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Pit Bull Two-Step

Mr. Wade,

We bought a a bouncy energetic chocolate lab cross from the shelter about 11 months old. Just a few days after getting the dog home, the trainer we hired said something about the dog being part Pit Bull. The trainer told us Sam was trying to show dominance and is being aggressive when she jumps on us. My wife and I have contacted the shelter to get to the bottom of Sam’s mix. – Worried in Ontario, Canada

Hi Worried,

In your province Pit bulls and pit bull like dogs are from outright illegal to own to severely restricted and yes there is a chance that you have been bamboozled. Pit bulls types have always been a real problem for shelters. Very few people willingly buy them and so most are euthanized. In a misguided and certainly unethical attempt to save their lives, some shelters identify them as a lab or boxer cross and sell them to unsuspecting individuals and families. In New York city a while back in an attempt to stem the death tide there was a highly publicized short lived attempt to change the name of the breed to the New Yorkie.

Side stepping the real issue which is if you think you’re buying a lab cross, you should getting a lab cross, these shelters offer the defence that technically there is no such breed as a pit bull and identifying one as such is not possible and so they’re just taking their best guess. Sadly, this is a legitimate loophole for what in most cases is an intentional deception. In your province, if your dog really is a pit bull type dog, it is too young to have been grandfathered and by law would have to be euthanized or transfered out of the province. If it were older it would live but there are many conditions and costs associated with keeping it that would have to have been told when you purchased. All shelters are fully aware of this. At this point if the shelter sold you a pit bull type dog of that age, they admit to breaking the law, so you should take a denial to your enquiry with a grain or maybe in this case, a block of salt.

Ironically, while there have been some serious problems with the pit bull types, there is no reason to feel safer with the ban. Growing in popularity are many less well known breeds that are potentially much more dangerous then pit bulls. When an irresponsible pit bull owner finds their breed of choice is illegal they don’t go out and buy hamsters to equip themselves with “courage on a leash.” I predict that there will soon be some high profile incidents involving these replacement breeds and lawmakers will have to go back to the drawing board. We’d be better protected if the focus was not breed specific but instead behaviour specific. There should also be a legislative focus on responsible sales by breeders and shelters as well as a minimum and maintained training standard. Dangerous dogs can essentially be guns with brains and accordingly there need be matching criminal legal consequences. Of course there also has to be an accessible enforcement vehicle be it local animal control or police, otherwise it becomes just so much paper.

This may be much ado about nothing and your dog may well be one of those purebred labs with a head the size of a pumpkin. The trainer you met with might have been wrong as to breed, as if he or she told you that a 11 month old dog “was trying to show dominance and is being aggressive” just because she jumps, that’s a trainer that needs a little bit more field experience. There are far more untrained dogs jumping on people then there are dominant aggressive ones. Any good trainer can show you how to teach a dog to sit instead of jump for attention which is likely all yours is doing. Still, get a few arms length assessments as to what your dog might be breed-wise from some people without a vested interest. If there is even a chance it is a pit bull type get some legal advice to appraise yourself of your potential liability. At the very least use a trainer that has some experience how to train and supervise high prey drive dogs. Lots of people have them and make the effort to make sure they are good canine citizens. You may be able too.

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