The American Kennel Club Has No Breed Standard For Pit Bulls

But your police department does.  According to the police, a Pit Bull is defined as:

any non-black dog shot by a police officer.

The police department has another term for black dogs which are shot by officers.  The term is "rottweiler."

For instance, this dog, were he to be shot by an officer, would be called a rottweiler.

Wilbur the happy pig

I happen to know that this dog is not a rottweiler, or even a rottweiler mix, at least as defined by the American Kennel Club.  Because he's my dog.  But if an officer came to my house, Wilbur (that's his name) would have a fair chance of becoming a rottweiler.  In police reports, it appears that there are only two breeds of dogs, pit bulls and rottweilers.

How else to explain what happened to 13 year old Tiffany Summerall's dog, which was transformed by one officer's word into a pit bull.

Tiffany Summerall, 13, who resides at the residence with her parents, Raphael O. Houston and Christina Summerall, and five younger siblings, said she let the family dog out not knowing deputies were in her yard.

Brooklyn, a 6-year-old brown and white dog, normally was let out at the time the deputies were at the residence, according to family members.

Tiffany heard a man’s voice telling her to come and get the dog.

“I called the dog three times and then walked over,” she said. “(The deputy) was swinging a walkie talkie at the dog. He then pulled out a gun. I said, ‘Please don’t shoot him. He’s not going to bite.’”

Tiffany called the dog one last time and the dog started to walk toward her, she said.

“He started walking toward me and he shot him,” she said. “I started screaming, ‘Why did you shoot my dog?’”

As an aside, that's pretty hard-core, dude.  I mean, any cop can shoot a dog.  But to do it in front of a 13 year-old girl?  Someone should get a medal.

But to answer the question, because the dog was an aggressive pit bull, Tiffany.  The deputy had to shoot the dog, as he feared for his life.

According to a sheriff’s office internal affairs report, the deputy told investigators, “The dog was barking and/or growling and bearing it’s (sic) teeth. I began back peddling (sic) and the dog continued charging toward me and lunged toward me with its front legs leaving the ground. I swung my radio at the dog in an attempt to avoid being bitten.”

The sheriff’s office classified the dog as a pit bull in reports, while the family said the dog was not a pit bull, but rather a mixed breed.

I read a lot of stories about police officers who shoot dogs.  I do this because I like dogs, and because I'm concerned that while I often read of cops killing dogs, I never read of mailmen (who encounter dogs much more frequently) killing dogs.

That may be a question of selection bias.  Officers go into dangerous neighborhoods, and encounter angry dog owners.  Of course, mailmen go into rough neighborhoods too, as do census workers, and I never hear of them killing dogs.  Of course I never read of mailmen and census workers being mauled by dogs either, but perhaps they don't taste as good as policemen.

Or it could be that policemen, who certainly encounter dogs frequently enough as they're always barging uninvited onto others' property, aren't trained to deal with dogs.  Or perhaps they are.  They're trained to shoot first and ask questions later.  Any dog shot can automatically be classified as a rottweiler or a pit bull, and the newspapers, which generally report these things, will automatically name it as one of these breeds, which all Americans know are dangerous.

Even if it isn't.  I was struck, on reading this, that it's rare for a newspaper to report on a dog owner disputing the characterization of the pet.  And I wonder how often this sort of dispute arises.  Google the phrase officer shot dog, and see how often it happens, and how the dog is almost always described as a pit bull or a rottweiler.

I'll bet that in some bureaucratic Newspeak seminar for police department internal affairs or public relations personnel, officers are taught, always, to characterize dogs shot by the police as "pit bulls," "rottweilers," or if they can't jam it into one of those categories, "German shepherds."

Considering the number that are shot by the police each week, it's a wonder there are any pit bulls, rottweilers, or German shepherds left.

Update: While we post rather frequently on this topic (using the tag "War on Dogs"), as commenter JB points out, Radley Balko deals with police abuse much more frequently, and has even coined the term "Puppycide".

Read no further, unless you want to get really angry.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    Surely there is selection bias going on. But at what stage? Perhaps some people become police officers because they like to kill dogs.

    With respect to mail carriers — I once prosecuted a woman who maced a mail carrier. The mail carrier had removed his mace from its holster to mace her dog, which was attacking, and the woman grabbed the mace and got the mail carrier straight in the eyes. Then the dog bit the mail carrier.

    A dog-shooting incident also formed the basis of one of the very few instances I have ever seen in which a grand jury no-billed an indictment. The INS [as it was then called] showed up at a house to serve a deportation warrant. The deportee's mother let the family dog out — probably with intent to have it attack the INS agents. The INS agent shot the dog dead. The INS then insisted that the U.S. Attorney's Office prosecute the woman for assault on a federal agent. The office, showing rather a lack of client control, agreed. The grand jury didn't.

  2. jb says

    Radley Balko's "" has a whole section on puppycide. It's really quite appalling.

  3. bw says

    In my view, it's a training and competence problem:

    -Anyone whose job requires encountering dogs has a responsibility to learn how to read dogs' body language and reliably determine when a dog actually is attacking, and EVEN IF a dog is attacking,

    -No able bodied adult capable of passing the physical criteria for entry to a police academy should ever need a weapon to deal with an attacking domestic dog.

    I spent a summer in college working for a public interest campaign contractor, circulating petitions door to door across two counties. Even in the roughest redneck neighborhoods, I never encountered a dog I couldn't stare down, or, at a decidedly non-athletic 5'9", physically subdue, including several rotts, danes, and pits.

  4. J Random says

    There are certainly instances of police shooting dogs without cause – heck, there are more than one where you can watch the video of shootings that are completely unwarranted.

    That said, you can only take the mailman comparison so far – if, say, someone running a crack house maintains a stable of vicious dogs for 'security', the mailman can just refuse to deliver to the house. An officer serving a warrant can't do that.

    I wonder if some 'how to work with dogs' training might help officers with perhaps a bit of a dog phobia to handle things better.

  5. says

    I think it isn't just police officers (even though they are doing the shooting), but a broader cultural confirmation bias. I have a six year old pit terrier that I rescued from a shelter (unnecessary pics here: ). I rescued her from a shelter outside of Denver, where all the humane society and rescue organizations have been flooded by pit-like dogs in in outlaying suburbs because of a ban in Denver. The comments i and reactions i have gotten with here in public are appalling. I have had my neighbors threaten to shoot her if they "saw that f***king dog out, cuz i don't like them fu***king pit bulls" In 5 years, my pit has never showed any aggression toward a person, or even barked at one. And there is a reason they are being banned in municipalities across the country, even though traditionally bred pits are bred to be non-aggressive toward people, just like Labradors are bred to retrieve. Its because they have been vilified by the media and people associated them with black and latino people. The racist undertones of the ban in Denver (where I have lived) are not really undertones at all, but pretty openly racially motivated by the advocates of the ban when they discuss it.

  6. says

    Didn't really teach her, a lot of pits know how to climb trees it is instinctive for them. All of them can, but most of them don't know it, my dog was the same way with swimming. Took days for her to get into the water for the first time, but after that can't keep her out of it. Once a most pits get into a tree for the first time, can't keep them out of them out of them going after toys, squirrels, cats, etc. I try not to encourage mine because they sometimes fall out and get hurt or climb up high enough that they have a hard time getting down. The way I have seen other people do it is use a small squeaky toy in the tree to trigger their prey drive while you hold them back a little so they get a running start and don't just jump at the base of the tree, and then let them go. There are some good youtubes of it:, tons of videos if you do a search.

  7. says

    From wikipedia:

    In the late 1800s to early 1900s, two clubs were formed for the specific purpose of registering APBTs: the United Kennel Club and the American Dog Breeders Association. The United Kennel Club was founded in 1898, and was the first registry to recognize the breed, with the owner assigning the first number to his own APBT.

    Was there really some sort of schism among Kennel Clubs in the late 19th century over pit bulls? Fascinating.

  8. says

    Chris, Thats true, in fact APBT's are only recognized by the UK kennel club, and not the american kennel club. The American Kennel club does not recognize Pit-bulls as a breed, so there is no such thing as a "pure-bred" pitbull, except those that or from the UK lines and papered. That is one of the major problems with the supposed pitbull bans, there is no way to tell which dogs are pitbulls and which dogs are not. A lot of people say that the AKC recognized Staffordshire terriers are the same breed, but that is not correct. Staffys were bred for bull baiting, and were at least in part the genetic predecessors of the American pit bull terrier, but they do not have the dog-fighting breeding and heritage that makes APBT's a distinct breed in the UK and with our colloquially known pitbulls in the US. I do not condone dog fighting, but that specified breeding is what has given traditionally bred pitbulls a lot of the characteristics that caused them to be known as the "nanny breed" and a favorite American breed during the early 1900's: an affinity for people and children, a tendency to not be barkers, and great athleticism. This is one of my favorite topics, i will probably write a longer post over on my own blog when I get a few min.

  9. FIREhat says

    I've been a firefighter for 12 years, a sizable portion of that in rough urban neighborhoods, and I have NEVER been attacked by a dog or even threatened in a manner that could not be dealt with non-violently. We go into homes on fire and medical calls everyday and it's just not an issue. Perhaps the problem is the body language of the cops (Superman pose) or their smell (smarmy weasel).

  10. bw says

    Or maybe it's the mere fact of their armament. When you carry a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.