Conversations in Management: Pit Bulls

The dog is a reflection of your energy, of your behavior.

                                                                                                                                                                    Cesar Millan

NipperWhen you turn on the evening news you never hear stories about a pit bull helping an old lady cross the street or rescuing a child from a burning building. More likely it’s something about a gruesome, usually unprovoked, attack on an innocent. That being the case, it was surprising during the recent Tour de France to hear the commentators frequently refer to Andrew Talansky—a gifted young rider—as a pit bull. They obviously said it respectfully, but that begs the question: with doping issues in the past, is the Tour now harboring maulers in its midst? Certainly this case demanded a closer look.

It didn’t take too close a look to discover that pit bulls were once highly regarded pooches. One of the oldest trademark images still in use shows a pit bull—Nipper—thoughtfully listening to a wind-up Gramophone. Titled, His Master’s Voice, it was painted by Nipper’s owner, Francis Barraud, a few years after the canine’s passing. Given how scratchy and mechanical those old recording sounded, it’s no wonder Nipper had to concentrate so closely to make out his master’s voice. Acoustics aside, the picture was purchased by The Gramophone Company in 1899 and though it has had a variety of corporate owners, it lives on as a logo to this day. The painting gave pit bulls a benign image that might have been only slightly tarnished if folks had known how Nipper got his name—seems he had a fondness for biting people in the leg. (Ouch!) By World War I, patriotic pit bulls were gracing propaganda posters. One, Sergeant Stubby, actually became a war hero. The pooch warned troops of gas attacks, incoming artillery fire and even captured a German soldier. The 1930s saw a companionable pit bull named Petey sharing adventures with the kids in the Our Gang film series. And people loved them as pets. Notables such as Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, John Steinbeck, Fred Astaire, Anne Bancroft, Humphrey Bogart and Mel Brooks all welcomed pit bulls into their homes and suffered no ill effects. Heck, even Mary Tyler Moore had a pet pit bull. So what happened to make this once beloved animal into a reviled beast? One thing that happened was that in the 1980s dog fighting became vogue among the morally and ethically challenged. Despite being illegal in all fifty states, unscrupulous breeders moved quickly to satisfy demand. At the same time drug cartels and gangs were on the ascendency and the pit bull became their macho dog of choice for sentry duty. Even under the best of circumstances, pit bulls are strong, excitable and potentially aggressive animals. A responsible owner has to take the time to train their pooch and this includes socializing their pet to people and other dogs. Sadly buying a pet is easier than training one. Most folks don’t bother and the results can be seen live at 6 and 10.

Pit bulls are being legislated out of communities from coast to coast because people who should know better don’t provide what their dog needs to succeed. Training, discipline and kindness are all that’s required. Ironically, we seem to have trouble providing these essential needs to our human companions as well. At work and at home we often don’t instill discipline, provide skills, and offer the kindness necessary for people to thrive. When folks turn aggressive and nip at our leg (figuratively of course!), we scratch our heads and wonder why. It could be that we’ve inadvertently bred the bad behavior. A lack of energy or indifferent behavior may condemn a pet or stifle a colleague. With some effort we can turn things around and as in Talansky’s case, make “pit bull” a compliment.        —Ebert

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