When we think of service dogs, most of us will envision a placid Labrador, Golden Retriever, or even a German Shepherd.
Can Pitbulls be service dogs too? The simple answer is “yes.” But there are a lot of things you need to know if you’re hoping to have a Pitbull as a service dog.
Let’s begin by looking at what service dogs do, and how you can legally represent your Pitbull as a service dog.
We’ll also touch on what breeds are considered to be Pitbulls (there are several,) and what specific tasks they’re best suited to.
Next, we’ll go through the pros and cons of choosing a Pitbull as a service dog as well as the type of training your dog will need.
What Is A Service Dog In Law?
Since this is the “worldwide” web, you should check what your country’s legislation provides for. In this article, we’ll look at US law.
As you know, laws in the US may differ from state to state, but federal laws apply to all the states in the union.
If you’re from the USA and want to know if your Pitbull can be classed as a service dog, you should reference the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
It should answer your questions about service dogs in general. We’ll touch on a few of the points it makes here.
Types Of “Service” That Aren’t Always Recognized
First and foremost, a service dog is trained to assist a person with a recognized disability. Its training specifically relates to that disability.
Emotional support dogs, therapy, and companion animals are not considered to be service dogs in many jurisdictions. However, local laws may make some provision for them.
Don’t confuse this with psychiatric service dogs. They are classed as service animals because they are specifically trained to perform tasks that help people with psychiatric disorders.
For example, if your Pitbull has been trained to alert you about medication or to calm you during panic attacks, it’s a service dog.
Can You Have A Pitbull As A Service Dog In Areas Where Pitbulls Are Banned?
Because laws governing service dogs are made on a federal level, local laws can’t take precedence.
If you have a Pitbull who is a genuine service dog as recognized in the ADA, nobody can prevent you from owning one or taking it into public spaces.
As long as it behaves properly and is well-trained, your service Pitbull can go where you go.
Do You Need To Register Your Pitbull As A Service Dog?
There’s no real requirement for registration, but evidence of registration can help you when people object to your service dog.
If you choose a Pitbull, you’re more likely to be challenged, so proof of registration can be helpful.
However, it’s important to remember that your doctor or specialist should have recommended that you have a service animal.
Without recommendations from a medical professional, you aren’t entitled to claim that your Pitbull is a service dog, no matter how well-trained it may be.
Is My Pitbull A Service Dog? What If People Object To It?
Even just making you feel happy is a service – but it doesn’t qualify your Pitbull as a service dog.
We should also be cautious of terming all kinds of working dogs “service dogs.” For example, a dog that helps with herding livestock is a working dog, but not a service dog.
The basic criteria your Pitbull must meet to be termed a “service dog” are:
- A doctor recommended that you keep a service dog.
- The dog is properly trained to perform specific tasks related to a disability. Just “being there” doesn’t count.
If your situation meets these two criteria, your Pitbull is a service dog. It’s an unusual choice of breed, however, and you can expect people to challenge you about it.
So, although registration isn’t recognized, and vests aren’t mandatory, carrying some form of proof, and marking your Pitbull as a service dog will help you to avoid uncomfortable conversations.
However, even if your Pitbull is a bona fide service dog, disruptive behavior, poor housetraining, and entry into businesses in certain settings (e.g. operating theaters) can mean that your dog is banned.
What Breeds Are “Pitbulls” And Can A Pitbull Be A Service Dog?
You might be surprised to find that the term “Pitbulls” applies to breeds other than the iconic American Pitbull.
It encompasses the American Staffordshire Terrier, the American Bully, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bulldog.
With so much diversity in the term “Pitbull” and so many temperaments falling within this scope, it might be difficult to put a finger on which of the Pitbulls is best suited for life as a service dog.
However, it’s worth remembering that breed isn’t the only consideration. In intensive training situations, for example, training guide dogs for the blind, not all individuals are suited to the work.
So, in choosing a service dog, regardless of breed, it’s important to consider the individual dog’s temperament.
A Pitbull can be a service dog. Any breed can. Miniature horse? Chicken? If you can train it to be a service animal, it’s a service… creature!
Temperament Of A Service Dog: How Do Pitbulls Rate?
Obviously, trainability is an important consideration. A service dog not only knows how to fulfill its role, but never deviates from it.
Pitbulls are reasonably trainable. However, they can be stubborn or go off at tangents. Intensive training from a young age often helps to overcome this.
Being well-socialized is also very important. It’s best to start socialization training young, and in service dogs, the animal must be well-behaved in public settings – even when other animals are around.
Your Pitbull will need to be socialized, ideally from puppyhood, to overcome this hurdle.
Highly-strung dogs are not suited as service dogs. It’s a personality trait that can’t really be “trained out.”
So, you’re looking for a calm animal who isn’t easily rattled, angered, or frightened. Here, Pitbulls can be very variable.
However, so are almost all breeds. One drawback could be the Pitbull’s tendency to follow its owners cues. In psychiatric service dogs, that can be a problem.
Affectionate, friendly dogs could be suitable service dogs. And although those who aren’t in the know won’t see Pitbulls as being “friendly” they really can be quite sociable.
The main issue is their prey-drive, so getting them to behave well around other animals will be important.
What Tasks Are Service Pitbulls Suited For?
Pitbulls are strong, athletic dogs. They can easily pull a wheelchair along with them, making them a handy choice for the mobility-impaired.
Physical support is possible too, but do remember the height of the animal. Taller dogs are probably better suited if you need a dog to help you stand and walk.
Emotional support and physical comfort for people with mental or psychiatric conditions is another possibility.
However, inability to remain calm when its owner is undergoing a psychiatric disturbance could be an obstacle in some Pitbulls.
Medical alert service dogs can be life-savers, and with its close connections to its owner, the Pitbull could be a very good choice.
A medical alert dog will respond to issues like an incipient seizure, low blood sugar levels, or declining oxygen levels. They can even be trained to remind you about your medication.
Although a lot of sources don’t like the idea of Pitbulls as service dogs, there are groups who are bucking the system.
The Animal Farm Foundation is advocating for the use of Pitbulls as service dogs. Flying in the face of commonly-accepted theories, they’re taking shelter Pitbulls and training them up as service dogs.
Pits for Patriots is following a similar approach. By using rescue Pitbulls to provide psychiatric support to traumatized military veterans and first responders, they believe they’re saving “two lives.”
The organization notes that the “patriots” easily bond with their companion and support dogs, with each helping the other.
Pros And Cons Of Choosing A Pitbull As A Service Dog
Disadvantages Of Pitbulls As Service Dogs
Although there’s sufficient evidence to support the use of Pitbulls as service dogs, there are a few problems too. In most cases, we can sum this up as “people” – including the service dog’s owner.
Problems With Other People
The first, and most obvious problem, is stigma. With Pitbull breeds having been demonized as “killers,” many people are afraid of them.
Several organizations have come out against Pitbulls as service dogs because of this stigma.
Even if the dog in question is a well-trained service animal, they reason, people’s reactions to them drive a wedge between the disabled service dog owner and society.
They believe that the result is counterproductive. Instead of having a service dog that helps a disabled person to get by in society, choosing a pitbull can create difficulties for the owner.
The basic reasoning is that a service dog is chosen to perform services rather than to satisfy a desire to own a specific breed. Choosing a more “socially acceptable” one, they say, shouldn’t be a problem.
Problems With Service Dog Owners and the Public
The discussion wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t raise the problems that come from irresponsible “service dog” owners.
Remember, the main requirements for a Pitbull to be recognized as a service dog are that a doctor recommended a service animal and the animal is trained.
However, it’s possible to train a dog, and still not get the reliability one is looking for. What about service dogs that forget their training, or that fail to remain calm and passive?
There have been incidents in which people’s service Bullies have bitten several people in a short space of time.
Whether the real problem lies with the dog or the training is anybody’s guess. However, the owners should have been aware of the problem and not placed other people (and their dogs) at risk.
There are also those who use a recommendation for a service dog as an excuse to present a completely untrained pet dog as a service animal.
And there are even people who don’t need a service dog but who pretend that their pet is one.
There are two take-homes here. If your Pitbull is untrustworthy in public or isn’t a service dog in the truest sense of the word, don’t try to pretend that he is a service dog!
Problems With Pitbulls
It’s important to remember that Pitbulls are terriers, and terriers have an independent streak. Unfortunately, your dog’s temperament only becomes apparent in adulthood.
As we’ve noted, even more commonly-accepted dog-breeds have individuals that aren’t suited to service work.
Organizations that select and train service dogs look for specific characteristics and choose only the “best of the best.” Even so, there are dogs that are eliminated from training programs because of some foible.
With the “terrier” personality not generally seen as a good choice for service, there’s a good chance that the failure rate is higher with these breeds, including Pitbulls.
So, although it’s possible to train a Pitbull as a service dog with success, you might start training a puppy only to find that, as an adult, its personality doesn’t lend itself to the kind of reliability that’s expected in service.
If this happens, the responsible thing to do would be to choose another service dog and allow your Pitbull to be a pet or companion, but that does mean a lot of wasted time and effort training a dog that can’t be trusted in certain situations.
What Kind Of Training Does A Service Dog Need?
As a disabled person who needs a service dog, there’s no requirement for your dog to attend specific training. You can train him yourself.
However, it’s advisable to get help with training since knowing how to train a dog properly takes experience.
You can also get ready-trained service dogs from certain organizations, and this gives you the best chance of your new friend having exactly the right training and level of reliability.
Remember, some of the tasks service dogs need to master are quite complex.
A service dog needs all the basic obedience and compliance training any other puppy would get. Then, it needs specific training in the tasks it is meant to perform.
For example, it may learn to assess its owner’s condition through scent and associate that with an action that will be of help.
Can Pitbulls Be Service Dogs? The Bottom Line
We often see service dogs as being rather special individuals, and that perception isn’t incorrect. If you have a truly exceptional Pitbull, it can become a service dog.
Before you interpret this as bias, the same is true of labradors and golden retrievers: only exceptional individuals make the cut as true “professionals.”
If your Pitbull doesn’t meet the full definition of a service dog, or isn’t entirely suited to the work, you shouldn’t see him as a “bad dog.”
He can still perform many services for you without meeting the precise legal definition of a service animal.
However, it would be unwise to pass him off as a service dog and it would be a disservice to others with genuine service dogs.
Be responsible and realistic – and be fair to your dog too.
As an individual with a personality of his own, your Pitbull may or may not be a good service dog, and either outcome is still fine. Just don’t be in denial about your dog’s levels of self-control and reliability.
Remember, no matter what breed it is, a service dog that goes out in public with you should be truly exceptional and exhibit consistently exemplary behavior!