I have always adored pit bulls. To me, they are the quintessential dog. And after I adopted my first pit mix many years ago and saw how much he adored babies and children, and how gentle and good he was with them, I adored them even more.
When The Barbarian and I met, we both had a young dog, my pit/catahoula mix and his lab/border collie mix, and it was love at first sight for both humans and hounds. They were best friends until we lost our lab mix to cancer last year. Our pit mix took it the hardest. The dogs had always waited until both bowls were filled before either started eating, and once we lost her, he wasn’t sure how to eat anymore. It took many months of gentle encouragement every mealtime, and he’s still unsure to begin with even after more than a year.
He’s a sensitive old man.
Last fall, we began seriously looking to adopt another rescue, the only way we add furry babies to our family, and had decided we’d adopt a puppy to make the transition to our family a little easier. But the day before we were scheduled to see a litter of rescue pups, I happened to find our new baby on craigslist, an absolutely gorgeous one-year-old blue nose pit/boxer mix.
She had been found by a wonderful young man when she was just a couple of months old, running out of a back alley in downtown Phoenix, with her poor little muzzle taped shut, obviously having just miraculously escaped from an horrific situation. He scooped her up, took her home, and raised her for the next year. Once he moved back to our area, he found it extremely difficult to find a place to rent, as so many places won’t allow pits, and living with his mom temporarily, his pup ended up in a crate most days. Wanting her to have good days every day, not just the days he was off work, he decided to adopt her out to a loving family who would allow him to still come visit her, as he loves her dearly and only gave her up so she could have a better life.
Seriously, her former owner is one of the absolute most responsible, compassionate people I have ever met.
When we adopted her last fall, I was watching a little girl close in age to the wee folk a few times a week. They had just lost a doggie as well and her mom and I would chat about being ready to adopt a new pup. When we brought Indigo home, the mom was super excited to meet her that first day they came, but it was a different story entirely when the dad came to pick her up that afternoon.
When I answered the door, literally the first thing out of his mouth was, “So, I heard you’re adopting a pit bull.”
To be fair, I never liked the dad. I found him to be a smug, socially awkward elitist. The parents didn’t live together but shared caring for their daughter, and she always sobbed and clung to me when he picked her up. It made me extremely uncomfortable. And the day he told me I was feeding his child junk food when he came to pick her up and she was eating Goldfish crackers, I decided I had no more fucks to give this guy.
Turns out, then, I was not surprised in the slightest to find he was one of those assholes who categorizes pits as being naturally aggressive. He informed me he was not comfortable having his daughter there with a pit in the house, even though our other dog is also a pit mix and he had no issues with him. I offered to keep them separated when his daughter was there, but even that wasn’t good enough. Of course, having three toddlers present, I couldn’t tell him what I really thought of him and his severely misplaced opinion of pits, especially the part where they naturally tend to bite when they haven’t been properly exercised. What I did tell him was that I was in no way going to make a decision about adopting my own family’s pet based on his desires, so he took his daughter and left, and that was the last we ever saw of them.
This was literally the second day we had had Indigo, still in our test phase to see if it was a good fit, but we already knew she was ours. I was so incredibly irate at this man, not just for being so completely asinine, but also for costing me my job, much-needed extra money, as we’re normally a one-income family. It upset me so much, I decided I was done doing childcare for anyone not immediate family. Ain’t nobody got time for that bullshit.
Well, lo and behold, Indigo did begin biting my children, but not in anything even closely resembling aggression. She was (and still is) very much a puppy, and when the wee folk got excited and began running around being crazy, as children are wont to do, she thought they were playing puppy and joined in the fun. She would chase them and nip at them, never, ever breaking the skin or leaving a mark. She just assumed they were puppies, too, and played with them as she would other dogs.
Did we freak out and decide we had to give her away?
She’s a dog and was playing like a dog. She had never been around little children before and needed some help learning that they’re not, in fact, puppies, and that biting them hurts. And our children needed help understanding that she’s not used to playing with children and only nips at them because that’s what dogs do when they play with other dogs. Indigo is extraordinarily smart and eager to please, and within a short period of time, she was only nipping them on rare occasions when she got excited and forgot her manners. The wee folk learned to use their strong voices to tell her “no,” and she listens to them amazingly well at this point, even taking other commands from them, something our old man still won’t do.
My point here is that we don’t shelter our children from the realities of life, including the fact that, regardless of whether they reside in our home or out in the wild, animals are still animals and they deserve understanding and respect. Do I like to see my children hurt? Of course not. But a nip here and there from our beloved family dog is certainly not going to kill them, and the joy she brings to them FAR outweighs the fleeting sting from an occasional nip. I want my children to understand dogs and their natural behaviours so they can navigate other dogs happily and safely from here on out. They know to always ask before petting someone else’s dog, they know to back off when any dog starts growling or showing their teeth, and they know how to use their strong voices to tell dogs “no.” And they’re also not afraid of dogs, something far too many children are, for the simple fact that they haven’t been exposed to them, or belong to families where misinformation about dogs and certain breeds is taught.
We consider our dogs an integral, important, beloved part of our family, but we also still respect the fact that they’re animals. We’ve never been into heavily training our dogs, partly because we’re lazy (shocker), and partly because we don’t want them to completely lose their personality in that training. They learn the basics and after that, they’re their own dogs, sometimes stubborn, sometimes crazy, always loving, and always accepted. We would clearly never accept an aggressive dog into our home, but even the most docile of dogs sometimes have their moments, and we find it far more useful and important to teach our children to avoid doing things that might elicit a grumpy response instead of blaming the dogs for every rare and insignificant oops.
So yes, that douchecanoe dad was right–our pit did eventually bite our children. But she didn’t do it because she was a pit, or naturally aggressive, or didn’t get enough exercise. She did it because she was a puppy in a new family with little children.
In other words, she did it because she’s a dog. And around these parts, we like
Occasional playful nips and all.