|For Shelters &
|Notes on Language|
|Labels & Language|
|For Dog Owners|
Words matter. As animal welfare professionals, YOU are the experts on animals in your community and what you say is taken as fact by the public. This is a good thing, but it also means we have a responsibility to be thoughtful about the language we choose to use.
Before speaking to the public, whether it’s in the shelter lobby or on the set of your local TV news, carefully evaluate your language and messaging.
Here are some things to take into account when talking about “pit bull” dogs:
The majority of shelter dogs in the United States are mixed breed dogs of unknown parentage, and visual breed identification (based only on physical appearances) has been proven inaccurate and unreliable by experts.
Unless a dog comes with pedigree papers or is the known offspring of two registered pure bred dogs, don’t make guesses about what breed he is. If you do need to guess at the breed (for shelter software purposes, etc.), be aware that the assigned label does not accurately predict behavior. What a dog looks like tells us nothing about his behavior or personality, so it is much more appropriate to speak about each dog as an individual.
Today the term “pit bull” is a generic term that describes how a dog looks. It does not describe his breed(s) and genetic makeup; nor does it describe his behavior. For more information on labeling “pit bulls”, see our FAQs on Labels and Language.
On the AFF Petfinder page, we use the following language to acknowledge the limitations of breed labels for “pit bull” dogs: “Visual breed identification in dogs is unreliable so for most of the dogs we are only guessing at predominant breed or breed mix. We get to know each dogs as an individual and will do our best to describe each of our dogs based on personality, not by breed label.” You can use this language too. We even have kennel cards you can print and hang in your shelter.
When describing the dogs in your care, share what you have observed, rather than relying on stereotypes and generalizations. Additionally, when speaking with adopters, be aware of how your word choices may offend or alienate them. Don’t put them on the defensive. Ask open ended questions and practice non-judgemental, active listening. We have tips for effective adoption counseling here.
For more on this topic, visit our Language and Labels resources.
For more information about speaking with the media, see our Media eBook