British Columbia

Pit bull owners, dog behaviourist defend breed after latest B.C. incident

A day after two people were taken to hospital suffering from injuries sustained after trying to stop three pit bulls from fighting, owners are defending the breed along with famous dog behaviourist Stanley Coren.

'It's not a pit bull issue,' says well-known professor Stanley Coren

These pit bull dogs, Remington, left, and Delilah are with B.C.'s HugABull Society, which hopes to dispel the stigma often associated with the breed. (HugABull/Twitter)

A day after two people were taken to hospital with injuries sustained while trying to stop three pit bulls from fighting, owners and famous dog behaviourist Stanley Coren are defending the breed.

"People are going to turn this into a pit bull issue and it's not a pit bull issue," said Coren, a professor emeritus of psychology at UBC.

On Friday, two women were taken to hospital after three pit bulls began fighting inside a Surrey, B.C., house. They were injured after intervening while the dogs were eventually taken away by animal control officers.

Stanley Coran, a well-known dog behaviourist, says any dog can become violent to its owner or other people when it is involved in a fight with another dog. (CBC)

Coren says almost any large dog will turn on its owner or another person if it is fighting with another dog. 

"If you yell at them and rush, they are going to no longer think of you as owner — you are just another member of the fight," he said.

On Saturday, members of B.C.'s HugABull society held one of its event in New Westminster, B.C., that tries to dispel negative stereotypes about the breed.

It shows off the gentle and loving side of pit bulls such as Remington and Delilah.

"It's frustrating to me when I see what a bad reputation they get when I come home and this is what I see ... he's great with dogs, he's great with people, puppies, cats," said Remington's owner Melissa Loind, who describes the dog as a big softy with a tail that never seems to stop wagging.

"It's all about socializing your dog," said Dave Davies, who is the owner of Delilah. "We socialized her right off the bat; we went to doggie daycare, [we] did training sessions. Every dog she sees on the street ... she just wants to play. And she gets a little wound up and gets all stimulated, but you just have to find an outlet for that."

Still, Davies admits he and other pit bull owners face discrimination when people see them with their dogs.

"The stigma hits me, too — I'm a big guy with a shaved head and a pit bull," he said.

April Fahr with B.C.'s HugABull Society says the media is too quick to jump on dog attack stories when the breed is suspected to be a pit bull. (CBC)

April Fahr with the society says Saturday's event wasn't planned in relation to the latest incident in Surrey, but it admits it is timely.

"There is a stigma out there. It makes headlines, it gets clicks, it gets reactions and so a pit bull attack is much juicier," she said.

"There were three last year that were initially reported as a pit bull attack and the dog in question was not a pit bull breed at all, but certainly the media tended to jump on it when it was identified as a pit bull."

Dealing with fighting dogs

Meanwhile, Coren says most fights between dogs will get resolved without human involvement, but if they do escalate, he says you should never reach for the collar. He suggests making loud noises or spraying fighting dogs with water.

"The most likely way you'll be able to intervene is to sacrifice something like a jacket or a blanket and to throw it over one of the dogs," he said. "That distracts them so you can actually separate the dogs."

Coren says if there's two people around, another option is to grab each dog by its hind legs — never the tail — and walk it away from the fight like pulling a wheelbarrow backwards.

With files from Deborah Goble