Over the past few years there has been a lot of discussion and issues about Pitbull dogs as well as Pit mixes. As a canine and feline behavior consultant (www.sbulanda.com) I encounter these issues frequently.
Unfortunately there are many misconceptions about these breeds, to the point where the Bully breeds in general have been banned in certain states. Owners are often restricted in where they can live, what homeowners insurance they can get and how they have to house or walk the bully breeds.
People fail to understand the nature of these dogs therefore I have compiled a list to dispel some of the myths surrounding them.
1. Myth: All Pitbulls will attack another dog.
The truth of the matter is not as clear cut as many are led to believe. First of all, the Pitbull is a terrier. As such it can have a typical terrier personality. In the dog show ring a number of terrier breeds are tested by “sparring” them. Here is a quote from the Kerry Blue Terrier web site, “The act of sparring KBTs allows a judge to determine which KBT possesses the greatest amount of poise and fire, tempered with dignity and control. In other words, sparring shows the judge “who’s who”!” http://www.uskbtc.com/article.php/17
To spar a dog is when the dogs are put face to face and they must show a willingness to fight with another dog. Although they are not allowed to fight, sometimes due to poor handling a fight will ensue.
The difference between the Pitbull and other terriers is that the Pitbull breed was bred not to bite his handler when pulled apart in a dog fight.
There are few dogs that will not bite any hand or leg that gets in the way of a dog fight. This makes the Pitbull the only breed that is specifically bred not to bite people.
However, many Pitbull dogs will not fight other dogs. It is primarily a matter of training by their owners. The proof of this is how many Pitbull dogs have been beaten, abused, killed and otherwise discarded by those people who would use them in a dog fight because they will not fight!
2. Myth: Pitbull dogs can account for most of the human deaths by dogs.
This is difficult to prove because many dogs that are labeled as Pitbull dogs or mixes are in fact not at all Pitbull’s or mixes. It is difficult without a DNA test to determine if a dog is a mix between a Boxer, Boston terrier, Staffordshire terrier, Bullmastiff or a Rottweiler—just to name a few breeds. Many of the people who label a dog as a Pitbull or mix are not well versed enough in identifying breeds of dogs to make that determination. Even professionals in the dog business can find it difficult to determine what breed or mix a dog is. For example, if you saw a small Bullmastiff standing next to a large Pitbull, or a Pitbull standing next to a Staffordshire terrier would you be able to tell the difference?
3. So why are the Pitbull types most often linked to attacks of all kinds on humans and other animals?
There are a number of key factors that come into play as to why any dog will attack or bite.
a. The way the dog was bred is vital to this issue. Many dogs that come from backyard breeders, puppy mills or people who do not understand genetics and careful breeding can have a bad temperament. This is not limited to the Bully breeds which are why organizations such as the American Temperament Test Society http://atts.org/ formed, to encourage people to show that the dogs they want to breed or own have a sound temperament. A dog that does not have a sound temperament can be dangerous, especially if they are a large breed of dog.
b. The way the dog is raised by its owner plays an important part of how the dog will develop. Each puppy, no matter what breed, must receive proper socialization in order to increase its chance of adjusting to life with humans. This is why many dog trainers and dog clubs offer Puppy Kindergarten classes. To help dog owners properly raise their puppies. http://www.boxerworld.com/forums/view_raising-your-puppy.htm
c. What the dog is taught is also critical. Every dog should have “no force” obedience training. This is very important for large dogs as well as the terrier breeds since they can be very focused on other things and a challenge for the novice dog owner.
d. The environment that the dog lives in is very important. Dogs are very intelligent. The latest research shows that they are much more intelligent than previously thought (by scientists, not necessarily dog owners ☺).
When a dog’s needs are not being met, the dog can become “mentally ill” in a way where he misjudges how he is supposed to behave. Solitary confinement as defined as being tied to a dog house, kept in a pen or a room in a house can have the same effect on a dog as it would a human—irrational behavior, violence and hostility. Even if the dog is not confined, aggressive behavior by the owner toward the dog or even other people can cause aggressive behavior in a dog. http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=124687
e. The owner’s attitude can also play an important part in the way a dog behaves around other people. For example, the owner that purchases the dog for protection will act differently when someone comes to their door or into their house than the person who only wanted a companion. Either consciously or unconsciously, they want the dog to attack and take down an intruder to their home. They expect the dog to bite but they do not want the dog to bite everyone. They expect the dog to understand the difference between a friend and foe. The dog will pick up the fear that the owner has that the dog will bite guests and friends. However, the dog never associates himself as the cause of the fear or anxiety and thinks that everyone who comes near the owner is a threat. Pitbull’s are loyal dogs who instinctively want to protect their family, just like many other breeds. Therefore as the dog sees the owner’s attitude when people come to visit again and again, the dog’s protective nature will grow and grow.
f. One aspect that people hesitate to discuss or consider is the neighborhoods and types of people who own Pitbull’s and what they do with the dogs. Do most bites occur in a neighborhood where people have the dogs for protection, engage in dog fighting, or as a warning for illegal activities? As explained above, the owner plays a big part of why dogs behave as they do.
g. When looking at dog bite statistics it is important to consider what percentage of the whole population of Pitbulls (real Pitbulls not dogs labeled as Pitbulls) bite humans compared to other breeds.
h. Lastly, each bite must be evaluated based on its own merits. Was the dog trained to bite? Was the dog teased? Was the dog mistreated, etc.
All dogs will bite given the right circumstances. A bite is not always an act of aggression. A bite can be a warning to be left alone. People seem to forget that a dog’s mouth is also his “hands.” They manipulate, explore, and learn by using their mouth. If a dog owner does not teach a dog to inhibit his bite, a playful nip can hurt.
Many if not the majority of Pitbull’s and the Bully breeds are sweet, wonderful companions, yet in today’s world, with the obsession for political correctness to the point where you are not allowed to use certain words in public, treatment of the Bully breeds, the Pitbull in particular are treated just the opposite. The current philosophy about them models the same “they are all the same” philosophy used by Hitler in WWII. Think about it.