Whole Dog Journal's Blog October 12, 2016

Resting Pit Face

Posted at 04:07PM - Comments: (25)

So, there’s an expression that was coined in 2013, and which is defined by Wikipedia as “a term for afacial expression(or lack thereof) which unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, or irritated.” More to the point, it’s usually used to describe a woman who looks annoyed, and is sometimes shortened to its initials, “RBF.” You can guess what the “B” is for. It rhymes (more or less) with the headline.

The thing is, the usual defense against being accused of having or making a Resting B**** Face is, “It’s just my FACE! I’m not doing anything!” In other words, sometimes people (often women) are accused of looking irritated, but, in fact, they may be completely un-irritated, just spacing out. It’s just their face.

I’m talking about this because it popped into my head the other day that I now have a dog who has the canine equivalent of RBF. We’re going to have to call it “resting pit face” – the face of a pit bull (or any bully breed with a blocky head) who is actually quite relaxed but expressionless. It’s the face of a pit-mix who is neither happy, anxious, tired, interested, affectionate, mad, or expressing any other emotion. It’s just a dog with a neutral expression who nonetheless strikes people as looking scary, aggressive, irritated, or “mean.”

Look at my pit/Lab-mix, Woody. This is him just sitting there, thinking nothing. Does he look scary to you? He looks scary to some people. But it’s just RPF. This is just his face. He’s exuding zero emotion. He’s not annoyed. But he (and thousands of other bully-breed dogs with RPF) get instantly judged as potential threats based on their physiognomy – what their heads and faces look like.

When I take Woody places, I see people see him and do a double take. He gets an extra look. People are cautious about RPF.

It’s true that when Woody puts a happy expression on, no one thinks he’s a threat. His happy face is super happy; his lips turn up and his ears go loosely back, his eyes get squinty and soft, and his whole body wiggles and smiles. But it’s too bad that he (and the thousands of pit-mixes in shelters) have to sort of act like fools like this in order for people to get that they are nice dogs.

Some day Woody will grow up; I wouldn’t expect that as an adult dog that he will still be so wiggly and goofy every time he meets a new person. If he’s calm and well-behaved as an adult – if he’s doing everything I would expect my fuzz-faced mutt, Otto, to do when he meets a new human, that is, sitting politely and calmly – will people think he’s mean?

Comments (25)

He has what I always called soft eyes, so not at all scary. Apparently I have never had the sense to be scared of Pibbles, even though I've never had one adopt me (-:

Posted by: 3grrrs | October 16, 2016 7:00 PM    Report this comment

I am a volunteer at a shelter and adopted my pitbull Tori from there a year and a half ago. Her resting face is neither scary or grumpy looking. She has the sweetest face ever and everyone she meets comments on how sweet she is. Out of all the pitbulls I've encountered at the shelter only one had a scary pitbull face. All the others have sweet happy faces. I am saddened to read JanC's post regarding pitbulls. Obviously she has never been around one of these sweet dogs.

Posted by: Toridog | October 14, 2016 11:21 AM    Report this comment

I see soft eyes. They both love you.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | October 14, 2016 3:03 AM    Report this comment

I love the look of a RPF. It shows intelligence and confidence with a touch of playfulness. Nothing feral at all. If you're nervous or fearful of pitties, it's just YOU projecting all the media brainwashing and images of lowlifes like Michael Vick who enslaved these loving dogs for nefarious purposes. Objectively, pits are beautiful dogs--clean, compact, muscular, efficient--real dogs.

As for RBF, what's wrong with a woman who looks serious, no nonsense, even angry? If it were a man, we'd say he looked manly and hot. Being Asian saddled with the stereotype of sweet compliance, I developed a RBF early on and it did a good job of keeping away undesirable people with presumptions.

Posted by: Czerny | October 13, 2016 10:23 PM    Report this comment

We have always had rescued Rotties and most of them have been so friendly that anyone could enter our house unbothered by them UNLESS the person knocks. Then it's a free-for-all, beat you to the door because someone's coming to visit us, arf, arf (yay, yay)! The people who know them just wade through them once I open the door. People who don't know them tend to stand outside the double entry.

On our walks, we've had so many people react fearfully once they realize the dogs we're walking are Rotties, in spite of our dogs' happy smiles and wiggling butts. Our dogs do turn from (not "turn on" - ha!) those who look overly anxious, but the turn is them following our direction to head in a different direction to spare the people who decline our proffer of friendship and to spare our dogs from being rejected by the people.

We've been able to help change peoples' opinions of Rotties because of our wiggly ambassadors. There's no end to the need to be proactive, however.

Posted by: Penny'sMom | October 13, 2016 8:24 PM    Report this comment

Nothing scary about those faces. They just look content to me.

Posted by: alisie | October 13, 2016 7:02 PM    Report this comment

I am really bothered by this post - especially when people like JanC1955 post saying that "these types of dogs" have a " a slightly feral, very powerful look" - pit bull type dogs are no different than any other type of dog - and pit bull isn't even a real dog - it only denotes a type - like "hound" - it can capture so many different breeds that to be afraid of "pit bulls" is really very silly because what you could be afraid of is actually a labrador retriever.

Pit bull type dogs have such a difficult time - to now add such a ridiculous adage as "resting pit face" is doing no one any favours - especially since every breed of dog can look bland - why do husky's look "regal" when they look neutral as "Chaosbean" says - but pit bulls look bitchy?

Please Whole Dog Journal - you can do so much better than this.

Posted by: dogkisser | October 13, 2016 2:29 PM    Report this comment

I know how Woody feels. I have a RBF when I am not emoting. Sometimes it gets tiring having to continually smile so that folks don't think I am mad.

On the other hand since I have small, fuzzy, toy poodles everyone thinks the reverse of my dogs. Just because they are small and cute does not mean they want to be petted or that they don't have teeth. One of those small, happy dogs literally broke one of my fingers as she was cutting it to shreds (she was a new foster with diabetes and very low blood sugar).

Posted by: Furrykids | October 13, 2016 1:08 PM    Report this comment

I've just adopted a pit mix puppy (actually, I'm a failed foster), and I know I probably have a rocky road ahead with respect to people's preconceived ideas about them. I plan on doing my best to socialize her, both with people and other dogs. And not because I think she'll be dangerous- I'm more worried about the dangerous people she may encounter. I genuinely think the media has had a lot to do with spreading the misconception about pitties. Many may remember the woman in France who was the recipient of the first face transplant after having been attacked by a dog. That dog was the family's Labrador! The breed was mentioned in exactly one article I read about the event. I have no doubt that if it had been a pit, it would have been mentioned every time.
Carrying the toy around is a great idea, which I'll try. I have an RBF myself so together we'll learn to smile, smile, smile.

Posted by: MJC | October 13, 2016 1:02 PM    Report this comment

You're so on the money with this topic! We rescued my first English bulldog last year and poor Ollie is a definite "victim" of RBF! And, it is exactly when he's most relaxed that it looks the worst. When I post or show pictures of him, the most frequent comment is "He's definitely giving you the stink-eye". No...he's more than likely thinking, "the mastiff just farted...can't you do something about him" or "where's my blankie, damn, Indy's(the mastiff!) lying on it, Great-it'll smell like a fart".
I also had a Newfoundland that had a pretty intense RBF. He's was not your typical happy go lucky newfy! He was more stoic looking, add that to another "doggy prejudice" being coal black-a lot of people just assumed he was mean-and, that couldn't have further from the truth.... He was just a very deep thinker and misunderstood!

Posted by: Raji | October 13, 2016 11:30 AM    Report this comment

Nothing scary there.

Posted by: gaildvinson | October 13, 2016 11:15 AM    Report this comment

Sorry to read the first comment - with all due respect - these dogs are just dogs - and given the numbers of pit mixes that are made up of potentially many different breeds it's not only unfair but really unscientific to define them in such a specific way behavior wise. Yes, they like other large breed dogs can more readily injure someone - either by happily jumping on them or aggressing. As for their above reported nature to "turn on their owners" that is humbug. They, like all dogs, do signal - but I have seen people ignore the signaling of their dogs of all manner of breeds. We do need more education about the body language of dogs (suggested DVD - Body Language of Dogs, Sarah Kalnajs). Helene Goldberger, CPDT-KA, PMCT

Posted by: Helene | October 13, 2016 11:05 AM    Report this comment

With all due respect to you, Nancy, to the other commenters here, and to all fans of pits and pit mixes ... it's not just the facial expression. To my eye, there's a slightly feral, very powerful look to these dogs, from nose to tail. Couple their physical appearance with their use, historically and sadly, even in the present day, as fighting dogs, and couple THAT with the unpredictable behavior of some (not ALL) of them, and it's frankly no wonder many people are nervous around them.

I am one of them, and I'm a huge dog fan. But I could never relax around a pit or pit mix, which is tragic because the shelters where I live are full of them. I'm hopeful that all the groups and individuals who are trying so diligently to improve the image of pitbulls are just as dedicated to educating the public about how absolutely critical it is to raise, train, and handle this breed in a very specific way.

And while I understand it must be painful to have people give the dog you love a wide berth simply because of his appearance, I also think pitbull advocates should be a little more understanding about why people react the way they do. We're not all "ignorant" of or "prejudiced" against the breed. Many of us simply know at least one person who has suddenly been turned on by their pitbull and are therefore wary around all dogs who look like pitbulls.

Posted by: JanC1955 | October 13, 2016 10:48 AM    Report this comment

I have the opposite problem - I have a golden retriever who prefers if random people (particularly children) don't approach him & stick their hands & faces into his face. He's fine if he's given time to approach people if/when he chooses. However, people assume that because he's a golden he loves everyone & wants to be patted & hugged by them. Of course I watch out for him & ask people to give him space but it's surprising how, every-so-often, someone will assume they know my dog better than I do & shove their hand in his face anyway.

Posted by: Grevillia | October 13, 2016 10:46 AM    Report this comment

I think both appear to be in a transcendent state!

Posted by: Kitsumama | October 13, 2016 10:15 AM    Report this comment

I have german shepherds, and they can look intimidating. But I know what it means about the Pitbulls. They are not mean dogs at all, its just their face and the size and shape of their heads. Dog is a dog and one breed is not meaner than the other. It all has to do how they were raised, and how they were treated. My shepherds are very unsocial and its my fault. They are aggressive towards people and dogs. Now, I am trying and desperate to fix that. Pits only have the bad reputation, and I believe its completely ignorant to ban the breed. Its a shame, they are so loving dogs.

Posted by: Vinny'smom | October 13, 2016 10:11 AM    Report this comment

MY German Shepherd is hard to read for people. I am fine with it because everyone leaves her alone.

Posted by: wolfy dog | October 13, 2016 9:50 AM    Report this comment

I have a lot in common with Woody: RBF or RPF is my curse as well. I don't mind looking old, but hate that my face has aged to look angry. My favorite grandmother looked mean as a snake, but remains the kindest person I have ever known. I try to keep that in mind as a consolation.

For dogs, I agree that dog people usually know the difference. The problem is that so many people (even those that have owned several dogs) just believe whatever they have always believed so are completely uninterested in education that might help them understand dogs better. I wish I knew how to bridge this so that so much information could be shared to make both people and dog's lives better.

Posted by: Alice R. | October 13, 2016 9:26 AM    Report this comment

Me and the pit bull have a lot in common. I think that is my usual face and I am not feeling any emotion. It's just my face!

Posted by: harbormaster | October 13, 2016 9:07 AM    Report this comment

Ever since I found my first dog, a pregnant pit-mix, in an empty parking lot one icy January, I've always had pits or pit-mixes. They never grow out of that goofy smile or puppy demeanor; they will make you laugh and they are warm companions because they are intelligent and empathic. They remain youthful until suddenly they aren't anymore. If you love a pit, you'll love them all; once you've loved a pit or have been loved by a pit, you'll never want any other dog.

Posted by: Czerny | October 13, 2016 9:00 AM    Report this comment

I had a foster Boston Terrier that always looked grumpy and scowly--he was a really nice guy but the combination of markings and facial conformaion just made him look grumpy. Fortunately someone thought that expression was really cute and he was adopted rather quickly. Small dogs can get away with looking grumpy but I can see how it is tougher for a larger dog to win people over with a less than happy look...

Posted by: PJKutscher | October 13, 2016 8:59 AM    Report this comment

We are on our 8th German shepherd, so we are experienced with the breed over the past 47 years. This Schutzhund girl is the first of our dogs to have one ear that's always erect and one ear that is only occasionally erect, giving her an amusing, friendly, cocky look. Combined with her happy, smiling demeanor, she is an immediate kid magnet and she dearly loves children too. The half-cocked ear makes her appear totally benign to the point that we are often asked, "Is she full-blooded?" If anyone sees her when she comes to full 'attention' with both ears erect, then they have no doubt what she is. I think fear is often in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by: Maxcook | October 13, 2016 8:55 AM    Report this comment

Although neither of these dogs looks scary at all, I appreciate the point you're making.

I have a dog whose eyes are such that he looks like he's a in an almost perpetual state of "whale eye", so even for dog people, he can *appear* to be in a tense state. He has what some might think is a "hard look" and a great deal of white showing in the eyes --- even when fully relaxed.

It's important for people to have a baseline in the various parts of a dog's body (ears, lips, eyes, tail, etc.) against which they interpret/measure the dog's state of mind.

Since my dog is a pit bull, when we're out and about in public space where the sidewalks are dense with people, he carries a toy in his mouth (a ball with a tug string, so that if he drops it, it doesn't go far) and that takes "the edge" off him, endearing him to people that might otherwise be reluctant to be near him.

Posted by: Hany | October 13, 2016 8:53 AM    Report this comment

Both dogs look relaxed and content; nothing scary here! But then, I'm a dog person and see all dogs in the best possible light first.

Posted by: LovePuppy | October 13, 2016 8:41 AM    Report this comment

My husky has a very reserved, regal look when he has a neutral expression... he's not regal or reserved. The minute he switches out of neutral to say hi to someone he becomes that smiley, full body happy that people find reassuring. We worked hard to add polite to that happy, personable style and it has paid off wonderfully. My Aussie doesn't seem to have a neutral expression. She always looks poised and ready for anything (which is true).

Posted by: Chaosbean | October 13, 2016 8:41 AM    Report this comment

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