Pit bulls are wonderful animals that deserve a chance to have a good life like any other dog. However, it’s important to remember that pit bulls are not just any other dog – They are a little more of everything a dog can be.
Basic Breed Overview
Pit bulls have superior physical and mental characteristics that make them excellent partners for responsible, active, and caring owners. On the other hand, these same outstanding qualities can make them a little difficult to handle for people who don’t have a lot of experience with dog ownership, or for those who don’t understand the breed very well. Luckily, pit bulls are very responsive to training and eager to please. It is therefore strongly recommended to take them to obedience classes as soon as they are up to date with their shots. (Pit bulls are prone to parvovirus, so it is important that they receive all their vaccinations before coming into contact with other dogs or going places that other dogs frequent.) A well behaved and obedient pit bull will be a great ambassador for the breed and help fight prejudice and misconception.
Pit bulls are very adaptable and will even do well in urban living provided they have enough exercise or other positive outlets for their energy. Many pit bulls are easygoing couch-potatoes but can also be somewhat rambunctious until they mature. Maturity can come pretty late with this breed (2 to 3 years old in some cases). Pit bulls remain playful all their life and have a great sense of humor. Real clowns at heart, these dogs will make you laugh like no other.
Pit bulls are strong, energetic, agile, and powerful dogs. They are also very resourceful and driven. Determination is one of their most notable traits. Whatever they set out to do, they put their heart and soul into it…Whether it is escaping an inadequately fenced yard to go explore the neighborhood, destroying your new couch when left home alone, or climbing into your lap to shower you with kisses! They just don’t give up easily.
Stahlkuppe (1995) writes, “The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), or the AmStaff, is certainly not the right pet for everyone. Being a powerful dog, it will require sufficient and adequate control. Some prospective elderly owners or children, will not be able to supply that control… A first-time dog owner, in the minds of many experienced dog breeders, should not buy an APBT or an AmStaff! An insecure person who wants only an aggressive dog to bolster some personal human inadequacy should never become an owner of one of these dogs. An uncaring or negligent person should not buy an AmStaff or an APBT (or any other dog for that matter).”
Another very important characteristic of pit bull dogs is their amazing love of people. Many people are surprised by the loving personality of these dogs the first time they meet one. Pit bull dogs are indeed remarkably affectionate and truly enjoy human attention. They are wonderful cuddlers, and nothing beats a belly rub. In fact, most pit bulls think they are lap dogs!
Dunbar (1999) writes: “Today, a properly bred pit bull is so exuberantly happy upon meeting her owner’s friends (or even friendly strangers) that new owners sometimes worry that their dog is too sweet and fun-loving to protect their home and family… A multi-talented companion, the well-trained pit bull is suited for a variety of exciting activities. He excels at obedience, agility and weight-pulling competitions, events which showcase intelligence, trainability and strength. In addition, the pit bull’s pleasant nature makes him an ideal candidate for therapy work with people.”
Human aggression, severe shyness, and instability are not traits typically found and accepted in the APBT breed. Dogs with these traits are not good representatives of the breed and should not be placed into adoptive homes.
Like any other breed, pit bulls can develop behavior problems if poorly bred, mishandled, abused, unsocialized, etc., that could result in inappropriate aggression. Any large, strong, and powerful dog that attacks can do a lot of damage. This is why temperament evaluation is important when dealing with dogs of certain size and potential.
Unlike the myth propagated by the media however, human aggression is NOT a problem specific to pit bulls. In fact, pit bulls tend to do better than average in temperament tests.
The American Temperament Test Society provides temperament testing around the country for dog breeds, and gives a passing score for the entire breed based on the percentage of passed over failed within total number of the particular breed tested. As of December 2003, the American Pit Bull Terrier has a current passing rate of 83.9%, and the American Staffordshire Terrier passes at 83.2%. In comparison, The Golden Retriever passing rate is 83.2%.
Pit bull type dogs are wonderful, loving, and very loyal companions. It is important however, to understand the breed’s nature, to provide a structured environment, and to establish a positive leadership role. In order to do so, pit bull owners must understand the original purpose of the breed, and respect its limits and potential.
The Breed’s Original Purpose
Humans have created specialized dogs through emphasizing desired traits and eliminating unwanted ones. It is no different with the pit bull type dogs. The American Pit Bull Terrier has been “selectively” bred for hundreds of years to fight other dogs. This is the sad “work” these dogs were created for. In the same way that Labradors were bred to retrieve birds, APBTs were bred to face other dogs in mortal combat. Even in dogs that are not recently bred from fighting lines, the urge to fight can arise at any time. Not to strongly emphasize this fact would be negligent.
That said, we can’t blame specialized breeds for behaving as they were bred to. Specific traits were bred into the dogs and are now part of the breed’s character. It’s like the digging instinct of many Terriers, the herding behavior in Shelties, the compulsion to run in Greyhounds, etc. Your Pointer may have never spent a day on a real hunt, but he may still point and flush birds as his ancestors did.
It’s a mistake to think that the fighting gene can be trained or loved out of a dog, or that early socialization will guarantee your pit bull will always get along with other animals. There are precautions to take when owning pit bulls, especially in a multiple-dog environment. Unfortunately these precautions are often viewed as acceptance for the sport of pit-fighting when nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing how to avoid a fight, as well as how to break it up if, despite all efforts one strikes, is proof of smart and responsible pit bull ownership.
Never trust a pit bull not to fight…
It is not a hate of other dogs that causes pit bulls to fight, but rather an “urge” to do so that has been bred into the dogs for many generations. Pit bulls may fight over hierarchic status, but external stimulus or excitement can also trigger a fight. Remember that any canine can fight, but pit bulls were bred specifically for their drive, intensity, and determination to win.
Pit bull owners must be aware of the remarkable fighting abilities these dogs posses and always keep in mind that pit bulls have the potential to inflict serious injury to other animals. A pit bull may not even be the one starting a conflict, but he has the genetics to finish it. Remember that pit bulls are almost always blamed no matter who initiated the hostilities, and often end up paying the price…as does the owner!
That said, some pit bulls get along great with other pets and may live happily with other dogs without incident. We just can’t assume that this is true for all of them, or take for granted that pit bulls getting along with other pets today will do so tomorrow. Pit bull owners must have common sense and make sure they don’t set their dogs up for failure by putting them in inappropriate situations.
Every negative incident involving a pit bull adds to their reputation and jeopardizes our right to own these great dogs. Keep your pit bull out of trouble!
Please remember that animal-aggression and people-aggression are two distinct traits and should never be confused. Unless they have been very poorly bred and/or specifically “trained” to attack humans (often by undesirable individuals through abusive methods), pit bulls are, by nature, very good with people. They are, in fact, one of the most loving, loyal, friendly and dedicated companions one can have.
WC4P hopes this article will help people understand why so many of us are deeply dedicated to these wonderful dogs. Pit bull dogs need more help, compassion and understating than many other breed, but they will pay you back with more love and loyalty than you ever thought possible.