If you’ve ever visited your local animal shelter, you probably noticed that a majority of the sad faces looking back at you belong to the widely misunderstood pitbull.
Pitbulls, (for the sake of this blog post, square-faced, short-haired dogs), are, by far, the most commonly surrendered and euthanized type of dog in animal shelters. While they’re popular, they’re not the most popular dog breed. It seems they’re being disproportionately surrendered and euthanized.
These myths are some of the biggest reasons that pitbulls are unfairly losing their lives in such great numbers.
Myth #1: Pitbulls attack humans more than any other type of dog.
An often-cited study showed that rottweilers and pitbulls were involved in more than half of fatal dog attacks. However, that very same study acknowledges that these results are not conclusive for several reasons.
First of all, “pitbulls,” are often misidentified. Pitbull is short for “American Pit Bull Terrier,” though this term is used to describe short-haired, mixed-breed dogs with blocky heads between 35 and 100 pounds in weight. A dog labeled as a pitbull may actually have any number of distinctive breeds that make up its heritage: American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Mastiff, Boxer, Cane Corso, or Labrador Retriever – just to name only a few of the many bloodlines that could create a boxy, short-haired dog.
The American Temperament Test Society is an organization that records the results of their standard temperament test for many dog breeds. The average pass rate for all breeds is 83%.
The 84.5% of American Staffordshire Terriers and 86.8% of American Pitbull Terriers pass the test. This means they’re slightly more likely to pass than many other breeds.
Myth #2: Pitbulls “turn on their owners” and snap without warning.
Neurologically healthy dogs never attack without reason, and rarely without warning.
All dogs are vulnerable to being misunderstood by us humans – we communicate in vastly different ways.
We usually interpret a wagging tail as a sign of friendliness, but a stiff, slow wag can indicate insecurity – a warning to stay away. Flattened ears, “whale eye,” yawning and tongue-flicking are all subtle signs that fearful dogs show when they feel uncomfortable. When people inadvertently ignore these signs, the dog may feel they have no choice – and must bite to avoid an uncomfortable situation.
Avoid approaching dogs you do not know. Give your dog space while they eat and sleep, and educate your children on dog safety.
And never, ever punish your dog for growling. Growling is a normal, acceptable way for dogs to warn us – without it, they might skip the warning signs and bite.
Myth #3: Pitbulls were once nanny dogs.
Well-meaning pro-pitbull advocates once circulated a myth that Staffordshire terriers were used as nanny dogs in 19th century England. While pitbull-type dogs have been enjoyed by families for generations in both English and United States history, there’s no evidence that they actually cared for children like nannies.
There’s no such thing as a nanny dog.
No dog should be unattended with small children, or expected to tolerate tail-pulling, ear-grabbing and other abuse from toddlers.
Pitbulls are known to love their family members of all ages, but only with supervision and training (of both children and dogs).
Myth #4: Pitbulls bite the hardest, and lock their jaws on their victim.
On a National Geographic special, Dangerous Encounters, Dr. Brady Barr measured the bite force of several dogs and other animals.
The American Pitbull Terrier was shown to have the lowest bite force when contended against the German Shepherd and Rottweiler. However, the dogs had an average bite force of 320 pounds of pressure. Pitbulls, like all large dogs, are strong, and equipped to cause damage – just not to the point of being particularly dangerous compared to dogs of the same size.
The idea that a pitbull’s jaw locks, however, is completely false. No breed of dog has any special jaw mechanism that makes it impossible for them to let go.
Pitbulls are often large, strong dogs, and need an owner who is capable of controlling, training and managing them – just like all large, strong dogs.
Myth#5: It’s strictly how they’re bred – or how they’re raised.
Unfortunately, pitbulls were sometimes bred for bull baiting and dog-fighting… but not always.
They were also bred as farm dogs and family pets.
If you have or are interested in getting a pitbull, you should be aware that they are more likely to be aggressive towards other dogs and animals – but not humans.
Socialize your dog from an early age, if possible. Avoid crowded off-leash dog parks. For all breeds, they can be unpredictable. Introduce two dogs slowly, on neutral turf, and keep on-leash meetings short. All dogs tend to feel more vulnerable when meeting other dogs while leashed.
Many of Michael Vick’s pitbulls, bred and raised to fight, have made full recoveries from their abusive past.
It goes to show that it’s a little of both; nature and nurture.
With plenty of exercise, training, and, of course, love, even a rescued shelter pittie with a hazy past can be a wonderful companion.
Spread The Word: Give Pits A Chance!
The more we spread the truth about pitbulls, the fewer will lose their homes and lives due to unfair breed ban laws, housing management breed bans, and discriminatory insurance policies.
Keep sharing your stories and photos of pits being the lovable goofs we know them to be – that’s the most powerful way to change opinions and help more people see the truth.