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How To End Breed Prejudices

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Drayton Michaels, CTC is the owner of Urban Dawgs Dog Training in Red Banks, NJ. He also holds a Certification in Dog Training and Behavior Counseling from the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers (known as “the Harvard for dog trainers”). 

How do you end breed prejudices?

The best way to make sure that prejudice doesn’t continue or it is at least dramatically decrease, is to get proper information that is based on science, based on proper behavior, from people who are legitimate sources. Get that information out first and foremost and be an advocate of that information.

Not just “well we like these dogs and they are great because I have one”, but get the information, have the ammunition because it’s really hard to argue with legitimate information.


How to prevent breed and dog discrimination in your community:

This is a snippet from an amazing article done by Best Friends Animal Society Dog Breed Discrimination: How to Prevent It in Your Community

Learn more about the issues:

The most important thing that you can do is to get better educated about the breeds that are being discriminated against, about breed specific legislature and about laws that are in your community. If you have FACTS and not opinions, you will have a better chance of being an amazing advocate for dogs. Here are some helpful websites:

In addition to these online resources, Best Friends’ legislative experts have many ways of supporting your efforts to overturn existing breed-discriminatory laws or counter a proposed measure in your area. To get this type of assistance, contact the pit bull terrier initiatives staff at info@bestfriends.org.

Tailor your arguments for your audience.

As animal lovers, we want to save animals, so we view breed discrimination from a very specific perspective. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone (and certainly not a majority of government officials) shares that perspective.

So, to be effective advocates, we must speak in terms that decision-makers understand, relate to and find persuasive. That means using arguments focused on the violation of personal property rights, fiscal accountability, and public safety. Emotional arguments about the plight of dogs affected by BDL should play a very small supporting role or even none at all.

Use effective language.

The following language tips come from Best Friends’ years of research and experience:

  • Refer to the dogs as “pit bull terriers” rather than simply “pit bulls.” Many pit bull breeds actually are terriers, and adding that word softens the name and helps people relate to the dogs.
  • When referring to the wider class of dogs (i.e., pit bulls and pit bull mixes), use “pit-bull-terrier-like dogs.”
  • Emphasize the need for “comprehensive breed-neutral laws” that focus on “behavior not bias” and those that target “reckless owners.”
  • Use positive language when talking about the dogs. For example, don’t say, “Pit bull terriers aren’t inherently dangerous.” People only hear “pit bull” and “inherently dangerous.” Instead, say something like this: “Pit bull terriers are wonderful family dogs who score higher on temperament testing than many other beloved breeds. All dogs can bite.”
  • Use the term “breed-discriminatory legislation” rather than “breed-specific legislation.” There is nothing specific about so-called breed-specific legislation..
  • Focus your language on persuasive arguments addressing property rights, public safety, and fiscal impact, rather than heartfelt appeals to save the dogs.

Harness the power of persuasive images.

Based on Best Friends’ research, here are some suggestions for how to portray pit bull terriers in photos:

  • Dogs love to smile, but their teeth can scare the general public, in particular, those who aren’t animal lovers. So don’t use images that prominently display a dog’s teeth, especially the dog’s canine (fang) teeth.
  • With kitties: Use images showing pit bull terriers and feline friends.
  • With grey-haired ladies: Research indicates that who a dog is photographed with affects people’s perceptions of the dog.
  • With age-appropriate children: The children in the photos should appear to be comfortably in control of the dog. Children need to be taller than the dog. Better still, the dog should be at rest.
  • As family dogs: Depict dogs with adults who appear to be loving and responsible owners.
  • As celebrity wannabes: Photograph local sports heroes or other celebrities with pit bull terriers.
  • As service and therapy dogs: Images of pit bull terriers in these roles help dispel the myths about these dogs.
  • Pit bull terriers as career dogs: People look favorably on dogs who appear to have a job, such as search and rescue, bomb detection or law enforcement.

Steer clear of images that:

  • Show the dogs’ upper teeth, no matter how happy the dog actually looks
  • Feature the dogs with babies or very young children: These images not only make the children seem vulnerable, they send the message that it’s OK to leave children unattended with dogs.
  • Show dogs at play with each other: Sometimes play looks like fighting to the general public.

Contact your local officials.

Calls, letters, and emails from voters greatly influence public officials’ decision-making process, so encourage as many supporters as possible to contact the relevant government officials.

Contact local media.

Your local newspapers, television and radio stations may be very interested in what you have to say. Start with sending letters describing the proposed legislation to the editors of local newspapers in order to spread the word about the issue, educate citizens and garner support. If you are interviewed by local media representatives, provide them with basic information first, but be ready to share specific talking points if asked. When interacting with the media, know what points you want to make and insert them into the discussion whenever you can.

Emphasize the top three reasons that a community should reject BDL:

  1. BDL infringes on the fundamental property rights of good citizens. Legally, dogs are considered property and BDL restrict ownership of certain breeds, thereby violating citizens’ property rights.
  2. BDL wastes valuable tax dollars because it’s ineffective and expensive to enforce.
  3. BDL fails to enhance public safety because studies show that it doesn’t reduce the number of dog bites. The focus of dangerous dog laws should be on the behavior of the dog and the dog’s owner, not the breed.

Be ready to elaborate on each of these points, as well as explain how breed bans force responsible owners with good dogs to choose between surrendering their best friend to a shelter or moving out of the community.

Get social.

The power of social media is undeniable. Garner support by getting active on your favorite social media platform, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ or another site.Consider starting a Facebook page or group, a listserv or a website specifically to discuss breed discrimination in your community. You might also consider starting a blog or contributing to your community newspaper’s blog. Adding well-written, informed comments to relevant stories in the local online media is a great way to advocate for your cause.

Be polite, prepared and professional.

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to always use a polite and respectful tone. Keep in mind that community leaders can be quickly turned off by large numbers of angry calls, letters, and emails from people, especially if they are coming from individuals who don’t reside in the community.

All of your public calls-to-action should encourage polite, respectful, informed discourse.

Be persistent (and say thank-you).

If you lose round one and a breed-discriminatory measure passes or is not repealed, don’t give up. Instead, dig in for the long haul and aim for a repeal. Take a deep breath and then:

  • Re-examine all efforts to date to learn where adjustments may need to be made and how strategy may need to be altered.
  • Intensify your efforts and outreach, including communications with officials. Remember, always be polite, professional and respectful.
  • Keep going to city council meetings and speaking out against BDL. Double your efforts to get supporters to attend meetings with you.
  • Support animal-friendly candidates in future elections to help them win. If all else fails, run for public office yourself.

When you do win, be sure to thank your public officials as well as your fellow advocates. Email, write or call folks directly to relay your gratitude. If possible, publish an ad in the local newspapers thanking your elected officials.