Why it’s better to educate and advocate when asked a challenging question about your pit bull.

I was walking Piper around the neighborhood last week. We came across a couple walking their senior Chocolate Lab. His name was Marley and he was 13. I asked if their dog was okay with puppy energy and, hesitantly, they said he was fine.

Piper went up to do a totally appropriate greeting (you know butt sniffing and all that good stuff) and she adjusted her exuberant puppy energy to match the slower interaction of the older gentleman dog until it was clear that he was enjoying her company. Then she went into play bow and he did the same much to his owner’s surprise. “He never does that anymore,” she said with a careful smile. It was lovely.

However, the first question the woman asked me was, “Have you seen any signs of aggression in her…yet?” (Did I mention that Piper is a pit bull mix?)

“Yet” Like it’s a foregone conclusion that Piper will inevitably become aggressive.

In that moment, I felt that I had two choices. I could either yell and scream and throw around terms like “closed-minded” or “part of the problem” OR I could make it a teachable moment. I, wisely, chose the latter.

Dog breed does not determine aggression or reactivity. Simon is a leash-reactive yellow lab.

Simon: The Sarcastic Dog

I explained how I had come to volunteer with ColoRADogs, a rescue focused on education and advocacy. I shared how it was actually my rescue lab, Simon who has leash reactivity issues with other dogs and talked about our training classes at Longmont Humane Society and Piper’s popularity at daycare. I whipped out my camera and showed the couple pictures of Piper playing with, sleeping with, simply being with other dogs.

Is it possible that Piper could become aggressive? Yes. Just like any dog can become aggressive. Please re-read that last sentence because it’s really important. Any dog can become aggressive. There have been no legitimate scientific studies that indicate that any one type of dog is inherently more aggressive than another and there have, in fact, been several studies that debunk the myth that breed specific legislation (BSL) does anything to make communities safer.

Sarcastic Dog is dedicated to education and advocacy for all dogs. Simon, the yellow lab is leash reactive and Piper the pit mix is not aggressive - go figure.

Simon and Piper Snoozing

Just like with people, behavior is complicated and, despite what some say, it is not all in how they are raised. That is a part of it but while it sounds supportive to say, “It’s all in how they are raised,” in terms of advocating for pit bull type dogs, this actually does a disservice to education and advocacy efforts.

If the only determining factor is the environment in which a dog is raised, then how do we explain the many dogs that have come from fighting cases and abuse and neglect situations that have been successfully rehabilitated? How is it possible that some of these dogs have gone on to be therapy or service dogs? What about the dog that was raised in a loving home that suddenly lashes out and bites? Yes, environment is important. So are socialization, training, nutrition, physical and mental health and a bunch of unknowns that we are still trying to figure out as humans.

It’s a learning curve for all of us – dog or human. On the day Piper and I met Marley, I chose to hear this woman’s concerns and to meet her fears with gentleness and by sharing my understanding of what I have learned so far. (There is so much more to learn!)

Piper and I walked along with Marley and his people for quite some time and by the time we parted ways, they were petting Piper and genuinely seemed more relaxed and comfortable with my red nosed little girl. Mission accomplished. One dog, one person at a time.

Pit bull type dogs are not inherently any more aggressive than any other type of dogs. We need to educate ourselves because what is on the human end of the leash is critical.

Piper the Red Nose Pit Bull

How do you handle uncomfortable questions about your dog?

Other installments in the Changing the Conversation series:

Myths & Misconceptions: Bronwen Dickey Changing the Conversation About the Misunderstood Pit Bull

My Pit Bull Story

Stop Asking Pit Bull Owners These 6 Questions

Myths About Pit Bulls: Let’s Dispel Some More

Please share your advice in the comments below.