Successful Pit Bull Ownership-A Cognitive Approach

Being a breeder of the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) invokes a unique set of challenges. As a masters level mental health practitioner, my observations to the nature of our game-dog fraternity members provide for an intriguing mental health study. While I had hoped to make a lasting contribution to the breed with research conducted on blood chemistry during conditioning related stress (specific to the APBT), the evaluation of personality dynamics within this fraternity may also prove useful.

Personality Dynamics Within the Game Dog Fraternity

Because dog fighters and/or those seeking to become dog fighters make up a vast majority of our “fraternity”, cognitive patterns conducive to successful breed ownership often lack the morality necessary for empathy. Empathy we will define as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In the same manner that this personality type displays a pattern of disregard for the well-being of animals (making the combat sport of dog fighting attractive), a pattern of disregard for their fellow fancier is easily reached.  Consequentially, APBT ownership often leads to the adaptation of negative cognitions useful in dealing with surrounding fraternity dysfunction.

Let me pause to state my belief that not all dog fighters of yesterday were evil.  On the contrary, I believe many developed a philosophical enlightenment. That is, within the performance animal’s display of courage, an abundance of qualities necessary for success in the human experience were identified. An appreciation was therefore gained as some animals could persevere and overcome insurmountable obstacles. Yet, it is difficult for people of today to reach this philosophical level of perceived enlightenment. Dynamics of legality and a changing fraternity environment limits ones ability for participation and reflection. As a result, most only seek entertainment value and/or an image of machismo fabricated by watching two animals tear each other apart.

In short, my observations suggest that the antisocial personality disorder exists to a significant degree within our fraternity. To those who lack a scholastic background in psychology, the term is the clinical diagnosis placed on those who we typically refer to as sociopaths. The defining characteristic of the disorder is a disregard for, and the violation of, the rights of others. Other clinical identifiers include:

1)   Failure to conform to social norms

2)   Aggressiveness

3)   Lack of remorse

4)   Deceitfulness

5)   Disregard for self or others

6)   Consistent irresponsibility

7)   Evidence of conduct disorder (Interestingly, abuse of animals is a diagnostic criteria).

Moving forward, when we examine any personality disorder, we discover that people often exhibit diagnostic symptoms but fail to meet the necessary criteria for diagnosis. In these individuals, the maladaptive response is controlled before interfering with social or occupational functioning. For example, an older fancier who fought dogs but was able to develop an empathetic appreciation for the dog’s plight does not earn the diagnosis, as many other diagnostic markers are not met.

However, this struggle represents an ongoing battle in many adults. Without having an advanced psychological understanding of themselves or others, they are constantly weighing appropriate reactions with those that are less conducive to their well-being. The individual may at times be deceitful or have a disregard for others but is able to balance this behavior before it interferes with his or her functioning. Put another way, the individual battles the evolutionary useful instinct to survive at all costs with the more advanced cognitive understanding necessary for the betterment of themselves and society. Becoming aware of this natural struggle can assist anyone with self-awareness and lead to a more fulfilled life. And will certainly lead to behaviors better suited for survival of the APBT.

Identifying Maladaptive Behaviors

A maladaptive response is one of faulty adaptation that decreases the individuals well being. Any of the above identifiers of an antisocial personality disorder fit into this category. For example, we had a disagreement with a past kennel partner. When the gentleman began to view us as a business competitor, he attacked us publicly in hopes of destroying our ability to sale dogs. This was his version of a maladaptive response as it was based on deceit and a lack of empathy.  His diagnostic markers indicate one of the strongest demonstrations of narcissistic personality disorder that we have witnessed.

Maladaptive responses also link to the seemingly constant presence of hateful rhetoric amongst our fraternity members. If you were to name any kennel, we are able to discover a slew of hateful Internet attacks. From Tom Garner, to Pit Island Kennels, to Pat Patrick, to Floyd Boudreaux, to any major kennel on the planet. Success breeds hate among our fraternity members. It is the very nature of what attracts many people to this breed that causes the behavior. And this being the presence of a personality disorders diagnostic markers.

Of course, the majority of the individuals generating hateful rhetoric do not meet the diagnostic measurement of an antisocial personality diagnosis. It is more likely we have observed only a single maladaptive response typical of the personality disorder. This response is due to a lack of cognitive rationalization and direction.  However, because of the abundance of personality disorders (antisocial personality disorder in particular) within our fraternity, fraternity members who lack an understanding of the cognitive processes are easily influenced. As a result, responses atypical of healthy relationships develop. It is in this circle that we have created an environment where the maladaptive response is the norm for our gamedog society.

Improving Cognitive Processing

So how does one improve cognitive processing? Individuals should first identify a maladaptive response in their presentation. Once they do so, the individual can cognitively process the behavior and generate a more suitable response. For example, when I was slandered by my past kennel partner, it was only after rationalizing this process that I was able to control my response. Ultimately, it served no purpose in the overall goal of breeding and owning the very best dogs in the world and worked against the principles to which we work so hard to maintain.

It is also important to realize that the solution is not an easy fix but an ongoing struggle of cognitive awareness. We must constantly process the world around us and choose behaviors conducive to our well-being and devoid of emotion. While a willingness to evaluate ones response is the only requirement to begin, patience should be practiced as consistent suitable responses are due to a continued effort.

Within many members of our game dog fraternity lies the potential to positively contribute to the breed.  There is also a vast array of wasted talent. While our breed and owners are attacked, these personality flaws contribute to the lack of uniformity necessary for an appropriate defense. It is for each of us to come to this realization if we will ever reverse the negative fraternity atmosphere.