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Monday, Dec. 22, 2014

Because They're Terriers

Posted Monday, December 5, 2011, at 4:20 PM

Ricky with the Damn Cat, natural terrier tendancy under control
I was asked a very valid question last week in one of the comments left on my latest entry: Why don't they just breed the "gameness" out of Pit Bulls? I gave a quick answer to the question but for anyone else that may wonder the same thing; I am going to give a hint: American Pit Bull TERRIER, American Staffordshire TERRIER. Those are the correct names of the two registered breeds of the respective United Kennel Club and American Kennel Club. The latter common bond of these two breeds is Terrier.

For anyone that knows dog groups, just the fact that Terrier is part of the name of these breeds is explanation enough but to the layman it does deserve some clarification.

Terriers are by nature scrappy, tenacious and tough. They are not for the faint of heart or anyone that appreciates a lap dog. Terriers will put you through your paces and insure that life is never, ever boring. Their intelligence is phenomenal and believe me they do not lack imagination. Yes I know dogs are not supposed to reason things out like humans but in my experience they never lack for ways to entertain themselves.

When I first begin teaching someone to train their dog I encourage them to research the group their dog was developed from. Then from that point look at the breed of the dog. This allows you to understand what your dog has been hardwired to do. All dogs answer to a genetic code or hardwiring which is easier for most to comprehend. Once you understand what the dog's instinct is, it makes it so much easier to motivate the dog to learn. What works for a sporting dog may not be the same technique that works for a herding dog.

The first time I took a dog into the facility in Charleston it was as a hands on demonstration. I took my dog Emma. My first question to the new trainers was what kind of dog is this? Naturally they answered Pit Bull but that was not the answer I wanted from them. As trainers I want them to discipline themselves to look at dogs as the group they come from and then look at the breed. For those of us working shelter and rescue animals we do not have the luxury of knowing the background on most of the dogs we encounter. We must be able to understand the hardwired motivation of these animals first and then we can more easily identify the learned behaviors these dogs have acquired in their lives. When working with the unknown it is all too easy to misread certain behaviors if we do not take the time to understand that hounds are naturally vocal, herders are naturally "driven" and terriers are gamey.

This is the best answer I can come up with to explain why Pit Bulls are game. They are first terriers and the natural terrier gameness has been exaggerated through selective breeding. Yes, you can tone down that natural instinct. The proof in that is in the number of multiple terriers, especially Pit Bull, homes. Further proof is the number of homes with cats living side by side with terriers. I had a rabbit running around my homes some years ago. She played with my Pit Bull just like he was one of her own kind but the bottom line is, they are still TERRIERS.

Dog on dog aggression is not exclusive to Pit Bulls. I have a friend with Malamutes that will tell you she cannot trust her dogs together to the same degree I can my Pits. In the case of Pit Bulls, it is just like housebreaking. Just because they do not do their business in your house does not mean they will not do it some place. That gameness is the same thing. They must be taught that certain behavior is inappropriate and you can never forget that just because they do not do it in your house does not mean they will not do it some place. That is the whole point of training your dog. You are establishing habits of behavior that enable them to live in our world as valued companions. Anything less is to invite disaster for you, your community and most of all the dog itself.

Dogs have been at the side of man since the beginning of recorded time. The groups have adapted and been developed to serve a purpose. Each person that chooses to bring a dog into their life must be prepared to take the responsibility to know the type of dog they are considering and realistically evaluate their lifestyle. Terriers, Hounds, Sporting, Herding or even the Toy breeds are not one size fits all.

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Terriers are a rewarding challenge.

-- Posted by jpb2 on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 1:08 PM

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Canine Advocate
Melanie Coy
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Melanie Coy has been a pit bull fancier for 29 years. She's also been involved in obedience and other training and showing animals. Coy became involved in animal legislative issues in the mid-80s to dispel myths about the pit bull breed and fight against breed-specific laws. She advocates responsible dog ownership through training and educational programs, and helps shelters make dogs more adoptable.
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