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Ban Pomeranians

Tuesday, January 31 2006

Jason linked to a Malcolm Gladwell article where Gladwell talks about generalizations – the article is good and has some pretty meaty things in it, including what kind of dogs kill. Despite what the article seems to make very strong, Jason says "I hate “pit bull-type” dogs and I still think they should be banned." (emphasis mine). And so I have to ask – did you really read the article Jason?

Malcolm cites breed counts behind the numbers of fatal dog bites in the article – pit bulls lead the killers sometimes, but just as often so do German Shepards and Huskies and mixed breeds. The entire article points out how you can’t simply say “pit bulls are killers” – the historical data doesn’t support the claim.

Making the claim that all pit bulls are killers is as unfounded as saying that all terrorists are young Arab men – while true for the September 11th attacks, in subsequent attacks throughout the world it’s not the case any more (which the article also supports). There are far too many unstable factors that ultimately end up resulting in fatal dog attacks, the least of which seems to be the dog breed.

So Jason’s comment has me a bit riled for two reasons – the first is that the article is pretty strong in suggesting you can’t make generalizations on unstable data, yet he does just that (perhaps sarcastically, but you can never tell for sure). The specific dog breeds involved in fatal dog attacks is unstable. Fatal dog attacks tend to follow the popularity of aggressive dogs. If Great Danes are all the rage for a few years, you’re going to see Great Danes take the top slot, and so on. What is stable about fatal dog attacks is the kind of treatment the dog had leading up to the attack. Aggressiveness was reinforced, the dog was neglected or abused, and the owner was generally not a responsible dog owner. So to say that “pit bulls should be banned” borders on crazy, especially when the data suggests otherwise.

The second reason I’m riled is that based on my own personal experiences, I’ve never known kinder dogs than pit bulls. And according to the data we have from people who study dog breeds, my experiences are consistent with the norm.

When I was three or four, my Dad’s roommate owned a pit bull named Sandy. Sandy was a smallish dog with a sweet demeanor. She never jumped on you, always obeyed (even three year olds), and was as soft and gentle as a dog could be. Rather than use a collar on Sandy, her owner would use a harness. My brother and I used to take turns climbing onto Sandy’s back, holding onto the harness, while she ripped around the house. If we fell off, she’d stop and let us get back on, continuing the game.

Sandy had puppies, and if you sat down and told her to come, she’d bring every puppy with her, setting them in your lap as she ran back to get the other. This sort of affection and comfort level for her “master” (despite my only showing up on the weekends and being just a little kid) has had lasting effects on what I find desirable in a dog, or even people for that matter. Unabashed affection and loyalty are traits anyone would be wise to learn about at an early age.

When I was a teenager I was working on a car in the driveway of our house, and I was underneath it on my back. I heard the jingling of a dog collar and it sounded like it was approaching rapidly. As I began pulling my head out to see what was happening I saw a very large pit bull making a bee line from across the street to me in full sprint. I was pretty much terrified, knowing that any unknown animal torpedoing towards your head could be a Bad Thing.

Before I could get out from underneath the car the pit bull attacked – with licking that is. I was smothered by a dog who was absolutely enthralled at the chance of licking my face. He was practically floating in his wild excitement as he expressed his instant infatuation with me. The owner came quickly, and the dog was reprimanded for getting loose, but was obviously taken care of well by his owner and showed every sign of a very happy and healthy dog.

I fully support Gladwell’s notions that generalizing based on unstable factors is foolish. In the case of pit bulls and aggressive dogs in general, fatal death counts are more related to the owner and the conditions of the dog and their levels of socialization that matter most, not the dog breed itself. As a researcher in the article suggests, even Pomeranians have been known to kill, so why not suggest a ban on Pomeranians?