In the spring of 2012, my partner and I became dog parents. We had made several trips to the local animal shelter, the Humane Society of the Palouse, even though we weren’t really looking for any dog in particular. I was graduating from UIdaho that spring, and was living in an apartment. I desperately wanted a dog, but wasn’t sure if I was quite ready or would even find the “right” one. But, during the first trip, we met our match. He was small, sweet, gentle, didn’t bark, and immediately clambered onto my lap and into my heart. His name is Fiyero, and he is a pit bull mix.
Pit bulls: the vicious, dangerous, jaw-locking, infant-eating, drug lord guardian, and fighting dog, right? On any particular day, you can find headlines screaming about mauling, attacks, and death at the locking jaws of a pit bull. Or, are they the playful, gentle, loyal, active, devoted “Nanny” dogs pictured in popular movies such as Petey in Little Rascals and Chance in Homeward Bound? Pit bull temperament and ownership is a contested issue, with breed-specific legislation (often banning the ownership of a pit bull or pit bull-appearing dog) popping up in many cities around the country. After owning a pit bull mix for a year and doing extensive research, here are the top ten things I have learned:
1. The media loves to hate pit bulls. Why? I’m not quite sure. Before the 1980s, pit bull attacks were practically unheard of in the media. The pit bull, often the image of American patriotism during World War II, moved from being the all-American dog, to the vicious, dangerous, drug-related animal of today’s headlines. According to the ASPCA, false reports and over-reporting is to blame. When a large bully breed bites, the dog is immediately labeled as a “pit bull” and this breed is mentioned over and over again in the article. But if, for instance, a golden retriever or Labrador bites, the breed is hardly ever mentioned. If you’re interested in reading why only pit bull attacks are reported in the media, read more at the ASPCA website. If you look carefully into the stories of pit bull attacks, you can often find a factor that would make any dog likely to attack: the victims were harassing the dog, the dog had an abusive past, it was an intact male, it was confined with its puppies, it was chained up all day, and many other situations that leave dogs on edge.
2. Pit bull is relative. “Pit bull” is often used to refer to many “bully” breeds. These include: American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Boxers, Alapaha Blue Blood, the American Bull Dog, Boston Terriers, Bull Terriers, Bull Dogs, Bullmastiffs, French Bulldogs, Old English Bulldogs, Renascence Bulldogge, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Victorian Bulldog and many others. For more information, see this Animal Planet webpage on bully breeds.
3. They are gentle giants. According to the American Kennel Club: “The Am Staff is a people-oriented dog that thrives when he is made part of the family and given a job to do.” Pit bulls and other bully breeds are known for their gentle, sweet, loyal nature. Many pit bull rescue and advocacy groups have been founded to combat the notion that these dogs are vicious. Like most well-trained and socialized dogs, pit bulls are good with kids, love attention, actively seek out snuggles, and will do anything to please. Popular bully breed advocacy groups include Dog Park Publishers, BADRAP, Lovers Not Fighters , Even Chance and Pit Bull Advocate 101. The Humane Society of the Palouse has a satellite program, the Palouse Pitbull Project.
4. Locking jaws are a myth. This simply is not true, as pit bulls have an anatomically correct jaw structure. When Pressure per Square Inch (PSI) research has been conducted with Rottweilers, German Shepherds and pit bulls, pitties have the lowest score of the three; averaging around 235 lbs. PSI (the average score for the average domesticated dog is actually 320 lbs. PSI). Read more about PSI and other common bully breed myths here.
5. It can be illegal to own a pit bull. Breed specific legislation (BSL) bans the ownership of pit bulls, so it is important to do some research before you move. Some cities, like Miami and Denver ban pit bulls and will euthanize any pit not removed from city limits. In some areas, special accommodations must be made: mandatory neutering/spaying, paying an extra free, and/or muzzling the dog in public. Also, many apartment companies will not take “vicious” dogs, including bully breeds, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Weimaraners, Chows, Huskies, and many others. For more information on BSL, check out this ASPCA website.
6. People will hate your dog if they don’t know them. Many people shy away from Fiyero when I am walking him. I cannot count the dirty looks and comments I have been given, even though he calmly walks by my side. If there is ever an altercation between Fiyero and another dog, it is always his fault (unless the other owner is a bully owner, or savvy to the discrimination of bully breeds), even though he rarely even fights back, much less picks a fight.
7. People will love your dog once they know them. Every person that has previously been “pit-cautious” has now become a pit-lover, thanks to Fiyero and other well-trained pit bulls. Once you know one, you can’t help but love their sweet nature!
8. Pit bulls ARE NOT for everyone. If you do not have the time or resources to devote to training and taking care of your pit bull, they are not for you. I have found that our bully breed must be trained better than other dogs, or people will automatically make assumptions about his level of “danger.” People perceive a stubborn poodle much differently than they perceive a disobedient, wandering pit bull. You must have a few hours every day to devote to continued training and hard exercise. They are athletic, active dogs that love to lounge on the couch, as long as they have a good hard run. If you decide to get a pit bull, you must be a responsible owner to help break the stereotype.
9. The best come from the shelter. Adopt, and give older dogs a chance! People often look over older shelter dogs, not knowing their previous history and training. Many bully breeds sit in shelters for years, waiting for forever homes and families. If they are in the shelter, they ARE adoptable (by the right person or family). Check out the Humane Society of the Palouse located in Moscow, or the Whitman County Humane Society in Pullman.
10. You will get unconditional love from a pit bull. Good guard dogs and fighting dogs are ones that have been beaten, starved, and tortured. Good pets are ones that are trained, given proper exercise, and loved. A dog is only as vicious as its owner.