Most Common Pit Misconceptions


Don’t pit bulls have locking jaws?

Absolutely not!!! This myth is perpetuated by many things. First, pit bulls are known in history for being fighters, and for bullbaiting, both of which require incredible bite strength and the drive to hold on. Over the years, this trait has not been bred out because it poses no real threat to people or other animals.

Second, pit bulls have the appearance of the huge cheek muscles. This is part of their breed standard, just as long ears are part of a bloodhound’s standard. It is simply part of what makes the breed recognizable. And third, some people know that people who fight dogs often own a breaking stick, which is used to release the dog from the other dog once the fight is over (and one is killed or maimed). Pit bulls do not have jaws any different from the toy Chihuahua that lives down the street.

The difference is in the behavior. Pit bulls have the natural determination and tenacity to hold on to something, barring any kind of pain that may be associated with it. This is why they could withstand the beating of a thrashing bull or the violent attack of another dog, or even the self-protecting blows of an intruder to a pit bull’s home. But their jaws do not lock.

Don’t they bite and attack people?

Contrary to what the general public believes, pit bulls have a bad rap because of a few horrific instances of attacks, particularly over the past 20 years. Pit bulls are carrying the brunt of blame of all dog attacks and are the most feared breed right now. In fact, in dog bites per year, pit bulls do not rank the highest. Above them are Dalmatians, Chows, Labs, Golden Retrievers (yes, the loving family dog), Rottweilers, Dobermans, and the Cocker Spaniel.

There are instances of pit bulls chasing people down streets (and even video tape). Because of their tenacity, they do not give up in any circumstance, and continue the chase until they get what they feel is a threat to them or their home. Interestingly, it is mostly owned pit bulls that do this sort of thing because they are fierce protectors of their “people” and territory. This is also a reason that many lower class city citizens own pit bulls and the reason why they should not be used as guard dogs. They don’t give up.

Owning a “scary dog” deters most people. Unfortunately, because pit bulls are so devoted to their human companions, that if their owner trains them to attack, they will learn this. They will not be able to distinguish between a burglar and a friend from out of town. Pit bulls owned by people in cities often have a much different life than those kept as pets in suburban areas. The inbreeding, mixing of other breeds, isolation from human love, conditions of living (often outside), and training to be aggressive, combine to create a volatile situation where the dogs think they are just doing their “job” and often pay for their actions with their life.

All pit owners know that their dogs will protect them to the death. Unfortunately, some people train their dogs to become guard dogs and do not restrain them properly. These dogs on the loose are definitely scary. This is when the problem occurs. Any dog that is raised to attack will do so if given the chance. It just so happens that you don’t see many people training their beagles to attack. Pit bulls instill a natural fear because of their size, strength and reputation. Over the past 60 years, pit bulls have been bred for companionship. Unfortunately, due to the ease of breeding dogs and the disgusting mentality of some people, criminals have bred aggressive dogs for fighting and as guard dogs. Pit bulls are now used as a status symbol for many gangs and hoodlums in the inner cities.

This action has seriously defamed the reputation and standard of this solid tempered, loving companion. Unfortunately, offspring of these dogs often turn up at local shelters, where unsuspecting citizens adopt them. If one is aware of this fact prior to adoption, and willing to go through the trials of owning a dog with a unknown background, many dogs can live happy, healthy lives. One note on this topic that is worth mentioning is that the dogs I’m referring to here are generic pit bulls. These are the dogs that you can buy on the street for $50 and are the offspring of over-bred fighter females. Breeders (if you can call them that) do not care about lines, or breeding good temperament. Most look for the biggest, scariest dogs, and often mix in mastiffs, boxers, and mutts. AST and SBT’s should not be placed in this category because they command a significant amount of money for a show line.

A puppy will cost you $650 to $1000. This is the reason that you don’t see Staffies or AmStaffs as fighters. And those are the dogs that you would want to get if you want to make sure of the dog’s background by reputable breeders. Just as Dobermans were in the 80’s and Rottweilers were in the 90’s, pit bulls are the “scary dogs” of the 2000’s. And just as people have come to accept seeing rottweilers in family homes, pit bulls will also make that change, but because of their historical connection and reckless breeding, they need our help. There will always be another breed waiting to take over as the “scary dog,” and in my opinion, after the San Francisco dog mauling case, I have a feeling that the Cane Corso  is next in line for discrimination.

Remember that dogs were not domesticated to attack people. They were domesticated to work and be with humans as companions. It is our responsibility to maintain that relationship and not to turn them into beasts that we need to fear.

You can’t have other pets with pit bulls

A safe way to deal with other animals and your pit bull is to understand your dog (or potential dog) as an individual. Many live perfectly well and often enjoy living with other animals. Some need to be the only pet. The best way to get a good idea of a pit bull’s personality is to get the history of that particular dog. If you adopt from a shelter, often there is a profile on each dog.

If you buy from a breeder, good temperaments are usually bred over many generations (be aware of breeders that breed for size or color, such as blue or red nose. These breeders tend to ignore temperaments and go for their advertised look). Most reputable breeders raise their dogs as part of their families and with other dogs. If you get a dog with an unknown background, the best advice is to bring your dog to meet the pit bull before adopting.

In an environment with other dogs (breeder, shelter), there are opportunities for caregivers (i.e. shelter staff, breeders, kennel attendants) to get to know the dogs. It is always a good idea to ask those who directly care for the dog in question about particular behaviors of the dog. Also, most shelters have cats as well as dogs. You can ask staff to simply walk the dog (on a leash of course) into the shelter so that he/she can see the cats.

This simple thing will allow you to see if the dog gets super excited, tries to attack them, is curious, or un-phased. Although it’s not the tell-all, but it does give you a quick insight. Keep in mind that most dogs will view running animals as prey. Remember that pit bulls have terrier in them. And terriers are bred to chase “vermin”.

My cats sleep with my dogs, but when the cats decide it’s playtime and run, the dogs get very excited. The difference is that they do not hurt them. But some dogs may not be able to control themselves and may nip or bite. To be on the safe side, never introduce small animals (cats, ferrets, rabbits, rats, hamsters, birds) to your new pit bull until a substantial amount of time has gone by and you are very comfortable in his/her reaction to new things. I would venture to guess that more pit bulls live in homes with other animals than those being a single pet.

Most owners I know have at least 1 other animal. So, it is pretty common. Do not worry about having cats and not being able to get a pit. Or even having dogs and not being able to get a pit. If you are very concerned, the best things to do are to get a pit bull with an extensive background profile, get a pit bull that is already an adult, and ask staff members of the behavior and personality of the dog. The best way to cut down on unwanted behaviors is also to have your dog spayed/neutered.

This alone makes dogs less interested in wandering, showing aggression, and other unwanted behaviors (such as marking). Doing this before 1 year of age is best, as adult dogs that are “fixed” tend to retain some sex-related behaviors that they acquired as young dogs.

Pit bulls can’t live with other dogs

In some cases, this is true. But most pits live quite happily in multi-dog households. My pit bull lives peacefully with my shepherd/husky mix and a pug, and frequent play-dates with my parent’s beagle. A way to increase the chances of a happy dog-filled household is to get all dogs neutered or spayed. Also, many pits prefer to live with a dog of the opposite sex.

I definitely recommend introducing dogs early on in a neutral environment to determine if your pit is able to live with other dogs. If you get a pit bull as a puppy and raise him/her with other dogs, there is rarely a problem in adulthood. If you get an adult pit bull, find out his/her history to see if there were other dogs in the home. If the history is unknown, setting up meetings with your dogs is a definite need. If you are still uncertain, then don’t get the dog. If a pit bull doesn’t like another dog, the results could be horrific and involve serious injuries.

It only takes a second and many times it happens without warning. Recently, there was an instance of a family adopting the most wonderful pit bull at my shelter. He had met their dog at the shelter and was fine. When they got the dog home, things were great, until 2 days later when the new pit bull felt more comfortable in his new home, and challenged the resident dog for authority. The result was serious injury for the resident dog.

The pit bull was returned. This story is common. Pit bulls are naturally dominant dogs. Many accept the inferior role if they were raised with a dominant dog. But for adults to enter a new home, many will challenge the resident dog and because of their history, they win, even against a Bullmastiff… hands down. But don’t be deterred. My dog adjusted perfectly to a multi-dog household. Many pits do. Unfortunately, there are no absolutes. This trait is mostly dependent on the dog as an individual. If you do get a dog that shows dog aggression, don’t think there is something wrong with your dog or that you didn’t train him/her correctly.

The dog is just showing behaviors that are normal. Dog aggression can be managed by a responsible owner. Don’t feel you need to give up your dog if he/she starts showing signs of dog aggression. Many people (albeit with great dedication and desire) live with multiple dogs that don’t play together. I know of a woman that has 2 pit bulls and another dog, all of which cannot play together. There are separate areas of the house for them, and separate play times outside. It’s a struggle, but it can be done if the situation gets so out of control and you still want to keep your pit.

But you need to really ask yourself, if things come to this point, what are you really doing for the breed? I personally feel that if it gets to the point that you have to shift your life to accommodate a pit bull that has developed dog-aggression with even his/her companion dogs, then this is not helping the dog, you, or the breed itself. There are plenty of pit bulls that are wonderful companions, love other dogs, and live peacefully with them that need homes.

Because owning a pit bull automatically makes you an ambassador for the breed, be responsible with your choices and do what’s best for everyone.

Aren’t they illegal?

As ridiculous as this may sound, having certain breeds being illegal, in the case of the pit bull, it is somewhat true. Over the past 10 years, communities, towns, and cities have become concerned over the number of dog attacks. Because it would just seem ridiculous to ban cocker spaniels, Dalmatians, and Golden Retrievers, who are known high occurrence biters, lawmakers targeted the “scary dogs,” which are pit bulls.

It is becoming more common for cities to make it very difficult to own a pit bull. Many animal shelters euthanize any pit bull that comes in, no matter what the background is. Now many towns have put outright bans on owning pit bulls. There are variations on bans; in some places you have to register your dog as a “dangerous dog,” while paying a greater fee, in other communities your dog has to wear distinguishing collars, and still in others your dog will be confiscated simply because of the breed.

This is an ongoing epidemic. It seems easier for lawmakers just to ban dogs they view are problems before anything has occurred. This breed-specific legislation is constantly being increased. For updated information, check out the BSL section. And if you are a pit bull owner and planning to move, check out your future community and its laws on owning pit bulls. In a related issue, certain breeds are also being banned in most apartment complexes and rentals across the country.

Here in Rochester, NY, there are 2, maybe 3 rental properties that would allow a pit bull. I called every one I could find (for information for potential adopters at the Humane Society), and at least 15 said that they allow any size dog (including Great Danes) except for pit bulls, chows, rottweilers, dobermans, huskies, and mastiffs. I asked why those dogs were not allowed and they said that the residents would not accept the sight of a “scary dog” in their complex. This is typical and only increasing.

Soon, all pit bull owners will have to own their own home – which itself poses a problem seeing as pit bulls are seen as a liability and home-owner’s insurance cost skyrockets because of it. Even if you avoid this problem, new ones arise in the form of neighbors complaining about your dog, obedience classes banning pit bulls, and harassment at a variety of local pet-friendly places.

If you train a pit bull to be sweet, he will be

This is similar to adopting a puppy and trying to raise him/her as “good.” As much as I wish this myth were true, it is not quite. All dog breeds have generations of selective breeding that result in certain typical characteristics for that breed. For example, when we think of bloodhounds, we think of scent dogs.

They will always be this way. It is a trait that will forever be associated with bloodhounds and should be. When we think of huskies, we think – sled dog. If you take a dog, many generations removed from sled dogs, you can train him/her in a drop of a hat to pull a sled. It would be extremely difficult to teach a basset hound to pull a sled with the same level of ability of a husky. It’s part of the husky’s ancestry to know how to do that. When people think of pit bulls, they think fighting dogs. This is true. It’s a part of their history that cannot be ignored. Even today, after a hundred years of breeding, all pit bulls show some degree of dog aggression.

Some dogs will have to be the only dog in a household. Others will be able to be raised with companion dogs. And still others will be absolutely fine with most dogs, but may be 1 dog he/she doesn’t like. Being aware of breed characteristics is a good rule before adopting/buying a pit bull. Training a dog to be sweet, loving, and all-around wonderful is a good thought. However, each dog has a set basis of traits related to that breed. But on top of that, each dog is an individual. And with pit bulls, you never know what breeds might be mixed in as well. Socializing any puppy to other dogs, cats, people, environments, etc. is always a great start.

After that, preventing dogfights, definitely neutering/spaying your pit bull, and being aware of your dog’s particular personality quirks is a must. After all this, your dog may be perfect, but he/she may also have some issues that don’t show themselves until adulthood. I have heard quite commonly of pit bulls attacking cats, while others may sleep peacefully with cats. If your dog chases cats for the purpose of killing them, do not blame yourself. Sadly, this is just part of your dog’s personality. Remember that pit bulls were used not only for fighting other dogs, but also for ratting. As much as people may deny, cats look like prey (or rats) to pit bulls. It is possible to train/raise your pit bull to be an awesome dog.

But keep in mind that pit bulls will maintain some inherent behaviors. I suggest adopting adults (dogs over 2 years of age) because that way you know exactly their personality and can decide if it is something you can deal with. Adopting puppies, which most people think is better to do, comes with some risk. Pit bulls don’t reach adulthood until 2-3 years of age. Before then, they may get along famously with other dogs, cats, kids etc. But at 2, they will start acting more like an adult. Sometimes dogs develop dog aggression that they never had before. This can cause a lot of strife in a household that may have more than one dog. Often an adult pit bull will start to challenge a dog he has lived with since puppy-hood.

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