factor is important. We are responsible for protecting our dogs from harm. A dog that has no choice but to defend itself loses its trust in the owner and knows that in the future it needs to take care of itself. It then becomes fearful of other dogs and not so willing to behave like a well-balanced dog that was socialized in the appropriate way.
How can we socialize around other dogs then? Good question. Socialization is a must but it has to be done with common sense and in a controlled environment. Perhaps a friend has a mellow dog of the opposite sex and he/she is willing to let the dogs play together. Both owners should know that there is the possibility of a scrap and will intervene immediately and with the appropriate tools/techniques. Both owners will watch their dogs closely and never leave them unsupervised.
Every pit bull owner should have a breaking stick available, even when on a walk, hidden somewhere. It is a quick and effective way to break a hold.
What is a breaking stick and why it is an important tool to have:
Some information on how to break up a fight:
Obedience classes are an option too. In obedience classes, the dogs are leashed and can learn to control themselves in the presence of other dogs. It is not necessary for a pit bull to be dog friendly, but it is necessary for us to help them learn to control natural behaviors. Dogs that are exposed to this kind of environment can learn to behave with some time and work.
The local feedstore/petstore is another way to socialize our dogs, because they are another place where dogs are leashed. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t mean we don't need to pay attention to the surroundings. Respect the comfort level of your dog and move away from other dogs if necessary. Face to face interactions can quickly end badly, even when both dogs are leashed.
Those who are still convinced that a pit bull belongs to a dog park would benefit from reading these links. Their dogs and all of us will benefit as well.Please, don't set your dog up for failure.
(crossposted with permission)