Delta Airlines announced that they will no longer allow service or emotional support dogs who are “pit bull type” dogs on their flights after two people were bitten by dogs in the airports last week. And as bodies governed by the Federal Aviation Administration are one of the very few categories where the ADA doesn’t fully apply, it looks like they can get away with it for now. Implementation of the new policy starts July 10, 2018.
Oh, lordy, where to start. The discussion has been all over the place: dogs don’t belong on airplanes, dogs don’t belong out of the hold, people who need emotional support dogs are just wimpy, only guide dogs are real service dogs, and who the heck has a Pit Bull service dog and what were they thinking?
Given that service dogs belong with their handlers unless their presence would present a danger to themselves or the handler, and given that service dogs provide a range of services, I’m gonna focus this post on the last one.
Q. Who the heck has a pit bull service dog, and what were they thinking?
A. A lot of people, and they’re thinking “this is an intelligent, loyal, strong, persistent, and gentle dog who makes a great service dog.”
Today, they’re also thinking “oh boy, here we go again.” I know I am. Elsa is a pit mix, all 13 pounds of her:
Let’s start off with some background on Breed Specific Legislation by the American Bar Association. Breed Specific Legislation these days primarily targets Pit Bulls. In the 80s, the “dangerous breed” was the Doberman Pinscher, and in the 70s, the dangerous breed was the German Shephard. As an aside, in a Spanish study of dog aggression, they found that even though public perception named the Pit Bull as the most dangerous dog, the dog most likely to attack humans was the German Shephard.
Prince George’s County Maryland examined their own Pit Bull ban and discovered that in spite of spending $250,000 to round up and euthanize the dogs, the public was no less likely to suffer dog attacks than they were before the ban. So many good dogs destroyed because people fear the breed!
The National Canine Research Council did turn up some factors which held statistical significance in dog attacks, and none of them were down to breed. They are, in order of involvement in dog attacks:
- Unfixed dogs (97%)
- Abused and neglected dogs (84%)
- Dogs kept for guard or breeding (78%)
You can read the whole article here if you’re interested in more.
We here at Puppity Mamas are of the mindset that dog breeds aren’t inherently bad, but that human trends can select breeds we perceive as dangerous to be trained for aggression. Nearly 4 out of 5 dog attacks come from dogs who have been either trained to deter strangers from coming in or have been denied the formation of a dog-human bond. When we consider the recent history of public perception of dog aggression, all three breeds considered dangerous over the past 50 years are highly intelligent and very loyal breeds. That tells us it’s not the dog who’s the problem, and it’s not the breed that’s the risk. Humans are the problem, and human training for aggression creates the risk.
Human beliefs then name the risk. Not many people can identify a Pit Bull on sight, and people are statistically likely to mis-identify an aggressive dog as a pit bull regardless of its actual breed. In areas with Breed Specific Legislation, identification of a dog’s breed is generally left up to people with no experience or training in identifying dog breeds at all. That leads to a lot of misidentifications.
Give it a try yourself. Here’s a quiz to test how well you can spot the Pit Bull.
How did you do? According to the quiz, it takes an average of 53 seconds and 8 tries before people successfully identify the American Pit Bull Terrier. Maybe it’s because she’s so darn friendly-looking.
By nature, they are very friendly dogs. While the American Kennel Club doesn’t recognize a specific breed as a Pit Bull, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is one of the dogs most identified as a Pit. They describe it as “clever, brave, and tenacious” and “a mild, playful companion with a special feel for kids.” They’re even nicknamed “nanny dogs” for their special abilities in caring for human children.
So how did they get this fearsome reputation?
They love to please.
It’s not in a healthy dog’s nature to be vicious and aggressive. They’re pack animals who evolved alongside human beings in a mutually beneficial relationship. But like humans who are sucked into a life of crime out of a desire to belong, dogs can be trained into aggression. One more time: humans consider Pit Bulls an aggressive breed, therefore, humans choose Pit Bulls to train for aggressive behavior.
And that’s dog abuse.
On the flip side, dog breeds generally recognized as Pit Bulls are brilliant at putting their sensitivity and intelligence to use learning to be service dogs. They’re strong enough to provide brace work. They’re loyal and determined enough to provide medical alerts even for owners otherwise inclined to ignore the signs. They’re intelligent enough to learn and perform complex tasks in a wide variety of environments. In short, they’ve got the stuff to be ideal service dogs. In fact, they’re second only to Golden Retrievers in their temperament potential as service dogs.
Let’s take a moment to review the top three dog traits linked to attacks: unfixed, abused or neglected, trained for aggression. All three are precluded entirely in service dogs of all breeds exactly because they’re linked to instability, unpredictability, and aggression.
All Delta Air’s new policy will do is further diminish the rights of their disabled potential customers who rely on the help their service dogs provide.
You can tell Delta Air what you think by tweeting @Delta, calling 800-455-2720 (8 am–7 pm, M–F), or sending them a letter to:
Delta Air Lines, Inc. Customer Care
P.O. Box 20980,
Atlanta, GA 30320-2980