Why we need dog awareness, not pitbull awareness

My dog is very sweet and gentle. I can trust him around all people and dogs. I didn’t train him to be this way. It’s just the way he is.

But too often, my dog’s actions are attributed to what he looks like – a black Labrador.

This is the case when he chases after a ball or when he dives head first into the lake or when he lets a child kiss him on the nose.

His actions are associated with “Lab” because “Lab” is the type of dog people see when they look at Ace.

“Labs are nice dogs,” people say while petting him.

Or, “That’s what Labs do. I love Labs.”

Or even, “Black Labs are the best.” (As though blacks are somehow better than chocolates.)

But my dog is only 50 percent Lab, according to his mixed-breed DNA test.

The rest of his heritage is a mix of so many breeds, the test couldn’t distinguish them. It suggested traces of German shepherd and dachshund, among others.

For me, this is why we need to be careful about the generalizations we make about dogs based on their appearances. What we think we see is not always accurate. And even if we (rarely) get the breed right, we still shouldn’t assume a dog will act a certain way.


Yes, my Lab mix just happens to be completely obsessed with a tennis ball, but plenty of Labs won’t fetch a thing.

For the most part, I guess you could say my dog is setting a good example for Labs, but people are also allowing him to reinforce the unfair and even dangerous stereotypes such as “Labs are great with kids” or “Labs are great family dogs, they’ll do anything to please.”

We should be careful about these assumptions because some Labs are terrible around kids. Some Labs are quite aggressive; they’re not so “eager to please” and are not the best “family pets.”

I was bitten in the thigh and chest by a Lab-type dog named Buddy when I worked at a boarding kennel. This was very scary for me, and the experience would likely cause some people to (understandably) hate all dogs that look like that dog.

My point is, each purebred dog is an individual, just like all dogs are individuals. And most dogs are mixed breeds anyway, like my dog.

Do we need Pit Bull Awareness Month?

Every year, I’m a little hesitate to write about Pit Bull Awareness Month. I remain torn on it today.

Obviously, I understand the need for awareness, but I also worry about what happens when we separate a group of dogs and label them differently or include them in ridiculous statistics.


For example, one of the memes floating around on Facebook tells me I’m 60 times more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than a pitbull.

Um … OK. Yikes!

Doesn’t that make pitbulls sound scary to someone who may not understand dogs? You wouldn’t say something so ridiculous about a beagle, would you? Or a black Lab mix?

So, what I’m trying to say is this:

1. Don’t judge any dog by his appearance. Judge him by his actual behavior.

2. Don’t make breed assumptions. Most of us are terrible at identifying breeds, and most dogs are mixed breeds anyway.

3. Look at each dog as an individual and see her for just that, a dog.

I have judged dogs before too, and I know it’s wrong

I hate to admit it, but when I see a small, white dog, I just assume that dog is going to freak out and lunge at me.

Last week, when my husband suggested we should get a Belgian Mallinois puppy some day, I said, “Those dogs are crazy.”

And when I see golden retrievers on walks, I don’t bother to give them extra space because I assume they’ll be friendly.


I’m sure I don’t need to explain why these assumptions are wrong and just plain stupid.

Not only am I being unfair to the dogs that fit those descriptions, but  I’m being unfair to dogs as a whole.

So, for “Dog Awareness Month,” I’ll be trying to be a little less judgmental of dogs and their owners overall.

What do you think? Do you ever find yourself making assumptions based on breed?

20 thoughts on “Why we need dog awareness, not pitbull awareness”

  1. I’ve been lucky not to have been around any bad dogs so I just assume, foolishly maybe, that all dogs I meet are going to be good dogs. I do give respect and distance to strange dogs however.

    1. I have a pure bred chocolate lab that is very high drive, high energy and my behaviorist told me she is a “front line” dog, meaning she wants to run the pack and tries to if I show any lack of leadership. She has bitten several dogs and can be very reactive. I have spent hours training her and worked with different trainers and finally a behaviorist. Dogs need to be looked at as individuals, my previous lab, so sweet, just your “typical lab”. I’ve met a lot of pit bulls all of whom are much sweeter than my lab. My lab is really only comfortable around people in her pack. People need to learn to read dogs’ body language. My dog will stiffen her tail and her hackles will go up when she is uncomfortable and it’s my job to have calm energy to assure her that I’ve got the situation under control.

  2. True! Problem is, whether it’s a good idea or not, I’m not sure Pit Bull awareness month spread further than pit bull lovers who are already in a circle of commenting, sharing and admiring cute photos. I’ve long since given up on reading things online and defending pit bulls on comment threads. People who think they’re dangerous, assume pit bull lovers are hysterical buffoons and tempting fate, putting others in inevitable danger. They don’t read stats or change their minds based on the pleas of pit bull lovers online.

    I’ve found the best and maybe only way to make an impression on people is to take the dogs out , especially in stores and restaurants and have people interact with them or see them behaving well. Every time I take Norman on a therapy visit, at least 1 person tells me they are afraid of pit bulls but he has changed their mind! You don’t need a special month for that…

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Such a good point. Just seeing dogs out and about is definitely the best way to make a good (or, I guess bad) impression. Norman is making such a difference for all dogs! Kaya too.

  3. This is a tough one for me too, because there are some genetic traits (good and bad) with certain breeds, so it’s easy to see why we make assumptions about a dog’s behavior sometimes. Maybe Pit Bull Awareness Month should also be called Pit Bull Owner Awareness Month to put some focus on all the responsible pit bull owners who raise and train their dogs in a loving, positive environment. I agree that some awareness for how to evaluate any dog (behavior, body language, etc.) would help a lot of people.

  4. Thank you for writing this post. I get so tired of people approaching me and our dogs assuming that I have a friendly pack of dogs – they are friendly, they look happy go lucky, but…

    Sydney, Scout and Zoey are shy around strangers and don’t like to be touched. Rodrigo will jump on you to get closer, because he loves everyone. And I’m walking 4 dogs and we were doing great a few seconds ago and then you stopped me and now it’s going to take me forever to get order again.

    Please ask first. When is Dog Awareness Day?

  5. Yup, I totally agree. You can’t judge a dog’s behavior by his breed. When I was a kid we had a lab mix that looked a lot like your Ace who was terrified of the water.

    Your comment about small white dogs made me laugh because I think my dog has the same opinion of them. He had serious leash aggression problems when we got him over a year ago, but we’ve worked on it to the point where now he will only react if the other dog reacts first. However, I’ve noticed that when we pass a little dog, he gets all tensed up like he’s getting ready for a confrontation. I think experience has taught him that tiny dogs are much more likely to bark at him.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Haha! I hate to say small dogs are more likely to bark, because it probably isn’t true. It’s just another way that I am judgmental.

  6. I’m completely guilty of judging dogs – if I saw a Golden Retriever I’d probably assume it was nice and I have met a lot of crazy Malinois’… It’s hard not to, even though I understand how detrimental it is to dogs and their owners, regardless of breed. I’m always surprised when I’m out on a walk and people rush right up to Laika (a German Shepherd mix) to pet her – regardless of how friendly I think a dog looks I wouldn’t do that, regardless of breed. Luckily my dog is fine with children and most adults but it’s really nerve wracking. Apparently she just looks friendly (which is pretty funny because she’s leash reactive). People tend not to listen to me either, which really angers me. I’ll tell them to proceed with caution and they just rush right anyways.

    1. I get it. My dog is also leash reactive but also is not overly friendly with other dogs. I have had to shout at some people to back off when they approach to closely when I walk my dog.

  7. I have to admit I’m guilty of judging dogs by breed/appearance as well. Years of working as a vet tech biased me towards certain breeds, such as terriers and GSD’s. I have to remind myself that when I worked with them it wasn’t in the dog’s favorite environment and realize that a hyper or reactive dog is probably fine at home! Thanks for this post!

    1. I actually think in general it’s sensible to have an idea in your head of the character traits of all breeds when you are dealing with them- despite what people say about it being how you bring them up so much of how dogs are generally does seem to be based on breed traits. If breed traits weren’t accurate then breed standards surely wouldn’t exist?!

      My friend’s fiance works with dogs and dislikes Border Collies and Jack Russell terriers as they are the only dogs that have ever bitten him. I have a collie and 2 JRTs and don’t blame him for feeling like that. It’s just natural surely?

      What I don’t like though is people criticising dog breeds like the Pitbull and staffie without actually knowing any. I walk a staffie and get really upset when people cross the street and give him dirty looks as he’s really sweet.

      I think knowledge about the different dog breeds and their traits is important but a different thing to inaccurate stereotypes. Some stereotypes exist for a reason though!

  8. I couldn’t believe it when I met a Lab that didn’t like to swim. When my Lab Maya first saw water, she jumped right in as though it was a long lost friend. However, Maya is un-Lab-like when it comes to retrieving. Regarding aggressive dogs, I sometimes find it ironic about how dog aggressive my Aussie/Border Collie mix Pierson is as compared to supposedly aggressive breeds, and yet his breed mix is not on any BSL list. Herding dogs can be very protective. I say can be, but not all, obviously. Another ironic situation is that my Maya was attacked and injured by a little Jack Russell. A Jack Russell is not on any BSL list. I’m not saying they should be. I’m just saying it is about the individual dog, not the breed. Perhaps awareness should be about teaching people dog behaviors in general and teaching owners how to be proactive about handling potential dog behaviors.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, this is going to sound judgmental, and it is, but it seems like a lot of herding breeds have a tendency to react to people who pass on rollerblades, bikes, etc.

  9. Pingback: Fetching! - Daily Dog TagDaily Dog Tag

  10. I have a Staffy who loves people but is very leash reactive which can be scary. I have trained her to sit and ‘look at me’ which has completely eliminated the lunging and barking. However I understand how people can be leery of her due to their reputation. Yet I know another Staffy who loves other dogs. It’s all in the temperament and early socialization. My Perdita is a rescue from Mexico and appears to have been a breeder dog rather than a pet. We love her, understand her limitations, so ensure she and others we meet are safe.

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