While most often noted for their prevalence in illegal dog fighting the truth about a Pit Bull’s temperament is that they are fiercely loyal dogs who make good companions. In fact, many Pit Bulls have been trained as service dogs due to their compassionate nature. Many Pit Bull owners will describe their pets as loving, compassionate, intelligent and gentle. Despite this, Pit Bulls get a bad reputation as vicious attack dogs good only for fighting. Here’s a peek at how this misconception was born and why it’s total “bull.”
Many people don’t understand that Pit Bulls are not a solitary breed of dog. The breed title can be applied to a numerous variety of dogs with similar origins. What is commonly called an American Pit Bull today is a medium to large sized dog with heritage tied to bulldogs and terriers. The dogs are well known for their athletic and muscular bodies. Most notably, cousins of heritage include Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
The breed was originally created in England and came over with settlers. The original purpose for the Pit was to aid in the hunt as a catch dog for large hogs or wild wild cattle. Over time the dogs became domesticated and used as family companions. Eventually other breeders noted the superior fighting ability and strong jaw muscles of the breed. These breeders then began to selectively breed dogs within the breed that exhibited factors of a strong sport fighting dog. This deviation in breeding is at the root of much controversy surrounding Pit Bulls today.
News reporting agencies often showcase Pit Bulls as uncontrollable and needlessly vicious. They choose to focus only on the negative attributes of a few dogs as opposed to the breed as a whole. Despite the often publicized reports of Pit Bull attacks, only a limited number of studies have ever been conducted on dog bite fatalities at all. A study released in 2000 for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) compiled attack reports and fatalities over a 20 year period (1979-1998). This report highlighted more than one million annual reported bites. Of those just over 200 were fatal. Within the 238 reported fatalities, roughly 32% could be contributed to dogs within the Pit Bull breed. The CDC attaches a disclaimer to this and all other dog bite publications stating that no specific breed is more prone to attack than any other. Because of this, the CDC does not endorse creating legislation or restriction on ownership based solely on a specific breed or the assumed probability of attack.
It makes better common sense to assume that a dog attack has more to do with the dog’s situation, surroundings and training than the dog’s breed or lineage. A dog who has been mistreated or poorly socialized will always be more volatile than one with proper attention and training. Likewise, a dog who feels cornered or threatened will attack regardless of breed. Proper training and attention will always lead to more predictable and controlled dog behavior in any breed.
Despite a statement from the Center for Disease Control that there is no definitive way to determine which dog breeds may be more prone to attack, many states and counties continue to institute laws to limit ownership of the breed. Discrimination of the breed runs the spectrum from unfair air travel to what some consider unethical euthanasia.
Many major airlines will not allow Pit Bull type dogs to be carried on their airlines. While Air France, British Airlines and Continental Airlines list the reason for their refusal as safety related, many other airlines including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Airlines will not welcome the dogs on-board for what they deem “health” concerns. The airlines list health concerns as flights in areas where temperatures exceed a comfortable 75 degrees.
Restricted ownership of Pit Bull or “snub nosed” dog breeds exist in local communities across the country. Notable cities on the list include Miami, Florida, Denver, Colorado and throughout all of Franklin County in Ohio. In these areas it can be downright illegal to simply own this breed of dog. In other less severe cases ownership is often limited to rural areas with no proximity to other neighbors.
Perhaps the most aggressive form of discrimination against the breed exists in the form of euthanasia. Many animal rescue shelters will not offer rescued or surrendered Pit Bull type breeds for adoption. They are instead “put to sleep.” Many animal right’s advocates claim this is cruel and inhumane.
A 2005 California law gives the state the right to mandate spay and neuter practices on certain breeds regardless of owner preference. This law is often misunderstood as an “extermination” law which would allow government officials to round up Pit Bulls and destroy them without cause. However, the scope of this law does not give the government that ability.
The truth behind the Pit Bull breed is that it is really not so differet from any other dog breed. While it can be violent and prone to attack studies have proven definitivly that the breed is no more volatile or dangerous than any other. Perhaps the best way to break the unfair reputation that has been bestowed on the Pit is to educate others about their redeeming factors. Studying the breed as a companion dog or service dog can certainly change the mental landscape that is often associated with these animals.