Debate Left, 7/17

The Jim Breech School of Dog Psychology

By Ben Tompkins

Begin innocently explaining to a pit bull enthusiast why you think it’s a good idea to place extra controls on pit bulls, given their history as fighting dogs, and you are immediately inundated with wild-eyed, teary pseudo-profundities like “Punish the deed, not the breed!” and a subsequent portfolio of stories, all of which begin with “I’ve owned pit bulls for years, and they’ve never once bit[ten] my blah blah blah white noise…”

Want do you want, a high five that your pit bull never tore your daughter open and ruined the carpet?  That’s not a made up quote by the way, that’s one of an infinitely varying salad of arguments from Pit bull owners that are ultimately distillable to that point.

It’s crazy, and they act like they have never read the only comprehensive study ever conducted on breed-specific dog bites.  From 1982-2007, Animal People editor Merritt Clifton compiled a list of reported dog attacks by breed.  In it, pit bulls and pit bull mixes were cited well over a thousand times for attacks on both adults and children, with the next most frequent breed, the Rottweiler, being cited fewer than five hundred.  The average statistics for dogs generally considered menacing ranged around thirty.  Another statistical divergence noted with pit bulls is that they appear as likely to attack adults as children, possibly indicating that their behavior is more instinctive than circumstantial.

Listen, I own a Brittany named Wallace.  I call him Mr. Wallace because I am a total idiot for that dog.  I love Mr. Wallace more than life itself.  Well, more than your life anyway, and that love extends far enough that I have been forced to admit harsh realities about the genetic echoes of my primate heritage.  For instance, I am fully capable of kicking another dog.

Yep.  And remorselessly so.  Never thought that was in there. However, when another dog bites Mr. Wallace it turns out that dog becomes a football. It’s happened twice, and on both occasions, as that dog went sailing off towards the Kuiper belt, all I could hear echoing through my mind was Gordon Ramsay screaming “I will never, ever miss dickheads!  Not ever!”

And that’s what this is about:  what’s likely wired into a dog’s genetics.

My Brittany is a hunting breed.  Could he attack someone?  Of course.  Any dog could.  However, based on his breed, his inner demons would probably only cause him to point at someone.  There’s no obvious reason to think he might do worse based on anything other than experience or a personality fault.  So far he only sneezes in my face and farts on me.

Pit bulls are fundamentally different.  They were systematically bred for viciousness and fighting.  Sorry, but that’s the canvas upon which their temperament is painted, and it’s cause for public concern.  Perhaps your pit bull is one who has had this bred out of it.  Good for you, enjoy your dog and realize that muzzling it when you go for a walk is a small price to pay.  But one look at that study I quoted above, and it’s pretty clear that when pit bulls do revert to their genetics, they don’t point at things.  They hurt people very badly, and very indiscriminately.

Look, nobody is 100% sure what’s in their dog, and that’s why we have leash laws.  Every dog is regulated to a degree.  But there is every objective reason where pit bulls are concerned, based on statistics and breed history, to place the safety of the public before an individual’s theory their dog has a soul.  Particularly when it’s my kid walking down the sidewalk and you let your pit bull hang out with you off-leash while you wax your car.  There’s minimal inconvenience placed on pit bull owners by the “vicious” designation, and far, far more good meted out to the public.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue.

Reach Ben Tompkins at

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Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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