The “pit bull” is perhaps the most controversial dog in the United States. Some worship them, others fear them – some cities and counties have enacted actual laws prohibiting them, some police forces have hired them to serve other communities. So, what is a pit bull REALLY?
First, it is important to DEFINE the term “pit bull” which is not in fact a breed but rather a slang term like “retriever” or “spaniel” that encompasses a wide variety of breeds that all have similar appearance – whether they are a pure bred American Pit Bull Terrier, or a mix of this breed and other breeds that are also bully breeds, or even other breeds that are NOT bully breeds. FUN PITBULL FACT: Many professionals struggle to correctly identify the “pit bull” from a photo quiz online, and there have been studies showing that animal control officers frequently misidentify dogs as pit bulls, and even fail to identify dogs that ARE pit bulls. If the professionals cannot identify them correctly a large majority of the time, it is safe to assume you also mislabel and misidentify dogs you meet in your daily life as being “pit bull” dogs, as well.
So – where did these “pit bull” dogs come from? Unfortunately, the rumor that they are bred to fight other animals/other dogs, is true. Hundreds of years ago there was a popular sport called “Baiting” – this sport involved placing a large animal, usually a bull, into a ring and unleashing one or more dogs to “fight” it to the death. The dogs used in these sports were given the name “bull dogs” which is where we get the terminology of the “bully breeds” we know today. When “baiting” became outlawed, attempts to continue to sport on a small scale that drew less attention led to the development of dog fighting. Dog fights were easier to hold in small, concealed spaces than say a fight with a full grown bull. “Bull dogs” like the English Bulldog, Bullmastiff, American Bulldog and a variety of other tenacious and powerful breeds were crossed with terriers to make a smaller more agile and athletic dog to use in dog fighting- the “pit bull”. Over the years several “registered” bloodlines developed – the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Staffordshire Terrier. But, a majority of “pit bull” dogs remained widely home grown and do not follow a true “bloodline”.
Unfortunately, because of this background, it does make some “pit bull” breed dogs more prone to aggression towards other animals. It is EXTREMELY important that these dogs receive proper socialization with a variety of other animals and dogs from a young age. Properly raised and well socialized, these dogs pose no threat to other animals in most cases. It is a MYTH that “pit bull” type dogs are more aggressive towards humans than other breeds! In fact, because the dog fighters needed to be able to quickly and safely break up dog fights – they deliberately looked for and bred the dogs that exhibited no human aggression, even when in the heat of a raging fight with another animal. “Pit Bull” type dogs have consistently tested higher on many temperament tests than a majority of the most friendly dog breeds – and have even out performed favorites like Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers!
Over the years as dog fighting waned – these dogs found new purpose in their relationship with humans. They are a versatile dog that has been used for herding, hunting, military and police work, and to protect settlers homesteads. They are smart, loyal, and amazing animals – like any breed, they require an owner who truly understands their temperament and is prepared to provide them with adequate socialization, structure, and exercise to make them a wonderful member of the family and society!
Don’t fear them because of their appearance – and remember, if you do hear a story about an “evil” pit bull – it was probably the product of an evil owner, who didn’t socialize (or even worse, deliberately abused or neglected) and train their bully properly! Be kind – these dogs face the largest challenges of any breed of dog in our Country. They are outlawed in multiple large cities including Miami, Boston, and Denver – where they are not even allowed to leave their homes without a muzzle, and are frequently confiscated and euthanized as a “banned breed”. Many HOA’s, Home Owners Insurance and Landlords will not allow them. They are frequently the status symbol of choice for uneducated pet owners who do not spay and neuter and even deliberately overbreed them for money. They are euthanized at ALARMINGLY high rates in our public shelters; and, of course, they are still the dog of choice for individuals participating in illegal dog fighting. These dogs need our help – they are not villains, they are puppy breath and happy tails and big wide smiles!