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The Problem With Profiling, Whether Pitbulls or People

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In an interesting set of coincidences, no sooner did I finish reading Malcolm Gladwell’s essay about profiling that ran in the Feb. 6 issue of The New Yorker (sorry, no link — it’s off the Web site) than I found myself staring at the endearingly goofy mug of Rufus, the four-year-old colored bull terrier who took Best in Show at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club, after which I read this Star-Ledger story about how Rufus (whose owner, incidentally, lives in Holmdel, New Jersey) falls under the classification of “pit bull” that makes him part of that outlaw breed so many towns want to ban.

The New Yorker article noted that many of the notions underlying the “profiling” of potential bad guys – whether criminals, terrorists or canines – are apt to hinder rather than help law enforcement. They illustrate the truth of Mark Twain’s maxim that it ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s the things you think you know that really ain’t true.

Pit bulls like Rufus are strong, quick and determined – if they decide to attack something, they don’t bother much with threat displays, they just wade in. This means that pit bulls that have been neglected, abused or maliciously trained can do serious damage to people and other dogs, as has been demonstrated in some spectacular incidents that have led to anti-pit bull legislation. After all, everybody knows that pit bulls are just four-legged serial killers ready to rip out your throat, right?

Yet the same qualities that make the dogs such dangerous antagonists also make pit bulls like Rufus into superb family dogs – loyal to their owners, tremendously patient and resolute, and loving with children. Lots of other, more ostensibly cuddly breeds actually have a worse record when it comes to attacks and injuries to people.

That’s because the biggest factor in predicting a problem dog — the character of its owner – is usually invisible until it’s too late. Not until something bad happens do we learn if a dog owner is some inadequate dickhead who thinks having a vicious canine makes him into a tuffie-wuffie. In a just universe, the owner of a mean dog would be the one who gets neutered or euthanized (preferably both), but in our less than perfect world it means the dog is killed while the owner gets off with a fine.

So, if you live in a town where some grandstanding politician is trying to ban pit bulls, tell him to focus his energies elsewhere. I mean, go look at that picture of Rufus. Who would want to ban a face like that? I ask you!

*****

Originally posted at The
Opinion Mill
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Edited: [GH]

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About Steven Hart

  • nugget

    You must admit that pit bulls are a more naturally agressive dog. I’ve gone to a dog park everyday for a little over a year. 99% of the “incidents” I’ve seen have involved pit bulls. Many of them were very nice and loyal, but the minute a dog (usually smaller) was getting bullied, the pit’s natural instincts took over. I saw a boxer puppy attacked by a pit that had been playing with my American bulldog for over an hour. The pit was amicable and seemingly innocuous, but something snapped. Pits have terrier in them. Terriers are protective, nervous, and have a strong survival instinct. I believe some profiling is understandable and even necessary.

  • http://caveat.blogware.com Caveat

    Hoo boy, you managed to get in a few myths. First, saying 99% of incidents you have seen have been caused by pit bulls at your dog park, especially without giving the total, sounds a bit exaggerated. Nothing snapped, many adult dogs dislike puppies, such as my miniature dachshund, who will work them over if he can to take them down a peg. They are not hurt, humans think there is more to it than there is. We didn’t hear the outcome of the attack on the Boxer pup, so it may or may not have been serious. I’m hoping it was not. Actually, pups, especially those less than four months old, shouldn’t be taken to dog parks at all but that’s a topic for another day.

    The terrier group does contain dogs which require a more experienced owner, in some cases. This is true of all groups, ie, there are breeds that are unsuitable for first-time owners. Your breed, the American Bulldog, is one of them.

    I’m not keen on the bully breeds or many other breeds, but I know enough about dogs to realize that Gladwell was correct, that Hart is correct, and that all experts on the subject, with the exception of a couple of hired-gun types who testify for money, oppose breed banning as unfair, unfounded, ineffective and fiscally irresponsible.

    It’s not the dog, it’s the owner. There are many dangerous dog owners these days, not all of whom deliberately mishandle or abuse their pets. In fact, believing that certain breeds are always ‘friendly’ and require no training is one of the major reasons for bites and maulings, particularly among children.

  • KYS

    “That’s because the biggest factor in predicting a problem dog — the character of its owner – is usually invisible until it’s too late.”

    I don’t fully agree with this statement. I have experience here, and I can tell you that an inherently aggressive dog can be spotted at 8-12 weeks by some one who knows what they are doing. Lack of socialization, abuse and neglect may make any dog scared and distrustful, but I’ve seen a great deal of abused animals that despite desperate situations are sweet as pie and easily rehabilitated to fit into a family situation.

    The fact is that statistics and profiling don’t mean squat when your kid is in intensive care after a mauling. The drive to ‘attack’ is strongly bred into Pitts. It’s a shame, but where there is money to be made, the trade will continue.

  • TYRONE D LINDSEY JR

    I LOVE PITBULLS IN REGARDS TO ALL BREEDS.PITS ARE LOYAL BUT CAN BE AGGRESSIVE FACTUALLY THIER BORN WITH THIS VALOR AND TENACITY.THE PIT WILL HOWEVER , IF YOU MANAGE HIM OR HER EFFECTIVLY SUBDUE THIER INSTINCTIVE NATURE TO A MORE AMICIABLE DOG. SOCIALIZE YOUR DOG AS FRENQUENTLY AS POSIBLE WITH HUMANS AND OTHER ANIMAL TO SEE HIM OR HER BE MORE OUTGOING. DONT TIE THE DOG UP OR RESTRAIN THEM TO SMALL AREAS. EXERCISE THE DOG TO RELINGUISH THIER LOADS OF AGGRESSION.
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