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What Puts Pit Bulls in Peril

Monday, July 28, 2014 - 1:30pm
Close up of cute red puppy

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker

In my job, I see a lot of pit bulls, whether at an Austin shelter, a rescue in Los Angeles, or here in our New York City offices, where we occasionally foster dogs from the ASPCA Adoption Center.

I look forward to each visit, not just because I'm typically greeted with a clownish grin, big open paws, and a wildly flapping tail, but because each pit bull I meet is also an individual, distinct character.

This is why prejudice against the pit bull breed, which is really a combination of many breeds,makes no practical sense.

This isn't just a rhetorical debate; the lives of millions of animals are at stake. So it's important to identify what we actually know about this maligned and often misidentified breed, as well as what we don't know.

We know, for example, that every dog—even dogs within the same breed—is different. That's what makes each unique, special and beloved by its human family.

We also know that dogs' personalities aren't based on just a single influence any more than our own personalities are. A dog's behavior is a function of breeding, yes, but also just as strongly affected by socialization, training, environment, and how it's treated by its owners.

Historically, some pit bulls were bred to fight other dogs. Early bulldogs, forbearers of the modern pit bull, were pitted against bulls, bears and other large animals. When these fights were banned in the 1800s, people turned instead to fighting their dogs against each other. But even these dogs, bred to be aggressive to other dogs, were not bred to be aggressive toward people, since fighting dogs must tolerate frequent handling by the humans who train and fight them. Meanwhile, other pit bulls were bred expressly for work and companionship.

Pit bulls have long been popular family pets, noted for their affection and loyalty, but you don't hear much about gentle, loving pit bulls in the media because a well-behaved dog doesn't make headlines.

In American shelters, you'll find lots of pit bulls—with lots of different personalities. What they share in common is a sad fate. Because shelters and animal control facilities take in more pit bulls than any other breed, innocent pit bulls are euthanized more often than any other kind of dog.

At the ASPCA, we've seen and we study many factors that contribute to behavior development in dogs, resulting in sharp behavioral variations—even between dogs of the same breed. A pit bull bred for generations to fight may not fight, just as a Golden Retriever bred for generations as a service dog may bite.

But there are consistent measures owners can take to prevent or curb aggressive dog behavior. For example, if you chain or tether your dog outside, and isolate it from humans, you increase the risk that it will develop aggressive behavior. We also know that early, positive behavioral conditioning, including socialization, is probably the best way to reduce the likelihood of aggressive tendencies in dogs.

Puppies that learn to interact and play with people and other dogs are less likely to show aggression as adult animals. Finally, we know that no matter its breed or background, every dog needs to be raised responsibly, including early socialization, proper training and supervision.

States across the country largely agree that targeting breeds serves no useful purpose. Currently, no statewide policies discriminate against certain dog breeds, and 18 states have taken the extra step to ban breed-specific legislation, or BSL, most recently South Dakota and Utah. Even the White House has weighed in against laws that target specific breeds. Last year, the Obama Administration put out a clear statement saying, "We don't support breed-specific legislation -- research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources... the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they're intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive."

The statement also noted that the Centers for Disease Control concluded "the types of people who look to exploit dogs aren't deterred by breed regulations" and "it's virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds."

The ASPCA supports breed-neutral dangerous dog laws that focus not on breed but on individual dog behavior, as well as laws that prohibit prolonged chaining and tethering, and legislation that holds dog owners accountable for the behavior of their pets.

Ask pit bull owners about their pets, and you'll hear the same things you'd expect from proud owners of beagles, retrievers, pugs, Labradors, or any blend among them. I encourage you to read about Domingo, Blue, and Spike through the words of loving owners who recently adopted those pit bulls from the ASPCA.

I've fostered a number of pit bulls over the years, many of whom were rescued from horrific cruelty. I'm reminded of Dawson, the white pit who was kept in a closet and beaten with weights; Taz, a brindle pit who was found in a dumpster in 2003; and Champ, a caramel-and-white pit who was being trained to fight. Each of them was loving, playful, loyal, and affectionate. And each was, at one time, on a short and certain path to sadistic abuse or euthanasia, but is now in a loving home.

Not every dog is a good match for every prospective owner, so educate yourself before adopting. Compare a dog's need for exercise with your availability to take it on frequent walks and runs. Compare its medical requirements to your ability to provide that care. And compare its behavior, as documented and explained by shelter staff, with your family's ability to maintain and manage that behavior. When taking in a new pet, ask questions, consider potential challenges, and remember that small children should never be left unsupervised around animals.

Understanding dog behavior, providing dogs with the care they need and the supervision expected by family and neighbors—these are the best ways to keep pets and people safe, to celebrate the joy pets bring to our lives, and to end the myths that unfairly and tragically cost so many their lives.

Not all families will open their homes to a pit bull, but I hope many will open their minds.

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Dog lover

You are so right! My pit bull utterly destroyed a toy hedgehog the other day. He grabbed it with his incredibly powerful jaws, pranced around like a kid a the park, then began shaking the poor toy mercilessly. I mean, that toy never stood a chance. He simply would not let go until I told him to "drop it," then he did. He then ran over to my cat, stared it straight in the face, and gave him the most ferocious kiss ever. Seriously that cat had some slobber on him and was none too happy. Whatever, that cat is always surly. I think my dog took a ferocious and unrelenting nap after that.

Nicole

I had a dachshund attack me. A chocolate lab running loose attacked my leashed Rottie as we were walking. I didn't report either attack. Just because you don't see something in the media doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

"Recent research found that of all breeds Dachshunds were the most aggressive to both their own owners and strangers. Perhaps this is underreported because a snarling dachshund can be picked up pane stashed away in a tote bag. "
Source: pg 53 'Inside of a Dog' by Alexandra Horowitz

You do know that the American Pit Bull Terrier is the only real pit bull, right? Do you also know that ANY shorted haired large dog in the media is typically referred to as a pit bull, even if it is simply a mutt? Didn't you know, ALL dogs that bite are pit bulls, regardless of what breed they were before. Ignorance is the biggest problem. An entire group of dogs of different breeds but similar body types are now being lumped together as one.

Vet Assistant.

I have been bitten more times by Doxie's and a Shih Tzu's than any other dog. I have been bitten by a German Shepard, Golden and a Lab. I have never been bitten by a Pit Bull. Aussie's and Shepard's are unpredictable at the vet. You can always tell what a Pit Bull is going to do. I always hear people say that a Pit Bull with just snap. If you know anything about the behavior of dogs you can read a Pit Bull. I love Pit Bull's, the only reason I wouldn't get one is because of their skin allergies. Even as a vet assistant I can't afford to keep up with their daily skin care needs. Other than that they are perfect dogs. Oh and they used to be called nanny dogs back in the late 1890's early 1900's. The wealthy used them to watch their kids. Google it. Really cute pictures come up. Personally I would place a band oh Shih Tzu's, they scare the shit out of me.

Dogisgodbackwards

Vet Student, I admire your passion for shelter medicine and I hope you continue your studies so there will be another advocate for this misunderstood breed. I own smaller breed dogs and have such a hard time understanding humans who abuse these wonderful animals. I hope that you find helping these voiceless creatures a special gift and know that the love you will get back from them is far greater. Good luck and thank you in advance.

anonimous

your comment do not have sense demonstrating your ignorance regarding this breed as pitbull do have a strong bite but it is not comparable to the one a rottweiler has when you compare it in pound per square inch or force applied, plus a pitbull is as loyal to its owner as it is to other dogs or animals that surround them and which have been foming some bond, I personally have a pitbull and from comparisson to other pitbulls mine is considered a big pitbull and she is very kind, love to play, very loyal, energetic, and understand everything and mostly she shares everything with another 2 small dogs that I have that are the size of a chihuahua and chihuahuas like sized dogs are very annoying demonstrating that even an annoying dog cannot show what dumb people said about pitbulls being aggressive, obviously if an unknown person comes to my house and tries to harm me or any person surrounding me she will act aggressive because that person is aggressive, just like if a person comes and harms lets say your son or mother you would act aggressive towards the unknown person, plus you seeing your pet as a prey is your responsability to identify you surroundings and detect possible threats to your pet as you are the person in charge of it, plus a dog will not attack another animal just because they are in the mood of doing so, but they will present certain manners which we as owners need to identify in order to avoid a possible altercation between the dogs, but most people ignore that and just accuse the other dog of attacking theirs instead of thinking beyond that possibility showing their ignorance of being able to have a pet, in this case a dog. So pitbulls are just as like any other breed the only difference is the ignorance regarding people to them, plus the stereotype that every decade is put on certain breeds just like in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s, that rottweilers, dobermans, german sheppars, and now pitbulls are tagged as "aggresive, violent, dangerous", with every decision comes a responsability and the responsability of having a strong-big breeded dog comes also form people not owning them since your are surrounded from them, so please stop your prejudge on dog breeds and instruct yourselves, read, understand, stop being ignorant, and people may not agreed just because of their ignorance since they prefer to be inside their little bubble rather than gather knowledge. BY the way a pitbull's bite is very strong, but any breed of dog can crush bones, even the very small ones.

anonimous

your comment do not have sense demonstrating your ignorance regarding this breed as pitbull do have a strong bite but it is not comparable to the one a rottweiler has when you compare it in pound per square inch or force applied, plus a pitbull is as loyal to its owner as it is to other dogs or animals that surround them and which have been foming some bond, I personally have a pitbull and from comparisson to other pitbulls mine is considered a big pitbull and she is very kind, love to play, very loyal, energetic, and understand everything and mostly she shares everything with another 2 small dogs that I have that are the size of a chihuahua and chihuahuas like sized dogs are very annoying demonstrating that even an annoying dog cannot show what dumb people said about pitbulls being aggressive, obviously if an unknown person comes to my house and tries to harm me or any person surrounding me she will act aggressive because that person is aggressive, just like if a person comes and harms lets say your son or mother you would act aggressive towards the unknown person, plus you seeing your pet as a prey is your responsability to identify you surroundings and detect possible threats to your pet as you are the person in charge of it, plus a dog will not attack another animal just because they are in the mood of doing so, but they will present certain manners which we as owners need to identify in order to avoid a possible altercation between the dogs, but most people ignore that and just accuse the other dog of attacking theirs instead of thinking beyond that possibility showing their ignorance of being able to have a pet, in this case a dog. So pitbulls are just as like any other breed the only difference is the ignorance regarding people to them, plus the stereotype that every decade is put on certain breeds just like in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s, that rottweilers, dobermans, german sheppars, and now pitbulls are tagged as "aggresive, violent, dangerous", with every decision comes a responsability and the responsability of having a strong-big breeded dog comes also form people not owning them since your are surrounded from them, so please stop your prejudge on dog breeds and instruct yourselves, read, understand, stop being ignorant, and people may not agreed just because of their ignorance since they prefer to be inside their little bubble rather than gather knowledge. BY the way a pitbull's bite is very strong, but any breed of dog can crush bones, even the very small ones.

Hayden

Pit bulls do not have a lock jaw. They have a bite and shake mentality as they were trained to do to the bulls and bears they were trying to take down. A German Shepard could just as much damage to your dog as a Pit.

Dwight

Since there are so many pits in the shelters, I decided I would save one. My little girl (55#) is the joy of my life. I got her at six months old. I took her to obedience training for 2 months for basic commands. She is very energetic but well behaved. On our first visit to a dog park, she was playing happily with some other dogs much smaller than her. All of a sudden a golden retriever charged from across the park and attacked her. She didn't fight back, she ran and jumped in my arms. The golden retriever then attacked me. The owner blamed me for having an aggressive dog... What the hell?? At any rate, my pit nor I were seriously injured other than puncture wounds to my arms. The golden was put down as it was his 3rd attack on a human. I still take my girl to the park and she plays with all other dogs large and small. She always stays clear of golden retrievers though. My point is: It is not the breed, it is the owner. Unfortunately, pits have gotten a bad reputation because of certain people who take their tenacious appetite to please their owners and exploit them.

ellen

It would be nice if celebrities who have pit bulls came out and did more public relations about the breed. The only celebrity that I has done this is Rachel Ray. Not sure if it is because she wants you to buy her dog food and there is some ulterior motive behind it.

Julie

Bad Rap has been around for 15 years and there is a long list of pit-bull advocacy groups and a few documentaries are out. They still have not been able to restore the image for pit-type dogs in a positive light. When you have to work this hard to try to restore an image for a type of dog and are still failing, it's because the public is not buying into your bull. There are still a million pit-type dogs that get euthanized at shelters every year. I follow dangerous dogs attacks on humans and on pets as every good dog advocate should. As long a the public keeps hearing news stories of people & people's pets mauled or killed by pit-type bull dogs, the public is going to steer away from getting a pit-type dog for a family pet. This debate is over when pit-type dogs stop making the news for mauling and killing people and their pets and is not a threat to public safety. When is a pit type dog not a pit type dog as soon as it has mauled or killed a person or their beloved pet. http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2010/09/when-is-pit-bull-not-pit-bull.html?m=1

In 2013, 20,000 cats and dogs were killed by pit type dogs. Shelters and rescues groups are promoting pit-type dogs for adoption, many have the label: should be the only pet or not good with cats. Dog should be placed in childless home. What does that exactly mean? Are they implying that the animal is dangerous towards other animals or kids? Who would adopt an animal that could be potentially dangerous towards other animals and kids. Are we setting up the guardian and dog for failure?

I do agree most pit-type dogs have not hurt anyone but many have and it's has become a public safety issue. I watched that documentary 'Beyond the myth'. I cried like a baby and I was madder than hell when Coco was taken away from her family and destroyed because she was a pit type dog. But I have come to realize it's not the pit bull haters who are the problem (these people have been devastated by a pit attack), it's the pit advocates who are the problem, that are trying to save them all and passing out the dangerous ones out like candy. And letting the breeders get away with overproducing. Pretending that pit-type dogs has not been responsible for doing the most mauling and killing of people and pets is not helping to save them or making the problem go away. They need a new strategy, we have been in this crisis for 10 years with a million pit type dogs being killed a shelters each year. When we see pit type dogs not being surrender to shelters by the millions then we will know the are finally saved!

Two other important links for you to read, if you do really care about pit-bull type dogs:

http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.co.nz/2014/05/the-denial-and-broken-excuses-of-pit.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FlSKHa+%28Terrierman%27s+Daily+Dose%29&m=1

http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/punish-deed-of-breeding-pit-bulls.html?m=

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