Are Pitbulls dangerous? It’s a heated debate: Pitbulls, says one side of the argument, are dangerous dogs you can’t trust with children or other animals.
They’re unpredictable, capricious, and when they do attack, they never give up.
To prove the point, they cite the many cases in which Pitbulls have seriously injured people, including their owners, in dog bite attacks.
Surely, they argue, this breed represents everything that is worst about dogs and should be banned!
On the other side of the argument, Pitbull enthusiasts protest vigorously against this demonization. They’ve kept Pitbulls for many years and never encountered a problem.
They’ve found their Pitbulls to be affectionate companions and they’d trust them, not only with their own lives, but the lives of their children. Who is right?
How We’ll Approach The Question
In this article, we’ll try to avoid emotional appeals for either side of the argument, instead digging down into research to uncover the facts.
We’ll look at the dark history of the Pitbull and how it gained its fearsome reputation.
And we’ll look at high-authority research that strove to answer the question of whether Pitbulls are inherently dangerous.
Finally, we’ll uncover the ways in which you can emulate the success of the many people who have never had a bad experience with a Pitbull. But before we begin, let’s first look at the “nature of the beast.”
What Is A Pitbull?
A great many people believe that “Pitbulls” all belong to a single breed. But they’d be mistaken.
Although there is a breed named the American Pitbull, unrecognized by many kennel clubs, there are several other types of dog that fall under the umbrella term “Pitbull.”
These include The Staffordshire Terrier, The American Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Bully.
To further cloud the waters, there’s an almost limitless number of mutts that contain some of these bloodlines in their heritage. After all, they used to be, and still are in some circles, very popular dog breeds.
As a result, there’s a massive number of dogs that could be termed “Pitbulls.” As you can imagine, this skews the numbers somewhat.
A Rottweiler is a Rottweiler. And one might go so far as to term Rottweiler crossbreeds “Rottweilers,” but there’s where it ends.
With a larger number of dogs falling under the Pitbull umbrella, the statistical consequences are easy to spot.
If many dogs are Pitbulls, and an almost-equal percentage of dogs could be involved in attacks on people, the chances of the culprit being a Pitbull are logically going to be higher.
However, it would be overly simplistic to say that this is the only reason for that reputation. So let’s move on to the history of Pitbulls, dog bite statistics, and the human role in all of this.
Pitbulls Were Bred To Fight: Does This Make Them Likelier To Bite?
Human history is littered with things we’re no longer proud of, and among these are bull-and bear baiting, a “sport” in which dogs were pitted against bulls and bears.
Early versions of the pitbull were popular contenders and often won their fights by bringing them down and going for the heads of their opponents.
In 1835, this cruel practice was finally outlawed. But although dog fighting was banned in the UK at the same time, the “sporting man” in the US could still legally indulge in betting on fights between dogs until 1976.
Once again, the Pitbull had a lot going for it, and their owners would breed Pitbulls for their tendency towards aggression against other animals.
It’s important to note that they didn’t breed Pitbulls to attack people. In fact, it is said that if a dog attacked its handler, it would be killed, or at the very least, not used as breeding stock.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a great many perfectly pleasant people kept Pitbulls. They’d often be working farm dogs or family pets.
So, although there was a bad element that wanted aggression towards other animals from their Pitbulls, there were also people who didn’t want anything of the kind.
This brings us up to the present day, when Pitbull-type dogs are still bred – and by people with vastly differing objectives.
Most Pitbull enthusiasts are eager to get rid of the stigma, and their supporters, along with the few kennel clubs that support Bully breeds, actively seek out good-natured Pitbulls for their breeding programs.
However, there’s still an element that desires dog aggression, trains dogs to be aggressive, and selects for the worst possible traits from a canine citizenship perspective when breeding them. Fortunately, they represent a minority.
But is Pitbull aggression really in the genes?
Do Pitbulls Bite? Nature Versus Nurture
It may surprise you to know that several rescue organizations are training Pitbulls from the worst possible backgrounds, including illegal dog fighting, to become support and therapy dogs.
It’s been a success, and there are plenty of success stories to support that.
If Pitbulls really are as dangerous as so many people believe, how is this even possible?
Our example comes from the rehabilitation of dogs that were neglected, maltreated, and even encouraged to be aggressive in the past.
So, what about a family pet who has never experienced anything but kindness and positivity? As you’ve guessed, the number of affectionate and trustworthy Pitbulls from this type of background is even larger.
Now, let’s consider another scenario, one that’s supported by research.
If you were a criminal, a violent person, or an irresponsible one who actively wanted to train a dog to be aggressive, which “breed” would you select based on its reputation? The answer is rather obvious.
You’d pick the type of dog with the most feared reputation, and the Pitbull variants would be hands-down winners.
It’s very possible that the reputation of the Pitbull has turned into a self-fulfilling policy and it’s not really the fault of the breed.
Instead, people who want a dog that bites, and who will encourage it to do so, bear the greatest blame. They may not even have to do much to encourage aggression.
Just keeping a dog tied up in your yard makes it nearly three times more likely to bite and that’s been proven in research.
However, even perfectly ordinary families can be at fault. Getting a dog is a big responsibility, and training and socializing it is part of that.
If your dog is a chihuahua, the occasional nip isn’t going to be a train smash, but if your dog happens to be a Pitbull, those jaws can do a serious amount of damage.
Pitbulls And The Case Against Breed-Specific Bans: No Reduction In Attacks
When breed-specific bans were introduced, legislators chose breeds they considered to be particularly dangerous based on dog-bite statistics and outlawed them.
It was a well-meant attempt to protect public safety, but it was based on a false supposition. A controversial statement?
There can be little or no controversy about statistics, and what they’re showing is that Pitbull bans simply did not help.
Organizations like the ASPCA and the Humane Society have been among those who point out that the problem of dog aggression lies with humans, and banning specific dog breeds fails to reduce attacks by dangerous dogs.
Simply put, if irresponsible dog owners can’t keep a Pitbull, they’ll choose another breed.
And even a labrador can become aggressive if it doesn’t receive the right care, training, and socialization. It’s a fact that even the White House has recognized. Breed-based bans don’t work.
Instead, the ASPCA recommends “proper socialization, humane training, and conscientious supervision” of dogs – a commitment that any responsible dog owner, including most Pitbull owners, would be happy to make.
From a legal perspective, the organization would like to see laws targeting the owners of dangerous dogs without pegging this to the breed of dog in question.
They also hope to see laws that insist that dogs should be leashed in most public spaces.
And laws banning dog owners from chaining up their dogs in their yards would help them to take action against dog owners who mistreat their animals in this way.
In short, it’s not about Pitbulls. It’s about people.
How To Raise A Pitbull As A “Good Citizen”
So far, everything we’ve looked at seems very reassuring, but rushing out to get a Pitbull based on what we’ve just discussed might not be the best idea.
Anybody who plans to own a dog, especially one that could do some pretty serious damage if it were to attack, must consider the commitment they need to make.
Failing to do so could have terrible consequences. In fact, their own families could become the victims if they aren’t diligent.
And, there are still people who think that they can get a puppy, pay attention to it now and then when they feel like it, and all will be well.
That’s simply not true. Adopting a Pitbull, or any other dog for that matter, means having the time and commitment it takes to raise a trustworthy pet.
Develop And Maintain The Bond
From the time your new Pitbull arrives at your home, it’s important that he feels very much part of the family.
That will be especially important in puppyhood, but as he grows, the need for time with people doesn’t necessarily become a whole lot less.
Without play, mental stimulation, and attention, Pitbulls quickly become bored. A bored dog is a restless dog, and he’s grumpy and moody.
Just think of your own kids. When are they likeliest to get into all kinds of trouble or do dangerous stuff? You got it!
According to the PDSA, no adult dog should be left on his own for more than four hours at a time. You can stretch that to five hours, but longer than that is bad for your dog.
Puppies are even more intensive. The AKC says that a three-month old puppy shouldn’t be left alone for longer than three hours, and a younger puppy, no longer than an hour.
The message is clear. If you and your family don’t have time to spend with your dog, don’t get one, and certainly not a Pitbull!
Luckily, your Pitbull won’t expect or need constant attention all the time you’re with him. Sometimes, he’ll be perfectly happy snoozing while you do something else nearby.
But, he needs exercise and stimulation, so you’ll spend at least two hours a day on exercise and play.
Socialize Your Pitbull
For any dog, socialization is important. For the Pitbull, it could be even more so. That means regularly meeting new people and other animals, preferably from the time he’s very young.
It also means exposure to new situations so that he doesn’t easily become over excited when he finds himself in one.
Introduce him to your friends. Make sure he gets supervised exposure to kids and other people’s animals. Take him for walks or drives in your car.
Calm him if he seems to have an irrational fear of a situation. The wider his positive experiences of the world, the better it will be.
For example, if you take your dog to the park every day from the time he’s very young, and he has a great time having fun with other animals there, he isn’t suddenly going to turn into godzilla when he grows up.
But supervision is key. He shouldn’t play too roughly, and if other animals (or even people) scare him or hurt him enough, it’s natural that he’ll bite.
You should always be extremely vigilant and remain in control in off-leash situations. And if your dog doesn’t take well to them, you might have to limit off-leash times to your own yard.
Train Your Pitbull
A well-mannered Pitbull who has learned obedience from a young age and who gets regular practice and positive reinforcement, is a pleasure to live with. The opposite is also true!
Remember that training should always be a positive experience. You’ll need a lot of patience, and while you should reward good behavior, the worst punishment you should use will be saying “No!” or ignoring your dog.
If you’re new to all this, puppy and dog training classes are a great idea. Use them to learn how to train your Pitbull.
It will also help with socializing him. But don’t let that be the only time he gets training. He needs regular practice and reminders even after he’s learned the commands you need him to know.
Be careful with playtimes too. Chewing and biting his toys is fine. “Mouthiness” around people isn’t.
Since puppies are fond of nipping and chewing, this training begins in puppyhood. And, as with other training, you have to keep it positive for your Pitbull pup.
Neuter Or Spay Your Pitbull
There are many benefits to spaying or neutering dogs. In 70 to 76 of dog bite incidents, the culprit is an intact, un-neutered male. But even females are grouchier and more inclined to bite if they aren’t spayed.
Aside from that, spaying and neutering protects your dogs from several health issues – provided it’s done at the right age.
Plus, if you’ve ever cared for a Pitbull female in heat or a male trying to get to a female in heat, you’ll know that it’s a huge headache for pet-owners.
There are more good reasons not to breed your dog than there are to breed it, so leave it up to professional dog breeders.
Besides, there are enough unwanted dogs in the world. If nothing else, remember that your Pitbull is less likely to bite if neutered, and take advantage of that fact.
Know Your Pitbull And Make Sure Your Family Does Too
If you’d like to know more about what makes dogs bite and how to assess the risk for your Pitbull, a Canadian study on dogs that had been involved in attacks will be interesting to you.
Bear in mind that in many of the cases, there was negligence on the part of the pet owner. The study titled “Are Pitbulls Different?” may also shed some light on the topic.
The studies conclude, that in most instances, there really is a reason why dogs bite, and Pitbull or not, they may not give any warning.
The most important thing is that the dog should always feel comfortable. It’s natural that if he feels threatened or anxious, there’s a chance he might bite.
If he’s overexcited, there’s also a chance that he might “forget” himself.
Once again socialization will help your dog to feel comfortable in a wider range of situations, but kids also need to know that invading the family dog’s space inappropriately is absolutely out.
That means leaving his food bowls to you and your dog to deal with, not trying to ride on him or try unfamiliar types of play, and not teasing him.
And, since kids don’t always do as they’re told, supervision of kids around pets is always a good idea.
Knowing your Pitbull’s body language and facial expressions will help you to spot times when he’s feeling anxious or overexcited.
And at times like these, moving him into a space where he feels safe and calm (like a crate or other quiet place) is the best solution.
While Pitbulls aren’t much more likely to bite than other dogs, when they do bite, the damage is far worse.
Good sense, a good relationship with your dog, and supervision in potentially sensitive situations will go a long way towards a happy and positive relationship with your Pitbull. For truly dedicated pet owners, Pitbulls are rewarding pets.