I was speaking with a young man recently who jokingly told me, "I'm going to get a Bandog to keep my mother's pet terrier company. Or maybe I'll get a half wolf."
When I told him that half wolves were illegal, he said that he would just tell people it's a Husky.
When I asked him what a Bandog was, he explained that they were basically half pit bull, half mastiff, bred to be the world's best fighting dogs. The idea was to combine the ferocity of a pit bull with the size of a mastiff:
He added that if he did get such a dog, he would name it Cerberus.
(They do look as if they come from hell.)
I suggested he name it Fifi instead, and dress it up with pink bows and the like. And when it chomped other dogs in two, he could remonstrate with it in the same tone of voice female pet owners use with their pets. 'Oh, bad Fifi! Bad little Fifi," while giving it an affectionate caress.
The discussion prompted me to do a little research on the internet about fighting dogs. Bandogs are generally regarded as the ultimate fighting dogs, but there are a number of other breeds considered quite formidable, and each has its advocates. Many are named after the areas from which they originated, such as the Dogo Argentino:
The Presa Canario, from the Canary Islands:
The American Pit Bull Terrier:
Central Asian Ovcharka:
English Mastiff (don't worry, if this picture puts off-color thoughts into your head, you're not alone):
Many of these dogs are related to mastiffs, and many are also thought to be descended from the Molossus, a now extinct breed used by the Romans as a war dog:
One of the big questions among owners of fighting dogs is whether any of these creatures can stand up to a wolf. Most think not. There is some evidence that dogs have occasionally bested wolves. But for the most part, wolves kill dogs, even the fighting breeds, because of their superior agility, longer teeth, and stronger bite. Wolves are less muscular overall than the strongest dog breeds, but they have stronger jaw muscles. Wolves generally kill dogs by chomping down on their skulls, which is instantly fatal.
This is not to say that the fighting dogs fear wolves. Many of these creatures were originally bred to guard flocks of sheep against wolves; some were bred as guard dogs. But the qualities required to be a good sheep dog, or guard dog, overlap with those required to be a fighting dog. All of these dogs were bred to be fearless and aggressive, even when confronted with superior firepower.
The problem is, people who want such a dog don't want a pet to lavish affection on. They want a dog to burnish their own macho self-images. And they train the dogs to be effective fighting machines, and, even worse, sometimes abuse them. Hence the killings by dogs.
You've probably heard it said that there's nothing wrong with pit bulls, the problem is with the owners. Yes and no. There are lovingly raised, safe pit bulls. But if you took the worst, most abusive pit bull owners and gave them Pomeranians instead, no humans would die.
It's a little like what the NRA says: guns don't kill people, people do. That is true. But it's also true that without guns most of those killers would be far less effective.
Michael Vick is widely regarded with abhorrence in this country, but in fact dog fighting has long been been a tradition in many, if not most, parts of the world. All those fighting dogs were bred for a purpose. (The American Pit Bull Terrier is in fact called that because of the frequency with which the breed was put in pits to either fight other dogs or enter rat-baiting contests, in which money was wagered on how long it would take a dog to kill all the rats.)
I certainly don't support dog fighting. But I can understand the my-dog-can-take-your-dog sort of pride some owners exhibit.