Every decade or so criminals get their hands on a particular breed for fame, money or status (all the wrong reasons to own a dog) and tarnish the image of the breed.
Dog whisperer Cesar Millan writes on his website, “in the ’70s they blamed Dobermans, in the ’80s they blamed German Shepherds, in the ’90s they blamed the Rottweiler. Now they blame the pit bull.”
This is unfortunate, because less than 100 years ago, pitbulls were the beloved American dog, representing strength and loyalty.
Now, because of the perpetuation of unfair myths and stereotypes, many people are afraid of pitbulls, and thousands of the dogs are abused, abandoned and left in shelters where few of them are lucky enough to be adopted. The truth about pitbulls couldn’t be further from the lies.
The truth about pitbulls
First, let’s get the facts straight. A pitbull is not a breed at all, but a general term that includes American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers. These dogs are performance breeds, meaning they were bred for their performance at tasks and not for their looks, which explains the enormous range of sizes, colors and patterns they can come in.
Pitbulls are often confused with other breeds like American bulldogs, mastiffs and English bull terriers, distorting the much-hyped dog bite statistics. The reality is, any dog can bite, and dogs should be considered as individuals, not grouped by breed.
All three pitbull breeds have been bred over the centuries specifically to adore humans, and if you’ve ever met one you’ll know they’re as loving and affectionate as dogs come.
Breed Specific Legislation (local laws that target certain breeds) gives the false impression that pitbulls are mean, vicious dogs to be avoided. Here’s the truth: American pit bull terriers score well above average on tests by the American Temperament Testing Society (ATTS), with a score of 85.3%. That’s higher than golden retrievers (84.6%), beagles (81.0%) or collies (78.4%).
Some people believe pitbulls are fighting dogs by nature and will fight any dog they see. In reality, pitbulls are just another dog. Like any breed, pitbulls can be poorly behaved around other dogs if not properly trained. Pitbull owners, like any dog owners, must make a point of socializing their dogs from a young age. A properly trained pitbull knows how to behave around other dogs.
The biggest monster myth of all is that pitbulls are aggressive towards humans. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people don’t know that human aggression and dog aggression are two completely different things. It is unacceptable for any dog to attack a human, and pitbulls have been trained for centuries to be particularly loyal to their owners. Pitbulls love humans so much that they make very poor guard dogs.
A joke among pitbull owners is that their dogs would be more likely to show a burglar around the house than to bite. Also, Staffordshire bull terriers, like St. Bernards and Newfoundlands, are so good with children that they’ve been nicknamed “nanny dogs.” How’s that for “aggressive”?
Famous pitbulls and working pitbulls
Let me tell you about some special dogs. Maybe you’ve heard of Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated war dog of WWI, who saved the lives of many soldiers and remains the only dog to be promoted during combat. He was a pitbull.
And then there’s Popsicle, an American pit bull terrier and the number one United States Customs Dog, who helped seize over 3,000 pounds of cocaine in an enormous drug bust in 1999. Popsicle got his name when a police officer found him in a freezer where he’d been left to die after being used as bait for dog fighters.
Tahoe, Cheyenne and Dakota are a team of Search-and-Rescue dogs in Sacramento, Calif., who help the sheriff locate missing persons and work as therapy dogs in their free time.
RCA, a white pitbull, serves as Alaska’s first hearing dog.
A pitbull named Weela crossed a flooded river to save the lives of 17 stranded dogs and puppies and one cat.
These are not the pitbulls you hear about in the news—but their heroism, and dedication is typical of the breed. Pitbulls are easy to train because of their eagerness to please, and many pit bulls, even those who have suffered abuse, become certified service and therapy dogs. You get the picture, right?
Is the pitbull right for you?
The United Kennel Club writes that “the essential characteristics of the American pit bull terrier are strength, confidence and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children.” These are the same characteristics that make Labs and goldens the most popular family dogs.
Bad Rap, a wonderful pitbull advocacy group located in San Francisco, has a very helpful page of the pros and cons of owning a pitbull. Their whole website is full of great pitbull information and is worth perusing if you’re looking to adopt a pitbull, or simply to learn more.
Despite being intelligent, alert, playful, fun-loving, agile, spunky and affectionate, pitbulls are the most abused, neglected and abandoned of all dog breeds in the country and are subjected to dog fighting, poor breeding and dangerous breed-specific laws in many counties.
Luckily, these tougher-than-average dogs can overcome abject circumstances to make wonderful pets. Several of the dogs confiscated from dog-fighter Michael Vick’s property have gone on to become successful therapy dogs. Unlike humans, dogs live in the moment, and many pitbulls are able to overcome their pasts to live happy, normal lives. Like all dogs, they just want a family to love and to be loved by.
Pitbulls for adoption
If you want to be a breed ambassador for a pitbull, there are literally thousands of these wonderful dogs desperately waiting for their forever homes. Puppies are sometimes available to adopt, but I would advise strongly against pitbull breeders. If you truly want to help these dogs, adopt one.
A search will lead to many, many adoptable pitbulls no matter where you live. Check out Pit Bull Rescue Central, and of course Petfinder.com, where you can search by region, size, age, breed and gender.