Pit bulls, as they are known to most people, have had their reputations drug through the mud for many years now due to misinformation, misrepresentation through improper upbringing or training, and the ever present amoral media’s mission to feed on and sustain society’s fears and misconceptions for the sake of ratings.
Although this article couldn’t possibly provide all there is to know about this breed without becoming a book or series thereof, it will attempt to provide the reader with a more informed and well-rounded view of the true nature and characteristics of the pit bull.
First, in the interest of clarification, let’s examine which breed or breeds of dog have the proper rights to the name “pit bull”. Due to a complicated and confusing history of breed classifications and different organizations such as the American Kennel Club(AKC) and the United Kennel Club(UKC) using different names for the same dog, this really depends on who you ask. However, to simplify, the term “pit bull” is commonly used to refer to any of three breeds of dogs; the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. These three breeds are all very closely related in all aspects, and to the common dog-owner are almost interchangeable. If you want to learn more about the history and minor differences of these breeds, there are mountains of detailed and often conflicting(due to the extreme similarity of all three breeds) information available online and in print.
Many people consider pit bulls to be mean-spirited, highly aggressive, and dangerous. To say that none are this way would be ridiculous and wrong, but to apply these opinions to the natural inclination of these dogs is blatantly and factually incorrect, and is almost the exact opposite of the true nature of a properly bred, properly raised pit bull. These misconceptions are on the same level as a human racial stereotype. Racial stereotypes involving behavior are often based on factual evidence relating to one or more humans of a particular racial background, but they have nothing to do with the innate characteristics of that race. Also, the incidents that brought on these stereotypes are not specific to one race, but for one reason or another they are attributed more to one particular race than another, even if one or more other races shares equally in these behaviors. On top of all this, racial stereotypes can create a cycle of negativity that feeds on itself and ends up giving the stereotype some statistic truth.
This is what has happened in the case of the pit bull, and here’s why. There are two main characteristics these dogs exhibit that have brought on this stereotype. First of all, pit bulls are some of the quickest, strongest, most powerful dogs around. If you were walking down the street and were attacked by a vicious chihuahua, you might at most need a band-aid or two and some friends to laugh about it with. However, a pit bull has the power and agility to give anyone a serious, even fatal injury, if it attacks. Second, pit bulls are known for their “gameness”, which basically means they are very determined and focused and when they commit themselves to a task, they will complete it even in the face of injury or death. Therefore, in the rare instances when a pit bull has attacked a human, it is usually a serious and memorable matter. These traits alone gained the pit bull an ill reputation, and then the cycle continued because of it. People who wanted a mean and dangerous pet for whatever reason looked to the pit bull and raised them to be that way through improper training or abuse.
The fact is that if bred and raised properly, the pit bull is one of the most people-friendly dogs around. Ironically, their affection for people directly correlates to their long history as pit fighting dogs. In pit-fighting, the trainers needed to be in the pit most of time with dogs in full battle mode, and a dog that would attack a person would not have worked for this purpose. So you could essentially say that the pit bull was originally chosen and bred as a fighting dog specifically because of its non-violent attitude towards humans.
On this note, it should be said that although pit bulls are not naturally people-aggressive, they are definitely and instinctually animal-aggressive, probably because of their legacy of pit fighting with other dogs. They also have a strong prey drive and will often go after smaller animals such as cats, squirrels, birds, etc if given the chance. With proper early socialization and training, most of this instinct can be quelled, but usually not completely as it is a long-developed instinct. Even an owner who has never had a problem with animal aggression should be cautious and aware of this instinct as it has the potential to present itself unexpectedly.
So, on the whole, with the combination of a responsible breeder and a responsible owner, pit bulls are not the vicious unstable beasts they have been made out to be, and can make an exceptional companion. They are affectionate and loyal, extremely playful, and quite intelligent. They are utilized around the world as service dogs to the military, police, and other organizations, therapy dogs for the disabled, or loving and loyal companions to children and adults alike.
As a powerful final testament to their non-violent temperament, the American Temperament Testing Society rates all three of the breeds commonly known as pit bulls above average for having a good temperament.