Perpetuating the Myth of “Pit Bull” Dog High Pain Tolerance Doesn’t Help Dogs, It Hurts Them

Perpetuating the Myth of “Pit Bull” Dog High Pain Tolerance Doesn’t Help Dogs, It Hurts Them

Perpetuating the Myth of “Pit Bull” Dog High Pain Tolerance Doesn’t Help Dogs, It Hurts Them

At Animal Farm Foundation, we like science. We do love a good fairytale (because who doesn’t?), but simply because a story tugs at your heart, doesn’t make it true or helpful in moving society forward. In advocacy, you must always lead with the truth.

Unfortunately, many myths about “pit bull” dogs are so pervasive that many advocates believe them to be true and they use these stories as part of their outreach efforts.

A prime example of this is the myth that “pit bull” dogs have a higher tolerance for pain than other dogs.

One advocacy website writes:

“Sometimes presented as a negative trait, the fact that pitbulls [sic] have a high pain tolerance makes them exceptional family dogs. They easily (and happily) put up with the rough play of children without reacting.”

Not only is this statement factually incorrect, it feeds into the pro-BSL hysteria that “pit bull” dogs are uniquely different, dangerous, and therefore need to be regulated. It’s even shown up in court as justification for breed bans.

There is nothing unique about the neurological system of a “pit bull” dog.

They’re just dogs.

If this was a fact, we wouldn’t argue it. But, it’s not a fact. It’s a myth. There is nothing unique about the neurological system of a “pit bull” dog

All dogs, regardless of how they look or their genetic heritage, experience pain. How each individual dog responds to that pain will vary, but you cannot predict that response based on the dog’s physical appearance or heritage.

Tufts Veterinary Medicine Magazine addressed the “pit bull” dog high pain tolerance myth in their Winter 2013 issue:

“Pain medicine as a veterinary specialty is relatively new. As recently as a decade ago, most veterinarians assumed that animals didn’t feel pain, or at least experienced it differently than humans. Now all evidence points to the contrary. Research has shown that animals and humans have similar neural pathways for the development, conduction and modulation of pain, making it pretty likely that our pets experience pain in much same the way we do.”

The Myth Might Put a Dog’s Comfort and Care At Risk

The article goes on to say that even in people, pain is often undertreated. Michael Petty, president of the International Veterinary Academy, says:

“If we’re looking at practically half of the human population that’s in pain getting undertreated, I have to believe that over 95 percent of animals in [chronic] pain are not getting proper treatment.”

This means that a lot of pets are not getting the pain relief they desperately need. Part of this might be because of the “pit bull” dog high pain tolerance myth. While dogs can’t speak up for themselves in a way we can clearly understand, they do let us know inform us of things in a variety of ways, but we might completely miss these important signals if we’ve already written off pain as a problem our dogs might experience.

(For more on how pain may present in a dog’s body, please read the full article.)

(For more on how pain may present in a dog’s body, please read the full article.)

The High Pain Tolerance Myth Can Result in Negative Consequences for People and Pets

The myth implies:

 

  • That parents can allow their children to inappropriately handle “pit bull” dogs in a rough manner. The experts on family dog safety tell us that this type of rough play leads to dog bites – no matter what the dog’s genetic heritage dog may be. To reduce dog bites and increase pet retention, children should always be taught to treat all dogs gently and respectfully.
  • That dog owners should be alarmed if their “pit bull” dog does not “happily” accept rough play from children. If the dogs react, something must be wrong with them, right? Wrong. All dogs deserve to be handled respectfully and will have varying tolerance levels for physical play. There’s nothing wrong with dogs who prefers gentle play (or no play at all) with children.
  • It suggests that “pit bull” dogs are biologically different than other dogs. For people that are afraid of “pit bull” dogs, the high pain tolerance myth suggests the dogs are uniquely capable of causing damage because they cannot be stopped by regular management techniques.
  • It makes a convenient excuse for humans that wish to exploit them and/or abuse them. It should go without saying that we should never justify cruelty by suggesting the victims have a high tolerance for being abused.

There Is No Benefit to Focusing on Fiction Over Fact

There are many ways to promote the wonderful pet qualities and proper care of “pit bull” dogs without having to resort to perpetuating myths.

Now that we know better, we have an obligation to consider the way we communicate on behalf of the dogs and the information we’re sharing. Dogs are depending on us to stop adding to their problems by recycling old content that has no basis in science.

However, if you’d like to discuss the science of how dogs experience pain, here are some talking points:

  • The perception of pain is unique to each individual, human or dog. Factors that affect each dog’s individual response to pain include age, gender, and health status. Individual situations also affect a dog’s reaction. If a dog is engaged in work or a sport, it can affect how they perceive pain in that moment (just like humans).
  • Recognizing and determining the source of pain in dogs can be a challenge, especially since the early signs of pain can be subtle. One of the best ways to assess pain in any dog is to know what’s normal for them. Pay attention to your dog’s every day, regular behavior and habits, so that you’ll readily notice anything abnormal.
  • There is nothing unique about the neurological system of a “pit bull” dog. All dogs, regardless of heritage, experience pain. How each dog responds to that pain will vary, but the response cannot be predicted by physical appearance or breed.

Advocacy should move society forward. To do so, we must advocate with facts and not myths. Learn more about better ways to advocate for all dogs and their families in the Community Advocates section of our website.

Want to learn more about how you can participate in our work?

This Is One of the Most Important Educational Tools for Your Shelter Staff

This Is One of the Most Important Educational Tools for Your Shelter Staff

You’ve heard us say all dogs are individuals. You’ve heard us say looks don’t equal behavior. You may be on board with that, which is great, we love that, but you’re unsure of how to get your shelter staff and volunteers to accept the science that breed isn’t indicative of a dog’s personality.

We’ve got the best tool for that and it’s in a handy-dandy infographic! *All of the images in this post are outtakes from the infographic.

Here’s how you can use this as an education tool for your shelter staff and volunteers.

For one, we drop some science in the infographic, like the above information about how even dogs of the same breed all behave differently. And there’s also this gem:

genome

It’s not easy to step away from convention. Habits are difficult to break. Asking “what breed is this dog?” comes naturally to all of us. It’s really weird to hear someone say “breeds don’t matter when picking the dog that’s right for your home.” People need solid reasons to break habits and make big changes, especially when they’re dealing with lives – both human and animals.

Science helps with that. Of course, science can be overwhelming. Our infographic breaks that down into bite-sized talking points upon which you can create deeper conversations with your staff – and even potential adopters.

which percent is it

The fact that there’s no way to know which part of a dog’s breed may influence their behavior is powerful. Even if a dog is purebred, you still don’t know what breed traits it possesses, there are too many factors at play.

The only thing you do know for sure is the behavior you observe from the dog – and that’s what really matters.

You’re in the business of placing great pets in great homes. You can’t do that if your descriptions of dogs are based entirely on guesswork. That doesn’t make for good adoption matches, but observing the dog in front of you does.

Simple Ideas that Will Make Shelter Dogs So Happy They’ll Shower You With Kisses

Simple Ideas that Will Make Shelter Dogs So Happy They’ll Shower You With Kisses

Shelter life is B-U-S-Y! We get it. It seems impossible to add another item to your daily to-do list. Take heart! Enrichment can be simple, fast, and inexpensive. Remember, even the smallest changes make a big difference.

marcia tiersky interns june 2017 1

Source: Marcia Tiersky for Animal Farm Foundation

Make the commitment to your dogs. Then reach out for support. You’ll find volunteers who want to do hands-on work, donors who will purchase items from your wish lists, and foster homes who will give dogs a temporary break.

But you don’t even need donors to purchase items for you. You have plenty of enrichment tools at your fingertips!

Here are three simple ideas for keeping the dogs in your care so happy they’ll want to cover you with kisses:

BUSY BUCKETS:

Fill an empty bucket or small pail with things to do, smell, and taste –  even the dog’s meal. Pack each item very tightly so that it will be challenging for the dog to remove them. Some ideas for bucket items: a stuffed Kong, a beef-broth soaked rag, a ball, a Nylabone, a water bottle or PVC pipe with a few treats, etc…

BUSY BOXES: 

Collect empty toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, pasta boxes and other old boxes and layer them one inside the other. In between each box, place tasty treats and kibble. Some dogs really enjoy shredding items in their kennels.  Busy boxes are a cheap and easy enrichment tool that your volunteers can create and your dogs can enjoy.

ICE TREATS: You can make these in large buckets or old milk jugs that have been cut in half, cups, ice cube trays, Dixie cups, or other containers. Choose a size that suits your dogs’ needs. Depending on the size you choose, you can use this tool to feed an individual meal or even an entire day’s food, so keep portions in mind.

Need more tips? We’ve got ’em!

Tapping Into A Dog’s Senses Can Be the Most Powerful Tool to Keep Them Happy

Tapping Into A Dog’s Senses Can Be the Most Powerful Tool to Keep Them Happy

Just like humans, dogs have five basic senses. Ignoring their sensory needs may lead to stress and undesirable behaviors.

fred on couch

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Let’s Break This Down:

  • Who doesn’t love pizza? It’s awesome. But if you ate it every day, it would get really gross.
  • Staring at a computer all day starts to suck after a few hours. You don’t just want to look at something different, your body needs you to look at something different.
  • A 5-hour plane ride with a screaming baby is never fun and the radio gets really tiring when they play the same song over and over again.
  • Sniffing cleaner all day is really not a good idea and if you think about, sniffing the same flower all day is going to get overwhelming.
  • Does a massage sound like heaven right about now?

Now that you get the idea, let’s stop anthropomorphizing and get real world methods for dog enrichment:

Sound 

Sound is a dog’s most highly developed sense. A dog can get agitated and nervous just from hearing other dogs bark.

colt-head-tilt.jpg

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Keep shelter dogs quiet with Click for Quiet games in which you reward quiet dogs with positive “YES!” (or clicker sound) and a treat. Don’t give barking dogs any attention. This is a great project for volunteers.

Soft or soothing music also helps keep dogs quiet. Try classical music, audio books, or music created specifically for dogs.

Smell

is how dogs greet the world. Shelters not only smell like other animals, but are often full of chemical odors.

Create fun things for dogs to do with their noses. Make “find it” puzzles by hiding treats in blankets, towels, or rags. Hide treats in a fenced yard for some fun outdoor time. Don’t forget to cheer them on as they sniff out the rewards.

aac easter 3

Source: Amalia Diaz for Austin Animal Center

Use interactive toys or make your own. Drill a few holes in PVC pipe elbows (big enough for treats to fit through) and then let your dog play with the toy to get the treats to fall out.

Another great trick is to fill a spray bottle with water and 10-20 drops of an essential oil, such as lavender, vanilla, or almond. Spray a fine mist on their beds, blankets, or kennel walls. Rotate the scents to keep the dogs engaged.

Sight 

Sight can be tricky because no matter how long the dog is in your shelter, the environment never becomes natural. Some dogs get stressed by dogs or humans simply passing by their kennels.

Moon (24)

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

For reactive dogs, place barriers at the front or sides of their kennel. This can be anything like poster board, sheets, shower curtains, etc… Have people toss treats as they pass by the dog. This will help him associate traffic flow with positive things.

It is important to give dogs an occasional change of scenery. Let them take a stroll around the parking lot, spend an afternoon at the front desk or in someone’s office, or let them go on a play date. Changing up which kennel they spend time in works well for some dogs, too.

Taste 

is closely linked with smell. This may cause some dogs to ignore food due to the unfamiliar smells in a shelter environment. Poor health might also affect a dog’s sense of smell, causing them to ignore meals.

enrichment toys

Try adding broths, like chicken or beef, to food or serve alone. Soak rags or tug toys in broth. Freeze and give as a special treat. (These are especially good for teething puppies!)

For dogs who inhale their food, try feeding from Kongs, milk jugs, bottles, PVC pipes, and other feeding puzzles. These add an element of stimulation and help slow down the eating process.

Touch

Touch is important because shelter dogs often don’t get enough human contact. We rush to exercise and feed them but forget to sit and touch them. Patting and massaging dogs, especially in a quiet space, promotes a better mental and emotional state.

sherlock-and-jeremy

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Enlist volunteers to work as “quiet time” companions for your dogs. Have them sit in the dog’s kennel for 10+ minutes to pet and massage them. They can bring a book and read to them! Not only does the massage feel good, it also teaches dogs how to stay calm when there are people around.

We know enrichment can be intimidating to some shelter workers, but once you take the leap, you’ll realize that it’s simple. Plus, it results in lots of smiling dogs, and there’s nothing better than that.

You Don’t Like to Be Bored, and Neither Do Shelter Dogs

You Don’t Like to Be Bored, and Neither Do Shelter Dogs

As humans, we lead stressful lives. We all know that de-stressing is a process. One hour of relaxing won’t keep you calm, cool, and collected for the rest of your life. You need consistent breaks and things to occupy your time and your mind.

Dogs are the same way. A dog needs more than a 15 minute stand alone enrichment activity. Enrichment is a process that creates a more positive and productive shelter experience for the dogs in your care.

Enrichment reduces stress, boredom, and undesired behaviors by supporting a dog’s sensory and social needs. It also adds value to your shelter dogs’ lives by teaching them basic manners and giving them the confidence to make a good impression on potential adopters.

Unhappy, frustrated, or bored dogs will not show well in their kennels and that will put off potential adopters. Enrichment helps to counter kennel-induced behaviors by making the dogs’ environments more stimulating and challenging. Toys, puzzles, sensory games, playgroups, and other novel experiences are perfect for this.

How Do Enrichment Programs Work?

Have a Plan

Because shelters are hectic places, it’s important to have an enrichment game plan in place before your dogs’ needs become critical.

Here’s how to build a great plan:

  • Train your staff to recognize the early signs of stress.
  • Recruit and train volunteers to work with and support your dogs.
  • Network with other shelters and rescues, as well as breed clubs, trainers, and other
    professionals.
  • Solicit donation of enrichment items from the community.
  • Build a network of trained foster homes.

What Do You Do Once You Have a Plan?

The Old Standbys

  • Use old ice cube trays or Dixie cups to create small, yummy ice treats. Put a few pieces of kibble, yogurt, peanut butter or treats in the bottom, fill with broth and freeze.
  • Smear Kongs or Nylabones with peanut butter or cream cheese. Hand it over to one of your most stressed dogs for a quick, satisfying treat.
  • Short 5-minute basic obedience training sessions are perfect. You can do these outside of kennels. Don’t forget to end on a positive note.

Already Do Those? Here’s More Creative and Incredibly Simple Stuff

  • Bring a dog into your office for a little while. Kennels are noisy. A dog will appreciate a quiet place to nap or getting some attention from a new friend.
  • Move dogs to different kennels to give them a change of scenery.
  • Take a dog for a car ride when you go on a coffee run. Adopters love to know how dogs behave in the car.
  • Play audiobooks, which research says can reduce stress in shelter dogs.
  • Bring a radio into the kennels and tune into a classical music channel.
  • Add an essential oil, such as lavender, to a spray bottle filled with water. Walk through the kennels and mist the air with a new scent.
  • Give small dogs a chance to sit on something new by adding a chair to their kennel.
  • Hang a wind chime near the kennels and let the sounds soothe your dogs.
  • Blow bubbles in the kennels for visual stimulation – and great photo ops.

How Do You Find Time and Money?

We’ve already established that enrichment tools are often things you have lying around your shelter. But here are some other thoughts:

  • Hold an enrichment supply drive and collect anything from Kongs and Nylabones to PVC pipes, peanut butter, milk jugs, plastic bottles, blankets, and towels.
  • Set up an Amazon.com wish list so donors know your shelters needs.
  • Sign up for the Kong Cares program and receive discounted rates on Kong toys.
  • Get volunteers to create some of these enrichment toys and treats.
  • Have volunteers and staff do dog social walks. In addition to exercise, dogs get to spend time getting to know their roommates.

Have a great story to tell about your enrichment program? Message us on Facebook! We’d love to hear it and you may get featured on our blog!

Taking 30 Seconds to Take a Video of a Shelter Dog Might Be The Key to Finding Him a Home

Taking 30 Seconds to Take a Video of a Shelter Dog Might Be The Key to Finding Him a Home

Before video took over social media, the only frame of reference people had for a dog’s personality was static images or words. Of course, those convey powerful messages, but the right video can make someone feel like they are actually with the dog, not just watching the dog. That feeling is even more powerful if you take advantage of live video features on Facebook and Instagram.
(more…)

Don’t Be Boring and Other Secrets to Finding Dogs Homes

Don’t Be Boring and Other Secrets to Finding Dogs Homes

This is a guest post by Kelly Duer and Kristen Auerbach.

In our work in Austin, Texas and Fairfax, Virginia, our main goal has been reducing the length of shelter stay for medium and large dogs. We know the longer they’re in the shelter, the more likely it is that the stress associated with being confined to a cage for 23 hours or more a day will negatively affect their behavior. (more…)

The First Story You Tell About a Shelter Dog Has the Power to Change Their Life

The First Story You Tell About a Shelter Dog Has the Power to Change Their Life

The first story you ever tell about a shelter dog will stick with that dog for the rest of the time they are in your care – and possibly the rest of their life. That first story is usually the dog’s biography. It’s on your website, it’s on sites like Petfinder, and it’s usually on your social media in some form.  So, you want the tone of that story and the emotion it evokes to be positive and reflect who that dog is as an individual.
(more…)