Of all dogs, Pit Bulls in particular seem to be a very polarizing topic. Whether you love them or hate them, most people seem to have an opinion on the breed. We wanted to explore those opinions, find out where they come from and if the bad rep Pit Bulls have gotten is justified or not and why.
Starting with the history:
Traced back to the early 1800’s in the United Kingdom, Pit Bulls were originally bred from Old English Bulldogs for a cruel blood sport known as “bull baiting”. However, in 1835 the British Parliament enacted the Cruelty to Animals Act, putting a spotlight on the underground sport of dog fighting to the public.
Dog fighting required more agility and speed on the part of the dog, so Bulldogs were crossed with Terriers “Bull and Terriers”, more commonly known as the first Pit Bull Terrier.
Despite their tenacity and determination in battle, commoners actually bred pit bull terriers with some of the same qualities and traits that we still love about them to this day. Through selective breeding and culling, bite inhibition or "soft mouth" towards humans was greatly encouraged.
When immigrants from the British Isles came to the United States, shortly before the Civil War, they brought Pit Bulls along with them. It was during this time that the Pit Bull Terrier breed was named the “American” Pit Bull Terrier. Though these dogs had been specifically bred for fighting, in early America, these frontier dogs took on an all-purpose role. They were responsible for herding cattle, herding sheep, guarding livestock and families from thieves and wild animals, helping on the hunts and as hog catchers. Their loyal and loving demeanour with humans, especially children, earned them a prominent place not only as a working dog, but as a companion.
The USA admired this breed for qualities that it likened in itself: friendly, brave, hardworking and worthy of respect, thus earning them the title of the “All American Dog”. During WWI and WWII, Pit Bulls were used as the nation’s mascot. Their image of bravery and loyalty was displayed throughout advertisements during war time.
As dog fighting began to re-emerge in the 1980’s, animal advocates put an increased focus on the cruel, barbaric and illegal blood sport. The inadvertent and unfortunate side effect, was that some people began to seek out Pit Bulls for illicit purposes. The breed who was once bred to treat every stranger like a long-lost friend was now being used as guard and protection dogs forced to fight in underground fighting rings.
With demand high, they were bred without concern for temperament or socialization but for the purpose of making a profit, rather than providing a responsible home. Soon Pit Bulls were associated with poverty, “urban thugs” and crime. They were viewed as money-making commodities instead of family members and companions.
It’s around this time, with a push from the media, that Pit Bulls started to get their bad rep and fell out of favour as the versatile, loving and loyal, “All American Dog”.
So why do dogs such as Pit Bulls get such bad reps and is it justified?
Generally breeds tend to fall in and out of favour, In the post–Civil War era, bloodhounds were the dogs who struck fear in Americans’ hearts. Around World War II, the most feared dogs were German shepherds, Rottweilers and Dobermans, as these breeds were favoured by the German army, and were often used as guard dogs.
Two factors that are consistent though, are how the dog is used by people and how the media portrays the dog. Pit Bulls were America’s darling dogs for many years due to their loving and loyal nature. However, in the 1980s, after pit bull terrier–type dogs became popular with irresponsible dog owners, the dogs fell prey to sensationalized stories in the media.
The old saying “They are no bad dogs, just bad owners” rings true here. Public perception of Pit Bulls has changed a lot with the passing of time, mostly based on what role we’ve given them. It’s less about the breed and more about our influence. That being said..
Let’s look further into the facts and myths surrounding Pit Bulls.
The term “pit bull” refers to a type of dog, rather than one breed. When people refer to “pit bulls” it could mean any of the following breeds or combination of breeds:
American Staffordshire terrier
American pit bull terrier
Staffordshire bull terrier
English bull terrier
A common myth is Pit bull terriers are more aggressive than other dogs.
However, The American Temperament Test Society, which provides a uniform national program of temperament testing for dogs, has found that pit-bull-terrier-like dogs passed the test at a higher rate than many other dog breeds, such as golden retrievers and border collies. Some people think these dogs are somehow physiologically and genetically different from other dogs, but they aren’t.
Like any other breed, Pit Bulls can develop behaviour problems if mishandled, abused, poorly bred, unsocialized, etc. that could result in inappropriate aggression. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), it’s not a dog’s breed that determines the risk or severity of a dog bite, but rather the dog’s behaviour, size, and the vulnerability of the person bitten.
Another myth suggests Pit bull terriers have locking jaws that make their bites more dangerous. However, pit bull terriers are physiologically no different from any other dog out there. There are no locking jaws. The myth likely comes from the fact that Pit Bulls are very resourceful and driven. “Determination” is one of their most notable traits. Whatever they set out to do, they will put their heart and soul into it.
Another very important characteristic of Pit Bull dogs, is their amazing love of people. These dogs are indeed remarkably affectionate, and crave human attention. They are very affectionate and love a good belly rub and a cuddle. In fact, most Pit Bulls think they are lap dogs!
Pit Bulls have great physical and mental characteristics that make them excellent partners for responsible, active, and caring owners. On the other hand, these same outstanding qualities can make them a little difficult to handle for people who don’t have a lot of experience with dog ownership or for those who don’t understand the breed very well.
Owning an animal is a great responsibility and there are many aspects to consider. A Pit Bull type dog could be a wonderful new member to your family but would recommend doing your research before getting any animal. Keep in mind, getting a pet from a shelter ensures the animal has been screened, vetted and will be matched to your needs and lifestyle!
"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole" -Roger Caras