Sunday, April 3, 2011

I'm not done

Photo: Gracie the Pit Bull Terrier remains docile even while her infected anal glands are examined.

A blogger I respected (up until now), recently posted (in a three-part series no less) on pit bulls and how strange it was that there are people who like them and hate BSL.

After hundreds of words, her posts boil down to this: "What? Some people keep pit bulls as pets? That's weird and outside my experience! My ten minutes of internet research confirms what I already suspected that pit bulls are different and dangerous. Stupid pit bull lovers! BSL for everyone!"

Yeah. That alone would have been enough, but she also compares pit bull advocates (which I guess I am) to vaccination deniers and fans of homeopathic medicine. Please, just slap me in the face, why don't you? This is supposed to be a skeptic's blog, and it's just. So. Wrong. I left a too-long comment there already, but as we all know I'm a fan of GYOFB philosophy, so here we go.

(Part 1: Paragraph 1)
She states that woo groups have shared characteristics, and one is that they do not "outright state their real purpose... and only nerds who like to dig deep into things (skeptics) will find the truth."

Very true. And it would have been great if she had actually "dug deeply" or found any "truth" or any evidence of a hidden agenda from people who advocate for pit bulls. Or really, anything but the same tired arguments for BSL that have been circulating for the last couple decades.

"There was an internal woo alarm that lit up for me upon researching pro-pit bull activism."

Judging by the rest of the posts, that "internal alarm" was her preconceived ideas (aka "bias") against pit bulls.

(Part 1:Paragraph 2)
She gives a history of what she calls the "pit bull debate".

"Pit bulls are a few breeds of dogs that are commonly lumped together... bred for blood sports and fighting long ago."

No reference for these statements, so I don't know exactly which "few breeds" she's referring to. Because breeds commonly affected by BSL include hunting dogs like the catahoula (unless 'hunting' is a type of blood sport? In which case all hunting dogs should also be persecuted, or lumped together with pit bulls?)

She also doesn't state what she means by "long ago". Decades? Centuries? Millenia? Because, "long ago", all dog ancestors were wolves, and wolves are undisputedly dangerous to keep as pets. "Long ago" English bull dogs, boxers, all the different mastiff breeds, and many other breeds NOT commonly lumped with pit bulls were also bred for blood sports.

She then lists a handful of examples of pit bull type dogs causing major injury to people, saying: "This is not typically something dogs in general are capable of." Another statement based on unresearched gut feeling. Like all thoughtless anti-pit bull people, she doesn't have any science that shows a locking jaw, or extra jaw strength, or any other genetic behavior that makes them SUPER CRAZY SPECIAL DOGS. Physically, what is it exactly that makes a pit bull type dog so very different than a lab mix?

I've said it before, others have said it, and I'll say it again: for each and every anecdote pro-BSL people cite where a "pit bull" has done something negative, I can cite an equally bad, equally reliable example involving a lab mix, or a golden retriever, or a boxer, or whatever, or unidentifiable mix breed.

It would be difficult to link to all the reported examples of non-pit bulls causing grievous harm to people, property, and other animals, so I'll just reference the two most active blogs who collect such reports: KC Dog Blog and For the Pit Bulls.

She states: "Multiple studies... found that pit bulls and rottweilers are responsible for the majority of fatal dog attacks."

By "multiple studies" she means and that famous CDC study. Both of which, she admits, are based on media reports and rely journalists to idenify dogs breeds. But, she says, "The use of media is not necessarily inaccurate automatically- the support of other studies makes me think that the media is giving proportional attention to fatal dog attacks from different breeds." Handily dismissing, without much fanfare or research (and only one reference to one study on, any possibility of media bias against pit bulls.

Oh yes, certainly no evidence of that.

And worse, I wonder if she actually read the entire CDC study, since the researchers say in their conclusion: "Although fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem ... other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates. Because of difficulties inherent in determining a dog's breed with certainty, enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raises constitutional and practical issues. Fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and, therefore, should not be the primary factor driving public policy concerning dangerous dogs. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific ordinances exist and hold promise for prevention of dog bites." (Emphasis bolding mine)

(Part 1:Paragraphs 3)
"The [pit bull] advocates are generally against any breed specific laws and for everyone treating their dog exactly like they would any other breed of dog."

100% correct and a very reasonable thing to want since there's no reasonable justification for not treating a pit bull type dog just like other dogs.

"[Pit bull advocates] often characterize people who oppose them as hating all pit bulls or thinking that they all bit (sic) or kill. I haven't seen anyone on dog bite victim advocacy websites pushing that view at all."

Then you aren't reading very many anti-pit bull writers, then. Or the commenters on your own blog, apparently, many of whom responded to this post with variations of "Yeah! Make the pit bulls go extinct! There's no reason for 'em!"

"The injuries (and sometimes deaths) are completely preventable."

Indeed, most dog bites are preventable. But not by BSL, which (if you would know if you researched and used critical thinking) doesn't prevent dog bites.

(Part 1: Paragraph 5)
She states that pit bull advocates "try to state that pit bulls are equally likely to bite/equally as dangerous as any other kind of dog."

100% correct, though of course due to the difficulties in identifying pit bulls and reporting their good or neutral behavior, there's no good empirical statistics to prove this. It being the null hypothesis, however, it's up to the anti-pit bull people to prove it wrong. As I laid out above, there's no evidence, but, unfortunately, from this point on, the blogger acts as if the case against pit bulls has already been proven conclusively.

Here's her first strawman argument: pit bull advocates claim that their dogs can be trained out of their inherent aggression and that's ridiculous because "The exact amount of nature and nurture involved with animal behavior is difficult to calculate, but it certainly cannot be none."

Right. Since there's no evidence that pit bull type dogs are especially aggressive, there's no trait to "train out" of them that other dog breeds don't also have. Being a pit bull advocate, I think I can speak for us: when we say "it's all in how you raise them", this is a reminder that pit bulls are just dogs. Training and socialization is important for ALL dogs. A poorly socialized or abused lab is the same risk as a pit bull in the same situation. Just as a well socialized pit bull is just as reliable as a nice lab. Note I say "risk". An abused dog is not guaranteed to be aggressive, just as a well trained dog is not guaranteed to behave perfectly or to never bite. Dog trainers know this; most of the bloggers I read know this; heck, even dog fighters know this since they kill dogs from their breeding program who, despite all their efforts, still aren't aggressive enough.

Speaking of aggressive, the blogger next tries her hand at judging dog behavior. Without, apparently, doing any research into dog behavior. She says that we say that pit bulls "were bred to be aggressive towards other animals only, but not babies and children... The principle that "dog aggression" and "human aggression" are different from plain old "aggression" has never been demonstrated by advocates or scientists."

Really? Because most dog breeds are (or were "long ago") indeed bred to do exactly that. Hounds course and kill rabbits and coyotes and deer and boar and fox and whatever else; terriers live for tearing small animals to pieces; the intensity of a herding dog chasing sheep is merely modified hunting behavior; and they all come home and sleep at their owner's side all night. What dog owner hasn't seen the different ways their pet interacts with them versus the cat versus other dogs at the park? Humans may just be another animal in the grand scheme of things, but we're an animal that dogs can easily distinguish from other dogs and other animals. This is a big reason that dogs are such popular pets.

True, it's debated in the dog community how dog fighting training affects the dogs' relationship with people. It's also true that some pit bull advocates are in denial about the ability to rehabilitate all former abused/fighting dogs. Not to even mention all the guard and police dogs are trained specifically to be aggressive towards other humans. This is an interesting topic that deserves more nuanced discussion, but to claim that dogs can't tell the difference between a human and another dog is just ignorant. And apparently this study on dog aggression either slipped under her radar or didn't count as a scientific study?

"This doesn't stop advocates from being angry when their dogs are asked to leave dog parks, either."

Yes, well, if I was kicked out of a dog park because of the way my dog looked, not the way he acted, I'd be pissed. Just as I'd pissed if someone else refused to leave if their dog (of ANY breed) was acting badly. Being from pit-bull friendly Corvallis, Oregon, I've only witnessed the latter situation, and trust me, at the dog park, breed doesn't matter nearly as much as the idiocy of the owner.

(Part 1: Paragraph 7)
She says pit bull advocates say conflicting and often inaccurate things about dog behavior, genetics, and aggression. Yeah, I guess that kind of thing happens when there's a huge, diverse group of people that really only agree on one thing (despite the label that's been slapped on them): pit bull type dogs deserve the consideration as any other dog. I have indeed seen pit bull advocates with their heads in the clouds, who couldn't be persuaded to admit that a pit bull could hurt someone even if it was latched onto their arm. To characterize ALL pit bull owners and advocates as the same is as bad as making a strawman to knock down.

(Part 1: Paragraph 8)
After recently dismissing any possible media bias against pit bulls, the author now states that in fact it's the opposite: pit bull advocates, being biased for pit bulls, never admit that pit bulls could ever do wrong. This is inaccurate (see above about strawmen), and she obviously didn't look very hard; I read many pit bull friendly blogs, and many owners/lovers/neutrals on the subject are perfectly open to reporting pit bull attacks. Because pit bulls are just like any other dog and any dog could hurt a person.

Her ignorance shows yet again when she complains when a pit bull advocate says that a 110lb dog that maimed someone probably wasn't a pit bull. Even though that's a perfectly reasonable conclusion.

The motivations for her bias becomes more clear in the comment section of Part 1. In response to someone who sticks up for pit bulls, she says: " haven't mentioned what the victims went through at all. ... The statistics aren't just numbers, they are people who have needlessly been injured or killed... I work in a hospital, what I don't like is seeing horrific injuries and deaths that are preventable. When you see the real consequences of things like loss of skin and amputations you tend to take it a bit more seriously."

So, apparently sticking up for the right for normal pet dogs to be treated like normal pet dogs is insulting to people who have been maimed by other, different dogs. Right. That sounds familiar.

There are so many resources that this blogger ignored it's actually a little embarrassing. Aside from the links I've already provided, the most obvious are:

a) The list of dog experts that don't support BSL (including the CDC and AVMA)
b) The Netherlands' dog bites study.
c) And, most noticeably, the American Temperament Test Society statistics.

Stay tuned as I go after Part 2.


Luisa said...

[stands, applauds] Great post - thanks for taking the trouble.

I left a comment on her blog, and am kicking myself for having bothered. Her mind's made up. Note to self: next time, visit Stormfront and defend MEChA.

CyborgSuzy said...

Thank you Luisa.

I think part of the reason this specific post bothered me so much was WHO typed it. I was all, "No, Skeptifem, no!" as I read it.

She's supposed to be a skeptic! Her blog is usually so good! What went wrong here?

It seriously reads like it was typed by an ignorant sports writer or something.

Dude, I BaggedYourPit said...

"c) And, most noticeably, the American Temperament Test Society statistics."

Perhaps you should consider the fact that ATTS does not judge dogs by one standard, but applies different standards ACCORDING TO BREED. What is the relevance of pass/fail rates according to breed when different breeds are judged by different standards?

And is it relevant that some dogs fail because they tend to be shy of plastic tarps? If some breeds lack boldness and fail because they tend to fear walking on unfamiliar surfaces, does this diminish aggression in pit bulls?

Funny that you criticize Skeptifem's blog for what you perceive as weak research, then serve up an empty talking point you clearly know nothing about.

CyborgSuzy said...

Dude, the ATTS is the ONLY uniform test that actually compares temperament across and within breeds. The only statistics out there, in fact, where you can actually trust the breed identification and the expert behavior evaluators.

Any discussion about BSL should include at least passing mention of these statistics, and yet Skeptifem didn't even mention it. She was perfectly happy citing all the studies where pit bulls were shown in a negative light (higher bite rates), but didn't even discuss the weaknesses of those studies (ie, non-experts are identifying the breeds, and that exactly zero of them take into account the popularity of the breed in the area affected). That's called cherry picking data.

I don't know how you can dismiss the numbers of the ATTS anyway. The test may take into account the "breed's temperament, training, health and age of the dog", but the test itself is the same for everyone. And the example they give on the website sounds reasonable to me: "Aggression here is checked against the breed standard and the dog's training. A schutzhund trained dog lunging at the stranger is allowed, but if an untrained Siberian husky does the same, it may fail."

Perhaps YOU should consider that the AKC breed standard for the American Staffordshire Terrier describes them as "friendly" and "people-oriented". (Another data source ignored by Skeptifem).

CyborgSuzy said...

I also find it interesting that you think its "unfair" that a dog that acts frightened walking on a tarp might be failed (even though they would only fail if they showed an extreme reaction that didn't stop when they were removed from the tarp. Oh look, it seems I DO know a little about the ATTS test). And yet apparently you think it's perfectly fair that countless of friendly family pets are being killed or harassed in areas affected by BSL when they've done nothing wrong except have short hair and a big head.

Dude, I said...

"I also find it interesting that you think its "unfair" that a dog that acts frightened walking on a tarp might be failed"

That's not what I said or even implied, and you know it! You even put the word "unfair" in quotes when I never said it. I asked if a breed tends to fail because of anxiety about unfamiliar surfaces, does this diminish the aggression of pit bulls or their failure rates for aggression? You've dodged the question and are deliberately dishonest when you assert I said anything else.

If you are going to insist these pass/fail rates indicate pit bulls are less aggressive than other breeds, then you have no integrity. You are, in fact, as disingenuous as the day is long. (Skeptifem nailed it!!!)

Once again, the facts are: Breeds are judged by different standards. Dogs fail within a variety of categories. The pass/fail rates are not categorized by cause. The test, as designed by Alfons Ertel, was to assist in the identification of bold dogs suitable for BITE WORK. Less than one-thousandth of one percent of any breed is represented. There is no random selection for testing; that's your "cherry picking."

DubV said...

"She also doesn't state what she means by "long ago". Decades? Centuries? Millenia? Because, "long ago", all dog ancestors were wolves, and wolves are undisputedly dangerous to keep as pets. "Long ago" English bull dogs, boxers, all the different mastiff breeds, and many other breeds NOT commonly lumped with pit bulls were also bred for blood sports."

This is horrible Suzy. The handful of breeds we call pit bulls are all descended from the bull and terrier. These breeds were formed and selectively bred for over one hundred years to fight other dogs to the death. This is recognized by AKC, UKC, dog books that are not put out by pit propagandists, and also by many pit bull groups. There has been no concerted selection against these traits, so they are still present.

DubV said...

"Dude, the ATTS is the ONLY uniform test that actually compares temperament across and within breeds. The only statistics out there, in fact, where you can actually trust the breed identification and the expert behavior evaluators."

Suzy, if you are an actual scientist (as your blogger profile suggest), meaning you design experiments, engage in rigorous observation studies, and/or are familiar with data analysis; you should have known immediately that the ATTS statistics for breeds are not based upon a representative sample, likely suffer from self-selection bias, and therefore hold little to no information useful for comparing breeds.

The results of the ATTS say something (not sure what) about individual dogs whose owners decided to bring them to the test.

CyborgSuzy said...

DubV, if YOU were more familiar with rigorous observational studies, you'd probably know that self-selection bias is common (nearly unavoidable) in survey research (which is sort of what the ATTS is) and doesn't necessarily detract from the results.

However, that's sort of beside the point. ATTS at least has reliable and accurate breed identification and experts trained in dog behavior. The only breed-based information that anti-pit bull people use are studies based on newspaper headlines.

DubV said...

Suzy, I will not anonymously flaunt my credentials on the internet, but I assure that my depth of knowledge in the area of data analysis VASTLY exceeds your own.

Self-selection bias is common in studies where people can opt in and out, but you are wrong that it is unavoidable in all survey-based studies. When it is suspected, this bias is acknowledged and every effort is made to remove it. Any residual effect is contemplated in terms of how it can affect the results. Ignored, and self-evident, self-selection bias practically invalidates the results of an analysis.

Do you know how unavoidable self-selection bias is controlled for? Well, when they ask you those little telephone surveys about what deodorant you use, they also ask you some questions about yourself to determine what demographic you are in. They then compare their sample to knowledge of the general population and attempt to correct mathematically for the bias.

None of this is acknowledged or attempted by your ilk. The results look good to you, that's why.

Lastly, the ATTS test was not designed to test the safety of a dog in a home or in society. Go to the test's website and read the protocol. Further, you assert that the breed identification is reliable at ATTS sites. It seems pit bull people only think other pit bull people can ID a pit. If they are so hard to ID, then how do the owners know what they have? They could have been sold a mutt. Your argument here cuts both ways. When a serious bite occurs, the one doing the IDing for the police report is typically animal control. Do you assert that they wouldn't know a pit if it bit them in their butt?

CyborgSuzy said...

"[you] insist these pass/fail rates indicate pit bulls are less aggressive than other breeds"

No, I've never said that, actually. Skeptifem and other anti-pit bull people summarily dismiss the ATTS. This is wrong - it should be included in any discussion about breed temperament. Some pit bull advocates have overstated or misrepresented the data from the ATTS, but then, so have anti-pit bull people. Doesn't change its usefulness.

Speaking of overstating things, you keep ranting about how different breeds are given different standards on the test. The test is still the same for all dogs. A dog is still failed if it shows an extreme, unstoppable reaction to anything. This means crazy aggressive dogs still fail, no matter their breed. This means "timid" dogs still pass (timid doesn't mean they should have an extreme reaction to any of the tests). It's not biased in the way you keep saying it is.