10 Common Misconceptions About Pit Bulls
No other dog has had so much media coverage in the last 15 years as the Pit Bull. It's tough not to be emotional one way or the other about these canines, especially if you've owned one or two or three, or if you or a loved one has been involved in a bad incident involving a Pit Bull. One side says Pits are dangerous and should be banned. The other side says they are loving, safe dogs and it's the owners who are to blame for any "bad" Pits. What is the truth? Somewhere in between.
"Pit Bull" can refer to either the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) breed or a type of dog who has Pit Bull traits. It's all muddled at this point with Breed Specific Legislation, which bans or restricts some breeds, lumping Boxers and Dalmatians in with pits and other bully breeds (such as the American Staffordshire Terrier. Most Pit Bulls on the street are mixes though there is still breeding of the APBT. Responsible breeding produces a stable, talented dog while breeding for dog fighting must, of course, be stopped.
It gets more confusing when trying to identify just how many Pit Bulls are responsible for dog or human attacks. When you see the term "Pit Bull" in the press, it can refer to any type of dog. More often than you'd think, a dog who attacked someone and is labeled Pit Bull, is actually a mutt or a different breed altogether. Even if a picture is attached and it looks like a Pitbull, it could be any number of mixes which produce similar characteristics. Really, when you think about it, condemning a dog based on his physical traits is declaring his guilt based purely on his appearance - this is what BSL is about.
But there are the sensible people who honestly feel that Pitbulls, and any dog that resembles one, are a danger to society. Often, these folks don't know much about dogs and certainly not much about Pits. But they are being bombarded with almost all bad press about these dogs. It is evident that the media fuels misconceptions about Pits and stirs up the public. And the statistics behind the fury are less than accurate. Even the Center for Disease Control, which puts out many of the stats, states that dog bite and dog attack data cannot be gathered accurately. But, still, the section of society that does not feel safe with Pit Bulls has a right to be heard. And, considering the bull they are fed about Pits, it's no wonder they don't believe the Pit Bull supporters.
Below are 10 common misconceptions about Pit Bulls which both support and contradict the general views of either "Pit Bulls are dangerous" or "Pit Bulls are just like Golden Retrievers." Just as it's tough to be unemotional about these dogs, it's also tough to be unbiased (especially when the author of this article owns three of them) but a valiant effort has been made.
10 Misconceptions About Pit Bulls
1. All Pit Bulls Are Bad - Dogs do not have a conscience; they cannot be "bad." Pit Bulls react to their world based on their breeding and training. You can't breed a dog to fight other dogs for almost 200 years and expect those instincts to vanish.
2. All Pit Bulls Are Good - No dog is not innately "good." They simply act as their instincts and owners tell them to. To try to sell the Pit Bull to the public as a fluffy bunny does a disservice to the public, to potential Pit Bull owners and to Pits themselves.
3. Pit Bulls Are Human Aggressive - Since Pits were bred to fight dogs in a ring, the owners had to make certain they would not turn on them when they went in to stop the fight. Imagine a dog, so riled up from fighting and very aggressive, who was able to then turn it off when his human appeared in the pit. When a Pit Bull attacks a person, there are always other factors involved, such as protection of food. Any dog may bite if provoked.
4. Pit Bulls Can Cause More Damage Than Other Dogs - Sorry, Pit Bull lovers but this is sometimes sadly true. Myths such as the locked jaw have been disproved but a Pit Bull's traits make him naturally more driven. Consider these: tenacity (they often fought til death in rings), gameness, prey drive, a compact, strong, muscular body (pits can pull up to 7,000 pounds) and centuries of fighting instinct. But, there are too many factors involved in dog bites, such as the size of the animal and where the bite occurred, to make a blanket statement. In their favor, a Pit Bull will likely listen and obey better than other dogs if properly trained.
5. An Aggressive Pit Bull Cannot Be Rehabilitated - This was disproved by the Michael Vick case where some 50 pit bulls were rescued from a fighting ring. Of those, 49 dogs were rehabilitated. Some went to shelters such as Best Friends and many are well-loved family members today. The testing used to determine these dogs' ability to fit into society was exhaustive and excellent and successful.
6. Anyone Can Own a Pit Bull - Pit Bulls are different from other dogs and their owners need to be told the facts before rescuing or purchasing one. A dog lover who has had Bichons all her life will be sorely surprised unless she does her homework and understands the bully breeds. Pits need a lot of structure, a very pronounced human alpha, training, exercise and lots of attention. The owner needs consistency, time, energy and maybe some muscle.
7. Pit Bulls Will Always Fight Other Dogs - Some Pits are so dog aggressive that they should be the only dog in the house. They also should not go to dog parks or areas where dogs run off-leash. Any Pit Bull could get into a fight with another dog. Any dog could. But breaking up a Pit Bull fight is much harder than a tiff between a Shiba Inu and a Sharpei Inu. If you have a Pit Bull, learn about his body language and the signs that he is getting ready to fight. This will prevent many incidents.
8. Pit Bulls Are Lovers Not Fighters - Since it's been established that they can be fighters, what about lovers? Absolutely! Pit Bulls give more kisses than any other type of dog (it's proven!). They love humans and human interactions. They feed off positive attention. These dogs are loving, friendly creatures. And they are the kings of clowning.
9. Pit Bulls Are Badly Behaved - Any dog who has this much energy and motivation coded into his DNA can cause problems if he doesn't get enough attention and exercise. Pit Bulls put their whole hearts into destruction - of couches, beds, pillows, or your $200 boots. But all they need is to have that energy redirected. Pit Bulls are highly trainable but they do need to be trained. Their intelligence, focus, gameness, loyalty and desire to please makes them one of the most teachable dogs.
10. Compromise is Unthinkable - Unfortunately, both sides of the Pit Bull debate are often stubborn about their views and solutions. For those who think BSL is wrong, they need to be realistic about how to end it. For those that think Pit Bulls are dangerous, they need to recognize that banning Pits tears loved pets away from their families and what they propose will not stop all dangerous dogs. Giving in a bit on both sides, such as allowing muzzling of Pit Bulls in public places in exchange for no BSL, may prove the only hope.
Pitbulls are like other dogs yet they're also unique. Their gameness, focus, desire to please and boundless energy can be seen as either productive or unproductive traits. The trick is to utilize these characteristics in focused play and work, such as agility, weight pulling, rescue work or nose work.
Related Advice from Other Dog Owners
Teach Them and They Will Learn
What a great article. Intelligent and informative! I have had these "bully-breeds" all my life and I am a lover. They are admittedly a different kind of dog - they constantly need something to do, and they need your time and attention like any other terrier. If left on their own they will learn undesirable things, so you need to teach them what you want them to learn.
~Linda W., owner of an American Pit Bull Terrier
A Word on Dog Aggression
Dog aggressiveness is not a black/white issue in any dog, and this includes the Pit Bull
Rather, dog aggressiveness should be viewed as a spectrum, where the red zone would be a dog that cannot get along with any other dog, and the opposite being a dog that accepts all others. You can have dogs that accept most dogs as their friends but not all, some that are choosy about who is their friend, some who are friends only with the opposite sex, some only friends with lower energy levels, etc, etc.
That being said, it is up to you as the owner to constantly assess your dog's temperament and body language throughout his or her life and respect your dog's preferences for canine companionship. ANY dog can become dog aggressive, and it is a trait common to many of the terrier breeds and primitive breeds, not just the bully breeds.
~Cait L, owner of an American Pit Bull Terrier
I Love My Pit Bulls
Honestly, I have not been able to have any other breed. For one, I am allergic to any other breed (and trust me I've seen the difference in my allergies) but the Pitt Bull. Pitt Bulls have such a calm temperament and are extremely intelligent. I enjoy the intelligence of my dogs and also appreciate their eagerness to please my entire family. I trust my dogs with my family, because my Pitts have always proven their loyalty to us. I love them so so much and life wouldn't be as enjoyable without them. This goes out to Mitzy and Tex, the most beautiful and loyal American, and Razors Edge Pitt Bull Terriers.
~Maribel R., owner of American Pittbull Terriers
I Love This Article!
Before I owned a Pit, I was very scared of them, but any large dog as well. I have a little Chihuahua and he gets more aggressive then my Pit. She is a loving, playful dog. This article is so right. You have to know what you're getting into and be ready to be stern but also loving!
~Whitney H., owner of a Pit Bull mix
A Foster Pup Won Me Over
We fostered a 3-week-old pit bull that I never intended on keeping. Like another poster, I was terrified of the breed and I just wanted to get the little guy healthy and out of my house.
I began reading everything I could get my hands on to help ensure this was a well adjusted dog so I could find placement for him. It didn't take long to fall in love with his goofy antics, snuggling, and willingness to please. We decided to keep him and started to take him to obedience classes where he really thrived.
Since Mr. Pibbs has turned about a year, we do notice he does have some dog aggression with new dogs but at home, the little cockapoo rules the roost (truth be told, he's terrified of her when she gets mad!). We are trying to work with him but will respect his boundaries because we are trying to be responsible pit bull owners.
This article was wonderful because it is filled with so much practical advice. It should be required reading for anyone consindering owning one of these wonderful dogs!
~Amy M., owner of an American Pit Bull Terrier
Dogs are not innately bad
I do not own any of the bully breeds, never have. But I have worked with dogs and their owners for two decades, and I can tell you that the most aggressive dogs I have ever come across were those whose owners were inconsistent, indifferent, lazy, fearful, or evil themselves. Dogs are not innately "bad," and this article does a tremendous job of explaining that.
One of the most friendly dogs I have ever met was a pit bull -- and his best friend was a small kitten! And one of the most aggressive dogs I have ever met was a cocker spaniel whose caregiver had no idea how to discipline either her dog or her children!
If there is any positive about the Michael Vick case, it is that it has brought to light that if these horribly abused pits could be rehabbed, then there is absolutely NO reason to ban this breed (or similar breeds).
~Connie F., owner of a Shiba Inu
A Pit Bull Won Me Over
loved dogs, but never really wanted one till I met my pit's dad. He was awesome, calm, loving, and smart, and stayed at your side. They usually never take their eyes off their owner(s). Well, I took a female pup and for the first 9 months thought i was going to kill one of us. You have to be prepared for the energy and a lot of mouthing. You need muscle, too or they'll run you over. The article is spot on. Get the dog some training early for the mouthing and jumping, and to teach them how to play, because they play a lot. I did just a few one-on-one training sessions when she was 7 months old. These dogs are smart and focused to learn if you're consistent with them. Pits are happy when they are exhausted. After the second year, she has calmed down a lot, and a day out ice fishing means restful calm for a couple days now.
The pit bull is a highly intelligent dog that really feeds off its main owner's personality and moods. Our dog acts more like our cat than a dog. She watches and copies. Do be prepared and start with training against chasing things. I kept the dog on a long leash lead until I knew she wouldn't just bolt, but don't ever assume that once the dog is older it will not chase something off its property. And don't leave your smaller animals or cats alone while you're away, because pits usually play rough. Only dogs who play rough should be matched as playmates. Our dog loves all dogs, but she is not shy on approach and is always ready to play at the sight of another dog.
~Laurie Goodwin, owner of an American Pit Bull Terrier
Thanks for a Great Article
Both of my pit bulls have passed away, but I carry them in my heart always. My sister, who is terrified of dogs, used one of them as therapy to overcome her fear. Because my male was so eager to learn and so trainable (my female was smarter but more stubborn and less eager), she was able to do training exercises with him which actually empowered her! She learned so much more than the dog, as is often the case!
I went about six months without a dog after he passed away and my house and my life felt so empty. When I decided to bring another dog into my home, I was a single mom, busy with a toddler. I chose not to have a pit during that time in my life. Not because I didn't trust them with my toddler, but because I am a good pit bull owner and knew that I couldn't afford the time and energy it takes to make one happy. I love my current dog (a terrier mix -- gotta love a terrier) but I look forward to the time life slows down and I can hold those smiling jaws and kiss that soft forehead that only a pit has. :)
~Celina F., owner of a Terrier Mix
Even though American Pit Bull Terriers were used and bred to bring down large game both in the pit and for hunters controlling populations of wild boar, their bite strength is on average with breeds of the same size. Tests have been done on the bite strength of trained Shutzhund dogs, dogs trained specifically to bite down and hold on and to bite as hard as possible. The members of the breeds with the highest bites were used and their strongest bite force was recorded. These breeds included the German Shepherd, Rottweiler, American Bulldog, English Mastiff, and American Pit Bull Terrier (videos of this can be found on Youtube). Out of all of these breeds, the American Pit Bull Terrier with the highest bite force still had the least amount of force PSI than the other breeds, and was right on par with the apparent average bite force for medium sized dogs.
That said, biting styles can be different for different dogs. Some breeds are more likely to bite you multiple times all over whereas a Pit Bull is more likely to bite and hold, which can admittedly be bad if someone tries to yank a Pit Bull (or other bull breed) off if they are biting a living being.
~Carole T., owner of an American Pit Bull Terrier
Ban the Deed, Not the Breed
I have had pit bulls all my life and have never met a pit that was agressive toward me or my family. I work in a vet clinic, and the dogs that give us the most trouble are the anklebiters. The dogs at the clinic range from Great Danes to the smallest teacup Yorkies -- and those little guys can get ugly.
We have seniors come in with their pitbulls and say they wouldn't trade their beloved dogs for anything. The evil deed of dog fighting should be exiled, not the breed of pitbulls. Don't ban our beloved pets -- ban the people who are doing this. Love a bully breed, and you will be loved back.
~carmen v., owner of an American Pit Bull Terrier
My boyfriend and I adopted a pitbull from a family member who purchased her for the wrong reasons. She is the most loving and loyal dog I have every owned. She knows that we are the boss and listens very well. She even protected me when we were walking one day. A man parked in a van and tried to pull me in and she dragged me by the pant leg away from this van. I love my pitbull and she loves me. I believe it is the owner that makes the pitbull.
~Brittney, owner of a Pit Bull