February 1, 2006

Junkyard dogs

The Hoover Hog writes:

Until University of Chicago economist John Lott (notwithstanding his questionable scruples) dramatically re-framed the gun control debate with his econometric analyses arguing that liberalized gun laws correlate with criminal deterrence, it remained an article of faith among most social scientists that private gun possession was a net liability for society, at least in terms of risk analysis. By failing to consider effects of gun ownership within a two-tailed research paradigm, sociologists had overlooked the protective and deterrent value that was, to whatever arguable degree, always part of reality.

Given that the incidence of fatality associated with ostensibly vicious dog breeds (132 total deaths over a two decade period attributed to "pit-bull type breeds," pure-bred Rottweilers, and German Shepards combined) is profoundly smaller than that associated with firearms (or cigarette lighters, bathtubs, automobiles, etc), it wouldn't take much of a crime-deterring counter-effect to offset the headline-grabbing horror stories.

There is no question that many people choose to keep notorious dog breeds precisely because of the protective benefits they imagine such dogs will provide.

Another reader, however, writes:

Having been a fan of German cars for many years and having kept a wide and somewhat disreputable-looking bunch of 911s, 914s, 944, and VWs of all sorts alive and running, I spend a lot of time in junkyards...

On these trips underneath and inside of 40 years of West German iron, I've encountered a lot of junkyard dogs. Very few were pit bulls or even pit mixes. Almost all were shepherd crosses of some kind and the occasional rott mix.

Pit bulls make lousy guard dogs -- they seem unclear on the concept. They can be dangerous, but they don't "guard" very well unless it is a person they are fond of. When you see a "pit attack" they either have a pit mix, the pit has been trained to attack, or they have been so poorly socialized that attacking seems like the thing to do at the time. Properly socialized pits, owned by retired Exxon executives or commercial builders (to name two examples down my street) tend to gain weight and yawn a lot and that's about it.

Just as when you have a German Shepherd bite incident you should look at the family situation (if there is a lot of conflict in a family, dogs will be uncertain of the pack structure and that really wears on German Shepherds), a pit bite incident should fall right back on the family situation.

Okay, but there are a lot of things, such as, say, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, that would be perfectly safe in the hands of "retired Exxon executives," but which aren't legal because not everybody is a retired Exxon executive. Indeed, the correlation between the kind of people who could own extremely dangerous things at no risk to the public safety and the kind of people who really want to own the dangerous stuff tends to be sharply negative.

My vague impression from watching people walk dogs is that the German shepherd is the most popular breed among urban blacks. Whereas suburban whites choose lovey-dovey wouldn't-hurt-a-fly retrievers to minimize the damage their dogs do to other people, urban blacks tend to choose, quite rationally, a smart, normally well-adjusted breed that offers excellent protection against intruders while not being terribly dangerous to friends and family.

Judging by the ads for pit bulls, however, a lot of people who buy pit bulls aren't looking for protection for their family. Instead, they are looking for either cannon fodder for organized dog fights, dogs that will intimidate their neighbors and neighbors' dogs, four-legged symbols of their own machismo, or insanely terrifying dogs (such as, beside pit bulls, the Presa Canario or the Detroit Rock Dog) to guard their drug dealing businesses. As evidence for this, notice how, now that I've mentioned golden retrievers in this bl-g, I've gotten a much more benign sort of dog ad showing up to the right (e.g., "Golden Retriever Puppies: gentle, loving, beautiful") than when I was talking about pit bulls (e.g., "Monster California Pits: Big Butthead size blue pit bull pups. Puppies will be huge in body & head"). The pit bull ads appear to be aimed at flaming jerks.

In summary, you'll have more problems with bad dogs where you have more bad people. Sometimes you find bad people in nice neighborhoods, like that incredibly vile San Francisco lawyer couple who were breeding Presa Canarios to sell to Mexican meth labs when two of the beasts ripped to shreds the lady lacrosse coach next door.

But, in general, you'll find more bad people, and thus more bad dogs, in bad neighborhoods. What can we do about the bad person -- bad dog nexus? Well, maybe not all that much. But one obvious reform to ameliorate this social problem in the long term, as well as so many other problems, is: Don't make it worse by letting more bad people into the country.

A taste for dog fighting, which appears to be the largest driving force behind the dog mauling problem, is specific to certain cultures and certain social classes within those cultures. With a whole world of potential immigrants to choose among, why let in lots of people who come from backgrounds where dog fighting is popular?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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