As the mom of a very friendly Pit Bull type dog I often encounter people who are impressed by LilyBug’s level of sociability with both humans and dogs, and will say some version of “well, you know it’s all how you raise them,” I assume as a well-intentioned comment about her or even a compliment to me. Sure, I fostered and then adopted LilyBug when she was 3-4 months old, and I did standard puppy training courses with her, and I show her love and affection. But, I honestly think that had anyone else adopted her she would be equally as social, loving and affectionate. It’s truly just the dog she is and was always going to be. So, I rarely ever attempt to correct people when they make this statement because I know they almost always mean well. However, I’ve started to wonder if I am doing them and Pit Bull type dogs (or any breed of dogs) a disservice by not sharing my opinion with them, and offering them an alternate point of view.
Disney Pixar’s #SparkShorts “Kitbull” was released last week, featuring an unlikely friendship between a stray kitten and a neglected and abused Pit Bull. If you’re an animal lover – or really anyone with a soul – you likely watched it with tears in your eyes not knowing how it would end, but rejoicing over the positive messaging. If you’re a Pit Bull type dog owner/lover, you likely watched it knowing exactly how it would end…
[SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN IT]
That despite living a life of neglect and abuse, the Pit Bull would be hopeful it’s “owner” would eventually show him love & affection, would be forgiving and understanding even when the owner never did, and would be a sweet and gentle friend to a fellow unwanted animal when he met the stray kitten. You see, this Pit Bull wasn’t “raised right,” yet his inherently good nature still overshadowed any of the negative experiences that some might have assumed would shape him, his personality, or his behavior. Watching this Pixar short really got me thinking that if a large percentage of people truly believe that a dog’s personality, behavior or worth is determined based on how they were raised, how many dogs [of any breed] are overlooked in shelters on a daily basis because of their known and unfortunate background OR their lack of any known background?
If “it’s all in how they were raised” was correct 100% of the time, then neglected, abused, under-socialized and stray dogs might not be as safe to place in homes or be as adoptable as other dogs since they weren’t “raised right,” right? Yet time and time again we hear stories about animals who have been rescued from some of the most horrific environments where they endured levels of neglect and abuse that most people simply can’t comprehend, yet they are now thriving in loving homes, and even living with children and/or other animals. Look at Michael Vick’s former fighting dogs after they were rescued – dogs that were bred to fight or used as bait – who went on to be loving family dogs, living with human, canine and even feline siblings. There’s so many dogs from that fight bust who you can read about, dogs who were literally raised by a dog fighter who had the worst possible intentions for them, yet their inherently good nature, trusting personalities and loving demeanor’s outshined any part of their spirit that someone had previously attempted to break. I’m of course not overlooking or ignoring the fact there were dogs from that fight bust who sadly could not be rehabilitated and placed in homes, but there’s also plenty of dogs who have never experienced that horrific ordeal of being raised by a dog fighter and still are not adoptable for one reason or another… so I think what I’m trying to ultimately say is that every dog, just like every person, is different and we can’t definitively say that how they were or weren’t raised will attribute for XYZ. I would therefore encourage people to think before the next time they say “it’s all how they are raised,” because while proper training, socialization and love are clearly important factors (I am not discounting that), any dog/any breed has the ability to have trusting, loving, affectionate, etc. characteristics OR fearful, reactive, aggressive, etc. characteristics no matter who raised them or how they were raised.
One of my favorite articles to date about this topic was written for HuffPost by Trish McMillan Loehr, a certified professional dog trainer and certified dog behavior counselor, and mother to a fight bust dog known as Theodore. Trish said it best when she wrote, “Ask any behaviorist what’s more important — nature or nurture — and they’ll answer “both.” Some dogs can be raised by the book, socialized to everything, and still become dangerously aggressive. And others, like Theodore, can come from a background designed to create frustration and dog aggression, and their natural resilience and joy can win over.”
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