Pit Bulls: The Myths, the Legends, the Reality

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The following is an excerpt from Petfinder.com’s The Adopted Dog Bible

 

Mention the words “Pit Bull,” and an intense debate will almost inevitably follow. Unscrupulous breeding by less-than-upstanding citizens, negatively sensationalized (and often false) media accounts, and longstanding myths surrounding these types of dogs have led to their vilification. Some people, in response to misperceptions about the breed, believe that all Pit Bull-type dogs are to be feared and promote banning these breeds. Pit Bull advocates, deeply dedicated to protecting dogs they know to be friendly, loyal, loving family companions, can be as tenacious as the dogs to whom they are dedicated.
The general term “Pit Bull” refers to a number of breeds and mixes, including American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Bulldogs, and any dogs made up of or resembling these breeds. Pit Bulls are physically powerful, strong, agile, and energetic dogs with an unrivaled joie de vivre. They are also known for the determination they bring to any task. These traits can sometimes combine to make the Pit Bull “too much dog” for an inexperienced pet parent or a family with small children, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they can’t be loving, wonderful dogs in the right homes.

Let’s take a look at some common Pit Bull myths and the corresponding realities.

Myth: Pit Bulls have locking jaws and a higher biting power than other breeds.

Reality: There are no unique mechanisms in the jaws of Pit Bulls, and these dogs cannot lock their jaws. Additionally, in a test of biting pressure that included a German Shepherd Dog, a Rottweiler, and an American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier had the least amount of bite pressure.

Myth: Pit Bulls are vicious to people or more dangerous than other dogs.

Reality: There is no room for human aggression in a behaviorally sound Pit Bull, and the reality is that most Pit Bulls are not aggressive toward people; many are extremely sociable and adore children. A Pit Bull who passes a behavioral evaluation poses no more of a threat to people than any other large dog. The American Temperament Test (see The American Temperament Society at www.atts.org) shows that Pit Bulls consistently score above the average for all breeds tested over the years. As of December 2007, American Pit Bull Terriers had a pass rate of 84.3 percent compared to a pass rate for all breeds tested of 81.6 percent.

Myth: Adopting a Pit Bull is the same as adding any other type of dog to your family.

Reality: While behaviorally sound Pit Bulls make excellent family companions, the reality is that adopting a Pit Bull does require some special considerations:

  • Dog-to-dog aggression can be an issue with these dogs, and despite your best socialization efforts, a Pit Bull may become dog aggressive upon reaching maturity (roughly two years old). This will affect your ability to have other pets in your home as well as your responsibility for ensuring that your dog never has the opportunity to injure someone else’s beloved pet.
  • Pit Bulls face misunderstanding and prejudice from many people who do not know much about them, so adopting one requires a willingness to consider your friends’ and neighbors’ concerns and to educate them about Pit Bulls in general and your dog in particular.

Prejudice and discrimination can extend beyond individuals, and in some places can include local legislation banning Pit Bulls from the community. Be sure to check local laws before adopting and before moving with your Pit Bull. Securing homeowners’ insurance can also be more of a challenge if you live with a Pit Bull, but there are insurance companies that do not discriminate based on the breed of dog.

The reality is that, as with all breeds, there are great Pit Bulls and Pit Bulls who–due to poor breeding, handling, or socialization–are not suitable as pets. While we urge shelters and rescue groups to perform a behavioral assessment on all dogs who enter their programs, it is particularly important to be sure that this has been done with the Pit Bull you are going to adopt. While a mistake in judgment with even a small dog can have serious consequences, a similar mistake with a large, strong breed such as a Pit Bull (or Akita, Rottweiler, Mastiff, Labrador Retriever, etc.) can be deadly.

If you are prepared, know your local laws, and have decided that a Pit Bull is a good fit for your family, do consider adopting one from a shelter or rescue group who carefully evaluates their dogs. My adopted dog Mojo, possesses the characteristic Pit Bull enthusiasm, determination, energy, love of life, and smile that the breed is known for. His stubbornness is sometimes a challenge for my other dogs and me. At times they have difficulty convincing him that they really don’t want to play tug again. Likewise, I often cannot convince him that having him sit on my lap and lick my face is not my favorite thing in the whole world (but, truth be told, it’s not far from it!).

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