Pit Bulls: What’s Hype, What’s Not – Be Smart!

Condensed from WebMD http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/pit-bulls-safety

Doberman pinschers, Rottweiler’s, and German shepherds topped lists of dogs some considered dangerous in the not-too-distant past.

These days, pit bulls often make headlines and it’s rarely good news. If it isn’t about an attack on a child or a shooting by police, it’s a tale of neglect or abuse. The heat of such reports has forged a frightening image of the pit bull as having a hair-trigger temper and a lock-jawed bite.

But pit bull advocates and some experts say the dogs get a bad rap. They say the dogs are not inherently aggressive, but in many cases suffer at the hands of irresponsible owners drawn to the dog’s macho image who encourage aggression for fighting and protection.

Indeed, the ASPCA web site gives the breed an endorsement that could fit a golden retriever. It says, “A well-socialized and well-trained pit bull is one of the most delightful, intelligent, and gentle dogs imaginable.”

In general, pit bulls aren’t aggressive with people but are “less tolerant” of other dogs than many other breeds, says Pamela Reid, PhD, vice president of the ASPCA’s Animal Behaviour Center in New York. They also have “great tenacity. They put their mind to something, and they do it. That’s what makes them great dogs for sports like weight pulling. They are very strong, athletic animals,” Reid says.

Owning a pit bull should not be taken lightly. Some cities and towns have banned the breed. You also may face rising insurance rates or cancellation of your policy, difficulty renting, and the watchful eye of neighbours and passersby.

The American Pit Bull Terrier is technically the only true pit bull, although the American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier are often referred to as pit bulls. So are a handful of other breeds and mixed breeds.

Pit bulls were originally used for bull- and bear-baiting, and later were bred to fight dogs in an arena. They had “a fabulous reputation early on and were considered the ideal family pet because they were so good with people,” Reid says.

“Petey” from The Little Rascals was a pit bull. Helen Keller, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Fred Astaire all had the breed as family pets.

But the tide turned in the late 1990s, when pit bulls became popular among people who “weren’t focused on the positive attributes of the breed – they were looking for a strong, scary-looking dog,” Reid says.

Opponents argue that pit bulls are more likely to attack. But the ASPCA, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and some other groups have recommend against breed-specific laws. They cite a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association on Sept. 15, 2000. 

The study, which focused on fatal dog attacks, notes difficulties identifying various breeds (particularly mixed breeds) and in calculating a bite rate. The researchers noted that there isn’t consistent data on breed populations and bites, especially when the injury isn’t serious enough to require an ER visit.

Reid says many things can lead to a tendency toward aggression. That includes breeding dogs for protection, dog fighting, social status, or financial gain. Abuse, neglect, chaining, tethering, and inadequate obedience training and supervision also make the list.

“The more you know about the dog, the better off your are,” Reid says.

Socializing all dogs with people and other animals is key.

  • Take introductions slowly.
  • If the dog exhibits male dominance aggression it should be NEUTERED to help decrease undesirable behaviour (if you need ANOTHER reason to do the right thing)
  • If your dog isn’t friendly with other dogs, make sure he’s on a leash at all times and if there are unleashed dogs around CAUTION their owner to leash them 
  • If your pit bull is friendly with other dogs, maintain that socialization by meeting up with friends.
  • If your dog doesn’t get too aggressive with other dogs and you are sure of it’s behaviour and your control of the dog, you may go to the dog park.
  • ALWAYS monitor your dog’s play and if it STARTS TO GET INTIMIDATING REMOVE IT FROM THE SITUATION IMMEDIATELY.

Responsible pet ownership includes SPAYING/NEUTERING your pet.

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