Bully Breeds – Always A Danger?
Morgan: The question for this week: “I have a bully breed, and have been told that they are never going to be safe with children. Is that actually true? And should I get rid of my dog?”
Can you answer these questions? Also, can you define for me and for everybody else what a bully breed is?
Mike: Yes. So, I have a multi-layered answer to that. So, a bully breed is pit bull types – that’s what people mean. You know, English bulldogs, American bulldogs, pit bulls, boxers – any of those. Mixes, Am Staffs, any kind of pit-bully type looking thing – those are bully breeds.
Morgan: Got it.
Mike: So, I would say: first of all, if anybody’s out there thinking “I have a bully breed, I need to get rid of it” – that’s crazy. You don’t need to get rid of your bully breed, necessarily, just by virtue of its breed, for starters.
And that said, every year we hear about one or two horrible cases where somebody’s pit bull grabbed the baby out of the stroller, or whatever, and killed it.
The thing is: as horrible as those incidents are, they’re so rare when you compare them to the number of bully breed dogs that are actually in households across the country. I don’t know what the number is, but it’s got to be hundreds of thousands – tens of thousands, for sure.
Even though statistically, when you look at children killed by dogs, there’s a predominance of Rottweilers and pit bulls, the actual numbers are still so low.
In the context of how many of these guys there are out there, it’s not enough to just slam the whole breed, and say: “These dogs will never be safe around children.” So, that’s the first thing.
One of my very good friends, who I’ve known for years – almost since I started training – she’s always been in pit bull rescue. She’s got three great kids that are adults, now, and she’s always had two or three pitties around the house – and there’s never been an issue.
She’s a great trainer, she knows what she’s doing, she’s careful – and there’s never an issue.
The Golden Rule
So, that’s got to be said, for starters. That said – and this is in my book, too – I never trust any dog with a kid, alone, unless the kid is 10 or older, and has an established good relationship with the dog.
Mike: So, you know, this idea that you can just leave your child lying there on its little play mat unattended, with the dog, while you’re running and doing the dishes real quick, or changing out the laundry or something – that’s a huge no-no.
But that’s not a breed-specific thing – that’s any dog. I don’t care if it’s a cocker spaniel, or a Pominese, or a Vizsla. You don’t leave children unattended with dogs, period. Not children under 10, anyway – period, the end, no qualifiers.
Sometimes people say – in some of the pit rescue programs and stuff like that, they’re almost pit apologists – and say: “Well, they’re just like any other doggy, if you raise them right.”
That’s also not true. They’re not just like any other dogs – they have a high aggression potential towards other dogs, in particular, and they’re just more powerful. And once they get turned on into an aggressive mode, it’s extremely difficult to turn them off.
So, they’re not like any other dogs – but they’re also not necessarily throwaways, when it comes to children, by any means. Not at all.
In a lot of states, there’s all this debate about breed-specific legislation – in other words: should a certain breed be outlawed, just by virtue of its breed? And then fill in the blank: Rottweilers, Dobermanns, pit bulls.
Because there’s been horrible incidents. I’m definitely not for that – it’s sort of the canine equivalent of racial profiling.
Morgan: Oh wow, yes.
Mike: And you know, maybe that’s overstating it a little bit – but not that much. Obviously, if you have one of these high-drive, high-intensity, super powerful dogs, you always have to take all kinds of precautions around all sorts of things. But it’s not a disqualifier from having it with a child.
And I do get that from clients of mine, sometimes, where she’s 25, her and her boyfriend have this pit who’s 3 or 4 years old, she’s pregnant, and her whole family’s getting on her case to get rid of the dog, just because it’s a pit.
Morgan: Ah, yes. And it hasn’t been problematic up until this point, the dog?
Mike: Yes – because if the dog has been problematic, then that’s obviously something to consider.
Some Extreme Cases
Mike: I had a very dramatic case a few years ago of a pittie that was incredibly vicious towards people. And we tried a bunch of different things, and the dog was just crazy – there was no saving this dog.
The dog would come up and roll on its belly, solicit belly rubs from you – and then, in the middle of the belly rub, just try to rip your face off without any warning. And for no particular reason.
Mike: This was a young couple, 29 years old – and I asked them: “Are you guys planning on having kids? Because there’s just no way this particular dog could ever live around a child.” So, that’s an extreme case – and the extreme cases don’t make the average, right?
Morgan: Yes, got it. So, one of the things you’re saying is there’s an overarching context, which is: you never leave your child alone with your dog, if they’re under 10 years old. And only as long as they have a solid relationship, even if they are over 10 years old.
And that’s just something you never do. So, that’s like point-blank, irrespective of breed.
Morgan: So right there, it covers a huge amount of the concerns that a lot of parents are going to have, point-blank. It just deals with them out of hand.
Managing Your Space Effectively
Mike: Right. And when I consult with people on preparing their dog for the arrival of the child, one of the things I really try to impress on them is: you have to establish the layout of your house, and your routine, such that it makes it possible for you to put the dog away quickly when you can’t supervise both of them together.
Even for a second, even for a second. And I know it’s tough for mom – or dad, but it’s still largely mom at home taking care of the baby – it’s really hard managing all that.
But if you want to keep the dog, to me that’s a massive prerequisite. You have to do it.
I’ll tell you, this happened here in the Bay Area just 8 months ago, out in Orinda, a really nice little suburb. It wasn’t a bully breed or anything, it was some kind of shepherd mix.
Mom had two kids – one is like 7 or 8, the other is like 2 – and she left the two kids in the room with the dog, while she went to go and just do a little laundry. Real quick, just 3 or 4 minutes.
She hears screaming from the room, runs back in, the shepherd’s got the 2-year-old in its mouth, won’t let it go, big drama. She had to call the police – and they shot the dog.
The kid made it, but was in the emergency room. She had left for like 2 minutes.
We have no idea what happened. Probably, what happened is: the kid tripped and fell on the dog, and the dog – for some reason – reacted like that. I mean, you never completely know the backstory. But it’s just 2 minutes, to do something ordinary.
Then it’s always the same story: “Oh, the dog was always fine, never had a problem.” That wouldn’t have happened if she had just taken the dog with her.
Morgan: Right. So yes, you have that as like a ground zero – you just never cross that line.
Mike: Correct. Yes, that’s in a perfect world. And you want to try, when it comes to the safety of your kid, to create as close to a perfect world as you can.
Looking At The Whole Context
Morgan: So you obviously, then, in terms of the second part of that question – “Should I get rid of my dog?”…
Mike: No!! [Laughter].
Morgan: In the context you’re talking about, obviously, yes – no!
Mike: No. Of course not, that’s crazy. Some people, probably, would say yes. But I would certainly, emphatically, say no.
You’ve got to look at the whole dog, and the whole context – not depending on the breed, but depending on the specifics.
Then, you may have to. Some people do have to rehome the dog before they get the baby, like in that extreme case that I just mentioned. There’s other cases – but not just by virtue of breed.
Consider Your Dog’s Feelings
Morgan: What would you say is the main reason people do need to get rid of their dogs?
Mike: The dog’s afraid of kids, the dog is sensitive, reactive to being touched, jealous, bite-y and possessive, or geriatric and is not going to be able to handle kids pulling on it, because it’s got arthritic hips, and might get snappy and reactive, and bite.
Things like that – or any other kind of intense aggression. Like I said, they get a baby toy in their mouth, and then the kid wants to try to grab it – things like that. I mean, there’s exercises one can do with object guarding, but those are huge red flags.
Those kinds of things are huge red flags, where I then talk to people and say: “Hey, maybe it would be better…”
Especially if the woman’s four months pregnant, so there’s five months from delivery, and there’s another eight months before the baby starts crawling – it means they have a ton of time to find another, more appropriate, home for the dog.
I mean, it’s heartbreaking – but in situations like that, I encourage people to at least consider it.
Because it’s a lot less heartbreaking now than if something does happen, down the road, and suddenly you’re faced with the fact that: “Yesterday my dog bit my kid, and now I don’t know what to do.” Then, you don’t have a ton of time to do something.
Mike: So, it’s situations like that: older dogs, dogs that are snappy or reactive, a little bit too old to be comfortably desensitized.
And also, we should take into account that the baby’s energy level is going to be on an upwards swing, while an aging dog’s energy level is on a downwards swing.
You know, take a 7-year-old dog, and then you fast forward and you’ve got a 3-year-old toddler and a 10-year-old dog? As I see it, this dog ought to be spending its older years in a place where it’s not going to be tormented by a child.
Morgan: [Laughter] Yes!
Mike: And for the parents, the family doesn’t have to worry something awful is going to happen.
Planning For The Future
Mike: I’ve had quite a number of cases like that, and it’s always heartbreaking.
Morgan: Yes. Obviously, sometimes it must depend a little on the kid. We have some friends and they have a little boy – and he’s just wild. And I know that’s often more the case with little boys – just the energy that those kids have, 2 years up. It’s out of control.
And that’s healthy; they need to express that energy. But the dog just, naturally, becomes a target – a punching bag.
Some of these kids are like Cruise missiles. They are like attracted to danger, and they are attracted to mayhem.
And again, I’m not saying that in a negative sense – I think that’s healthy for a little kid. But I think you need to consider the context, and remove any potential situations like that, where it will explode.
Mike: Yes, you’re exactly right. So, 2- or 3-year-old kids, they’re not being bad kids, they’re just kids. That’s what toddlers do – they’re out of control, they’re wild.
So then, to go back to the scenario I just described, you’ve got an aging dog with some arthritis. The dog’s energy level and tolerance level are going down as the kid is moving up into that phase.
So, that’s when I tell people: “Look, you’ve got to not think of yourself and your emotions right now – you have to think of the fact that this dog is going to live in a household where it’s going to have to live in a certain amount of fear from the kid.
You’re going to have to run this divided camp – and you just don’t know when something’s going to happen.”
I tell people: “The one who’s going to pay the emotional price here is you – so you have to suck it up. Your dog will adjust just beautifully to a new home.
And if you want to have a dog that’s suitable, then maybe get a younger dog when the kid’s a little older, or whatever. But don’t torment your dog in its last years, by having to manage it with a crazy kid.”
Mike: And then still have the potential that something bad could happen, and still end up having to rehome the dog – but now, you just don’t have any time to do it, it’s got to happen pretty quickly. Because the dog bit your kid.
Take All The Precautions – And Then Some
Mike: Every time I do one of these consultations where it’s just obvious that it’s not going to work, it just reaffirms for me why it’s so important to put this kind of information out there. Because a lot of it’s preventable – and some of it isn’t.
Mike: But it’s important for people to start thinking about this stuff as early as possible.
Morgan: Totally. Well, good – so I think that kind of brings us to a natural conclusion, Mike. Do you have any final points you want to make, before we wrap?
Mike: No, not really, I think we hit it.
Mike: Don’t throw out your bully breed – but take all the precautions, and then some.
Other Resources Not To Miss
He goes into incredible detail for how you can do that, how you can prepare your dog – and really emphasizes the point that Mike underscored already: that the sooner you do this, the better. That’s the number one thing you can do: start now.
And same with his course. It’s in two modules, and it deals with a lot of the issues that we talk about on this podcast.
If you enjoy the show, please leave us a rating and a review on iTunes – that’s probably the best thing for helping new parents discover the show. Ratings and reviews on iTunes are magic.
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