Rebranding the Pit Bull

January 20, 2012  

By Laura Petrolino, StubbyDog VP of Operations

When you need to blow your nose, do you ask for a tissue? Or a Kleenex?

When you want something to drink, do you ask for a soda? Or a Coke?

When you have a cut, do you get a bandage? Or a Band-Aid?

In marketing, you know that your product/service has reached ultimate “brand” utopia when you achieve what I call “Kleenex-Level Distinction.” Kleenex, Band-Aid and Coke all have brand recognition that is so strong they are no longer just seen as an example of the actual object, but the object itself. In many cases, you might be using Puffs tissues and still call them Kleenex! That’s pretty powerful when you think about it.

The “Kleenex Distinction” is a rather odd dynamic and tells us a lot about human nature. We have a natural tendency to want to associate things in this way. I’m sure someone much more qualified than myself could explain this further (and I might try to find someone in the future), but the important point here is that the association tends to extend beyond the object into its characteristics and actions as well. So, using the same example, Kleenex has become associated in our minds as a quality, soft, trusted source for tissue, so strongly that it is in fact what many of us see as tissue. Much of this is done subconsciously, of course, which makes it even more interesting to explore.

So what does this mean when you look at pit bulls from this “brand” perspective? Unfortunately, the same strong association is there in most cases, but in a negative light. So here at StubbyDog, we say that we are working to rebrand the pit bull, undoing that negative association and replacing it with a more accurate description of these dogs. This precisely what we are working to do through our outreach, stories, articles, photos, etc..

The other day I was out walking my Vizsla, Oliver (yes for those of you that don’t know, I actually am the mom of a crazy, goofy, hyperactive Vizsla, not a pit bull … more on that in another blog). We came upon a family with two youngish kids. The kids automatically came running towards us, arms flailing, obviously un-trained on how they should approach a dog. The parents panicked when they saw the scene take place and went running and yelling after the children, blockading them from reaching Oliver and myself.

“They can pet him,” I said. “He’ll probably give them lots of kisses, but he loves the attention”

“But, is he a pit bull?” the mother asked me tentatively.

Resisting my urge to launch into an educational monologue in the middle of the street, I simply took a deep breath, “He’s a Vizsla,” I responded. The mother paused, looked at her husband and then asked me again, “But, is he a pit bull?”

I wasn’t quite sure what part of “No, he’s a Vizsla” didn’t make sense to these people. So I repeated again, “He is a Vizsla, the dog is a Vizsla, but that doesn’t matter; he is gentle, they are free to pet him if you’d like.”

She continued to look at me absolutely puzzled (I was seriously starting to wonder if I wasn’t speaking English clearly … it had been a long week). She pointed at his the Gentle Leader around his nose, “But why does he have that on his mouth? Does he bite?”

And then it hit me, when this woman was asking me if Oliver was a pit bull, she wasn’t trying to figure out what type of dog he was, she was basically asking “Is he vicious?”

This is the association we must correct if we are going to change public perception of pit bull type dogs. “Pit bull” in too many cases is not seen as a descriptor for a “type of dog,” but as a descriptor for a set of characteristics.

This is why when a dog attack/bite occurs, people automatically assume a pit bull was involved and even falsely identify the dogs as pit bulls. This is why the media indict pit bulls in their coverage of negative incidents involving canines, without having any actual proof of the dog’s breed. This is why “pit bulls” are the target of breed-discrimination laws throughout the country. Just as Kleenex is used to refer to all tissues, “pit bull” is too often used to refer to negative canine incidents or traits.

A key component to changing the conversation about pit bulls is breaking this negative association. Today, I want you to think about the ways you can work to do this in your daily life? What resources can we provide you here at StubbyDog to do so? How can we, as a community of pit bull advocates, change the conversation, reverse the negative association and improve the lives of pit bull type dogs everywhere?

(photos by Melissa Lipani)

« « Safely Introducing Your Dog to a Cat or Small Animal | Becoming a Pit Bull Person » »


13 Responses to “Rebranding the Pit Bull”
  1. wgaulin says:

    My husband and I are both CPA’s and that alone (as ridiculous as it is) has changed the minds of several of our friends and aquaintances. Apparently we are not typical “pit bull” owners and because of that they have decided to give at least our dog a pass as far as being “vicious”. It is my mission in life to continue to change the minds of individuals who feel this way and to present my dog as an ambassador of his breed.

    • @wgaulin Isn’t that funny! Have you seen our article:

      We are actually going to be doing more on this subject in an upcoming theme and would love to have you as part of it. Shoot me an email if interested.

      • NikkiFoley says:

        @LauraPetrolino @wgaulin Wonderful article! I love the spinal surgeon’s offer… His idea could put an end to America’s overcrowding issues in our shelters. I loved reading the names of celebs at the bottom too – some I knew were pittie friends, but others (Dr. Phil?) surprised me. As a teacher, my middle school students are often surprised when they learn that I not only own 2 pit bull rescues, but I’m very passionate about the breed. When I teach genetics in science, we discuss how other breeds of dogs have been crossed into APBT bloodlines to make them bigger, and even to encourage human aggression. In English, we debate a controversial issue every spring, and every spring my example to my students is the great pit bull debate. I hope that I can change the perceptions (and misconceptions!) of my students so that our future generation will learn that the animal is an innocent victim of human negligence, not it’s genetics.

  2. nativbaygirl says:

    I would love to see people classes from Stubby Dog & Bad Rap (or others) where we have the opportunity to role play the situations we may encounter with our dogs when we are faced with scared people, introducing kids, escalating fear and voices, etc. These would be people classes, not for doggies or with our dogs. If we are their voice, we have to make sure that we are clear and consistent with our own communication in our communities and be conscious of the potential for our own reactions and fear in the moment. We all think we will know what to do and say when presented with a fearful person in the community. Unfortunately, without the opportunity to practice, we don’t really know what we will do and even though we mean well, we can do more harm than our dogs if not prepared. All the classes I see offered are for the dogs & people, but nothing specifically addresses training for the human to human interactions.

    • Ten13Grl says:

      @nativbaygirl As a trainer myself , I feel comfortable in addressing why such classes simply would not work. It’s one thing to know something intellectually, and quite another to actually do something in public and with your dog. Where I train, we make our students practice in real world environments, because that’s the only way training actually helps.

      As an example: I have a leash reactive Husky in one of my training classes. I’ve had long conversations with the own (without the dog present) about how the dog is leash reactive because of her (the owner) tendency to tense up around other dogs. I know this to be true, because the dog has *never* reacted negatively to another dog if someone other than mom is holding the leash. The owner understands this as a concept, but can’t seem to realize in when the situation occurs.

      It’s taking time, but she (the owner) is slowly starting to learn that she has to alter her own reactions when she see another dog while she’s with her own. She’s starting to understand that her dog picks up on every emotion she feels (even the momentary “oh no! there’s another dog!” ones).

    • @nativbaygirl We are actually currently working on something along those lines, so stay tuned 🙂

  3. NikkiFoley says:

    My vet suggested, when I rescued pit bull #1 from the pound, that I list her as a “boxer mix” on my records. So I did. While she was a puppy, if asked what type of dog she was, I replied that she was a “pound puppy, probably a boxer mix.”. By the time she turned 2, I was regularly fielding the “Is that a pit bull!?” question, and since she is truly the perfect breed ambassador, I began to respond “yes.”. At nearly 4 years old now, my Riley Sue Who (Sue for short) has become a stigma-changer not only to friends and family, who know and love her, but to neighbors and random people we meet at dog parks, people parks, pet stores, the vet, Home Depot and other dog-friendly stores. My best piece of advice to pit bull owners who want to change the misconceptions associated with the breed is to first and foremost, train your dog. We’re talking more than just “sit” here. Sue shakes hands and gives high 5’s to little kids, she stays exactly where I tell her to so that I can look at something in a store (I can leave her in one aisle and walk to the next if I wanted to). Her level of obedience takes work, but that work is worth it every time she high 5’s a 2-year-old to their parent’s astonishment and delight. Do not allow your pit bull type dog to jump on a person –ever. How terrifying ton a person with a fear of pit bulls to have one jump up in it’s face!
    So, after training your dog properly, take it everywhere with you! ALL dogs must be socialized, and the only way to get rid of the APBT’s negative image is to get the positive pitties out there! Don’t be ashamed or hide the fact that you are a pit bull owner. Scream it from the rooftops! Get a bumper sticker! Let everyone know that MY dog is an American Pit Bull Terrier and, guess what? He didn’t chew your leg off! A website is great, but people that are afraid of our dogs don’t visit this site. They do go to Home Depot and Lowe’s though… And so does my Sue (:

    • Ten13Grl says:

      @NikkiFoley Unfortunately, it’s not a great idea for a lot of Pittie owners to scream it from the rooftops. For example, I have two Pit-mixes (littermates) and am proud of them and how their an ambassador for (half of) their breed. However, I have to be very careful with my dogs when it comes to mentioning their breed, as I live in an apartment, and the comlex doesn’t allow Pitties.

      I’d love to go about my day going, “Hey, you want to pet my Pits? They **love** people, but watch out for their tails! Those are deadly!” But it’s just not possible. I have to keep quiet (and it’s painful given the number of people who are delighted by my girls) in order to keep us off the streets.

    • @NikkiFoley Great job Nikki! Both you and Sue are great examples for everyone!

  4. Ten13Grl says:

    I’m a trainer and, where I work, we have a doggie daycamp. You’d be surprised about which breeds get the “pit bull” label from random members of the public who just don’t know. You’re kind in giving the benefit of the doubt that they’re just checking if you’re dog is “viscous” or not.

    The doggie daycamp where I work, unfortunately, doesn’t allow Pits or Pit-mixes, but they allow idiot customers/outside observers who like to think they know what they’re talking about.

    We’ve had purebred Vislas, Rottweilers, Labradors, Pharaoh Hounds (seriously!), Boxers, French Bulldogs, Great Danes, every breed of Mastiff and Boston Terriers all accused of being “Pit Bulls” by the general public.

    I think “Pit Bull” has come to mean, “I don’t actually know what that dog is, but I’m going to call it a Pit Bull if it does anything wrong in the slightest sense.”

    • @Ten13Grl Yes, very good point. In many ways it is a catch-all, especially with mixed breeds. That’s why it is so important to teach people that these breed ‘labels’ are pointless. Evaluate dogs as individuals.

  5. rn4pitbulls says:

    Good point!  There is also Xerox instead of copier (yes I am dating myself).  We need to associate pitbull with Love, companionship, goofyness, loyal and friend.