Pit Bulls and Dog Aggression: Dispelling the Myth

If we hear the term ‘pit bull,’ in the media, it is not uncommon for it to be used with a negative connotation. If you are reading this post, you probably know about a million reasons that these stereotypes are untrue. In fact, perhaps your ‘vicious’ pit bull is curled up, sleeping on your lap as you read…

Regardless of the many facts and statistics we can spout in regards to our breed’s positive traits, even ardent supporters of these dogs can recognize that some pit bulls are aggressive to other dogs. Of course, we all know tons of pitties that live happily with other pooches. Usually, these dogs have been well-socialized and slowly introduced, and live with owners who are cognizant of dog behavior and management… as is typically the case with ANY peaceful multi-dog household, regardless of breed. As we have always shared on this blog, it is so important to judge each dog on a case-by-case, individual basis. That is the only way to be fair to the dog in question.

The question remains, are pit bulls unique? As a pit bull lover and long-time proponent of the ‘breed,’ the words I am sharing may sound contradictory to my self-proclaimed title. Some of you bully breed lovers out there may feel that I am doing a disservice to the dogs, and simply perpetuating the stereotypes we work so diligently to dispel. If you are in that category, I ask you to stick with me… While I do not want to perpetuate any myths, I also think that it is vital to be objective and honest with anyone when discussing our pitties, whether they are lovers or haters.

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Are Pit Bulls Unique?

It is important to note that dog-aggression is a completely normal canine trait, present in virtually every breed in varying quantities. The fact is, this is a very common behavior in numerous breeds, including and especially working dogs and terriers. To compare, the recommendations offered by reputable pittie rescues are mirrored in websites and books, and by trainers, that focus on any other breeds of working dogs and terriers. These breeds include Jack Russels, Akitas, Huskies, Boxers, Ridgebacks, Australian Cattle dogs, Shar Peis, Poodles, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Chows, Tosa Inus, Rottweilers and many others. We can all read this list, and probably come up with many dogs we know, in each breed, who are incredibly friendly and receptive toward other dogs. (Tonka, the boxer cross, anyone?!)

In some cases, those who dislike pit bulls have used this trait to condemn them and even to justify breed specific legislation, including bans. For me to get into all of the reasons why breed specific legislation is ridiculous and ineffective would take about 5 long posts, but it is important to explain that if we allow banning based solely on breed of dog, we are enabling these bans to spread to any other breeds, due to past precedence. If you have a problem with pit bulls, and vote in support of BSL for that breed, you are one step closer to legislation that will allow your Boxer or Cattle Dog to eventually be taken from you.

It is not how dogs are raised, but how they are managed, that matters most.

*It is not how dogs are raised, but how they are managed, that matters most.*

Additionally, dog-aggression is a trait that can often be managed. Many dogs that come from cases of neglect or abuse, will not display positive reactions to other dogs. However, through repeated positive exposure to other well-mannered dogs, they may learn that there is nothing to fear in interacting with other pups. It is common for even bully lovers to say that it is how a dog is raised that matters most in their dispositions. However, this is not entirely true, and can be downright dangerous when evaluating rescued dogs. A dog with an abusive past can still be successful with other dogs and people, even if their past would suggest otherwise, given proper training and management.

The important message that we need to convey to those that are unfamiliar with our baby bullies, is that there is nothing about the pit bull breed that makes them any more unsafe or unpredictable than any other type of dog.

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While many reputable pit bull rescues recognize the breed’s potential for dog-aggression, it is important to note that dog aggression is a completely separate genetic trait than aggression toward humans. Though it is unfortunate that some dogs may have been bred to be aggressive toward other dogs, even they have always been bred to be loyal to their human counterparts. 

6 thoughts on “Pit Bulls and Dog Aggression: Dispelling the Myth

  1. You make a lot of really great points in this post, especially when you talk about managing a dog-reactive dog and noting that dog-aggression occurs among all breeds and types of dogs. I’m coaching a dog reactivity class right now, and the breeds range from cockapoos to aussies to great danes learning how to behave around other dogs. The thing that does set pit bulls apart from the other breeds you mentioned though is that, like I think we all know, pit bull is not technically a breed. The reason this is important is that they do not all come from the same gene pool, meaning their behavior cannot be predicted like that of a Jack Russell or Border Collie. While some pit bulls are APBTs or Staffies (and, therefore, would be terriers and might have a low dog tolerance common of terrier breeds), a pit bull might also be a boxer/weimeraner mix, lab/american bull dog mix, etc – but still labeled as a “pit bull.” A closed gene pool is the only way you can really use breed as an indication of what behaviors *might* occur, and once you start throwing mixes in there, genetics start doing their thing and generalizations can be thrown out the window. I think the solution to this is to look at each dog individually and use what you know about their behavior to judge how much you should talk potential adopters through dog-dog tolerance. Of course the first priority is everyone’s safety, but I do think that over-emphasizing a “pit bull’s” tendancy to not like other dogs can sometimes do more harm than good, especially because, like you said, there are so many that do great with other dogs, at the dog park, etc. Really awesome post, Stephanie!

  2. Wonderful! I have actually been mentally formulating a post about “raising” vs “managing” and how there is a BIG difference. I am guilty of saying “it’s how they are raised” until I read a wonderful article about this topic and I have since been very careful to say “it’s how they are MANAGED”. Great post!

  3. You’re right, they are just dogs like any other. I actually hate that saying, “it’s all how they’re raised” because there are so many that come from horrible or neglectful upbringings and they are happy, friendly, well-mannered dogs. You don’t hear about those dogs in the headlines. When I took in a stray pit bull last year, she actually needed to have other dogs around to overcome her fear of people.

  4. Well said, and I like the term managed as opposed to raised, had never thought of it that way but that makes so much more sense. In Australia, pitbulls are used to define a breed more often than not and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are not classed as pitbulls, American Staffordshire Terriers are not considered pitbulls for the most part in Queensland (or even Australia), they can be freely bred and obtained yet an American Pitbull is considered a breed and has to be declared as a dangerous dog and certain rules are applied to ownership. There is much confusion and in Victoria where the councils have gone nuts with BSL they are taking dogs which meet a ‘standard’ for a pitbull off owners yet the dogs are not American Pitbulls but crosses between various bull breeds and other dogs. Confused? I know I am 🙂

  5. well said!! Speaking of aggressive pit bulls, I just watched an episode of Cesar Millan’s show, titled “Dangerous Pitbull Terrier.” I don’t know if I was more impressed by the couple that were willing to do anything to help their dog, or by the amazing change in the dog by the end of the show. And look at the Vick dogs (I hate to call them that!), they had a life of pure hell and hate, yet most of them are complete success stories. Dogs should be judged and helped individually, not based on color, breed, or their past. Enjoyed your post! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Raising vs. Managing « Temporary Home, Permanent Love

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