Breed Bias… It’s the Pits

By Gretchen Loftus

“There is no such thing as a bad dog…” Some of you – you know who you are – may be thinking “except for Pit Bulls.” The name refers to American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers, who have earned the reputation of being aggressive killers. We see the news stories too often about dog-fighting rings and fatal dog attacks. We conclude that it must be a bad breed.

The saying though, goes on “there’s no such thing as a bad dog, only a bad owner.” Choosing to own a Pit Bull places a serious responsibility on the owner. Many, unfortunately, haven’t done enough research and don’t realize what a powerful dog they have on their hands. Those who are most responsible for the breed’s negative reputation actually encourage and foster the dangerous behavioral characteristics that often have tragic consequences.

Before I go any further, I must confess that this is not a scientific article. In my research, I found a range of facts, urban legends and contentious debates. I do not claim to know everything about the breed. In fact, I still nurture a healthy fear of Pit Bulls. I have however, noted certain consistent themes in many articles and personal interviews.

Many people believe that the characteristics that were bred into Pit Bulls over more than a century make them inherently bad dogs. They believe that they are more likely to attack other dogs and unfamiliar people because of those built-in traits.

The challenge for us all is to judge them like any other breed – by the individual dog’s behavior. According to KaRon Williams of Midtown Doggy Daycare & Spa and the Bully South movement, the responsibility for dog behavior lies first with the breeders, second with the dog’s owner.

Williams, a champion Pit Bull breeder for six years and a dog trainer for ten, finds that many owners don’t understand the unique traits of the dog and are ill-prepared to handle them. “These are high maintenance dogs,” Williams said, “and they have to be given the right care.”

We dog owners are responsible for many of our dogs’ behavioral traits – good and bad. Many of us choose our pets for emotional reasons; few of us know much about them before we take on the responsibility of providing food, shelter, training, protection, love and companionship.

The mistake that many Pit Bull owners make is not taking enough time to learn more about the breed’s characteristics. “Pit Bulls are not just regular dogs. You can’t just leave them in the back yard. They need a lot of human interaction,” noted Williams.

Their unusual strength and power make it essential that prospective owners properly educate and prepare themselves to handle the dog. Williams offered some tips for those who are considering a Pit Bull:

1. Consult with a trainer as soon as you take responsibility for the dog. training is the key to understanding how your dog behaves and reinforcing good behavior patterns.

2. Be sure to select the right trainer. Look at his or her resume and ask for references.

3. Educate yourself about the breed. Involve yourself with the breed, speak to a professional trainer or breeder, research the breed on the internet and consult with other Pit Bull owners.

4. Make sure that your lifestyle and living situation are suitable for a Pit Bull. If you are rarely at home, this breed will not receive the attention that it craves.

Pit Bulls are not for everyone and we certainly wish that only well-intentioned, responsible people would choose to be owners. Until that time, it would benefit us all to find out the facts.
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