My respect for the pit bull does not come from his ability to lash out at the world, but rather his ability to stay the course when the world lashes out at him.
-The Game Dog Guardian
Tenacity. Stick-to-itiveness. Gameness.
Dictionary.com defines “gameness” as “Having a resolute, unyielding spirit, like the gamecock; ready to fight to the last; plucky.” After perusing many such “innocuous” sources I found that most of them tend to avoid some of the more nefarious connotations of the word. They will give examples such as “like a game cock” or describe a person with a “fighting spirit.” The same entry mentioned above credits Washington Irving as having said, “I was game . . . .I felt that I could have fought even to the death.” This entry even goes so far as to address the phrase “to die game” by saying, “to maintain a bold, unyielding spirit to the last; to die fighting.” But no mention of pit bulls…
In some circles, maybe in most circles, this sort of innocent, passing definition is adequate. But in other circles, in dog circles, it is much more complex. There are deep, heavy feelings associated with the idea of “gameness,” from all sides of dog issues. K.S. Matz gets to the heart of it in The Pit Bull: Fact and Fable when he defines gameness as “An old English term passed down from cock-fighting and prizefighting. Used in the pit fighting fraternity to refer to a pit bull that is plucky, enduring and full of spirit.”
But the words of the “pit fighting fraternity” only address one aspect of gameness, one thing for which gameness can be used, or rather misused. Diane Jessup more aptly defines gameness in The Working Pit Bull:
“’Game,’ defined in terms of a dog’s behavior, means the characteristic of not quitting…Gameness does not mean a desire to fight—it means a desire to finish or to succeed at a task. Therefore a dog can display gameness at any task it is asked to do.”
The pit bull is the embodiment of “gameness.” For better or for worse, when it comes to courage, tenacity, enthusiasm and determination the pit bull is unmatched. But this trait has been taken advantage of in dog fighting pits and its true transcendence has been diluted with legend and lore, both from those who seek to vilify pit bulls and from those who seek to raise the pit bull’s image to mythical status. The relatively recent associations between dog fighting and gameness have cast so negative an image that such a proud and admirable trait has been cast down with those who betrayed it.
Gameness is an old trait and an old idea. The need and desire for game, tenacious dogs is ancient, going back thousands of years to the ancestors of modern bulldogs and working dogs. Exploiting that gameness by pitting dogs against each other is a relatively modern development. Bulldogs were game before they were cast into the pit to fight each other. The pit bulls’ lineage is older than dog fighting and dog fighting isn’t exclusive to pit bulls. Diane Jessup, whose work with pit bulls is extensive, addresses this point as well when she writes, “Gameness is not exclusive to dog fighting, nor is a dog fight the only way to ascertain how game a dog is.” The association of dog fighting with gameness should not overshadow the long and storied history of brave and determined dogs who have lovingly and loyally worked alongside their masters. Tenacity and courage are good traits for a dog to have and equally valued in our human companions.
The more one reads and learns about the history and capabilities of the many breeds called pit bulls, it is impossible not to see how prevalent the courage, tenacity and determination of these creatures figures into their role in both the good and bad tasks they were set upon. Gameness can be seen in every facet of their lives and personalities; not only in their working abilities but also in their unmatched zeal for life and their enthusiastic loyalty to their owners. In her book Bandit, Vikki Hearne wrote:
“Bandit, by the way, has not to my knowledge been game-tested—unless you count his incarceration in the Stamford pound as game-testing. In which case an evaluation might say that while he did show some loss of nerve (with his frantic circling), no fighting dog has ever been tested the way he was, for months on end. Also, the fact that he came out of the pound ready and willing to work with me despite the fact that his heart had been battered by evidence that people are not worth working with, that he was bound to lose a fight for friendship with people, tells me that he tested out sound. He is bullheaded, annoyingly so, but he is a dog who, once he gives friendship, does not lightly give up on it. He is Game.”
Dog fighting has betrayed gameness in the working bulldog and does more to lead to its destruction than it does to preserve it. A good fighting dog doesn’t necessarily have to be game and a game dog isn’t necessarily a good fighter. The irony of game-testing a dog in the pit is that in turning dogs on each other, the dog man doesn’t necessarily get a true game-test. If a match is won, or won quickly, or if a dog never faces adversity or a worthy opponent then one never really knows if one has a game dog. You may have a winner, but you may not have a game dog. And a dog who is simply overpowered and killed may have lacked the physical ability to prevail in the pit but also may have been more game than the winner. A dog is best game-tested when it is tested against itself; when it is made to compete against its own limitations and against consistent and unfaltering opposition. This is a kind of game test where the dog and handler are enriched and both are safe, even when they push their limits. As to the “ultimate game-test,” the only place where “dead game” could have any practical application is in the criminal world of blood sport where gameness is tested for the enjoyment of the people involved and not for the betterment of the dog. Again, Diane Jessup:
“I believe that game animals can be preserved. But that is because my definition of game includes a wider scope than those who enjoy watching animals destroy each other. To me ‘game’ means willing to try with an effort which is beyond the norm. You can be game without being aggressive, and so can an animal. The game animals have special appeal to a lot of people, not just that small, sadistic minority which allow animals to do their fighting for them. The appeal of the game animal is his cocky, confident, friendly manner, and his ‘never say never’ attitude.”
Calling a pit bull a “game dog” does not call it a fighting dog, in fact it does quite the opposite. “Game Dog” can take a bulldog from the limits of the pit and show it for what it really is: a tenacious dog. A dog that is not summarized by or described in completion by its ability to fight. The American Kennel Club discusses this on their website (emphasis added):
"In mentioning the gameness of the Staffordshire, it is not the intention to tag him as a fighting machine, or to praise this [ability to fight]...The good qualities of the dogs are many, and it would be difficult for anyone to overstress them.”
Where this paragraph ends on the AKC website, the AKC’s The Complete Dog Book carries on further (emphasis added):
“ In appearance they are flashy-looking and they attract much attention on the show bench. As to character, they exceed being dead game; nevertheless they should not be held in ill repute merely because man has been taking advantage of this rare courage to use them in the pit as gambling tools. These dogs are docile, and with a little training are even tractable around other dogs. They are intelligent, excellent guardians, and they protect their masters' property with an air of authority that counts; they easily discriminate between strangers who mean well and those who do not. They have another characteristic that is unusual: when they are sold, or change hands, they accept their new master in a comparatively short time."
In choosing the name “Game Dog Guardian,” we are willing to accept all connotations of the word “game,” both the good and the bad. We are willing to accept that this amazing attribute has been shamed along with the reputation of our dogs. People have exploited the gameness of our dogs and now it is people who must redeem them, and hopefully, in the process, gain some redemption for ourselves as well. To move forward we have to be willing to face the past that currently weighs so heavy on the futures of ourselves and our dogs. So we are willing to start at the worst of what scares people about us and our dogs - the worst of what they think they know about pit bulls and pit bull owners and the worst of what they can say about us. In acknowledging that, we can move forward and talk about everything else. This site isn’t just about pit bulls and it isn’t just about dogs – they are just a doorway, a beginning.
It is impossible to miss the parallel between the pit fights of the past and the social fight in which pit bulls now find themselves embroiled. Pit bulls have been put into a bad situation by people and, by no fault of their own, must fight against all odds just to survive. It is also impossible to miss the parallel between the courage and strength the pit bull has needed to survive so far and the courage and strength people need when we face adversity. The stereotypes, the closed minds, the bigotry, the unfounded fear, the hate and the hopelessness of being steam-rolled by a system that is set up to serve and protect you are all things pit bull owners face and are also things other groups of people face on a day to day basis and many times on a much greater scale. The extraordinary courage, tenacity and determination of a game dog are qualities we will all need as we face the challenges before us.
We have chosen to proudly take back what is ours. Gameness is a trait widely and openly admired in us as people. With people we more commonly hear the aspects of gameness listed as individual traits. We admire courage in people. We admire tenacity in people. We admire strength in people. We admire determination in people. In a word, we admire gameness in people. A few small groups have been cast as the representatives for all pit bull owners, and concurrently the trait they have exploited has been cast in a negative light. We can take back the truth and stand by what is amazing about our dogs and about us as a people. Just because gameness has been hijacked and exploited by ill-meaning people towards a nefarious end does not mean that such a noble character trait should be left to such negative connotations. It should be recognized for what it is: unmatched courage, tenacity, enthusiasm and determination. It is not the ability to do the impossible; it is the ability to push to the very edge of what is possible. The goodness or badness of gameness is left to the whims of those who wield it.
“One final note about their gameness. There are a lot of pit bulls these days who are licensed therapy dogs. Their stability and resoluteness make them excellent for work with people who might not like a more bouncy flibbertigibbet sort of dog. When pit bulls set out to provide comfort, they are as resolute as they are when they fight, but what they are resolute about is being gentle. And because they are fearless, they can be gentle with anybody, and that, finally, is the reason so many of their owners are so loyal to them despite harassment, threats, and lost friendships. A lot of human beings are emotional klutzes a great deal of the time, and what the courage of the [game] dog finally comes to is the courage to be gentle, even with as unpredictable and strange a creature as Homo sapiens.” -Bandit, Vikki Hearne
Jessup, Diane. The Working Pit Bull. pp 157-158. T.F.H. Publications, Inc, 1995.
Jessup, Diane. The Working Pit Bull. pp 157-158. T.F.H. Publications, Inc, 1995.
-Hearne, Vikki. Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog. pp 122. The Akadine Press Inc., 2002.
Jessup, Diane. The Working Pit Bull. pp 10-11. T.F.H. Publications, Inc, 1995.
American Kennel Club. The Complete Dog Book. 17th ed. pp 358. New York: Howell Book House Inc., 1987.
-Hearne, Vikki. Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog. pp 197-198. The Akadine Press Inc., 2002.
The Pit Bull: Fact and Fable, K.S. Matz - http://www.amazon.com/Pit-Bull-Fact-Fable/dp/0932501001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UT...
Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog, Vikki Hearne - http://www.amazon.com/Bandit-Heart-Warming-Story-Rescue-Death/dp/1602390...
The Working Pit Bull, Diane Jessup - http://www.amazon.com/Working-Pit-Bull-Dianne-Jessup/dp/B001IRUE3C/ref=s...