Pit Bull Experts: scientifically unimpressive and technologically worthless

In 1960, Louis Leaky sent a secretary with no college education into the Africa bush to study chimpanzees. Despite the objections of "experts" Leaky persevered. Leaky felt that someone with little formal training would be more likely to describe what they were seeing rather than what they thought they should be seeing. 

I think everyone will agree that hiring Jane Goodall for the job was a brilliant move. 

Keep Jane Goodall in mind while you watch this video, The Trouble With Experts, then continue reading.

Pit bull advocates make a lot of noise about their "experts" and tout the perceived consensus among "experts" as proof that "pit bulls" are not the problem, owners are. Here are four of the more impressively credentialed "experts".


The ASPCA cited BORCHELT in their anti-BSL position statement and BORCHELT was called upon to provide his "expert" opinion in favor of pit bulls when a NYC council member sought to ban them:

A Brooklyn-based animal behaviorist who opposes a citywide pit bull ban, Peter Borchelt, said strong dogs such as pit bulls, Rottweilers and German shepherds are generally safe, if they are "raised like pets." You get into trouble when the dog is not trained to be nonaggressive," Mr. Borchelt, who has a doctorate in animal behavior, said. "They can become dangerous when they're thrown behind a fence and allowed to become overly protective. You just have to take a few extra steps to make sure the dog is friendly, affectionate, and well socialized."
PETER L. BORCHELT, PhD and "expert" for hire.

BORCHELT provided the above "expert" opinion about the safety of pit bulls AFTER he was sued for a million dollars for providing his "expert" opinion to a retired fire fighter about the safety of a pit bull that he was in possession of. The pit bull attacked the retired fire fighter. Despite the fact that the pit bull had a known documented history of previous aggression, BORCHELT assured the retired fire fighter the pit bull was safe. During the civil trial, BORCHELT testified under oath that the pit bull was not vicious. Yeah. Just in case you missed the colored text above indicating an external link, click here.

PETER BORCHELT is a member of an elite club known as Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. According to the civil lawsuit article, he charges $300 an hour to fix your dog's problems. You can find his fee schedule here. BORCHELT'S gun for hire, er uh I mean "expert" witness page is conveniently malfunctioning.


If I were asked to recommend a dog, say for a children's psychiatric ward, my first choice would be a pit bull. When children pull their tail, if they have one, or poke them, the dog's like... he doesn't care. With a good owner, you have the most fantastic breed of all.  

Poor Ian. Yet another dupe of proof of assertion. Apparently he has yet to receive the memo regarding the official revocation of nanny dog status

Hot shot Dunbar does not appear to offer services for problematic or dangerous behaviors. Smart move.



No other breed has been maligned or vilified as much as the pit bull terrier. One commonly finds negative publicity about this breed, despite the fact that many honorable Americans have kept pit bulls as pets, including Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Edison. 
RICHARD POLSKY, PhD and "expert" for hire.

Poor Richard. All of that money and all those years spent studying to acquire impressive degrees was no guarantee that he would be able to demonstrate critical thinking skills. He still fell prey to the common fallacy known as Proof of Assertion. It is a documented fact that President Roosevelt's "pit bull" was a dangerous menace. It is a documented fact that Edison did not own Nipper and there is no documented proof that Thomas Edison ever owned any pit bull. 

The pit bulldog's long legacy of vilification is well earned and well documented.

POLSKY'S fee schedule is available on demand. I suspect it is one of those cases where if you have to ask, you probably can't afford it.


DR JAMES HA, animal behaviorist at the University of Washington in Seattle and "expert" for hire.
The reason we're focusing just on pit bulls is that we hear so much about them, and that is not because of the breed difference, the genetic difference - that's because of the way they've been raised.

That quote is from a 2010 KOMO news interview. Compare that to HA'S blog post in 2008, where HA cited research that stated red and golden cocker spaniels were more likely to display aggressive behavior than black cocker spaniels and that yellow labs were "significantly more likely to be reported with aggression problems" than the black or chocolate variants, yet JAMES HA promotes the crazy notion that dogs artificially selected for violence only require a loving gentle family.

Also in the 2010 KOMO interview, DR HA stated that mastiffs, chows, shepherds, rottweillers and dobermans are "all more genetically aggressive than" dogs that had been artificially selected for combat for 200 years. HA goes on to add that genetics is roughly 20-30% responsible for temperament. YET, at the roughly 4:00 minute mark of his presentation on "Behavioral Genetics" DR HA stated that in studies of selected dog breeds, none were gripping breeds btw, for defence behaviors ie, guarding, attacking, biting there is a 14 - 20% heritability rate "which in genetics world is important". He immediately followed up with "there are different genetic predispositions in different breeds." Towards the end of this 2011 youtube video, HA states that 30-50% of behavior is genetics. My head was spinning just trying to keep up with all his facts.

DR JAMES HA is a member of an elite club known as Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists.
HA offers a variety of services ranging from $75 - 250 plus travel fees.

One unspoken assumption among early behavior geneticists, an assumption that was shared by most for many years, was that some psychological traits were likely to be significantly influenced by genetic factors, whereas others were likely to be primarily influenced by shared environmental influences. Most behavior geneticists assumed that social attitudes, for example, were influenced entirely by shared environmental influences, and so social attitudes remained largely unstudied until relatively recently. The evidence now shows how wrong these assumptions were. Nearly every reliably measured psychological phenotype (normal and abnormal) is significantly influenced by genetic factors. Heritabilities also differ far less from trait to trait than anyone initially imagined. Shared environmental influences are often, but not always, of less importance than genetic factors, and often decrease to near zero after adolescence. Genetic influence on psychological traits is ubiquitous, and psychological researchers must incorporate this fact into their research programs else their theories will be ‘‘scientifically unimpressive and technologically worthless,’’ to quote Meehl again.
Genetic Influence on Human Psychological Traits

Genetics, Not Parenting, Key to Temperament, Studies Say, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 1994

Major Personality Study Finds That Traits Are Mostly Inherited, New York Times, December 2, 1986

PETER BORCHELT, IAN DUNBAR, RICHARD POLSKY and JAMES HA believe that purpose bred dogs, artificially selected for violent combat for 200 years are not genetically predisposed to violence. BORCHELT, DUNBAR, POLSKY and HA believe it is equally wrong to think that nature plays second fiddle to nurture in dogs. Unfortunately, they have been able to convince others of their distorted beliefs too.

So much for "experts".

Dr James Ha




Jane Goodall



The Nanny Dog Myth Revealed

Thomas Edison's pit bull

Famous Pit Bull Owners: The Thomas Alva Edison Edition

Famous Pit Bull Owners: The Presidential Edition

Pete Roosevelt: The Disgraced White House Bandog

Myth 99: Scientists know what they are talking about because they study animals in an objective way, Alexandra Semyonova

The science of how behavior is inherited in aggressive dogs by Alexandra Semyonova

Alexandra Semyonova's book, The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs is available in the right side bar of this blog.

The Trouble With Experts

Only An Expert



Antisocial Character and Behavior: Threats and Solutions - William H. Reid


The costs of chronic and widespread psychopathic behavior are not some nonjudgmental natural phenomena in which the fittest survive. North America is not "nature red in tooth and claw," in which there is no right or wrong in being predator or prey in some oddly natural order of things. We control our social destiny as no animals and no other humans in history have done. We are rational people choosing to deny our own responsibility for personal and social well-being.

I dislike anthropological comments, now pop social science, that compare psychopaths to wolves and speak of some misinterpreted Darwinian survival of the fittest. Such academic wags are engaging in what seems to be the opposite of anthropomorphism. It is tempting to say that our masses have somehow become baitfish for the psychopathic shark, or sheep for the antisocial wolf, but this is not quite the case. In modern society, human predators are not acting out of some instinct, and their prey are not genetically predestined to become part of a figurative food chain. To say that most human predators are acting animalistically, out of some natural but hypertrophied survival or territorial imperative, is to give them more credit than they are due, and to deny them the responsibility that we are entitled to demand for their actions.

I agree that we can see remnants of our phylogeny in our brains and behaviors, but it is a mistake to search there for answers to behavioral questions. Sadistic, amoral, or intraspecies violence (not related to mating contests or, in a few species, competition for food) is not often found in nature. It has little evolutionary value. Thus predatory sexual violence, for example, cannot be correctly termed "animalistic," since no "animals" engage in it. Preying upon the elderly or disabled of one's own species, a hallmark of psychopathic opportunism, has almost no parallel in mammalian nature. Human psychopathy involves human experience and human choice.

If the human predators, psychopaths and others, are not to be seen as "animals," should they be seen as "only human," part of the "human condition"? And should they be treated according to the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"? Should our lofty principles and sense of ethics cause us to treat them with understanding and forgiveness alone? Of course not.


One of the biggest obstacles to finding answers to chronic antisocial behavior and violent crime, and at the same time one of the least appreciated, is our sense of fairness.

Law-abiding citizens are heavily invested in the premise that all people value the tenets of our Constitution. Many go further, and believe that a very liberal interpretation of the Constitution is important to protecting our republic and its representative democracy.

Chronic criminals and psychopaths do not value the same rules and tenets, except for themselves. Instead, they use them against us. Thus they take from us in a very serious way–by turning our deep convictions (and guilts about going against those convictions) to their own ends. We hobble ourselves, but not the crooks, with our rules. In this, one of the most dangerous games, the playing field is wildly tilted in favor of the opponent.

But isn't our sense of fairness in the face of adversity a mark of our civilization? Isn't this what separates us from the animals, and even from the very criminals we seek to control? Don't we need that sense of fairness to keep out society intact?

No. First, life is full of situations in which we need to do something distasteful, try to do it within our rules of law and ethics, and somehow accomplish the goal. Most of us agree that we need to slaughter animals from time to time. We do it as humanely as possible, but we get it done. And we do it in such a way that our needs for food, safety, efficiency, and profit are met. We also agree that some public health needs are important enough to require suspension of some rights of people who have not been convicted of any crime; this suspension is sometimes based merely on the possibility that they may become ill and represent a danger to others. We require that certain people with infections be reported, treated, and in some cases prevented from infecting others (via quarantine or even incarceration).

But we shrink from controlling the criminal or probably criminal, even when the danger is far more obvious. We are so bound by the tenets of fairness and basic equality upon which we have founded systems of Western law (and some, but not all, Western religion) that we steadfastly prevent ourselves from seeing some exceptions to those tenets. We recognize that there are exceptions–for children and a few other groups–but we fail to apply them to psychopaths and other chronically predatory people until the damage has been done.

Firm Action Need Not Threaten Our Democracy or Our Ethics

We wrestle endlessly with the question of who is the greater danger: those who would openly subvert society and overthrow it, or those who we fear would weaken it by suspending our rights, one by one in the name of protecting us from some internal threat. While we have been interminably discussing this weighty issue, the psychopaths, who don't trouble themselves with contemplation, have been gaining ground. It is not just a question of finding a solution that protects us from violence while guarding against the possibility that we will throw the Constitution out with the crooks. Our philosophical struggle with the issues has become truly obsessive. We are frustrated, but complacent. Reformers disagree, obstruct each other's actions, and accomplish virtually nothing in the way of real solutions. If this were an invasion, with clouds of war gathering on the horizon, would we be so complacent?

There is no "if". To fail to act is to make our world even smaller–to give up our streets, parks, stores, and schools to predators who neither believe in nor adhere to the rules we hold dear for ourselves. To fail to act is to continue to limit our freedoms at the hands of those who laugh at our naiveté. To fail to act may be to lose our democracy.

"They" Are Different from "Us"

I have no wish to dehumanize people when I say that those who purposely endanger others in our streets, parks, and schools, even our homes, are qualitatively different from us; the enemy is at our door. Most of our energy must be diverted to immediate defense, not merely to studying his motivations. There is no (reasonable) ethic which requires that we treat him as we treat other adults; indeed, to do so is foolish. If we treat him as if he were like us, we will continue to fail, and he will continue to take from us.

Antisocial Character and Behavior: Threats and Solutions, William H. Reid
Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior, Theodore Millon PhD DSc, et al, 2003

William H Reid is a forensic psychiatrist and author of Unmasking the Psychopath: Antisocial Personality and Related Symptoms.
I recommend both books.

related post Community Protection Act


Community Protection Act


On May 20, 1989, a 7 year old boy was raped, stabbed, sexually mutilated and left for dead in a park in Tacoma, Washington. The next day, police arrested Earl Kenneth Shriner, a violent sex offender who was well known to the authorities for violent sex crimes dating back 24 years.

What was so unusual about this particular crime and this predator that they earned a mention on this blog? Shriner openly talked about his deranged fantasies of rape and torture. The authorities were well aware of the extreme danger Shriner posed to the community and they were frustrated that there was nothing they could do about it.

Not surprisingly, when those details were made public in the days after Shriner's arrest, there was massive public outrage. This outrage was channeled into a victim advocacy group. They called themselves The Tennis Shoe Brigade and they demanded that lawmakers pass laws making communities safer. And they got it.

In 1990, Washington State legislators unanimously passed the first sexual predator law that allowed the state to lock someone up indefinitely in an effort to protect the community from future crimes they MIGHT commit.

Over the next 25 years, nineteen states passed similar laws and of course legal challenges claiming the laws were unconstitutional were close behind. Funny, each time the laws were challenged, the courts upheld the right of the state to protect the community from violent predators.

The tragic story of the 7 year old Tacoma boy and Earl Shriner seems out of place here, yet there is a ring of eerie familiarity.

Hardly a day goes by where I do not read or hear about situations where people complain to the authorities about loose and menacing dogs but the response from law enforcement and animal control is "Sorry, we can't do anything until after the dog bites." And of course, everyone's favorite, "Sorry but we have to witness the violation."

It is hard to imagine an incident more horrific or more preventable than the brutality Earl Shriner inflicted on that 7 year old Tacoma boy in 1989. Yet an even more egregious example of the unnecessarily tragic limitations of our laws has been playing out in Dayton, Ohio since February 7, 2014. Enter the story of Klonda Richey.

For the last couple of years Klonda Richey did not feel safe on her own property. The complaints she made to her violent felon neighbor ANDREW NASON about his vicious dogs were not only ignored by NASON but also ignored by the Montgomery County Dog Warden when the violations were not witnessed by ACOs. Klonda's paper trail of well documented complaints seemed to only escalate the tension between her and NASON and his vicious killer dogs. Threats and intimidation by NASON were captured on video surveillance. The police advised Klonda to seek a protection order and the magistrate, for whatever insane or political reason, denied her request. As a result, Dayton now has a dead woman it needs to explain.

The $64,000 questions is: Why do dangerous dogs have more rights than dangerous humans?

If we as a society can lock human beings up indefinitely to prevent future crimes they might commit, why on earth can't we take similar actions against dangerous DOGS? Why are dogs afforded this ridiculously excessive burden of proof?

The murder of Klonda Richey should be a wake up call. I hope the good people of Ohio can channel their outrage into something as productive as The Tennis Shoe Brigade and just maybe, we will see the rest of the states start to fall like dominoes.

Klonda Richey - Scorched Earth

Klonda Richey - DBO

Klonda Rickey - craven desires

Klonda Richey home video surveillance

More surveillance video

The Spokesman Review May 23, 1989

Earl Kenneth Shriner wikipedia

Community Protection Act of 1990

New York Times March 3, 2007

ATSA Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators


Canine Discrimination by Richard Prince

“Genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” – Dr. Francis Collins, former director of the National Human Genome Project and current director of the National Institutes of Health

The term was invented by the pro-pit bull lobby, for the sole purpose of using both “real discrimination” and our love for dogs to get you to feel sorry their Pit Bulls. Their purpose is designed to combat people nationwide who are screaming for legislation in regards to Pit Bulls.

Just to get you up to speed, Pit Bulls have killed at least eight Americans in the first 80 days of 2015.

The dog “species” as a whole have killed 42 Americans in 2014. Pit Bulls and their mixes have killed at least 31 of those 42. It is important to note that breed was not identified in three fatalities. Frequent human kills by dogs is a breed specific problem, and therefore “Canine Discrimination is not a bad thing. It is necessary. Pit Bulls and their mixes are responsible for 100% of all human deaths (so far) this year by canines.

There are over 400 different recognized breeds of dogs in the world. How is it, only one breed can be responsible for over 90% of all deaths caused by dogs?

Lets take a look at the word discrimination. Webster’s three definitions:

1) the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people

2) the ability to recognize the difference between things that are of good quality and those that are not

3) the ability to understand that one thing is different from another thing

We can throw out the first one because it refers to the legal definition of discrimination, which pertains to PEOPLE. The Constitution protects people from unjust discrimination. There is no national legal wording that protects dogs or cats from unjust discrimination by breed, and there should never be! So we throw the legal definition out, which, I would like to point out is the definition that the pro-pit bull lobby wants you to think of when they sell their rotten and selfish bill of goods.

What does that leave us?

The ability to recognize the difference between things that are of good quality and those that are not and the ability to understand that one thing is different from another thing.

Let’s now talk about the “dog” as a species. They all derived from the wolf if you go back in time far enough, but at some point, some of them became domesticated. Not for pets, but mostly for work. Mankind discovered the dogs are excellent helpers when it comes to work. Not all jobs were the same, and not all dogs had the same desires or abilities.

What did mankind do? We began to meddle with the dog species. Through discriminatory, artificial selection through controlled breeding, mankind created many different breeds of the dog species. It took hundreds of years to do. Each breed had a purpose, and they were inherently good at what they were bred for, thanks to the discriminatory breeding practices of humans.

An example of discriminatory selection for breeding---The breeders end goal in this example is to create a breed that was sleek and fast, so he would not be mating big, thick boned dogs. He would instead select longer boned dogs to breed with each other, so they would create the sleek and long boned puppies. In turn, he would grow the pups until they were old enough to breed themselves, and select and use only the ones that helped him reach his end game. He would purposely select against, discriminate against, a thick and muscled breed of dog or pup in this breeding cycle. He also would not select a dog with short and stubby legs, so that stubby dog would also be discriminated against in the selection of the the dogs that were allowed to mate with each other, when his end game was to create a racing greyhound.

The dogs became naturals at what they were discriminately bred to do. With some training, they were given the opportunity to hone their natural abilities and become even better at what they were bred to do. The breeds each developed instincts.

Puppies, almost fresh and wet from the womb have shown their instinctual abilities from a very young age, before any training had taken place. Their instincts were inherent, much like it is an instinct for a rattle snake to curl up and bite you, or the instincts of an eagle to hunt for it’s food. Young Pointer puppies will begin pointing. Young Beagle puppies will put their noses to the ground sniffing away at things as soon as they are able. It is natural for them.

The breeders did a really good job in their discrimination, in the process of their selection of dogs to mate with one another, to make all these breeds. It took hundreds of years for them to work and breed their way through the species of dog to get these final products (breeds), and now, suddenly, Pit Bull owners in 2015 wants us all to ignore these historical facts?

They toss out the words “breed discrimination” as if it were some sort of a crime? They demand we do not discriminate against pit bulls and they demand we treat them the same as we would treat any Cocker Spaniel, or Pug, or Labrador Retriever, despite the fact it was discrimination that created ALL of the different breeds.

Some breeds are really good at hunting, or pointing at birds, and some dogs were really adept at mountain rescue work. Some breeds are really good at being lap dogs, or chasing a fox, or scaring a raccoon up a tree, and lastly, some dogs were really good at fighting, gripping, and killing. Pit Bulls were hand selected to fight, in other words, man discriminated in favor of the Pit Bull's violent and savage traits.

To breed Pit Bulls, they crossed bulldogs with terriers. They used bulldogs for their strength and grip, and terriers for their tenacity, smarts and smaller size, and their hold and shake attack style.

This is what Pit Bulls were bred for. Dog fighting. All too often they use their animal aggression against humans, but now the owners of Pit Bulls want us to ignore the differences between Pit Bulls and Pugs, despite the fact that it took breeders hundreds of years to purposely create these differences.

The differences of the breeds of dogs are what makes the dog unique. Ignoring the Pit Bull's desire and ability, and instincts to grip onto another warm blooded animal, and hold and shake until there is blood and death, is about as stupid as ignoring a Greyhound's speed by putting a Pug or a Beagle on a Greyhound track to race against other Greyhounds.

Avoiding this dog may save your life.

Your life, and the lives of your children may one day depend on your ability to recognize a Pit Bull from a block away.

Creating special regulations or laws for pit bulls may save your life. Laws we simply do not need to create for every breed of the canine species. A law created to protect us from Pit Bulls, would be of no use to enforce onto Pugs and Chihuahuas.

Do all dogs bite? Yes, and Pit Bull owners are always quick to point out how nasty Dachshunds can be....but let me know when you see a Dachshunds lift a 12 year old boy off the ground and shake the child until he is dead.

Lets stop with this “breed discrimination talk”, like there is something wrong with it. It is perfectly, moral, legal and ethical to discriminate against a breed of dog.

It strikes me as awfully funny that owners of Greyhounds never complain when we recognize the speed of their dogs.

Come to think of it, the owners of hounds are pretty damn proud when we recognize how great they are at tracking.

Videos of Pointer, Setter, Border Collie and Pit Bull puppies flexing their DNA at very young ages.

A Demonstration of Genetics


2014 Dog Fatalities


Famous Pit Bull: Popsicle

"Finding a drug odor is called an alert. Most dogs alert by scratching but true to his pit bull nature, Popsicle prefers to indicate narcotic odors by biting or chewing at the location of the smell. If Rudy weren't quick to intervene, Popsicle could rip the source of the suspicious scent to shreds."

From Dogs with Jobs, Season 2 Episode 2 ~6:00

streaming on netflix

Pit bull authority Diane Jessup on the use of pit bulls as police K9s.


The Truth About Pit Bull Owners

Myth 39: The serious to fatal damage the aggressive breeds inflict when they attack isn’t due to their genes, but rather due to having the wrong kind of owners.

We’ve seen that the killing bite and unpredictable, uncontrolled aggression are genetically anchored in these dogs, and that they can’t be taught not to execute killing behaviour. They inevitably reach a certain age when they start to do it, looking for opportunities and excuses to do what we have bred them to do (see Myth 38). If you’re lucky, the first attack will be on your cat or another dog, and not on your child. This killing behaviour is not caused by the owner in individual cases; it’s just part of what the dog is. However, the killing behaviour is caused by certain people’s consumer behaviour. By buying these dogs, these people are responsible for making it economically profitable to breed for the killing bite and the hair trigger. Are these people all “the wrong kind of owners”?
The answer to this question lies in the kind of person who wants a dog with the killing bite in the first place. So who are they?
Well, in fact, they are the wrong kind of owners. Take a look around you. It’s mostly a group of people who – for some reason related to their personal psychology – specifically want a dog whose breed standard explicitly states that the breed has been selected for extreme aggression. Often these are people with an inferiority complex of some kind. They want something that will finally enable them to intimidate other people. They have an ego problem, and need to prove something to the world. Many are men who are (perhaps unconsciously) worried about their masculinity, that maybe the world won’t see it. Others are adolescents who watch too much MTV and learn that an aggressive dog is an essential consumer item, just like the Nikes, if he wants to keep up his macho hip-hop or skater’s image. Sometimes they are naïve people, who think all dogs are cuddly plush toys. None of these people have any idea of behavioural conformation (see Myth 38), of the unity of mind and body Nature gives to all creatures, and they are all, in their own way, consumed by vanity.

Experience (of which this author has a lot, alas) teaches that the owners of aggressive breeds can be divided broadly into three categories.

1) We all know there are people who try to conceal their inner feelings of inadequacy by acting extra tough outwardly. Many of them nowadays go buy a “tough” dog. These people, who are struggling with an inferiority complex or an ego problem, then try to force their pit bull/Am Staff (or Presa, or Dogo, etc.) on you because they feel the world owes them recognition. Many of us have experienced this. You try to avoid these people (and their dog) on the street or in a park, but they follow you, determined to inflict the dog upon you. (After all, what’s the use of having this proof of Manliness around if no one will look at it?) They cross the street to follow you so you can’t avoid a confrontation. Their dog runs up to yours in a park, and they refuse to call it when you ask them to. Usually, the dog wouldn’t obey anyway, and they don’t want this embarrassing fact revealed to you. But above all, they enjoy your worry about what their aggressive dog will do. They shout at you to stop acting so weird about their dog. They get angry, and they often get verbally aggressive. It is of extreme importance to these people to force their dog on you, because their need is so great to show the world they know better than everyone else. The dog is the way they can seek arguments and win for a change, since they never succeed in doing this on their own strength. When their dog does attack another dog and try to kill him, they are dumbfounded, because they really are too stupid to understand what these dogs are all about. Their cowardice surfaces – they don’t dare interfere with their attacking dog, and once it’s over, they disappear as quick as they can. Often you never see them in the park again, which is great, except for the fact that someone’s normal, peace seeking dog had to pay with his life first. But some of them don’t disappear for good. Some of them actually enjoy watching their dog’s aggression, and just make sure they’re gone before the police arrive. Tomorrow they’re back again, and blaming you for having called the police. There have been cases in which the owner of the attacked dog was terrorized as punishment for reporting the attack to the police, to the extent that the owner of the horribly wounded dog had to move to a different neighbourhood. Finally, many of the people in this category of aggressive dog lovers enter their dogs in illegal pit fights, a phenomenon which has resurfaced in many of our cities since these dogs became so widespread. Some of these specifically go to places where other dogs come, in the hope that if their aggressive-breed dog practices on your cocker spaniel, he’ll do better in the pit.

2) These are young adolescent male humans, who have reached the brink of adulthood but aren’t there yet. The adolescent male is searching for his identity and trying to get himself a satisfying spot in his peer group. The adolescent doesn’t always have bad intentions, but his brain isn’t ripe yet, and he isn’t yet capable of understanding the consequences of his actions (which is also the reason he has to pay so much more for car insurance than the rest of us). He sees the macho rapper on television, accompanied by the aggressive dog, and he wants one, too. After he’s finished saving up for Nikes, he saves up for a dog. He has no idea what he’s bought once he has the dog, thinking it’s just another consumer item. To him the dog isn’t any different than his other fashion accessories, to him the dog is a thing that will – just like his Portable Play Station – turn on and off if you press the button. The adolescent is, by virtue of his age, a bit rebellious. He is exploring various boundaries, sometimes pushing the envelope in his search for an identity. He just loves to show adults that he won’t do what they ask him to do, but that he makes his own decisions. Of course he won’t leash his dog just because some grown-up makes the request, are you kidding, what a loss of face! He isn’t prepared for it when his dog attacks a person or another dog, and he doesn’t know what to do. His toy is suddenly acting up. So he does nothing, offers no help, doesn’t dare interfere with his dog, and most probably just gets the hell out of Dodge as quick as his little adolescent legs will carry him. Adolescence is an age of natural egotism, and a time when even sympathetic boys often lose their ability to empathize with others for a while. So this kid isn’t capable of imagining the suffering the attacked dog goes through, nor the grief of the dog’s owner. He’s just glad his parents didn’t find out about what happened, otherwise they might take his dog away. “Tomorrow’s another day, hey, don’t be so serious about life, and besides, what could I do about it? The dog did it, not me.”

3) These are the Egotistical Innocents. They are members of animal protection clubs and humane societies. They read lots of sentimental stories about animals, and they watch lots of programs on Discovery Channel. They believe that all animals are sweet-natured cuddly toys. These people’s egocentricity is different from the adolescent’s. These people think they are the measure of all things, and they therefore believe that if a dog is nice to them, well, it means he’s nice, period. How the dog behaves towards others isn’t so important. The Egotistical Innocent lives in a fairy tale, failing to see that a dog is a living being with a will and personality of his own, and that the dog hasn’t been informed of the fairy tale. The Innocent is reinforced in the fairy tale by breeders who agree that the stories about these dogs are all lies, after all, look how sweet he is to the prospective buyer. The Innocent doesn’t understand what “fierce protector of home and hearth, averse to strangers” means, doesn’t know a secret language has been developed since these breeds started causing so much tragedy. She likes the idea of proving to all the world that even these dogs fit her fairy tale, and that they are the poor victims of vicious anti-animal propaganda. The Egotistical Innocent is delighted with her puppy and sees him as a sort of four-legged human baby. She doesn’t see that the pup is playing in an abnormally aggressive way at the age of eight weeks already. She is dumbfounded on the day when her “puppy,” who meantime is actually a young dog, suddenly, out of the blue (because the warning phase has been bred out of these dogs), launches an unbridled attack on another dog and seriously wounds or kills the other dog. She is stricken and disillusioned – not only about the suffering of the attacked dog, but also because her fairy tale has caved in. But not to worry. It only takes her a few days to restore her view of the world. She decides her dog is as sweet as she’d thought after all. After thinking awhile, she realizes the whole thing was the other dog’s fault. After all, the other dog growled at her sweetie, so what else could her sweetie do but defend himself? Sometimes the Egotistical Innocent will cry out that German shepherds bite too, or that even a dachshund can be dangerous under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, there is always a way for people who don’t want to face realities. The great tragedy is that the Egotistical Innocent’s dog will harm or kill many other dogs, because she continues to take him to dog parks, in the belief that it’s up to the other dogs to make sure they don’t get killed.

Fact: This Myth is true in the sense that these dogs always have the wrong owners, people who shouldn’t have a dog in the first place. However, this Myth is false because it’s the genetics of the dog that make him a killer, regardless of what kind of owner he has. In other words, these dogs aren’t killers because they have the wrong owners, rather they attract the wrong owners because they are killers.

Brown, S-E, The human-animal bond and self-psychology: Toward a new understanding, Society & Animals, electronic version, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2003.
Burrows, TJ, Fielding, WJ, Views of college students on pit bull “ownership”: New Providend, The Bahamas, Society & Animals, Vol. 13, No. 2, 139-152, 2005.
Frommer, SS, Arluke, A, Loving them to death: blame-displacing strategies of animal shelter workers and surrenderers, Society & Animals, Volume 7, Number 1, 1999.
Peremans, K, Functional brain imaging of the dog; single photon emission tomography as a research and clinical tool for the investigation of canine brain physiology and pathophysiology, Universiteit Gent, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Gent, 2002. http://www.uznuclear.ugent.be/research/phd_dissertations/Functional_Brain_LowRes.pdf
Oral history collected from dog owners in The Hague, 1994-2009.

From: Semyonova, A, The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs, The Hastings Press, England, 2009, pages 125 – 127. (Check side bar for purchasing options)

Recommended reading to enhance your understanding of this serious problem:

On pit bulls and their owners. Kenneth Phillips, 17 Barks, September 5, 2013

Personality and Behavioral Characteristics of Owners of Vicious Breeds of Dog. Kenneth Phillips, dogbitelaw.com

Vicious dogs: the antisocial behaviors and psychological characteristics of owners.  Ragatz L1, Fremouw W, Thomas T, McCoy K., Journal of Forensic Sciences. 2009 May; 54(3):699-703.

Ownership of high-risk ("vicious") dogs as a marker for deviant behaviors: implications for risk assessment. Barnes JE1, Boat BW, Putnam FW, Dates HF, Mahlman AR. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2006 Dec; 21(12):1616-34.

Psychological Characteristics Owners of High Risk for Aggression Dog Breeds. Stanley Coren. Psychology Today,

Do Owners and Their Dogs Have Similar Personalities? Stanley Coren. Psychology Today,

What an Aggressive Dog Says About its Owner. Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience, May 24, 2012

Owners of Aggressive Dog Breeds Are More Hostile. Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience, August 09, 2012

2015 World Dog Show – Turmoil Amongst American Staffordshire Terrier Crowd, The Canine Chronicle, June 19, 2015


The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs - Alexandra Semyonova

Myth 99: Scientists know what they are talking about because they study animals in an objective way. 

We have seen that many scientists who make statements about dogs have never really studied dogs. Many of them simply adopted our Nazi Nobel Prize winner’s story about dogs, ignoring the fact that the man’s specialty was birds. Some simply went along with the idea that once you’ve looked at wolves, you don’t need to look at dogs. The scientists who have studied dogs have done it either in highly unnatural circumstances (the lab), or they’ve only watched the dogs for short intervals. But all the same, they make sweeping – and, as we have now seen, incorrect – statements about the domestic dog, claiming to know what it is and how it works. We have all been taught to believe that science is able to protect itself from such blunders. So the question arises as to why science has been blundering along this way about dogs, producing more fantasy than facts about them. In this chapter, we’ll look at a number of the things that are behind this.

    A huge, almost religious romance has been built up around science in our day. This romance states that science is in the business of constantly turning itself upside down and inside out in the search for truth. We look at scientists with awe, as if they are a special species and a sort of super humans. The fact is, scientists are ordinary human beings just like the rest of us. And just like the rest of us, scientists have egos. They are subject to pressure to produce, same as the rest of the labour force. Publishing articles fast and frequently helps a scientist’s career more than less frequent, but more valid, publications would. Like us, scientists want to be able to pay the mortgage, keep the kids at the private schools and buy a new car next year. Research funding and university jobs are scarce, and there is fierce competition for them. The older generation is ever watchful that the ideas of some young, coming colleague don’t overturn their own, old theories, the ones they’ve built their senior careers on. It’s not so hard to keep some uppity young thing from getting a teaching position. It isn’t hard to prevent a younger colleague from publishing, or at least to delay this, and if this fails, well, you can always manipulate the citation index (see text box below).

    As a result of all this, science, itself, is organized in a strictly structured (and enforced) hierarchy – scientists spend their lives moving within a dominance hierarchy they are never allowed to forget, always watching out whether they are stepping on higher ranked toes. For example, at scientific congresses, an insider can see at a glance who the Alpha leaders are just by looking at the seating arrangement. The closer to the front, the higher the rank. You ask difficult questions of those sitting behind you, but not those in front of you. You interrupt those behind you to correct a mistake, but not those in front of you. If you disobey these rules, you run the risk of torpedoing your own chances of getting good teaching or research positions, of being cited enough to count, and thus of ever building a scientific career.

The citation index

The fact that both academic career and scientific prestige are so dependent on publishing has led to the churning out of much trivial, irrelevant or even spurious work. Under the publish or perish pressure, some scientists have gone so far as to falsify data. Some have even published articles about research that never really took place. In the end, the problem of low quality publications reached such proportions that publication alone was abandoned as a criterion for estimating a researcher’s worth. Privately, inside the club, some of the most brilliant scientists openly acknowledge that you have as much chance of finding quality work in the scientific journals as you do on the Internet, where any nut (be it a brilliant nut or be it just a nut) can write and publish as s/he pleases. As both university administrators and the general public began to get wind of this problem, a solution had to be found – some way to more validly estimate the quality of a researcher’s work. They came up with the citation index. This is published by organizations that keep track of how much one scientist’s published work is cited by other scientists in their footnotes and bibliographies. The presumption is that scientists will tend to use high quality work as sources for their own. This presumption was justified by the fact that Nobel Prize winners turned out, up to 1965, to indeed have been cited about 40 times as often as other colleagues (despite the fact that these Nobel Prize winners only published about five times as much).

But of course, water always seek the lowest level – and scientists are, just like the rest of us, about 60% water. Once the citation index was instituted as a basis for getting jobs and prestige, people immediately began manipulating the index. All you have to do is cite your friends and ignore your competitors whenever possible. Yet again, this has taken such a flight that no one really takes the various indexes entirely seriously anymore. Some scientists openly and publicly ridicule them, while others (guess who) avidly defend them. Everyone recommends, at any rate, not using them as the sole measure of a researcher’s scientific worth.
End text box

    In a nutshell, science is partly an honest search for founded knowledge, but it is also partly a complicated ritual dance about ranks and status and damned be the truth. And of course, the young scientist must, like all young animals, survive in the environment s/he lives in. It is, thus, not so easy to contradict a Nobel Prize winner (at least not while he’s still alive). And when you live and move daily in a world that is organized by the principle of a strict dominance hierarchy and ever-guarded ranks, it’s not so easy to see when you are projecting this onto others (in particular when the others can’t speak to correct you).

    Then there’s a second problem with the objectivity of science: scientists are still mostly men. We all know (and it has been proven repeatedly) that men tend to use competitive strategies in dealing with group membership, whereas women tend to use cooperative strategies. As we look at the world around us, we all refer to our own inner experience and motivation as we try to understand and explain it. It can’t be otherwise, this is true of all humans. Our own experience of the world affects which things we find important enough to study at all, which questions we then pose, which things we think are relevant (and thus which things we count), and how we interpret whatever results our studies turn up. Because of this, it’s inevitable that the pretty much exclusive presence of men in science has led to some distortions in the way the world is researched and interpreted. This might not be so important when we’re looking at non-living things, but when it comes to interpreting the behavior of living creatures this is a serious failing. This projection of purely male, competitive psychology onto reality has given us many faulty theories about the world of the living. The theory that non-human animals are constantly constructing competitive hierarchies isn’t the only one. Freud’s theory that incest doesn’t really occur, that this is just four-year-old girls having fantasies about sleeping with their fathers, came from the same place.

    Then there’s this other thing about having mostly men do science. Recent research (published by The Scientific American) has shown that men engage in science in a different way than women do. Men are more preoccupied with career building and tend to be focused on publishing a lot and fast. Women tend to be more concerned with doing really thorough research, even if this slows down their rate of publication. In other words, women tend to do better science than men, but the rules of the game mean that this slows down their careers. This doesn’t mean that all men are inferior scientists. It does mean that it isn’t always the best scientists who end up at the top of the hierarchy, with the most prestige.

    When we are talking about the sciences that study animal behavior, there is a third thing that gets in the way of objectivity. We now know that science often attract people who have various, more or less serious, autism related disorders, perhaps in particular Asperger’s syndrome. This turned out, in 2006, to be the explanation for a small epidemic of autistic disorders among school-going children in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. A world wide electronics company had established a large scientific research centre in that city, which – as it turned out – had attracted an unusual concentration of parents (scientists employed by the company) who themselves suffered from these heritable disorders. One of the typical symptoms of these disorders is that the bearer has difficulty with social and communicative skills. They often have difficulty conceiving of the other as a living being with its own inner world of knowledge, feelings, beliefs and intentions that are not the same as his/her own: they lack the ability to feel empathy. They tend to have difficulty with social and emotional reciprocity. People with these disorders are particularly bad at reading non-verbal language and social signals. Because of this, they often have trouble responding appropriately in social contexts or communicating their own inner world. There has not yet been any large scale investigation into exactly how many scientists have autism related disorders, nor whether they are concentrated in particular fields of study. Until these questions are answered, it is probably a good idea to be reserved about believing any statements scientists make about the behavior of animals.  First we need to know how many of the observers we have appointed to this task are really capable of understanding another’s behavior at all.

    But we aren’t done yet. When we are talking about animals, we are talking about non-verbal creatures, whose only means of expressing themselves is body language. Among humans, about seventy percent of the information that is conveyed in a conversation is conveyed non-verbally, by our facial expressions, tone of voice, body postures and positions. Among animals, one hundred percent of the information is conveyed this way. Now of course, not all scientists have autism related problems with this – but it remains a problem that most scientists are men. Men in general are infamously (and scientifically proven) bad at reading what we call body language, at any rate they are much worse at it than women. So it is, yet again, questionable whether we can and should put our trust in what are, evidently, our least capable observers when we want to understand the behavior of animals.

    If we take all of the above together, this may explain why so many scientists still, some three hundred fifty years later, embrace Descartes’ view of the animal as a machine, a sort of program-driven automaton that is without feelings, without any kind of thoughts, completely different and separate from humans. It is, in scientific circles, still taboo to contradict this idea. The word “anthropomorphic” appears instantly as a reproach, and as proof that you must be fairly worthless and quite misguided as a scientist. [Anthropomorphism means assigning human qualities to non-human objects.] This is often still the case even when it’s about something as evident as the fact that other mammals feel pain. The accusation of anthropomorphism is usually paired with ridicule and laughter.

    Because of all this, science moves only very slowly in correcting the flaws I point out in this book. We know now how similar our anatomies and brains are to those of other animals (and where they aren’t similar), including the functions of all kinds of body and brain structures, processes and parts. We know now that we differ genetically from a rabbit only by about fifteen percent – which means that a large number of our own genes are executing the same programs they execute in other animals. Despite this, scientists are still amazed when, for example, a creature as simple as a crow is able to make plans, to use tools and to complete complicated tasks (a thing any farmer could have told them three hundred years ago, had they bothered to ask, and if they hadn’t laughed so contemptuously at him). And, after watching the crow make plans, use tools, and do complicated assignments, they still continue to insist that the same crow is unable to feel (for example) pain as we feel it. In a nutshell, science now has to deny many known facts because of adopting an incorrect viewpoint three hundred fifty years ago, one which is now very difficult to abandon without great loss of face. But of course, it could be less nefarious. It could be a kind of innocence operating. It could be that scientists are just genuinely unable to adapt to changes, preferring to continue their repetitive movements according to their set pattern, because they are semi-autistic and can’t understand the meaning of it all, or why it would matter anyway. The ridiculing laughter may be nothing more than the defensive autistic panic reaction when confronted with a part of the universe they aren’t even able to perceive, let alone understand. This, too, is possible.

    Another reason science moves so slowly is the obsession with measurement and quantification. You might think you see a thing, but it doesn’t really exist until you have measured it. This is something that fits into the pattern of autism, but it is also (to be fair) a kind of honest hope that measurement and quantification will (albeit magically) insure objectivity. This wouldn’t be so bad if scientists had said you don’t understand a thing until you’ve measured it. But alas, this isn’t what they came up with, and this is a source of huge problems with science. Many aspects of reality are simply denied as even existing, simply because we can’t measure them (yet). The shock at discovering how few genes we have and the conclusion that we really aren’t so different from other animals as we thought, is just one example. Another problem is that the fixation with quantification leads science to focus on things we can measure instead of concentrating on things that are really relevant. A question that can’t be answered with quantitative data and a statistics program, in an article of not more than seven pages length (including diagrams and tables), is set aside – you can’t publish about it anyway, so why be interested? Even scientists are complaining that this attitude has led to stagnation in the formation of theory in favour of measuring all kinds of irrelevant trivia. A final problem is that if you want to measure aspects of living beings, you have to create highly artificial circumstances and situations. This means your measurements no longer reflect the real world, and that your measurements are, therefore, very often irrelevant or even banal. This has sometimes led to surprising results, to the measurement of things that turned out not really to exist – things that were a temporary result of the artificial circumstances, which ceased to exist as soon as the artificial circumstances are removed. The dominance hierarchy within a wolf pack is an example of this. Our puppies fighting over a bone in the lab is another one.

Fact: Scientists have forgotten that one of the things they should be observing most (if they want to claim objectivity) is their own behavior. They have forgotten to watch out for how their own psychology is determining what they see. They have been too unaware that they are, like any other animal, projecting their own inner world onto the outer world and calling this the only true reality.

Fact: So there we are. There are huge unsolved problems in the sciences. All kinds of human interests, biases, and limitations play a bigger role than we acknowledge, despite sometimes honest attempts to correct these. We would all do well to keep a healthy dose of scepticism as we listen to what the scientists are telling us about dogs. You don’t have to (and can’t) assume you always know better, but you can – just to be sure – refrain from letting them talk you into doing anything that you suspect may be cruel.

Animals “projecting”

Most animals do not have the large areas of the brain that give us our abstract cognitive abilities. Most animals don’t seem to have an abstract sense of self and other, nor the ability to abstractly think about themselves or themselves vs. the other. Animals operate within their perception of the world, without being able to stand back and observe themselves. They can’t think, “Gee, maybe the other is living in a different world of perception.”

As a result, many animals will interpret the behavior of another animal according to their own inner world. Some examples to clarify. When dogs bare their teeth, they are telling the other that they want distance and will use their weapons for it if they have to. When chimps bare their teeth, they are telling the other that they feel afraid. Unless the animal has a long learning experience of what it means when we show our teeth, the animal will respond as if our smile means the same thing it means for the animal’s own species. When a human smiles at a dog, many dogs take this to mean the human is hostile. When we smile at a chimp, a chimp may take this to mean we are fearful. The animals react to our approach accordingly, and according to the rules that govern their behavior with their own kind.

So male human scientists are just another kind of animal. They look at an animal and think, “when I behave that way, it means I have such-and-such a motive, so the animal must have that same motive now, too.”  And then they tell us to respond according to our human rules, just as any other non-cognitive animal would respond according to its own rules. The fact that scientists are so quick to accuse others of anthropomorphism illustrates how unconscious their own projections are.

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