http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longi ... -headlines
BY DENISE FLAIM
Newsday Staff Writer
May 31, 2006
In many quarters these days, "pit bull" is shorthand for "vicious." But advocates of these powerful dogs say incidents like the mauling of an East Quogue woman aren't a reason to paint the breed with such a broad -- and unfair -- brushstroke.
Historically, pit bulls were bred for aggressiveness toward other dogs -- a logical requirement for the "pit," where life-and-death struggles between canines made for vividly cruel entertainment.
But aggression against humans was not tolerated, or even practical: Competitors swapped dogs to bathe them -- sometimes in milk -- to ensure their rival was not doused in a toxic substance, such as turpentine, to prevent their own dog from getting a good hold.
Such fighting dogs "were under a great deal of stress, and despite their pain from broken bones and torn ears, they needed to be handled," says Dawn Capp, author of "American Pit Bull Terriers: The Truth Behind One of America's Most Popular Breeds."
"Pit bulls have historically been bred to be very stable around people, and very tolerant of mistreatment overall," she said.
But modern breeding practices have changed that dramatically, said animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell.
"There are people out there breeding pit bulls as fighters who have removed the selection criteria, which was purportedly to select aggression to other dogs but not to people," says McConnell, author of "The Other End of the Leash."
"The result is a strong dog that like many terriers can become highly aroused and is relatively pain insensitive," McConnell said.
Capp noted that misguided breeding is evident in the growing size and weight of the breed, which is supposed to be 35 to 60 pounds, according to the United Kennel Club pit bull standard. "But many dogs out there are 80, 90, even 100 pounds," she said.
In the end, McConnell said, the most important cause for concern is not the breed itself, but any large dog that is badly bred and poorly trained.
"The 12 to 20 dog fatalities each year are all big dogs, whether they're St. Bernards or pit bulls or malamutes," she said. "Size matters."