The following is an interview with Leri Hanson, a world renowned owner, breeder, and competitor of Pit Bull dogs. She is also a loving grandmother, and brings a great perspective to the issue of high drive working breeds around young kids.
Carrie: Hello Leri Hanson! Thank you for being a part of Dogs to Diapers. A hot topic right now is high drive breeds around young kids. Pit Bull dogs and kids have been one of the most controversial subjects and I wanted to interview a guest speaker with your amount of experience to weigh in on this issue. Can you tell me what your family dynamic around your dogs was and is now?
Leri: I have an almost 9-year-old grandson and I have an 18-month-old grandson. When my kids first got married they lived with us the first couple of years and at the time I had a bunch of older/retired dogs. They helped me in my business with the bite prevention and these dogs have not been raised with kids. So I thought, we are going to have to protect the baby from the dogs. In the beginning, you leave the dogs out and then you slowly start letting the dogs come in. It was no time at all and as soon as the baby was mobile, it became very apparent that we didn’t need to protect the baby from the dog; just the opposite, we needed to protect the dog from the baby. The dogs didn’t want any problems and each one had their own individual personality. I had a Malinois, a Giant Schnauzer, a Rat Terrier, and a Pit Bull dog. Every dog was a little bit different in how they handled the baby. I will say, I always felt more comfortable with my kids around my Pit Bull dogs then I did my other breeds when they were growing up. My kids are now in their mid-30s and they were raised with Pit Bull dogs and at that time I kept several. Some were kennel dogs and some were house dogs. I always had some as house dogs and at the time, I look back and I was young, dumb, and stupid. I trusted them and I thought my dogs were smart enough to know better. You know how a lot of people say “My dog loves me; I know they will protect me.” Well, I thought that I love my dogs and I love my kids, and my dog knows they are part of our human pack. Now, when I look at it as a grown lady with my grandkids here every day, there is no way I would do the same things I did 30 years ago. I was lucky, I was just lucky. What I think one of the differences between now and then is that you don’t hear about serious bites or maulings from dogs that were trained. I think because we are trainers, our dogs already have some boundaries and I’m pretty lax with my dogs around the house. As long as they don’t poop or pee in the house or destroy things, they can get on the sofa or get on the bed. I don’t care about that stuff. I know that if I need to use my big voice, like my competition voice, my dogs will stop. I think a lot of pet dogs just don’t have that.
Carrie: Can you tell me about your experience with dogs and how you got started?
Leri: I have actually known my husband since the 5th grade. When we reconnected, I had been previously married, and I had a baby. When my current husband found out that I was available, he worked very hard and knew I was an animal lover and he had a Pit Bull at the time. We would go out to dinner or a movie and then go back to the house to get his dog and take him to the park. He swears up and down it was that dog that won me over. His dog was pretty unmanageable and not very obedient and ended up staying at his parent’s house. Eventually, we got a dog together. He and I picked up this little Pit Bull dog out of the Penny Saver for a couple hundred dollars, and the first thing I wanted to do was take him to obedience school. My dad was a Doberman man and my mom was a Chihuahua lady. My dad always took his dogs to a training class, a parks and rec kind of thing. I loved doing the homework given at home and then I would go with him every week and watch. So, I took Frasier, the Penny Saver dog, to training class and the instructor said, “He’s really good, you might want to consider doing a little more.” He gave me a flyer for an upcoming UKC obedience trial, so I went. I went to watch, and it just so happened they had conformation going on and I was like “Wow, this is really cool!” That is how it all really began for me, but the story I really want to tell you about is when got involved with Schutzhund. It was maybe 1-2 years after I started in dogs because my kids were still really little. I met Al Banuelos, who is a pioneer of American Bulldogs in Schutzhund. He also had a Malinois that was the first to score a perfect score in obedience and protection at a national. He was my original trainer and was always a nighttime trainer. There would always be different people at his place, because he had a lot of followers. I didn’t always know everybody, but I remember we were out at a new field. I was out on the field doing my thing with my dogs, some obedience off on the side, and my son was just kicking rocks and playing in the dirt doing what boys do. He was probably 4 years old, not in kindergarten yet. I heard Al say, “Leri, get Dane off the field.” I said Ok, I didn’t know why, because it was an unusual request, but I told my son to come with me. We put the dog up and were just hanging by the car. The next thing I know, I turn around and I see the Al from the back and it appears he is working a dog with a sleeve on. Then I realize that he doesn’t have a sleeve on. He had seen this dog, an AmStaff that was possibly loading on my child from across the field. I was out there dealing with my dog and thinking that everybody here is a trainer and aware of things. You know how you think you know things when you are just getting started and you think everybody is here for the same purpose? They all have control over their animals? It was really bad. He l had a very serious bite. I had nightmares that if the Al wasn’t there to step in that the dog would have ended up getting my son. It was a serious bite; he probably would have removed his face if he had gotten a hold of him. There wasn’t any growling, barking, or lunging. None of that, and it was at a distance; that’s when you talk about predatory aggression. That is what this dog was doing; it was stalking. That was when I started thinking that I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this. I don’t know if I want dogs that know that it is ok to bite. Then I figured things out a little bit and decided to keep with it and see what happens. Then I come to find out that this particular fella, has three different breeds of dogs; a Doberman, a Shepherd, and this AmStaff and they all had the same personality traits. I am not saying that he made the dogs the way he did, but he did not have the education or the experience to recognize what his dogs were doing. So he was just a liability case and he had been to a bunch of trainers. Unfortunately, Al was one of the ones that got the rough end on that. These subtleties, unless you have a trained eye, are going to be missed by the average pet owner.
Carrie: What are the traits about this breed that attracts you?
Leri: To me they are a gorgeous animal, and they are tough yet super sensitive. I have yet to find a Pit Bull that was stubborn. You know when people will say to you that Pit Bull dogs are so stubborn when they lock their jaw. I have yet to find a stubborn Pit Bull. I have come across Pit Bulls that have been handled with the old yank and crank style and were resistant absolutely, but not stubborn. I feel like the breed needs people like me. Back to where I first got started and I was doing obedience with my dog, it was because I felt I needed it and that is always what my family did with their dogs. I took it a step further by getting involved in the competition aspect of training. Sometime down the road, my friend Annetta Cheek was looking for a stud dog for her Schutzhund 3 dog. That was the first time I had ever heard of that sport. She starts sending me videos of a little 50 pound female that was training and I was so impressed. So she ships the dog out to me to breed and she was just a phenomenal dog. The dog acted like she was mine, like I had known her all along. The breeding went really smooth. The owner insisted that I see the dog work live and I thought, I want to do this. I felt that Pit Bulls could do this sport and it could be done without making them mean or aggressive. I originally started with the mind frame that I needed to prove a point; I needed to prove that Pit Bulls can be like any other dog if you invest the time and energy into them. They are not necessarily killing machines like people say, and they don’t eat babies for lunch. I got over that and I didn’t have anything to prove after a while, but I still really enjoyed working the dogs. Breeds like the Malinois are the premier working dog and they are super smart, and they can make even a novice handler look pretty talented. And I thought when you can get a Pit Bull dog to show clarity, focus, drive and animation in the work that says something. You expect it from your Mals, your Shepherds, your Rotts and your Dobermans to an extent. But when you can do that with a Pit Bull, that to me really meant something special. That was one of the things, and also the fact that I am much more comfortable with my grandkids around Pit Bulls then I am around my Malinois. And I love Malinois, too, I have a couple. The other thing is, if you have a good Pit Bull dog, they are up for the task, they are ready to go and give it their all. Then the down time comes really nice too, and they have an off switch.
Carrie: What are some of the challenges you run into owning this type of dog?
Leri: The breed prejudice and I don’t blame people. I just went into semi-retirement and I am not going to trial anymore until I have my own dog. The last couple of years I have been handling somebody else’s dog. I can’t get another dog until a couple of my old timers are gone, I just can’t do it. Sometimes I think to myself I want to do one more Pit Bull. I know there is going to come a time when they are not allowed anymore. I still need to be on their side and promoting them in obedience, in protection sports, and in rally. As much as I can do to expose them, but there are just some people you run across, and of course I’m not going to lie, every time I take my dog into a group in UKC, I hold my breath. But I do work it hard and practice it and go to other clubs around different dogs. I know my dog isn’t going to break but I just pray another dog won’t break and come to my dog and do something stupid. So that is probably one of the biggest challenges. I know from friends who rent that it is really difficult to find a place to live where you can have them from a landlord prospective. The other challenge is that I get a lot of calls from Pit Bull people, and sometimes after talking to them for 30-45 minutes, I never hear from them again. I don’t mean to scare them, and I tell them up front, “Look, I don’t want to scare you, but if you plan to take your Pit Bull to a dog park on a regular basis and that is something you want to do, then you might want to look at a different breed. If you plan to have an open-door policy at your home where your teenage kid’s friends are coming in and out and the doors are open, or the gates are unlocked, then you might need to look at a different breed.” And I am not saying it is only Pit Bulls that might get stupid; any dog could do that. But of course, when the Pit Bull bites it is going to be a headline and it is going to be much worse. And then everybody can say, “See I told you so.” I try not to sugar coat the breed. The people call and say their Pit Bull has dog aggression and they would like to walk them down the street. Or they would really like their dog just to get along with other dogs. Maybe not even necessarily a dog park but they want to be able to be out in their neighborhood and out with their neighbors not having to worry about their Pit Bull dog trying to kill the neighbor’s dog. I say absolutely training is going to help but it may be, having never seen the dog, that this dog may not ever have friends. Or maybe your dog could become ok with my demo dog that I bring, and we could work some skills around each other, but it could never mean that we could just let our guard down and let them be normal together. I have a friend who I absolutely adore, who has Ragu, her blind Pit Bull that comes from a very well-known bloodline. She runs the Barking Lot and he is the greeter for everybody and every dog. He just the best, he is super, super good. And in the beginning, I used to think “Be careful, be careful.”. She is a very talented trainer, she knows what she is doing, but Ragu, in my opinion, he is the exception and not the rule. When we look at our Malinois, what are some of the things we like, why are they the premier working dog? It’s because that they are smart, biddable, fast, they are reactive. When you look at a Pit Bull and what they are bred for, they are bred to be a gripping dog; to use their mouth. Do you realize how many Pit Bull dogs I go through before I find one that will maybe bite? Some of them can’t even bite their way out of a wet paper sack. They refuse to use their mouth. They have no play or prey drive. Maybe those are the ones that are better suited for a pet home. They have to be rock solid in temperament. It’s challenging to find a dog for sport or to have ambition to get off the couch or out of the back yard. I kind of wish Pit Bull people these days would leave their dogs in the back yard. Why do they have to walk the dog around the neighborhood? If you know that your dog is going to get cranked up at your neighbor’s dog behind the fence and every time you go by there you’re not controlling it, your dog is just building and building and building. Well, eventually the dog is going to get away from you or get out the house or the door. Don’t show them all the hot spots in the neighborhood if you’re not going to train them properly. It is almost as though they are antagonizing them. I live right around the corner from a dog park and there are dogs from a lot of the neighbors there. I drive past it several times a day. I just cringe when I see Pit Bulls in there. I would no more go to a dog park with a Pit Bull in there then I would walk into a gorilla cage at a zoo. I just wouldn’t, and I tell people that, and I love the breed. Don’t set your dog up for failure and don’t set your dog up to get destroyed. I have a pet dog client that has become a very good friend of mine. He is my biggest advocate for business and my breed. His dog is a yellow lab and he helps some of his friends who have Pit Bulls with socialization. He will tell me how he uses his dog and takes the leash of the Pit Bull and walks them together. He is very proud of this accomplishment, but I say to him “You got big balls, man. I wouldn’t do that.”
Carrie: What do prospective Pit Bull owners need to know before introducing one into their family, especially if they have young kids?
Leri: You have to do crate, rotate, and yard time. You don’t bring the baby straight home to the dog. The dog needs to be accustomed to barriers or a crate. Of course, you are going to give the dog its time, too, but you need to bring the dog in very slowly. I think one of the biggest mistakes when Pit Bull owners bring in other animals, let’s forget about kids for a moment, is they expect them to be friends. Even if it works out for a day or two, maybe a week, maybe even a month, you never ever trust your Pit Bull not to fight another dog. Until I see really good signs from the dogs between a fence and them having desire for interaction, then I would possibly take them for a walk together. But I am not going to throw them in a yard together. Back to introducing a baby, I am not going to walk into a house with a baby in my arms. That dog needs to be outside first. In fact, when we brought home my grandson, my dogs spent a lot of time outside for a while. At night, of course I would bring them in and they would go to their crates. If the baby was gone, then I would bring the dogs in to see the baby toys, the baby bag, and the little crib. It was good that they could also hear the baby cry and deal with it from their crates. It’s got to be a slow interaction. For me, before I would bring a baby home, especially to a Pit Bull, the dog has to have some training. The dog has to have a clear understanding of the boundaries around the home. And unfortunately, Carrie, in my opinion, most of the Pit Bull dogs run their owners. When the dog gets in drive over a squirrel or another dog, they have lost them and they can’t get them back.
Carrie: In your experience with Pit Bulls and redirecting, in comparison to other breeds to you think there is any difference? Have you ever had one of your Pit Bulls redirect on you?
Leri: Never, never. The Pit Bull dog allows me a large margin for error without being destroyed and without biting me. I trained my first few Pit Bulls with the old methods of yank and crank. Some of those dogs should have bitten me for some of the stupid stuff I’ve done and they never redirected on me. These were my dogs though, and I’m not going to say that I have never had a client’s Pit Bull dog that has thought about coming up the leash at me. That has happened, but not from my own. I think sometimes when that happens, there are different reasons why dogs redirect; is it frustration, is it stress, is it just overexcitement? Today, a girlfriend of mine from the club and I were working her older dog and I was trying to show her dog how to get more excited over the retrieves and her dog started escalating as I was tugging on her toy. I asked the owner if she was getting too amped with me, and the owner said, “I think she is.” To me if a Pit Bull is escalating like that, then I don’t want a dog like that. It’s a bad sign, that is not normal. I had once gotten a dog that came to me at 4 years of age. She was quite a lovely dog, cute, nice, and small. She was almost more like a Malinois, the way she moved like a Malinois around the yard, and she gave you a lot of eye contact. At home it was fabulous, but as soon as I took her off the yard it was too much stimuli and I couldn’t keep her. It wasn’t that she was just distracted; she was hunting for other dogs. With this desire to hunt for other dogs, one day I was out at the field and I tied her to the tree. I was standing there with food waiting for her to just stop and look at me so that I could reward it. Maybe I got one or two half ass ones. One of the guys walked by just asking me what I was doing and she nipped at him. He had come within her leash length and because she was so excited from the other stimuli that she nipped him. The bottom line is I had a lady come to the house and she had a baby with her. I told her to hold on while I put the dog up, and Nala got so geeked out seeing this baby in the women’s arms and I knew I couldn’t keep the dog anymore. It was too much liability. I was going to put her down. I called the original owner and told him what was going on, and that I think she was too much of a liability. Also, she was older now, so it is a little harder to get through to her and he wanted to take the dog back and I put her on ground transportation back. On the ground travel drive home, the company I used had her in a wire crate and she ended up busting out and getting a hold of another dog. I don’t know any more than that. Sometimes you have to go with your gut.
Carrie: What outlets do these dogs need to be completely satisfied and fit into a pet home with babies or young kids?
Leri: That’s tough, because mine were doing Schutzhund when my kids were growing up and my kids came with me to train the dog for the most part. When we talk about breed prejudice, it hurts me worse getting it from working dog people. Especially when they say, “don’t you feel like you are making them aggressive towards people by allowing them to bite people?” It’s my opinion and belief, and something a friend said a long time ago, “We don’t teach these dogs how to bite; they already know how to bite. What we do is we teach them when it’s acceptable and appropriate to bite, and more importantly, when to release upon command.” Having a gripping breed. Many people stay away from games like tug of war because a lot of trainers will say don’t play tug of war. Some trainers say not to play tug of war because you are turning on the aggression; because you’re trying to win, and the dog is trying to win, and you can create resistance. I don’t think anything could be further from the truth, if you do it like sport people do it, where you exchange a toy, or you offer food. I am not trying to win anything from you; I am just trying to engage you. To let you get that instinctual desire to bite in a controlled manner. I want to allow you to do that, but it has to be in a controlled manner. Flirt poles are great, spring poles are great, treadmills are wonderful. All those things are good, but it is still no substitute for training. Those are activities, not training. I still believe that the training is of the utmost importance. ADBA (American Dog Breeders Association) is probably one of the biggest real Pit Bull registries, and they have a program called Safe Dogs. Safe Dog 1 and Safe Dog 2, and I am an evaluator for them. The first few years I really pushed hard. I would go to the semi local shows and set up the test and nobody ever entered. Only the UKC people that came down with the dual registered dogs that were doing weight pull would do it. When their dogs tested and passed, I wanted to make a big deal with the announcement of it, so people could see. I think a lot of Pit Bull people think they were going to take the fire out of them if they trained them, and on the contrary, you give them even that much more by educating them. There is another registry, the American Preservation Dog Registry(APDR). Pit bull people in general do not recognize the benefits of training their dog. They think it makes their dog a sissy and they say, “I don’t mind doing that later, but not right now.” Then they say my dog is too old and there is no way they will pass a neutral dog or even to stay neutral if a dog is there. In APDR, we did something called Smart Start. It is a confidence course they have to get up on a jump, go through a tunnel, through a hula-hoop, and you can use toys, or you can talk to the dog. You don’t have to use a live dog for the test; you can use a dummy dog at a distance. All I wanted to see is the dog is not trying to drag them towards the dummy dog and, if they go towards it, is the dog trying to attack it or is it like “Oh it’s a dummy.” I am really trying to promote this thing, and the reality is Pit Bull people really don’t care. The majority of them just don’t care.
Carrie: When doing research for Dogs to Diapers, I discovered the number two reason dogs were surrendered to a shelter was because of a change in the home such as a new baby. What are your thoughts on the amount of Pit Bulls in shelters?
Leri: It’s a crying shame. You have to give the no kill shelters an “Okay, good for you”, that’s nice if you can do that, but unfortunately most of the Pit Bull dogs in the shelters should be euthanized. I know I am going to catch grief for that because there are some really great rescue dogs that have gone into a talented trainer’s home that have done great things with them. But you shouldn’t have to rehab a Pit Bull. If you’re having to rehab, it should just be because the dog has been starved or the dog was injured. But you shouldn’t be having to rehab temperament. People tell me “The dog is 2 years old and he’s rarely been out of the back yard, and that is why he is scared of the cars or people or whatever.” I know dogs that have lived their entire lives on a chain in the backyard, and the first time they left that yard they acted as confident and happy out in a new environment as they did in their own. So, I don’t by that “Oh well he has been in the kennel too long.” I don’t think a kennel life is a good life for a Pit Bull; they want to be with their people. They don’t want to be isolated on a chain in a yard, but I think a chain is better then a kennel.
Carrie: A lot of pet people rescue Pit Bulls with the best intentions and then end up bringing them home and doing them an injustice by not training obedience, not being the leader the dog needs them to be, and not earning the dogs respect. They feel they don’t want to do it and go into the relationship just wanting to love and reassure them to a fault because they feel they were so “abused and neglected.” I find in my pet business, it ends up doing more harm then good for such a strong breed. People have unrealistic expectations on what it takes to rehab a dog that is trying to go after other dogs. What are your thoughts about this?
Leri: I think a lot of things that happen with these people is that they rescue this poor little skinny Pit Bull dog that they have been told has been used for fighting. I think that is how some organizations end up getting the dogs into these homes is by telling them it was a bait dog. I am so over that bait dog dilemma. They get this dog home and maybe they have it for a while and it’s good with the other dogs or the kids. And you know what happens when you bring a new dog home from the shelter. It takes a while for them to adjust and really start feeling comfortable. And that’s what happens with these Pit Bull dogs, and all of a sudden, the dog kills their cat or mangles their other dog, and then the people have to get rid of it again because they think it could be a child next. They don’t understand. They didn’t take the slow introduction steps. And for that matter, if you want to get a Pit Bull dog and you have a bunch of other pets, don’t get a Pit Bull dog. They are best left by themselves, not with other animals. And I know this interview is mostly about kids, but I had to say that.
Carrie: What are your thoughts on the statistical number of dog bites associated with this breed?
Leri: Have you ever heard of the website, www.doglaw.com.
Carrie: I ran across that site when doing research for Dogs to Diapers, but I didn’t know how legit the statistics are. The site is trying to portray that statistically Pit Bulls have a lot of bites and bite history compared to other breeds.
Leri: Yes, and not only a lot of bites and bite history, but I think some of most damaging bites. Pit Bulls general don’t just nip; they normally go full mouth and then start shaking. As far as with that website, I don’t know all the details of it, but the facts are the facts. Somebody got bit by this dog, and that dog sure does look like a Pit Bull dog. It may not be and that is another thing. A lot of them are maybe bulldog mixes, even American bulldogs, maybe even AmStaffs Who knows? They all get clumped into the Bully category. It is quite alarming and here is another thing you have to remember. Pit Bulls are one of the most popular breeds and they are THE most misunderstood breed. I kind of feel the same way about Rottweilers. I am not a huge Rottweiler fan, more because I feel they are very strong, serious dogs. And not just anybody should have a dog like that, and I feel the same way about a Pit Bull. Serious dogs for serious people, and if you are not into your dog and making it the best dog it can be, not only for you but also for your community and the environment it has to be in, then you don’t need this dog. Go get a labradoodle or go get a little pug. They are great dogs too.
Carrie: And just because we say that about Pit Bulls doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them. It kills me when people try to make the Pit Bulls into a labradoodle and instead of leaving them alone and letting them be a Pit Bull. There is nothing wrong with them as they are now.
Leri: Exactly. When we are talking about early socializing with the pups, and I am a believer in that, I always make very certain that my pup is not overwhelmed or bullied. Even if the pups are playing in an age appropriate way and I see my dog on the bottom (this is with any breed, not just a Pit Bull,) I am going to step in and pick my dog up. But with a Pit Bull dog your window of puppy socializing is very short, and 9 months is pushing it. I have a friend and I keep telling him to be careful, but he says “Oh, well she is so good with other dogs.” And here is the thing; you can raise a Pit Bull dog to be responsible around other dogs or children by never allowing anything bad to happen to them. But once that dog knows that it can fight another dog, even if it is just to defend itself, then you are going to have a problem. If you can keep them asleep, then they don’t even know they can fight. You keep that asleep and then you’re alright. And that is not going to happen just throwing a dog in a back yard. You still need to train them, you still need to socialize them, you still need to work a little of that focus stuff. Don’t let them get into a fight.
Carrie: Once that fight drive is found within a Pit Bull, does that owner just need to leave it alone and manage the dog appropriately in the future?
Leri: Let me give you an example. I had a little Pit Bull bitch that I took to a ring 3. When I was done with her in competition, I gave her to someone who is the goddess of Pit Bull dogs, although she is done with them now. She took the dog and wanted to cross her over and make her a Schutzhund 3. How cool would that be to have a Ring 3 title and Schutzhund 3 title? She has a lot of dogs and lives out there in Oregon. One of the dogs got off its chain and got to the female, Cassie. And wow, because Cassie did come from a long line of good fighters, and after that she said everything changed about her. Even when she bit the sleeve, something changed in her eyes. It wasn’t her happy, goofy, silly, likes the bite work but never lost her mind self. I never had slow outs, she was pretty compliant. This is another thing to consider; this trainer is a no force trainer. I use electric, I use prong, I use a clicker, I use food, I use it all. Cassie had electric, and when she got up there with my friend, she started feeling really good because she wasn’t being curbed much. And then after the fight, and it happened more then once she got into it with different dogs, it changed her. So, she used to say to me, “Leri, I can’t thank you enough for making her as responsible as you did. I apologize for her learning that she could fight.” It is definitely pretty profound when you think about it.
Carrie: What do you think of this new movement stop calling dogs “Pit Bull mixes” but instead to call them “Bully Breed mixes”, especially in the rescue and the shelter adoption processes?
Leri: When I think of Bully, I think of my little toad of a dog. If they want to lump them all into Bullys, I don’t get it. Either it is Pit Bull or it’s a bull breed. I would refer to a Pit Bull as that or as a Bull Dog. When I hear Bully I think of little, short, squatty, big head, big chest, and deformed legs. I don’t know if its good or bad. Another dear friend of mine is very active in the AWDF and Schutzhund. She’s a very smart lady, highly educated, and been around a long time. This was back when we were trying to get the Working Pit Bull Terrier Group in with the AWDF because we had FAST (Federation of Stafford Terriers) in there, although it started to die, but we did get a team out to represent it. And that organization said, “Wait a minute, we only have one breed club to represent in AWDF, and we already have FAST.” And my friend said, “Look, I can sit here and argue all day long that yes, the AmStaff is the same as a Pit Bull, or I can go to the opposite side and say no, the AmStaff is a completely different dog than the Pit Bull, and I would have literature to back it up.” So take that for what it is worth. If they clump them all together, then unfortunately a lot of dogs are going to get labeled into the ugly name of Pit Bulls that aren’t Pit Bulls. They might be American Bulldog, English Bulldog, and it’s too bad, it’s a shame. And there are so many of them. Unless they are going to DNA them, what are they going to do?
Carrie: When the rescues do that, they will say it’s a lab mix or boxer mix and they are trying to downplay that it has Pit Bull in it to get it to be more adoptable. Then the pet people go into it not knowing what they signed up for.
Leri: That angers me; I think it is a disservice to them. I had an old friend that worked for Long Beach Animal Control for 25 years and is now retired. I used to go on ride alongs with her and it was always disturbing when we would go back to the shelter to take dogs back. We would walk down the breeze ways and they would have 2 or 3 Pit Bulls in a cage together. I was like “No, you can’t do that.” The dogs would fight each other, but they didn’t have enough room at the shelters; they were so over populated. If the dog is not micro chipped or picked up in a few days, then euthanize it. If it’s not a perfect rock-solid dog? Come on. And I’m not into euthanizing, but I would rather have that than the alternative. It would scare me if some of my neighbors got Pit Bulls because I see there are other dogs going down the street, and if they had a Pit Bull dog it might not be good. My neighbor right next door has a Bully breed, it’s a nephew to my little Bully, and their dog has just started turning onto other dogs. Another thing is Pit bull owners should have a break stick and be taught how to use it. Even if they don’t ever have to use it, they need to have one on hand.
Carrie: Do you agree or disagree with the phrase “It’s how they were raised” or do you feel genetics play a role also in an overall dog’s character?
Leri: I think genetics far outweigh everything else. I think its about the hard wiring of the dog. I have seen people in my club that get Maliniois that really don’t want to bite. They have very little interest to chase a rag or a ball. Somebody commented that they make the dogs like that by loving them too much and giving them too much liberty. I don’t think it works like that. It was luck of the draw. Now they have a young dog that is too much for them. Careful what you wish for! I have put down dogs that I have raised, that I know didn’t have any bad feedback growing up. They had a normal, healthy introduction to life. You know what; I have to take back what I said about redirection. I remember now that I did have a dog redirect on me. I got on her for something, and she snarled at me and snapped, and I said “That’s it, you’re gone. I feed you, I can do anything I want to you, and you better never ever think of curling a lip to me.”
Carrie: Do you support the nickname that Pit Bulls are “Nanny Dogs?”
Leri: I used to. That whole nanny dog movement was very pretty and really nice, and we could use it as a good rebuttal until the bad things the Pit Bulls were doing. But my sources say there is nothing to prove that they were ever a nanny dog, though there are old pictures of Pit Bulls and kids. Now, what I do agree with is that they have such a high tolerance for pain that when a kid is pulling on their ears, tail, or lip that they are okay with that. And I don’t think we should let kids do that, but these dogs are not as reactive as your average dog. I think that is where that whole “nanny dog” phrase came up. I thought the same thing originally, although I’ll tell you that I’m much more comfortable with my grandkids around the Pit Bull dogs than some of my other breeds. Now that I am a little bit more aware of dog behavior in general than I was when I was raising my kids, I wouldn’t allow that level of interaction anymore.
Carrie: Do you feel this breed has a higher predatory drive than other breeds that could be triggered around babies or young kids?
Leri: I only had the one dog myself that had that really strong predatory drive. But predatory and prey drive are very different. and sometimes I even find it difficult to find Pit Bulls with good prey drive. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive; I think one kind of leads into another. Here’s the bottom line: if one of my dogs injures one of my kids or any kid, I would probably be suicidal. When you look at some of the stuff some of these dogs do to these kids, I really try to be extra careful so that I don’t ever have to go through that. Not ever have to explain it. I had this other dog that was out of one of my males. The mother was a phenomenal Schutzhund 3 dog and the dad was my first show dog, he got a UCDX, and was a therapy dog. Goose went to a home in NY and was a little too much for her, and he was killing animals around the farm. She sent him to me and I said I would take a look at him and see what he was like. He was 2 years old, and it was love at first sight. He was really special to me. I took him to a Schutzhund 3 and I put a championship on him and obedience titles and all of that. But Goose was a little different, and this is why I have gotten away from that bloodline. They were a little bit sharper then what I felt Pit Bull dogs should be. And Carrie, when I was young and just getting started in Schutzhund, I kind of thought that the dog had to be like that in order to have that confidence to face that man. They had to be a little tougher, a little bit more on guard. Well that couldn’t be further from the truth, not in my experience. They need to be stable, they need to be friendly, they need to be outgoing, and they need to be comfortable in all different sorts of environments. They should not be edgy and looking around. You know the mondioring judge that got bit? I mean come on, I don’t want those kinds of dogs. And I have had them. I don’t want those kinds of dogs, especially not in the Pit Bull breed. And unfortunately, we again go back to the fact that there are so many undesirable people that want this disposable dog. Pit Bulls are the number 1 disposable dog. You can just get another one and you can get them anywhere for next to nothing. Nobody really even cares that you are going to put a Pit Bull down. They say, “We put a lot of Pit Bulls down regularly in shelters.” They have to because they don’t have the room for them. This dog of mine, that I loved so much I used to tease my husband that if he were a man I would leave you, because he absolutely adores me and is very protective of me as well. I thought maybe it’s because I got him when he was a little bit older, and I was his first real trip away from home, and now he thinks I’m like his goddess. Well the dog showed all sorts of little signs of being stupid, never with my kids, but in other situations. One time we were at a big Schutzhund event and everybody had gone out to the bar afterwards. I said that I had to go and check on my dog and this guy told me to bring him in. And remember, I hadn’t had the dog for very long. So I bring him in the bar, which was a stupid mistake because people are drinking. This one gal just starts loving on him and playing with him and he “bumped her nose” and I just chalked it up to “Oh shoot, it just happened, and it wasn’t anything aggressive.” Well fast forward 13 years, I ended up putting him to sleep because he bit two people in the face. And he showed me; he was so honest by bumping that girl. He was new to me, so he wasn’t confident enough to go all the way, but he showed me what he was. And that is the thing Carrie: these dogs are honest. They are not deceiving, they are not trying to act like something they’re not, and we have to listen to them.
Carrie: Since I have completed the Dogs to Diapers project, I have been very active in conversations that have involved a Pit Bull being in the news for mauling or killing a small baby or child. Normally when this happens, there is the same sequence of events. First the headline that reads “Pit Bull Attacks Baby.” Then you have the story in whatever format the news decides to relay it in. Then sometimes there are pictures of the dog or the scene. Lastly, when you scroll down the page, there are normally 500 plus comments. They range from: “It’s the parents’ fault,” “Pit Bulls should never be around babies,” “Prayers for the innocent baby,” The comments go on and on. If you could leave a comment on one of these threads, what would it be?
Leri: I try to stay away from that kind of stuff. I really do, because I feel for both sides. To me there is no dog that means more to me than a child, and it doesn’t even have to be my child. It’s a dog, it’s just a dog. I think licensing is an option, and I know people don’t want more policing on that, and I also know the Pit Bull people would hate me for saying it. But I almost feel like if you’re going to keep certain breeds of dogs, that they really need to do home inspections and make sure that you are worthy of keeping such an animal. Almost like an exotic. I can’t say I blame the parents because in some cases they are homeless or they are drunks or they are just not watching the child the way they should. But the dog did what it did, and there are plenty of dogs that don’t do it. So that dog did it, and unfortunately, we just wish that the people would have seen the signs before, and not feel bad about giving up their dog if they are not comfortable with their dog and their child together.