Behind the Leash: How Dog Behavior Reflects Owners, Not Breeds

May, 2019

When Candince Elliot was told the stray she rescued was unadoptable because of its pit bull features, she committed to finding a good home for the dog. However, when an applicant asked if its “saggy nipples” would go away, it crossed the line for Elliot. 

“My dad was very hesitant going into it because she did look a bully breed,” Elliot, 25, said. “All he had heard was what the media tells you: they’re going to rip your face off, they’ll turn at any moment. He was not happy with it, but now, we’ve caught him petting her and giving her stuff. He loves her.”

Elliot is not the only owner of a pit bull to experience comments or worried looks when she takes her dog, Momma, on outings. 


Roxana Martinez, 25, is the owner of Iris, a pit bull mix, and while she has almost 5,000 Instagram followers, she is not always welcomed in real life.  

“I feel like I have to be extra cautious and be mindful of us at the dog park, go to Petco or things like that,” Martinez said. “There’s just that stereotype floating around, especially recently with that article about the little girl who got bit by a pit bull in an airport. News outlets everywhere were just reporting on it, so it’s with stories like that become mainstream media.” 

Elliot and Martinez mentioned news media unfairly cover dog attacks, especially when comes to pit bulls, and both are advocates that keep up with the science that breeds are not the reason behind aggression.

Laura Koch has been working with Meadowlake Pet Resort and Training Center for 10 years. Prior to the position, she was a zookeeper, working in husbandry and training with a variety of animals.


“Aggressive dogs are traditionally harder to train because there is something behind the behavior that we have to figure out,” Koch said. “It will come out of fear, or it’s feeling they need to be the leader. It can come out as a lack of confidence of a dog. So you have to figure out the aggression is coming from.”

Koch recommended dedicating time and consistency are the key to dog training, but she said some owner can sometimes fall lazy or be unaware of their dog’s behavioral issues. 

“A lot of [news stories] involving children are because children aren’t taught how to properly approach a dog,” Koch said. “Dog’s can’t say, ‘I need you to stop.’ But they can send signals that they are getting stressed or irritated, and children aren’t taught to read those signs; many times, not even the parents know to read those signs.”


Teaching the public to read the signs of a stressed dog is one reason why Koch works with the company, Bring Your Own Dog. BYOD was founded by Michelle Trejo to promote a mission of responsible dog ownership by organizing free educational sessions for the public. 

Prior to founding BYOD, Trejo studied social work at Rice University, mentoring teens in the juvenile hall system, and was involved with Barrio Dogs, a rescue group for pit bulls. 

“I realized there was a correlation between the pit bulls and these troubled teens,” Trejo said. “When pit bulls are trying to get adopted and trying to break free from their stereotype, they face a lot of discrimination as well.”

Pitbull is not a breed. The term is used for bully breeds characteristics revolving around American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, and so on. 

Pitbulls are naturally stronger due to their size, but as Trejo said, “Aggressive is a trait you can find in any dog breed. It really depends on the dog’s environment around it, why it’s showing signs of aggression.” 


Trejo also talked about breed-specific legislation and how her company is the antithesis of the policy, which is a law banning or restricting breeds traditionally found as aggressive, such as the pit bull. She said, while the practice intended to prevent dog bites, has increased or not affected cities because owners do not have access to better resources such as training facilities. 

“I have a friend with a part pit rescue dog, and there’s a lot of issue with that because you can’t get [bully breeds] into apartment complexes,” Micheal Heitmann, 46, said. Heitmann found a way to house Penny, a Staffordshire bull terrier, but it was not without roadblocks like a breed ban.  

“I don’t believe we should have a law like BSL, because dogs should not be punished by human law,” Trejo said. “We should go back to looking at the humans and why—again, it goes back to the person behind the leash.”