Bringing a dog into your life is a very big decision that requires a lot of thought and planning. Pit Bulls are a very special breed that require a lot of love and attention. In an effort to educate the public as well as potential adoptees and fosters we ask that you please read through our breed info page so that you can be familiar with the history, facts and myths associated with these wonderful dogs.
Because of the vagueness of the “pit bull” label, many people may have trouble recognizing a pit bull when they see one. Multiple breeds are commonly mistaken for pit bulls, including the Boxer, the Presa Canario, the Cane Corso, the Dogo Argentino, the Tosa Inu, the Bullmastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog and the Olde English Bulldogge. Think you can accurately identify a pit bull? Test yourself by following this link: http://www.understand-a-bull.com/Findthebull/findpitbull_v3.html.
Physical abilities and behavior are both important facets of any breed. A well-bred dog should have both the physical attributes necessary to perform his job and the behavioral tendencies needed to learn it. It’s not surprising that individuals of a specific breed tend to look and behave somewhat similarly. However, it’s important to realize that even though a breed may be characterized by certain behaviors, individuals of the same breed can vary tremendously. Some dogs are courageous, while others are timid. Some dogs are tenacious, while others are easygoing. Some dogs are sociable, while others are aloof. Like people, all dogs have unique personalities.
The best way to prevent the development of aggressive behavior toward other dogs is to focus on early socialization. To learn how to interact, play and communicate with members of their own species, dogs of all breeds need to be well socialized during puppyhood. If a puppy has many good experiences with other dogs, any future unpleasant experiences will have less of an impact on him. Suppose a puppy is playing with another dog and the play escalates into a fight. This is relatively normal, and most well-socialized puppies will still want to play with other dogs afterward. If, on the other hand, the puppy has had very few experiences with other dogs, a spat may make a bigger impression on him. He may decide that he doesn’t like other dogs, and that feeling may contribute to fearful or aggressive responses to them when he matures.
Pit bull puppies may need even more socialization than other breeds. Numerous positive social experiences can teach a pit bull puppy to enjoy the company of other dogs. Frequent social interaction may also help pit bull puppies modify their natural play style, which is often more rough-and-tumble than that of other breeds. However, because of pit bulls’ natural tendencies, a little squabble between friends can turn into a serious fight, even if a pit bull has been very well socialized. And, after experiencing a fight or two, a pit bull may become testy with unfamiliar dogs in general. Some pit bulls, like individuals of many breeds, only remain friendly with dogs they meet during puppyhood—which is another great reason to make sure your pit bull puppy makes plenty of friends.
Despite this bad rap, a well-bred, well-socialized and well-trained pit bull is one of the most delightful, intelligent and gentle dogs imaginable. It is truly a shame that the media continues to portray such a warped image of this beautiful, loyal and affectionate breed. Pit bulls once enjoyed a wonderful reputation. Some of the most famous dogs in American history were pit bulls. A pit bull named Stubby, a decorated hero during World War One, earned several medals and was even honored at the White House. During duty, he warned soldiers of gas attacks, found wounded men in need of help and listened for oncoming artillery rounds. Pit bulls have been featured in well-known advertising campaigns for companies such as Levis, Buster Brown Shoes and Wells Fargo. The image of a pit bull, which was considered a symbol of unflagging bravery and reliability, represented the United States on recruiting and propaganda posters during World War One. Many famous figures, including Helen Keller, President Theodore Roosevelt, General George Patton, President Woodrow Wilson, Fred Astaire and Humphrey Bogart, shared their lives and homes with pit bulls.
Modern pit bulls can still be ambassadors for their breed. Some are registered therapy dogs and spend time visiting hospitals and nursing homes. Some work in search-and-rescue. Tahoe, Cheyenne and Dakota, three search-and-rescue pit bulls from Sacramento, California, worked tirelessly at the World Trade Center during the aftermath of 9/11. Others, like Popsicle, an accomplished U.S. customs dog, work in narcotics and explosives detection. Still others serve as protection or sentry dogs for the police. The majority are cherished family members. Pit bulls become very attached to their people, and most love nothing better than cuddling on the couch or sleeping in bed with their pet parents (preferably under the covers)!
“Pit bulls have locking jaws!” This is patently false. There is nothing unique about the anatomy of pit bull jaws. They do not “lock.” The pit bull’s fighting style, like that of other terriers, usually involves grabbing and shaking. Perhaps because of their hunting and bull-baiting history, some pit bulls also have a tendency to grab and hold on with determination. This does not mean that they can’t or won’t let go of another dog once they bite. However, because they’re powerful dogs, pit bulls do have strong jaw muscles. Like all dog parents, pit bull parents should know how to break up a dog fight. Please see our article on Breaking up a Dog Fight to learn more about this important topic.
“If a pit bull bites another dog, he’s going to start biting people next.” Research confirms that dog-aggressive dogs are no more likely to direct aggression toward people than dogs who aren’t aggressive to other dogs. In fact, some of the best fighting dogs are the most trustworthy with people.
“All pit bulls are gentle angels who can be left unsupervised with dogs of any size, cats and other animals.” Pit bulls aren’t vicious monsters—but they are dogs who have been bred to fight with other dogs. While some pit bulls are indeed very easygoing, others should not be left alone with other dogs, cats or other pets. Pit bulls are strong, determined dogs. It might not be a pit bull who starts a disagreement, but he may be the one to finish it.
“The dog park is a great place to socialize pit bulls.” This statement is sometimes true. Some pit bulls visit dog parks on a daily basis to frolic happily with many dog friends. For others, however, the dog park isn’t an appropriate place to play. This raises quite a dilemma for some urban pit bull parents. Pit bulls are high-energy dogs and need lots of exercise, but some just aren’t good candidates for the dog park. Because they’re very muscular and easily excited, friendly pit bulls can sometimes overwhelm and even injure their playmates during rough games. And pit bulls may become aggressive more quickly when exposed to the hectic, high-octane energy of a dog park environment. If there’s a squabble, a pit bull may be one of the first dogs to jump into the fray. For these reasons, many responsible pit bull parents find other ways to exercise their dogs. (See Pit Bull Needs, below, for tips on exercising your pit bull.)
Thorough socialization. A young pit bull needs plenty of early socialization to people, dogs and other animals, beginning as young as seven weeks of age and continuing throughout adulthood. Providing daily socialization opportunities with new people and animals is most important during the sensitive developmental period that takes place between 7 and 16 weeks of age.
Gentle, consistent training. All pit bull puppies and adults need good training. Their pet parents should use methods based on positive reinforcement and consistent, fair rules. Although pit bulls are tough on the outside, they’re often extremely sensitive dogs, and harsh training techniques are neither appropriate nor necessary. Puppy Kindergarten is crucial for young pit bulls. After puppyhood, your pit bull will need continued gentle guidance throughout his life. Mature pit bulls should master basic obedience skills at the very least. If possible, pit bull parents should progress through intermediate and advanced obedience as well. Earning an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate is an excellent way to ensure that your pit bull is a polite ambassador for his breed. Please follow this link to learn more about the CGC designation:http://www.akc.org/events/cgc/index.cfm To learn more about how to properly train your pit bull, please see our articles on Training Your Dog, Clicker Training Your Pet, Teaching Your Dog to Sit,Teaching Your Dog to Lie Down, Teaching Your Dog to Stay, Teaching Your Dog to “Leave It,”Teaching Your Dog Not to Jump Up on People, Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called, Teaching Your Dog Not to Pull on Leash, Teaching Your Dog to Settle, Teaching Your Dog to Wait at Doorsand Impulse Control Training and Games for Dogs.
Lots of exercise for the body. Because they’re athletic, high-energy dogs, pit bulls need daily aerobic exercise. If you’re a runner, an avid hiker, a Frisbee® enthusiast or a cyclist, a pit bull might be the ideal companion for you! Some pit bull parents arrange play dates with dogs who get along with theirs. Others run, cycle or use inline skates with their dogs. A rousing game of fetch or tug can also go a long way in tiring out a pit bull. For more information about ways to help your pit bull expend excess energy, please see our articles on Teaching Your Dog to Play Fetch, Teaching Your Dog to Play Tug-of-War and Exercise for Dogs.
Lots of exercise for the brain. Mental workouts are also a must. They can be almost as tiring as physical exercise! You can stimulate your pit bull’s mind by providing food-puzzle toys, things to chew and other types of enrichment. Giving your pit bull entertaining “jobs” to do can help keep him out of trouble when he’s home alone, too. Please see this article on Enriching Your Dog’s Lifeto learn more.
Neutering or spaying. Pit bulls should be neutered or spayed. In addition to the health and behavioral benefits for your dog, neutering or spaying will help reduce the number of unwanted pit bulls who end up in shelters all over the country.
As a responsible pit bull parent, you have the power to educate the public and change people’s minds about this much maligned breed. The best way to accomplish this is to have a well-controlled, well-socialized, well-behaved dog at your side. It’s hard for people to make the argument that your dog is vicious when they’re faced with a peaceful, gentle pet in an obedient heel or down-stay at your feet. Teaching your pit bull a few entertaining tricks, such as high five and roll over, can make him seem less intimidating, too. It’s also a good idea to thoroughly educate yourself about pit bull history and common breed characteristics. If you’re knowledgeable about the breed, you can help people understand what great dogs pit bulls can be. Please see the recommended resources below to learn where to find accurate information.
There are several reasons why banning certain breeds is not likely to be effective. First, the breeds most often involved in bite injuries and fatalities change from year to year and from one area of the country to another, depending on the popularity of different breeds. Although genetics do play a role in determining whether a dog will bite, other factors—such as whether the animal is well socialized, supervised, humanely trained and safely confined—play much greater roles. Second, correct breed identification by bystanders, pet owners, police, medical workers and animal control personnel is notoriously unreliable. It becomes virtually impossible with mixed breeds. Third, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducted a 20-year study that listed the breeds involved in fatal attacks, there’s currently no accurate way to identify the total number of dogs of a particular breed and, consequently, there’s no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill. In fact, the CDC says its own 20-year study is not an appropriate tool for making breed-specific policies or legislative decisions. Instead, the organization advocates “dangerous dog” laws that focus on individual dogs of any breed who show aggressive behavior.
If you’re thinking about adopting a pit bull, consider the potential downside of BSL before making a commitment. What if you want to move to a city or county that doesn’t allow the breed? (If you’re already a pit bull parent and you’re moving to a different location, it’s wise to make sure that you’ll be able to keep your dog. Contact local authorities well in advance so that you can make informed decisions and necessary arrangements.)
Other cons to pit bull parenthood include housing and insurance limitations. Some landlords won’t allow pit bulls, and some insurance agencies refuse to offer pit bull parents coverage. If you have a pit bull and you’re trying to find a place to live, it helps to make your dog his own “resume.” Include a charming photo, as well as a list of any obedience classes he has taken. Many landlords are impressed by a Canine Good Citizen certificate (mentioned above). If you can show a worried landlord that you’re a responsible pet parent and your pit bull is a friendly, well-behaved dog, the landlord may alter his or her rules.
Recommended Reading and Web Sites
- The Ultimate American Pit Bull Terrier by Jacqueline O’Neil (IDG Books Worldwide)
- The Pit Bull Placebo by Karen Delise (Anubis Publishing)
Useful Web Sites
- www.pbrc.net: Pit Bull Rescue Central is a virtual shelter and educational resource for pit bull parents, foster parents and breed enthusiasts.
- www.badrap.org: This site was created by a group called BAD RAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls). It offers breed-related information, lists pros and cons of Pit Bull parenting and provides links for those interested in adopting Pit Bulls.