Are pitbull memes doing more harm than good?

In my post on 8 ways to advocate for pitbulls, I made a point that we need to stop sharing messages that compare pitbulls to violent or deadly things.

You know, those messages that say things like “You are 60 times more likely to be killed by a coconut than a pit bull.”

Um … OK. Yikes. What does that even mean?

Or, “Don’t be afraid of my pit bull. I’m 100 times more likely to rip your throat out than he is.”

Ridiculous, right?

Tell me if I’m wrong, but I believe these types of messages can do more harm than good. As a comparison, here are some more positive pitbull messages that we absolutely should be sharing!

Example of a friendly, positive pitbull message:

I love my pit bull

And here are some of negative messages I mentioned earlier:

Comparing pitbulls to other ways to die

Obviously you and I get what these messages are saying. The intent is good. To people who love pitbulls, it’s easy to see the humor. Pitbulls are just dogs, so it’s ridiculous that people would be afraid of them.

Only, people really are afraid of pitbulls, and these messages are sending subtle hints.

I have a relative who is scared of pitbulls

I have an older relative who I love very much, but she believes everything negative she hears about “pitbulls” in the news.

This person is not a dog person, and she has never had an interaction with a pitbull, as far as I know.

She would not even be able to identify a “pitbull” within a group of dogs because it’s not the dog she’s afraid of.

She is afraid of the pitbull label itself. If she finds out a dog is a pitbull, that’s when the dog becomes “bad” in her mind.

If this relative saw one of those negative memes floating around, it would reinforce the false idea in her mind that pitbulls are different than other dogs. That they are scary, can’t be trusted and are somehow more dangerous.

Would we share the same message if it were about a black Lab?

One factor that helps me determine what kind of message to share is to imagine a different type of dog as the subject.

If you replaced the word pitbull or the picture of the pitbull with a black Lab, would the meaning of the message change?

For example, if you replaced “I love my pit bull” with “I love my black Lab” it would still be a positive message about loving dogs.

But you wouldn’t say something as ridiculous as “You are 60 times more likely to be killed by a coconut than a black Lab,” would you?

Well don’t you think it’s just as ridiculous to say the same thing about a pitbull?

Let’s focus on the positive messages.

My pitbull is family bumper sticker

“My pitbull is family.”

“I love my pitbull.”

“I am a pitbull owner.”

Let’s share photos of pitbulls doing cute, normal things.

Let’s share uplifting stories that happen to be about pitbulls, like this story of a group of nuns adopting a senior pitbull.

These are the kinds of messages that can reach people and make a difference.

Because people really are listening.

What do you think?

Can certain pitbull memes do more harm than good?

14 thoughts on “Are pitbull memes doing more harm than good?”

  1. You’re right, if you replace that coconut meme with “lab” it does sound kinda ridiculous. I’ve never thought of it that way before (but then again I’ve never seen that meme before.)

    I’ve noticed people (especially people who don’t know a lot about dogs) tend to make assumptions about a dog’s breed based on it’s behavior just as much as they assume behavior based on the breed. What I mean is, my dad hates pit bulls. A while ago he was telling me about some neighbor with a “pit bull” who had little control of his dog, and was making jokes about his dog eating my dad’s dog. But I knew the guy my dad was talking about, and the dog is a boxer, not a pit bull. Also, not too long ago my dad and i were in a pet shop and someone had a very friendly German Shepherd who we were petting. My dad later asked, “Was that a lab?” My dad’s dog was once almost killed by two dogs he told me were pit bulls (I can see why he’s nervous of them), but I’m not so sure the dogs were pit bulls. I never saw them, and now there’s someone going around saying pit bulls ripped his dog’s neck open when he can’t identify one on the street.

  2. I realize pit bulls are up against some pretty significant stigma, but I can’t help but feel that singling out any dog on the basis of its breed is like a big flashing light of “I’m different! Pay attention to me!” Unfortunately, that attention isn’t always good. I realize the point of your post is to advocate for sharing good messages, but it still just highlights pit bulls unnecessarily, I think. Unfortunately, I don’t have a better solution.

    I completely agree that most people who are anti-pit bull likely wouldn’t be able to identify one in a line-up. I think it’s unfortunate when people with so little knowledge go around saying, “I don’t like pit bulls. They should be banned.” Education (like the messages you share above) is important so that they can appreciate that they probably know some pit, or partial pit, dogs who are very good dogs. But at the same time, I’m not sure it would cure any bias, and I’d rather they just enjoy the dogs and not be influenced by any pre-conceived notions based on breed.

    And I feel like I’m talking around in circles in this comment. It’s obvious I don’t have a solution. I just find the pit bull debate an incredibly frustrating situation.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I struggle with some of the issues you brought up, too. In October, I asked if pit bull awareness month is still necessary or is it time to move on from that. Most pitbull owners said it is still necessary, although I’m not so sure.

  3. Totally agree! So many times when we think we’re advocating for pit bulls, we really aren’t. I was at a pet supply store the other day and saw a book on “how to train your pit bull” – really? They need a special book? I don’t think so…

  4. I had a lady one night at the barn tell me my dog looked like a Pit Bull and that she didn’t like them around her or her child. (She had her daughter there with her) Belle didn’t even look at them and I told her point blank that she was a Pointer Mix. Not sure with what but that she was a mix. Belle was on a lead and was more interested eating horse poo than the two people. I hope that she helped with some barriers the lady had. Otherwise I do believe she is mixed with the American Pit Bull Terrier.

    Otherwise, I think your right, we need to be more positive images and I can’t believe the list of banned breeds (even mixes!) when looking for a place to live. Do people not realize that Golden Retrievers have the highest bite right out of all the breeds??? LOL!

    The sad thing is people hear what they want to hear. And the small group that knows the truth has a harder time trying to get the right message out. Thanks for bringing this up!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh I know, don’t even get me started on trying to rent if you have certain types of dogs, or any big dog even.

      Good girl, Belle. Hopefully just being a good dog helped change that lady’s mind in some way.

  5. Another home run! Those memes have always bothered me but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Now it makes sense and I fully agree. Are you on the Balanced Trainers forum? If you aren’t, you might like it (like all forums, it has its moments!). There was a great discussion in the forum about BSL and identifying pit bulls, etc. I have three pit bull mixes as regular clients and they are incredibly sweet dogs that many people can’t identify as pitties. Anyhow, I agree and will continue to not share those memes! ;0)

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m not on that forum. I’m not very active on any forums. I’ll have to check that one out. So glad you agree with this post. I was really wondering what others thought. So far I haven’t heard anyone say we should continue sharing those types of messages.

  6. Those memes just make me feel wary of some pitbull owners, I mean… I kind of worry that they may have too much faith in the opposite idea, that pitbulls are 100% harmless – when no dog is 100% harmless.

    For instance, that myth about pit bulls being “nanny dogs,” in the 18th century or something dumb like that. Untrue, but so many people believe it!

    Even sweet dogs are potentially dangerous animals, none of them should ever be held responsible for our offspring, or expected to tolerate a child’s tugging and mouthing and grabbing.

  7. The Facts

    According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, “controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous.” The American Temperance Testing Society (ATTS) puts thousands of dogs – purebreds and spayed and neutered mixed-breeds – through their paces each year. The dogs are tested for skittishness, aggression and their ability to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening humans. Among all of the breeds ATTS tested – over 30,000 dogs through May 2011 — 83 percent passed the test. How did pitbulls do? They showed an above average temperament, with 86 percent making the grade. Pitbulls are the second most tolerant breed tested by ATTS, after only golden retreivers.

    Pitbulls do not have special “locking jaws” – that’s pure mythology. They don’t demonstrate some sort of special shaking action when they bite – all dogs display similar biting behavior. Pitbulls do not exert an unusual amount of bite-force for their size. Multiple studies have found that bite force correlates to body-weight, and tests of three breeds conducted by National Geographic found that the American pitbull terrier exerted less bite-force than German shepherds or Rottweilers.

    While they have been a favorite of dog-fighters for a century, pitbulls weren’t originally bred for fighting. According to the United Kennel Club, sometime in the 19th century European breeders began crossing various terriers with bulldogs in search of a breed that had the former’s enthusiasm and the latter’s stamina and strength. The pitbull breeds that resulted were then imported and embraced “as catch dogs for semi-wild cattle and hogs, to hunt, to drive livestock, and as family companions.” (UKC also notes that pitbulls “have always been noted for their love of children,” but aren’t “the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers.”)

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