A Teachable Moment

March 14, 2012  

The author learns that sometimes it’s better to wag your tail than to bark

By Micaela Myers

I’m a journalist, and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Yosemite on a press trip. There, I joined several other journalists and PR professionals as we sampled the area’s winter offerings.

On our last night of this three-night trip, the dozen of us were sitting around a grand table in the Ahwahnee hotel’s historic dining room when the conversation turned to walking dogs, the problem of off leash dogs, and eventually, how one person’s dog had been attacked. I mentioned that my dog was also attacked by an off-leash dog once and how scary it was.

“Was it a pit bull that attacked your dog?” one of the PR professionals asked, seemingly sure this was the case.

“No,” I responded. “My dogs are pit bulls.”

She was clearly shocked to hear my dog had been the victim rather than the aggressor.

“I have to admit,” she said. “Whenever I see a pit bull, I hightail it the other way. They terrify me. Tell me, am I wrong to feel that way?”

I could tell I had her attention, and now all eyes and ears were on us. I also noticed that she was genuinely interested in my answer. I took a deep breath and reminded myself to stay calm and friendly: This is a teachable moment, I thought!

Without getting defensive, I made some key points and explained how pit bulls got their bad rap.

At one point, another PR professional chimed in. “I agree with you,” she said. “It’s how they are raised.”

Another teachable moment! This time I shared my opinion that while yes, how a dog is treated is key, the idea that it’s how they’re raised has created a problem where adult pit bulls with unknown pasts have a hard time finding homes.

“It’s important to judge every dog as an individual – the dog you see in front of you,” I urged, “not by their past or by their looks. Both my dogs were adopted as adults, and they are wonderful dogs. My dog Omega is a certified therapy dog.”

I only wished my dogs were there; Rocky would have kissed them, and Omega would have settled in for some snuggles and belly rubs. They would have sealed the deal for sure!

The conversation was refreshing though because all too often, when we talk about pit bulls, it ends up being a very defensive conversation. On this evening, we were able to share our perspectives calmly and with respect. It reminded me how important it is to seize these moments. Maybe I channeled a little bit of my dogs and wagged my tail instead of barking!

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33 Responses to “A Teachable Moment”
  1. I commend you for staying calm when talking about this wonderful bully breed.  There are times when there are moments to teach and others where I am defensive.  This story reminds me of an incident that occurred last week.  I took my son to a barber shop (not his regular barber shop) there was a  tragic story of a man killing another man over a dog dispute.  Long story short the conversation turned to dogs naturally and everyone had their opinion about pit bulls (the dog in question was NOT a pit bull).  The conversation died down an older gentleman heard my passion regarding pit bulls and engaged in a conversation.  Sasha & Krush were in vehicle and everyone could see them from the window.  The older gentleman became belligerent, of course I wanted to get on his level however, I remained calmed and when the older gentleman saw I was standing my ground he back down.  We agreed to disagree and I added it is folks with his mindset is the reason Stubbydog, Bad Rap, The Pretty Chic with the Pits, LLC and many other exist.    As pittie guardians it’s our duty to do this awesome bully breed justice!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @theprettychic It’s so important to remain calm in these circumstances, and not get defensive. Sasha and Krush speak volumes because they are such great ambassadogs!

  2. effcla says:

    Thank you for staying calm however, I was most impressed the woman you were talking to seemed to be genuinely interested in your answer to her question. I find myself more often than not getting defensive and it doesn’t help with all the media stories about pitbulls hurting, maiming or killing a human. This morning on our walk, a lady had her little dog outside doing her business and when she saw us, she picked up her dog and ran in the house (she was really running). I respect the fear people have but my pittie barely spared them a glance as we walked past their house. She is never off leash when we are outside and she has been attacked (mostly by little dogs) who were off leash more than once but I know if she were to hurt the attacking dog, my dog would be the one confiscated! Reading all these media stories makes me realize what a responsibility we have owning pitbull breeds. They are targeted just for how they look and my pittie absolutely loves people but she always shies away from anyone who truly fears her. She is a very bright dog (as are most dogs) and I find it a little sad people in my neighborhood won’t take the time to really watch us as we take our daily walk to see she isn’t foaming at the mouth or lunging at her leash when she sees them. To be fair, I do have neighbors who don’t seem to have any fear of her and when she behaves herself around them (after the first initial wiggly hello) it can only help with the perception they have of bully breeds.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @effcla It’s so true, and those people who are running away are missing out on a wonderful experience with a fantastic pit bull. Keep doing what you’re doing and help change perceptions, one wiggly hello at a time!

  3. TheresaJohnson2 says:

    I’m a rescue transporter. I get those questions all the time. My reply is simple, I’ve never been bitten by a pit. Plenty of others have had a taste of me but never a bully. But when they start with aren’t you afraid my other reply is I’d drive 500 miles for a single dog but would have a real hard time going a block for a human.

  4. Anne says:

    Stubby Dog, keep the stories coming!  It’s these “right to the heart” kind of stories and the dialogue that follows that helps create understanding by chipping away at the prejudice and unfair stereotypes doing so much harm to this loving breed.

  5. pitbullsrock says:

    Thanks for sharing, Micaela. It’s people like you and many of us who are in positions to educate that hopefully will begin to make a difference. And obviously your audience was educated enough to know not to believe everything they hear. I do find it hard not to get defensive. I met a woman recently whose goldendoodle had been severely attacked at a dog park by a “friendly, well trained” (according to the owner)  pit bull. The poor dog had numerous puncture wounds and almost died. I tried to talk logically with the woman but she now hates pit bulls and wants them all banned. Her husband apologized to me for her attitude as she turned her back and walked away from me as I was empathizing but also trying to calmly educate. He said it was the most traumatic thing she’s ever been through, which I totally get. Maybe in that instance it would have been best for me to not tell her what kind of dogs I have and just sympathize with her ordeal. But then how can you bite your tongue when someone says pit bulls should be banned? Hard one.
    Shortly after that I met a lovely elderly golden retriever who also had been attacked by a pit bull. That owner, while she doesn’t trust pit bulls, understands a dog is only as reliable as the owner behind the dog and thanked me for being a responsible pit bull owner.

  6. CassyLemon says:

    I’ve had this very same conversation. I tell someone my dog has been bitten at an off-leash park and when I tell them I have a pit bull they are always shocked. Surprisingly, the people at the park were always supportive and knew the other dog was grumpy and shouldn’t be at the park in the first place. Some dog owners just don’t realize all dogs don’t get along…just like not all people get along. The part that would get to me most is when the owner of the dogs who bit my ‘dangerous pit bull’ drawing blood and making him cower away…just do nothing and leave. No ‘sorry about what my dog did’ or ‘is your dog ok?’. I would have been perfectly fine with that…I’m a reasonable person. If my dog had done that, pit bull or not, I would be very concerned that everything is ok and apologetic that they acted in that manner. Sometimes the ignorance of people irritates me. After the last biting we don’t bring him there anymore…which is a shame because he really loved going to play with his park friends every week. We hope to get him a sister soon so he can play in the comforts of our home and yard (because the cat just doesn’t want to play with him, haha!).

    • pitbullsrock says:

      Cassy, you brought up two points I’ve recently discussed. I write for my local off-leash dog newsletter and I did an article on the fact that not all dogs are appropriate for the dog park and that it’s up to the owner to determine if their dog is a good candidate or whether they need to search out other avenues for play. Also, like you, I mentioned that not all dogs like each other. Humans don’t, so why do we expect our dogs to get along with every other dog they meet?
      The other point is that I have become very disillusioned with dog parks. I, too, no longer attend although I am on the board of my local off-leash park. As the population of my city has grown, so has the population at the dog park, and it doesn’t always attract the best of owners. It’s not fun anymore. In fact, that was one thing I told the people whose goldendoodle had been attacked–dog parks can be very unpredictable, so it’s best to find a small group of dogs yours gets along with well and arrange play dates at a safe location, or enroll in training classes, agility, nosework, rally, flyball, etc. This is the direction I have gone with my dogs and it’s much  less stressful (albeit more expensive) and I’ve learned a ton in the process.

  7. annieviolent says:

    One of my pit bulls has a few scars on his butt because my little Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix is mean and likes to chase him and bite him on the behind. And all the pit bull does is cry and run away!
    My daughter and I came home and found (what turned out to be a lost little black Chihuahua) on the back porch and we ran screaming because we thought it was a wild animal. Meanwhile not a week earlier a huge pit bull came charging toward the mall entrance as we were leaving (because he was frightened of some nearby fireworks). Most people stayed away in fear but we calmed him down, put him in our car and found his owner. I guess it’s all about what you are used to and like the article states – treat every dog as an individual – not a breed as a whole.

  8. BaltimoreGal says:

    I get into this situation so very often, just the other day I had a woman tell me she gave away her pit bull when she had kids because she was afraid the dog would hurt them. Of course I would have loved to tell her off. I made a face when she didn’t see me of course, but when she asked me if I thought pit bulls were aggressive or special or different I answered her calmly and rationally that pit bulls are dogs.
    -That they can be big and strong and some can be aggressive just like other dogs but that I have been around thousands of them and very, very rarely been afraid.
    -That I have had more negative experiences with other breeds of dogs but I don’t blame it on the breeds, but on the experiences the dogs have had.
    -That I have even seen dogs who have been through horrible things be great family pets.
    -That no dog should be left unsupervised with small children but there are plenty of pit bulls that are great with kids. 
    You just get used to being calm and sensible in the wake of the “less than.” Every once in a while there will be some belligerent idiot where you have to walk away but the majority of the time, even where they don’t listen or don’t agree, they appreciate your respect and calmness. I truly believe it makes a difference.

    • pitbullsrock says:

      One of my pet peeves. Giving away a dog for no reason. I could possibly understand if the dog had major issues after the kids arrived and it just wasn’t going to work out. But this reason always irks me. In my mind, it’s almost as bad as packing a dog off to the pound when it gets old because you don’t want to deal with it’s problems/vet bills.

  9. shays says:

    Thank you for sharing the opportunity you had to help educate others about our wonderful dogs.  I too have had a teaching moment (that actually spanned many weeks) when I moved into a new rental house with my pit mix.  
    My third day in the house my next door neighbor came over and held the screen door closed and flat out told me she hated pitbulls and if she ever saw my dog loose, she would shoot it as she owned a gun.  I admit, I went from calm to pissed off in a second but in the next second I realized that I had an opportunity to help my new neighbor recognize that my dog wasn’t a monster waiting to eat her children.  Three hours later (I’m not kidding, it was 3 hrs) she apologized for being so mad and making threats.  A month later, after having seen my dog and I often playing in my backyard, she invited me AND my dog over to her house for a bbq.  She’s still hesitant around my dog (it’s been 7 months now) but she can pet her and is still amazed at how friendly she is.  
    It still amazes me that her first response was to threaten me and my dog but now, I honestly believe if she ever saw something happening with my dog, she’d be one of the first to jump in to protect her.

  10. spicedogs says:

    My daughter saved a young pit-bull mix from a kill shelter. He was about 9 weeks old when she held a birthday party for her youngest child at her house. We decided that we wanted our young pit bull socialized, but didn’t we didn’t want him tranpled by the crowd and the children. At the time, the poor baby was suffering from kennel cough that he acquired from the shelter. Anyway, what we did was have him stay around me, either on my shoulder or my lap. Naturally, every guest was attracted to the sight of the puppy and came to greet me. And nearly everybody reacted the same way after they’d asked about the puppy’s breed and heard my answer. Nearly all of them (actually, only one person didn’t react negatively about the breed) stopped cooing on how cute and adorable the puppy was and would take 2 steps away from me and make a sour safe. I used the moment to teach them that this puppy will be as cute and adorable as he is now when he grows older. I told them about the fact that during the early 1990s pit bulls were considered to be great nanny dogs. I was amazed at how many people have preconceived prejudices against the breed.

  11. fostermom says:

    I moved into a new home about 2 years ago, when I told my neighbor Pat, a 75 year old, 4 foot 10 inch, 90 pound little lady, that I was going to bring home a new pittie foster she commented that “people in this neighborhood don’t like pit bulls” I shrugged and replied that hopefully people will change their minds.  I train and walk my dogs daily and have had many neighbors stop and tell me how well behaved my pups are. Pat is now one of my biggest fans and will come over just to visit with my dogs and as she says my pits are friendly & better behaved then her little dachshund.
    With time and positive experiences people can change their attitudes and open their hearts & minds to what a wonderful breed the bullys can be  

  12. spicedogs says:

    My daughter saved a young pit-bull mix from a kill shelter. He was about 9 weeks old when she held a birthday party for her youngest child at her house. We decided that we wanted the young puppy socialized, but didn’t want him trampled by the crown and the children. At the timer, the poor baby was suffering from kennel cough that he acquired from the shelter
    Anyway, to make a long story short, we solved the problemby having him stay around me, either on my shoulder or on my lap. Naturally, every guest was attracted to the sight of the puppy and came to greet me immediately. Everybody was enthralled by the sight of the puppy. And nearly everybody (with the exception of one person) reacted negatively when I told them the puppy was a pit bull. He was adorable up till his breed was clarified. The nearly unanimous reaction was a sour face and most of them would take two steps away from me. I was amazed at how many people have preconceived prejudices agaisnt the breed.I used the moment to teach people that pit bulls are sweet dogs. I did tell them that the puppy in my lap would be just as adorable when he is full grown. I also told them that back in the 1900s, pit bulls were considered to be great nanny dogs. I hope that I got through some of them. But I could tell that there were few guests who will probably not come to next year’s birthday party. What a shame!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @spicedogs You did a great job. And it will be a shame if some people don’t come to your daughter’s party again. Holding onto fear and prejudice hurts those who harbor it. Let’s hope that more children learn not to judge.

  13. laurapmooney says:

    We’ve put alot of work and training into our stray who stayed, american bulldog/lab mix, Buddy who has a zest for life.  He’s a lovable goofball, but not everyone apperciates him bounding up to them, tongue flapping and butt wiggling so hard he looks like Elvis. We were ambushed by a toddler in our local park, who had gotten away from his dad and wanted to pet the “goggie”. The look on the dad’s face was priceless, as this munchkin who is eyeball to eyeball in height with my dog, runs up to his side as we are standing there, pats him twice on his back, blows him a kiss and runs back to dad. Buddy, never even moved a muscle, just wagged his tail and looked at him.  I am so proud of the progress he’s made and hopefully we are well on our way to being a great ambassador.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @laurapmooney Buddy sounds like a fantastic dog, you are obviously doing everything right. Please feel free to share your story at any time with us, just email laurap@stubbydog.org if you want to. Keep up the good work with Buddy!

  14. RachelBrownRichards says:

    Great article and it’s awesome that Micaela was able to turn a few journalists viewpoints, even if it was just a little bit. 🙂

  15. chuerta_1954 says:

    As a pit bull advocate I get a lot of teachable moments.  I always remind myself that these people just don’t know and if they are asking me for information it won’t serve a single pit bull well if I begin to preach on how people appear to choose ignorance and fear over knowledge.
    Great response. 

  16. chuerta_1954 says:

    As a pit bull advocate I love those teachable moments.  Good on ya!

  17. honeyremedy says:

    I also find it really tough to not get defensive when explaining the breed to strangers, friends and family. I loved this article because Micaela was able to educate and stay calm at the same time! I need to work on this. You go girl! 🙂 Love this: “Maybe I channeled a little bit of my dogs and wagged my tail instead of barking!”I do not have a “pit bull”, but we often get the “is that a pit bull?” response and scattered passerby, walking quickly away from us. A couple days ago, across from our apartment building our neighbors little minpin with a bit of a ‘tude came running over to us on our way back from our walk with his leash dragging behind him. He meant foul play with my Bubba, but poor Bubba has been in some scuffles but doesn’t seem to realize fight from play (he rolls over on his belly, “boxes”, and does that sweet “dog laugh”. He is a bit of goober.) Thank goodness my boyfriend was with us, he grabbed the minpins leash and walked the dog back to his apartment; boy did he put up a fight!
    For as long as I can talk I will do by best to respectively and calmly educate as many people as possible to understand bully breeds better and I hope to one day live in a world where discrimination is no longer active; both humans and animals. We advocates need to fight a good and peaceful fight! 

    • chuerta_1954 says:

       @honeyremedy I’m a bit of a rebel.  I just seem to be an old hippie who has spent most of my adult life being disgruntled about one thing or another that I saw and knew wasn’t ‘right’.  When I got my Zeus, half pit bull and half rottweiler, for the first time in my life I started to ‘do’ something about it.  With having my Zeus and the state of Oregon talking about a statewide breed ban targeting pit bulls I started writing letters to legislators, then I found like minded people in my area and now I co-founded have a full blown pit bull advocacy.   We hold monthly Bully Walks and support the local shelters and rescues because so many in those shelters are pit bulls and so many local rescues are for pit bulls. 
      All I know is that we must get out there with our well-behaved, well-socialized pit bulls so we can overcome the public’s view of pit bulls that they get from the media with personal experience.  The more people meet great pit bulls owned by great pack leaders the more will stop believing the myths and the propaganda.

      • honeyremedy says:

         @chuerta_1954 I am very happy to hear about you and your efforts to raise awareness in the state of Oregon, as I will be moving there in September! I hope to one day join your Bully Walks and help reclaim their image with like minded people! How awesome!!

        • chuerta_1954 says:

           @honeyremedy That is AWESOME.  Can’t wait to meet you.  By the way our February Bully Walk was featured on Cesar’s Way and Cesar posted the article on his Facebook page.   It won’t let me cut and past the URL.  Go to Cesar’s Way News & Events Dog News then you’ll have to select ‘read more articles’ at the bottom of the page.

        • honeyremedy says:

           @chuerta_1954 I will check that article out and I can’t wait to bring my Bubba to the walks when I get settled in!

      • StubbyDog says:

         @chuerta_1954  @honeyremedy That is exactly the best thing to do, great work, keep up the good work changing perceptions!