Do Pit Bulls Need a Certain Type of Owner? In My Opinion, Yes

Pit Bulls are not for the faint of heart, and that has a lot to do with how others perceive the dogs.
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“You shouldn’t own a dangerous dog!”

I turned my head when the dog owner walking away from me on a Boston street yelled this out to me. His loose Lab had just sauntered up to me and my Pit Bull, Hudson, causing me to pull Huddie between my legs. I had asked this callous dog owner to put his dog on a leash — it’s the law in Boston — and he had replied: “My dog is friendly.” I returned with “My dog isn’t,” and thus his rather cruel reply.

Anger welled within me — he was in the wrong, after all. I hadn’t had time to explain that Hudson didn’t like other dogs but he loved people, nor did I get to call him what I would have liked to.

But I get frustrated with some Pit Bull advocates, too. I’ve heard it time and again: “Pit Bulls are easy dogs to own. They’re all dog- and people-friendly. Anyone can own them,” as if owning a Pit Bull is just like owning a Golden Retriever. Well, in my opinion, it’s not!

I have had the privilege of adopting four Pit Bulls: Hudson (The Fighter), Amber (The Lover), Falstaff (The Buddha), and Bunch (The Model).

I’m certainly not a Pit Bull expert, but after years of working with them, I feel I can say I have the traits you want to see in a Pit Bull owner. I am objective about Pit Bulls‘ characteristics, willing to be an ambassador for them, and willing to have limitations placed on my life because of breed-specific legislation. I am also active, tough, tenacious, loving, adaptive, and resilient — all qualities of Pit Bulls, too. I even look a bit like a Pit Bull.

What is a Pit Bull? A Pit Bull is a type of dog, not a breed. He is, essentially, a mutt, a mix of an American Pit Bull Terrier or other bully dog and any other breed or breeds. The bully side of the Pit Bull tends to override the other breeds in his makeup but if you know or can guess what those breeds are, it can be helpful, because they can help define their personality.

Case in point: In 2000, I saw a four-month-old black puppy at a Mighty Mutts event in New York City, lying languidly on the ground, calm and friendly. I learned his Pit Bull father had been a champion dog fighter on Coney Island, but this puppy didn’t seem to have a fighting bone in his body. When I arrived to adopt this pup a few weeks later, there was confusion — another woman was there to adopt that same guy. Ah, but there was another puppy from that litter, so I gladly took him.

That was Hudson. He was trouble from the start.

As Hudson grew up, I knew he was different from any other dog I’d owned. For one thing, he started fights with my Golden mix, Manny, and Lab mix, Kingfish — and while they backed down immediately, Hudson kept going until he was stopped. He had the sometimes Pit Bull trait of knowing how to inflict damage quickly when fighting.

For the first time in my life, I realized that my dogs had to be separated, that Huddie couldn’t be left alone with Manny and Kingfish, so he got stuck in the bedroom every time I went out — an example of being adaptive when necessary with Pit Bulls. Of course, this could happen to many other dogs. But if you forget to isolate a dog-aggressive Pit Bull, you might come home to some serious canine injuries.

But even though this tenacious trait propelled Huddie’s fighting instincts, he was also tenacious in his almost constant attentiveness to me. It was as if he wanted me to direct his every move. Any time my ex-husband raised his voice at me, Hudson got between us and barked. I felt safe in the house and out on walks, which boosted my confidence. He was my protective shadow for 13 years. So that’s how a Pit Bull’s seemingly only negative trait can be positive, too.

Here are some more common Pit Bull characteristics (at least in my opinion) and how they affected me and could affect you if you become a Pit Bull owner:

1. Intensity

Pit Bulls are intense. They even look intense, which is why some people are scared of them. My Pit Bull Amber LOVED all humans. When we went on walks, it took all of my strength (toughness) to keep her from accosting everyone with affection. A Yorkie jumping up on a stranger is considered cute, but a Pit Bull jumping up on a stranger is considered scary. You must be strong and tenacious in your training of a Pit Bull.

2. Energy

Not all Pit Bulls are as energetic as Amber was or my current Pit Bull, Bunch. Both could run 10 miles a day and still not be tired. However, Falstaff was very mellow and preferred to be a constant couch potato. If you want to be a Pit Bull owner, you have to be prepared to exercise with your dog a lot, as high energy seems to be mostly the case.

3. Absolute devotion and sensitivity

Your Pit Bull will do anything for you, and he’ll also try his hardest to please you (at least most of the time). This is a great responsibility, as I learned with Hudson and his protectiveness. As a Pit Bull owner, you must make certain your devoted dog will always listen to you.

Along with devotion comes neediness, which is great if you want your dog to be around you constantly and don’t mind a plethora of Pit Bull kisses morning, noon, and night. This also means Pit Bulls should not be left alone for long periods. Hudson destroyed three couches before I figured this out.

5. People friendly — or not

Pit Bulls are almost always super people friendly, but not all people are Pit Bull friendly. Once, when out with Amber, I had a parent accuse her of “attacking” her child. Amber was just doing her overly friendly/jumping thing and I wasn’t paying attention the way I should have. You will have to respect others’ space when you’re out with your Pit Bull.

Hudson barked at everyone but me, especially that evil ex-husband. It was tough to have people over unless I put Huddie in another room. I probably should have socialized Hudson better as a pup. Be prepared for people to give you a bad look or two, or have them prefer to go to a Pit-Bull-free house for dinner.

6. Dog friendly — or not

Falstaff and Bunch were dog-friendly, and I’d say most Pit Bulls are friendly with other dogs, but you need to be careful in finding that out. Never take your Pit to a dog park until you are 100 percent certain.

I worked with Falstaff, on leash, meeting other dogs on leash and could tell that he was not agitated in any way — he didn’t raise his hackles, his tail was wagging, and he didn’t show any signs of dominance. I adopted Bunch at age two, and she was in a foster home with another dog and had been going to the dog park.

Some Pit Bulls are not friendly with other dogs. I get in trouble for saying this, but consider each dog’s background and whether it includes dog fighting. If your Pit Bull is dog-aggressive, it can be very difficult to train this out, so you should talk to a professional. This is true especially if you adopt them as adults, and especially if they were used in dog fighting or dog fighting is in their recent genetic history.

If your Pit Bull shows fighting tendencies, it would be more than irresponsible for you to take her to dog parks or play groups — ever.

7. Good with other family dogs — or not

In my experience, some Pits who are not good with strange dogs will do fine with siblings in the house. Hudson is obviously a case where this isn’t so true, but Amber was excellent with my other dogs, and when Hudson got older, he mellowed. If you adopt a Pit Bull and have other dogs, make sure they meet first so you can see if they will get along.

Ah, Hudson. I’ve been through it and it means always being on your toes in case there’s a dog fight or crating the dog who starts them. If you adopt a Pit Bull and then discover there is tension with your other dogs, reinforce your status as alpha, spend a lot of time training the potential instigator, and be prepared to be on guard. If there is a fight, separate all of the dogs for at least a day and call in a behavior specialist. Again, consider fostering a Pit Bull before adopting him to see how he gets along with everybody.

8. Can you handle the stereotypes?

If you think you’re tough enough to adopt a Pit Bull, there’s something more to consider — public opinion. I have had people cross the street when they see me walking with one of my Pits, and mothers hide their children. When I was looking for an apartment in New York City, there were some co-ops that banned only Pit Bulls.

And I will never forgive Denver, where I lived long ago, for banning Pit Bulls, not grandfathering any of them in but confiscating them and putting them down immediately. (See: Myths About Canine Aggression.)

To recap, as a Pit Bull owner, you should be willing to recognize and deal with your Pit Bull’s attributes and faults. You should have lots of energy, time, and affection for your dog. You shouldn’t mind dealing with lots of attention from others, positive as well as negative. You also shouldn’t mind having limitations put on your life because of breed specific legislation or others’ ignorance about Pits.

And you especially should not mind lots of dog slobber from Pit Bull kisses!

Before you adopt a Pit Bull, your best bet is to meet as many of them as you can. Volunteer for a Pit Bull rescue, offer to dog sit-for friends who own Pit Bulls, and stop friendly looking Pit Bull owners and their dogs on the street. Let people know you’re thinking about adopting one, ask questions and do balanced research because, although Pit Bulls are certainly misunderstood and maligned, they can also be tough to own. I don’t recommend them for first-time dog owners. They are strong dogs, some of them have a history of dog fighting, and their tenacity is endless. But they are also extremely loving and excellent companions.

In my opinion, Pit Bulls are the best dogs ever (although, I do love them all). But, if you want to own a Pit Bull, you’d better be someone who isn’t afraid to strut your stuff with your dog despite the disparaging remarks and crooked looks you might get along the way.

About Kelly Pulley: Longtime dog owner and Pit Bull guru, Kelly has been a writer for Dogster for many years. She now tackles everything from controversial topics such as Pit Bulls to loving itty bitty dogs despite their size. Catch her at www.petwriter.com and www.pitbullguru.com.

Other Pit Bull articles by Kelly Pulley:

11 thoughts on “Do Pit Bulls Need a Certain Type of Owner? In My Opinion, Yes”

  1. Im moving to Denver… seen too many Pit bull sweet loving dogs that they are KILL kids and women. They should be muzzled. The thing that really gets me is that the owners are never there when they kill.. ever. Show me ONE video of the owner pulling off the dog from the victim.. just one.

  2. I absolutely love this whole article. I couldn’t have written it better myself. I’m 35 years old..had dogs my entire life since birth. I got my first pit bull when I was 30 and I had no idea what to expect but my love of dogs in general helped a lot. He was amazing in every way but soooo extra and in need of endless attention, (haven’t gone to the bathroom alone since). I RESCUED my second pitbull two years ago. She has a lot of issues and has shown over time that she wants to fight her brother (my first pit) over jealousy always. We got a trainer and worked through it but even when times were tough with them they would snuggle every night and be very protective of each other. Everything you wrote is true. I could not love my pits more if I tried but I am unique. People should definitely read this and think about the commitment. Thank you for your awesome article

  3. If I didn’t want any more visitors to my home, I would purchase a Pitbull…..or a Rottweiler. I’m not being snide, I’m dead serious. Children who are at eye level with a Pitbull are in danger of permanent disfigurement of their face……if they survive. A child, (because of their innocence) doesn’t have a chance, because they will automatically approach a dog to touch, feel and play.
    The fierce attachment and loyalty the Pitbull has toward their owner and the family members is commendable, but that’s as far as their sugariness goes. I’m always stunned when an owner of a Pitbull actually believes their dog will be as sweet and compliant with strangers as they are with their owner, be they children or adults. The vehement protectiveness toward their family members can cause them to tear another person apart if anyone from outside the family circle makes a move that the otherwise sweet Pit regards as a threat to their owner or extended family. If I owned a Pitbull and I had a visitor who wanted to approach my Pitbull, I would advise them not approach my dog, no matter how much I was convinced that “he/she wouldn’t hurt a fly?”

  4. I have an american staffordshire terrier who is constantly called a pitt. She is the biggest baby ever, and has never shown even the slightest hint of aggression. She is a very well trained dog and loves people, dogs, and even cats. That being said, I am a responsible owner and if my dog had shown any hint of being dog aggressive I would simply not bring her to dog parks. She has actually been attacked twice at dog parks, and once on the street. Once by an akita and twice from pitts. Never once was she being aggressive towards them and in the end, all 3 times, she was the only one who got hurt. It is very true how much ridicule you go through owning one. My dog was off leash in my front yard once when a lady walked by. My dog decided she wanted to say hi and the laid jumped back in terror. My dog sensed she was nervous, which made her nervous, so she ran back to the front door. That’s when the lady says “you need to put that dangerous dog on a leash and muzzle it”. I responded”she is super friendly, has never even came close to biting anyone before”. She snapped back “oh she will all pitbulls snap eventually, you should get that thing put to sleep before it’s too late”. I was just flabbergasted that anyone could think or say such a thing, but all I could do was ignore her and take my sweet little baby inside.

  5. Pit Bull is not an umbrella term. It’s short for American Pit Bull Terrier, and the only real Pit Bull is the performance breed APBT, it’s no mutt. Anything else is a “American Bully” or other imposter. You know a few things, but you have a long way to go.

  6. I don’t think she’s perpetuating anything, just stating the facts. Yes all dogs have these tendencies but pitties are strong dogs and don’t compare. I have been stuck (I love her though) with one recently, she came out of no where during a flood in my area. I fed her and she never left! Lol I tried to find her a home but was unsuccessful. At some point I thought maybe I’ll just keep her. She’s attacked my lab-retriever twice already. However, my lab was the one that started it, being territorial and all. But my lab can’t even be within view of my pit because she’ll start going crazy and want to go at her again. Also, the bite hold she had on my lab was something else I was so freaking scared I didn’t think she was gonna let go. I cried so much afterwards and I’m thinking I’m just not built to take care of this kind of dog. She’s a sweetheart but I live in fear of doing something wrong and my lab having to pay for it.

    1. Hi there,
      So sorry you’re dealing with this. We suggest taking your Pit to the vet for a full medical workup and also finding a behaviorist to help your two dogs get along better. Best of luck and thank you for caring!

  7. I love pitbulls I owned them myself they are great dogs if trained right my baby boy otis was 6 months old and by the time he hit 6months old he was coming along nicely exaple I could take him outside with out a leach and soon as he try to go or want go over to someone or another dog all I have say to him was no leave it/them alone and get over here he come running back and minded hint he had a bite poblom with food every time he bite at me I tap him on nose and say easy he started to be more gental and pits are smart very smart you have watch them close when u see them do something u have look at it in every aspect

  8. These are traits of ALL dogs. The owner is further perpetuating the negative stereotypes that for years have plagued these dogs, based on owning a dog she obtained from a dog fighter….

    1. The majority have not a clue on how to raise a Pit, that is why they have a bad reputation. I had a Pit, taught her to love and be friendly. My Pitt walked off leash most of the time, waited for my every command, was not aggressive. I now have a Yorkie, attacked by a Pit twice in the last week, my friend’s dog (A Morkie) was killed by a pit in the Spring. Because there are a lot of clueless Pitt owners out there. Pitt bulls are incredibly powerful, if they go into attack mode, nearly impossible to stop them. I am very angry, Pitts are not an easy breed, you have to be firm, you have to discourage aggressive behavior. If you are not going to invest the time and energy into raising it properly do not expose your friends and neighbors to the consequences. It is not acceptable, my Yorkie is a rescue, two years old, I am disgusted by the lack of responsible pet owners. A Pitt bull is not a regular dog, they have the capacity to kill. Your not cool because you have a Pitt. You are cool if you accept they require more care and an acknowledgment they require more discipline and structure than any other dog. My Pitt was awesome because she was well trained, I demanded excellence from her, she delivered.

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