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When it comes to pit bulls, training outweighs breed

This is Apricot. She's a Vizsla/Pit mix up for adoption at Detroit Dog Rescue.
Courtesy of Detroit Dog Rescue
This is Apricot. She's a Vizsla/Pit mix up for adoption at Detroit Dog Rescue.


A quick internet search on pit bull dogs and attacks will reveal some pretty awful stories in Michigan.

In July, for example, we heard about a 71-year-old Detroit woman killed by her own pit bull. That same month, a child in Washtenaw County was hospitalized after a pit bull attack.

In response to such stories, many communities have passed or debated pit-bull bans. But according to KristinaMillman-Rinaldi, executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue, that approach is based on a popular misconception: that it's a dog's breed, and not its training, that determines how it will behave. 

"We stand by the fact that it's how you raise the dog, how the dog is treated."

Eighty percent of the dogs cared for at Detroit Dog Rescue are pit bulls, or pit bull mixes, Rinaldi said, and they’re "some of the greatest dogs" staffers work with.  

Part of the bias against pit bulls likely comes from sensationalism in the media, she said. You don't often hear about attacks by other breeds, even though they do happen.

Rinaldi said any dog can attack, but most can be taught not to. 

"We stand by the fact that it's how you raise the dog, how the dog is treated," she said. 

To raise a dog well, Rinaldi said an owner should use positive reinforcement. That means no choke collars or choke chains. It means rewarding a dog with a treat or a "good boy" when it behaves well or does an activity the owner wants it to.  

It's using negative reinforcement throughout a dog’s life – like striking or spanking – that leads to bad behavior. That's especially when a dog has a background of abuse. 

While Rinaldi and Detroit Dog Rescue, along with other organizations, are working to make Detroit a no-kill city – one that finds homes for homeless dogs – “there are absolutely too many dogs” still living on the city’s streets.

"It's a great feeling to see these dogs in homes, instead of euthanized," she said. "Because with positive reinforcement, they can thrive. And the pit bulls are the ones that we see sometimes that have the fastest results." 

Listen above for our full interview with Kristina Millman-Rinaldi, executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue. 

(Note: "Pit bull" is a catch-all term for dogs people identify as being of a "bully breed," Rinaldi said.) 

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