Pit Bull Stigma, Fact or Fiction?

What is the first thought that pops into your head when you look at the picture of this pit bull? Are you fearful, angry, sympathetic, happy? In general, people looking at this photo would feel threatened and scared. This breed has a stigma of being a threatening, vicious, and dangerous breed of dog that will bite attack at any second. The media portrays pit bulls as unpredictable beasts towards humans. Attacks stemming from this breed are always on the news, while the multiple attacks that occur from different breeds every day are never publicized. Why is this? They are often portrayed as guard dogs, participants in illegal drug activity and dog fighting, and big stocky dogs that have “jaws that lock and won’t let go”. However, in reality, these dogs were bred to be “babysitters” and docile but alert watchdogs. Because of their look and physical body structure, they have been exploited and genetically tainted to be “scary”. Their “breed” (the term pit bull refers to the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier, all of which are genetically and temperamentally different breeds) was, as I said, bred to be loyal, affectionate, and very good with children. So, there is an obvious social stigma that has been placed on this dog through no fault of their own.

Erving Goffman defined stigma as “the process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity”. This is obviously seen in the reaction and general view towards pit bulls. However,  this stigma extends to people around the breed as well. Many media reports describe this dog as deviant and owned by racial minorities or marginalized people. Of course, there is dog fighting that does happen on a day-to-day basis, as unfortunate as it is. However, by no means is this dog just a “fighter”. There are so many pit bull owners who adopt these dogs to be good babysitters for their children, or to have for a good laugh every day. Many of these owners obtain this dog to try to break that stigma, since they see the qualities of the dog that should be publicized, not hidden. These owners also often receive a “bad rap” for owning this breed, even if they are normal people with families and good backgrounds. That is the unfortunate reality of stigmas… they are often unable to be broken.

Discussion Points

  1. What else in society is stigmatized? Is it legitimate or socially constructed?
  2. Do you think stigmas can be abolished, and if so, how?
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9 thoughts on “Pit Bull Stigma, Fact or Fiction?

  1. Unfortunately this species of dogs is extremely stigmatized and misunderstood. There is a show on Animal Planet that addresses this exact issue. Im sure you’ve heard of it if you are writing about this topic. The show is called Pitbulls and Parolees and its about a rescue center in Southern California that saves this misunderstood animal. There they give the animal a second chance while rehabilitating parolees. The shelter hires only parolees and teaches them good life lesons and responsibility. They offen make the metaphor that pitbulls are the parolees of the animal kingdom and at this shelter they are both given a second chance. The only way to abolish such ingrained stigma is through slowly reversing this idea and educating people. Just like many parolees, who are signed off without even a glimpse, these animals are stigmatized and even abused because people don’t understand them.

  2. Firstly, if you wanted a picture that would threaten most people this is definitely NOT it because that is an extremely cute face right there! But I do see what you are saying saying about how pitbulls get a bad rap along with other big dogs like rottweilers or dobermans. I’m surely biased being the total dog lover that I am, but big dogs are definitely known to be the nicer breeds; especially the MASSIVE ones like newfoundlands or mastiffs. This is probably due to the fact that because of their size there is no reason for them to be aggressive, where as smaller dogs often bark more/are agressive (Napoleon complex). Apart from that, dogs typically will act according to how they’re trained. If they have a nice family that treats them well, they will return the love and loyalty. If the master treats the dog with no remorse, the animal will carry that stigma with itself in regards to human interaction and what it expects.

  3. Love this post and love these comments! This is why sadielady needs to do her final comps project on Pit Bulls and Parolees (as pickles supports!)…

    And because all of you know how pit bull obsessed I am, here are some additional pics from Austin, TX Love-A-Bull’s Texas-Sized Pittie Pride World Record Registration from National Pit Bull Awareness Weekend (cute overload!!)–part of a movement to de-stigmatize pit bulls and their owners and create awareness of how amazing these pups are (pro-pit bull PSA over):

    http://love-a-bull.org/2011/11/media-coverage-pit-bull-awareness-weekend/
    http://love-a-bull.org/2011/11/world-record-photos-are-here/
    http://www.tonyaphotographyblog.com/?p=3107 (all 310 pitties!)

  4. Pickles-

    Pit Bulls and Parolees is one of my favorite shows, as its message is such an inspiring one. I’m actually probably going to do my senior comps in relation to the show. The message that both humans and non-humans can be rehabilitated is such a strong one. Tia Torres does such a great job with educating the public and trying to lessen the stigma against parolees and pit bulls. She shows that although they both get a bad rap, there is good in everyone and everything.
    The problem with having education be the way out of stigmatized identities is that the media will never cease to promote these stigmas, and in this point in society, the media “knows all, and everything it says is true”. Even with educating the public, there will still be this unfortunate moral panic against the marginalized populations that include racial minorities, deviants, and pit bulls, since we are fed convincing information by the media without any real factual background on the subject matter.

  5. Revan010- I chose this picture because I volunteer at an animal shelter and train the dogs there, and this was my project dog Hannah. Every time I took her to an adoption event, people would move out of the way when we were walking, even with this sweet face. She is totally dog friendly, and went to a new home with a new family with another female pit bull. However, the home she was placed into before put her outside for 12 hours a day with no food or water and she started to dig. The owner brought her back because the digging was “an issue”, when he totally neglected and abused her. This all happened, and she is still dog friendly, so trusting, and one of the most loyal dogs I’ve ever been around. Yet people still see this face and, although she isn’t showing teeth or looking anything but adorable, they still get freaked out and want to stay as far away from her is possible “in case she decides she wants to attack someone”. It’s a big load of crap if you ask me., but I’m obviously biased as well, which is hard to overcome. Basically, with this story that I just shared, I’m trying to show that the stigma that is placed on this breed is based on false or incomplete information that is being fed to the public to create this moral fear towards this marginalized “breed”.

  6. Dirks-

    You knowwww I’m trying to get my comps situated so I can!!
    For everyone/anyone else who is reading this blog post and its comments, here is a link that I highly suggest you follow on Facebook. They have so many great posts every day and it is one of the most, if not the most, influential pit bull advocate group in the country. They announce tons of amazing events that promote the breed and update the public on all things pit bull. What they do for these “bullies” is absolutely irreplaceable, and the more support they get, the more influence they will be able to have on stopping this awful stigma!

    http://www.facebook.com/BADRAP.org

  7. Honestly though, forget all this you and I are “biased” nonsense, it’s plain ignorance that keeps people in fear of a dog like that (or they MAY have been bitten by a pitbull at a young age, but i doubt it). You brought up another good point about how after all this dog has been through, she’s still as nice as she is. Dogs are SO loyal that even when they are abused they STILL stick by their masters. The other problem is that people usually have no clue how to handle a dog when they first get one, which leads them to make many mistakes that possibly include abuse. When people come over to my house for the first time, they’re usually taken aback when they see my dogs roaming freely about the house doing what they want, as if they’re ‘supposed’ to be outside chained to a fence or something.

  8. Yeah, it is absolute ignorance and it is very frustrating. However, the frustration is what keeps pit bull advocates fighting for this breed. The main problem is the media that is perpetuating the stigma and keeps it going and never puts out anything positive. The only positivity that I’ve heard in a long time is a pit bull chasing a bear away, which in many ways scares people even more. What these advocates need to target first is the media and give them some accurate information to base their claims on.

  9. I have two pitbulls and they are the best dogs ever it really is sad that people are treating these dogs. I am so tired of people trying to save all these wild animals that hurt people and they are trying to kill off pets that owner train to be mean. Where are all the enviromentalist when it comes to this dog.

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