Pit bulls have long had a reputation for being aggressive and violent, but when properly raised and socialized, these energetic dogs are affectionate and fun-loving clowns.
For many, pit bulls are the “boogeymen” of the dog world. Just mentioning the breed conjures up threatening images of an animal with narrow beady eyes, a snarling mouth, and battle scars on his thick muscular body. Unfortunately, the negative aspect of these dogs is mostly all people hear about on the news or read of in the papers
While it’s true that some pit bulls give the breed a bad name, they’re not the monsters that the media and society have made them out to be. In fact, when you think about it, no dog of any breed has a conscience in the human definition of the term, so no dog is “bad”, including pit bulls.
Some may argue that any dog bred over the last 200 years to fight other dogs cannot be expected to live peacefully as a family companion. But they’re missing the point. Any dog of any breed can become “mean” if he’s not raised or socialized properly.
“According to national bite records, there are many other breeds, large and small, that have been ‘bad’,” says Jamie Metcalf, founder of Bold As Love Animal Rescue. “Any breed has that potential. Bad owners usually try to raise ‘bad’ dogs.” Anyone who looks at dogs from this angle tends to be drawn to breeds that are conventionally viewed as tough or aggressive, including pit bulls, mastiffs and Rottweilers. But an individual pit bull’s behavior and how he acts is solely contingent on how he is raised – including the type of person doing the raising, and the environment he is being raised in. If someone cannot provide their “pittie” (or any other dog) with love, respect, proper care and appropriate training, then they have no business getting one.
What you need to know
It’s true that pit bulls aren’t for everyone – but then the same could be said about poodles, Chihuahuas or border collies. Before adopting a pit bull from your local animal shelter, consider this: this breed needs a lot of structure, and your new friend will rely on you to be his human alpha leader, whether you’re training, exercising or playing with him. In order to achieve this, you’ll need the necessary time and energy to make it work. The good news is that due to their intelligence, focus, gameness, loyalty and eagerness to please, pit bulls are one of the easiest dogs to train.
So now that you know what to expect, you may be wondering where and how to choose your new fur buddy.
- First of all, do some research on the breed’s history.
- Look around and find a reputable shelter or rescue group in your area, with staff that is knowledgeable and able to help you evaluate the right dog for you and your family — both human and animal.
- Find out what your individual pit bull’s needs are, and how well he gets along with people (including kids) and other animals.
- Depending on where you live, you’ll need to research any breed-specific legislation that might be currently enacted in the region.
Pit bulls are a unique breed, and unlike other dogs, their focus and concentration, desire to please and never-ending energy, can be seen as either a good or bad trait. The trick is to channel these characteristics into play and work. Because of their high energy levels, pit bulls require a large, fenced-in area where they can run and play to their hearts’ desire. “No dog should be living on a chain or in a penned environment,” says Jamie. “Be responsible with your pit bull. Your actions are what will make him an amazing ambassador for the breed — or not. He depends on you to be his leader.”
A whole lot of love
If you are ready to make the lifelong commitment of supplying your pit bull with the proper care, exercise, socialization and training, then be prepared to be rewarded with a lot of slobbery wet kisses. There’s an expression among pit bull fans that these dogs are lovers and not fighters, and you’ll soon learn for yourself that these dogs love humans and human interaction. In return for your positive attention, your pittie will give you a lot of love — and entertainment, since these dogs are the kings and queens of clowning around.
“Pit bulls are amazing, not dangerous,” says Jamie. “Everyone should meet one to find out for themselves, but be prepared to fall hard in love when you do!”
Socialization is vital
People who are considering adopting a pit bull may be reticent about bringing him into an established family with kids and/or other dogs. There’s a common misconception that some pit bulls are so dog-aggressive that they should be the only canine in the house, and even be banned from dog parks or other areas where dogs are allowed to run off leash. But this could be said of any dog that has not been properly socialized.
Jamie Metcalf says the biggest mistake first time pit bull guardians make is not socializing them as puppies. “Every dog should be exposed to things such as doorbells, visitors, vacuum cleaners, cars, children and other animals,” she says. “Walking in places other than your own yard is good for exposing them to new situations. People want to keep pit bulls sheltered for safety’s sake but this makes life difficult for them as they get older. You want to desensitize them to various things and situations.”
It’s easy to raise a well-trained, well-behaved, socialized pit bull from a puppy, but what about adopting an adult from a rescue or shelter? Can a dog that may have been abused and used for fighting be rehabilitated? The Michael Vick case has proven the answer is yes.
“Many pit bulls that have come from abusive situations have been rehabilitated and placed into family homes,” says Jamie. “Abusive situations are usually what will cause any animal, not just pit bulls, to become aggressive. Pit bulls can absolutely be rehabilitated. They need to learn how to trust, and then learn what behavior is acceptable, just like any other being — even humans.”