Pit Bulls on Drugs

Friday, March 17, 2006
I've got a couple of prejudices in this. First one is that I think pit bulls are great dogs --- every one I've ever met has been sweet, affectionate, calm, even-tempered, and will pretty much put up with anything. (Yes, not their reputation at all. Various reasons why I think they get the bad reputatino, but that's for another time.)

Second on is that while I thing Malcolm Gladwell is a good writer, I think he's only about, let's say, 35 percent as deep as he thinks he is.

That said, though, he makes a good point on his blog this morning.
In other words, what makes Pit Bulls over-represented in dog bite statistics is not just a product of the dark side of their character (their ferocity and status as fighting dogs) [which causes some people to encourage them to be fighters --- StY] but the good side of their character (their evenness of temperament.)

This is a paradox that is not confined to dogs. For instance, for years people in the pharmaceutical business have been aware of the fact that a large number of reported adverse reactions to a particular drug can mean one of two things. The obvious meaning is that a drug is dangerous. The other meaning is that a drug is SO much better and safer and more effective than any other drug in its class that it tends to be given to the sickest and most troubled patients.

You might recall that there has been a lot of talk in recent months about antidepressants "causing" or, more properly, being associated with aggression and suicide, especially in teenagers. The way this is played on TV, especially on (spit) the O'Reilly Factor and Geraldo, is that the antidepressants cause the aggression, with the perfect post hoc argument that the aggression came after the antidepressants.

Anyone who suffers from depression or treats depression can tell you, however, that the time people are most at risk for suicide in acute depression is as the depression begins to break up. In the deepest depths of depression, a lot of people may think suicidal thoughts, but they can't muster the energy to actually do it until, perversely, they're feeling a little better.


Knucklehead said...

That guy gets an awful lot of wandering mileage out of pitbulls ;) Oh well, a challenge is a challenge.

What about those pitbulls? Some of my buddies are pitbulls. I'm a dog walker. I meet a lot of dogs and the people who own them and some of my favorites among those are pitbulls and their humans.

I'm pretty sure, but have no way to know, that my own mutt has some pitbull in her. There's a hint of it in her physical features but what leads me to be convinced of it is her behavior. Observe her among a diverse group of dogs and she looks pretty much like any other dog - similar but different. Watch her with a pitbull and it is, Eureka!, she operates just like one of those. Except its just slightly watered down - cut. Not much though. She's a little taller and carries a goodly bit of lab around with her. According to a source I have no reason whatever to discount or disbelieve she came out of a german shepherd of dubious purity. She don't favor her mom if that's the case.

She's a gentle soul in so far as her soul goes. She shows not inclination to do any other creature any harm. In fact she's quite affectionate. She just loves the heck out of other critters, people included, and wants to get herself right up close and personal. Her overall personality and physical characteristics render that gentle spirit somewhat moot. She could knock ya over, and perhaps cause injury, without any attention to harm. If she did you can count on her staying nearby to nurse you until help arrives.

Which brings up the point about pitbulls and dangerous - or the perception that they are dangerous. A part of this is the stuff that Gladwell talked about wrt people who want aggressive and strong dogs for whatever they perceive as "protection". The breed most fashionable for "attack dogs" changes over time. Pitbulls are fashionable for this these days but fashion has run through german shepherds and dobermans and rotweillers over the years and probably will cycle through them again as time goes by. Viscious, severely injuring or fatal attacks by dogs on humans will most often be made by dogs deliberately trained to be viscious.

The damage inflicted is a matter of strength and speed and tenacity. Pitbulls have all of that in spades. Which also makes them frightening to people in general. It also makes them harder to keep a lid on. A dacshund or some other small dog isn't likely to yank a leash out of their human's hand, or completely upend them, with a sudden movement. And a dacshund running free, even if making a hard charge right at you, isn't going to strike fear into the heart of anyone but the most fearful.

A pitbull, on the other hand, covering ground like a fuel dragster that just got the green light, is a fearsome looking critter when it's headed your way.

But I don't see anything inherently mean or dangerous about the breed other than the havoc their size, strength, and speed can wreak even unintentionally. All breeds have some rotten dispositions within the population. As with people, some dogs are just plain rotten. And alpha males are alpha males. That isn't breed specific.

One note of caution though. As you make buddies with some pitbulls and reach the point of being playmates, be careful about what you try to take away from them. They do get a bit touchy about what they've decided is theirs for the chewing and chomping. Not that you can't take stuff away from them, just be careful how you go about it. They'll chase anything you're willing to throw for as long as you're willing to throw stuff. They'll haul arse after it, grab it, and bring it back. They just don't like to give it up when they do. Best to have a couple of whatever it is you're going to toss to them for chasing. These are critters that will play tug 'o war with a sizeable sapling and win their share of the contests.

Conquer fear, play with a pitbull.

terrye said...

Gale owns a pit bull and he is nice. The dog I mean.

I have been depressed [a long time ago] and when you are really deep in it, there are no alternatives...even suicide. I do agree that sometimes it seems that thoughts of suicide come when people have enough wits about them to know how sick they are.

I know older people on these drugs who do develop some weird side effects but these people are often having other problems as well and that can complicate things.

Jamie Irons said...

You are absolutely right about people completing suicide when they are on (the lower end of) the upswing, prompted by the good effect of their antidepressant.

The hype about antidepressants "causing" suicidal behavior is just that. In nearly thirty years of the practice of psychiatry, in academic, community, private practice and HMO settings, I have never seen a clear-cut case of such a thing. An alert psychiatrist with a good realtionship with his (her) patients should worry very little about such an outcome.

Jamie Irons

Barry Dauphin said...

I understand and respect the clinical lore concerning suicidality. There certainly is something to that and many individuals who attempt suicide, feel slightly less depressed beforehand, having made a decision and resolved their "uncertainties."

However, considering that we are dealing with cognitive biases and base rates, it's helpful to think about how much that piece of information alone helps us in assessing suicide risk. The following is from a chapter on Inference and Attribution errors in psychological testing.Inference and Attribution Errors in Test Interpretation
Terence J. Tracey and James Rounds
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In R. K. Goodyear & J. W. Lichtenberg, (Eds.), (1999)
Test interpretation: Integrating science and practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

A final aspect of representativeness is the confusion regarding reverse conditional probabilities, wherein the probability of one behavior (behavior A) given another (behavior B) is viewed as equal to the probability of behavior B given behavior A. Clinicians seem especially prone to this bias. A common piece of clinical lore is that clients who attempt suicide tend to do so after coming out of a depression, so that clinicians should be alert to elevations in mood of depressed clients. The justification for this pattern is that the client has made a decision to kill him or herself and is thus less in turmoil. The elevation of mood may indeed have occurred in each and every client who has attempted suicide, but this in no way implies that we should attend to mood changes as cues to suicide. The probability of a mood elevation given a suicide attempt may indeed be extremely high, but this does not equal the probability of a suicide attempt given a mood elevation. A conservative estimate of the base-rate of the later (suicide attempt given a mood elevation) is in the ball park of .00001 if not lower. The probability of mood elevations being unrelated to suicide attempts is very high, so the value of attending to mood elevations as a cue for suicide is not justified. Another common example of confusion over reverse conditional probability is the usage of past incidents as diagnostic cues. Just because current clients who report certain interpersonal difficulties have also reported past abuse, does not mean that current abuse is related to having these specific interpersonal difficulties in the future. Another example is clients with eating disorders. Many clinicians have noted the perfectionistic tendencies in clients who have eating disorders and have suggested that perfectionistic tendencies should be used as a diagnostic sign. However, the number of individuals who have perfectionistic tendencies who do not manifest eating disorders far exceeds the number that do.

Rick Ballard said...

"Conquer fear, play with a pitbull."

D dnt w rk t w ll. Th y
d nt th nk th f ng rs c n b
r tt ch d.

chuck said...

Th y d nt th nk th f ng rs c n b r tt ch d.

Amazingly intelligent dogs. It's wonderful how your playful friend picked out the a,e,i, and o fingers while leaving the rest attached.

Rick Ballard said...

Hunt and peck - I'm down by 40%. Just luck that he got the vowel finger. I'll cope.