October is National Pit Bull Awareness month. American Pit Bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers, otherwise known as Pit Bulls – often face disproportionately longer stays in shelters, sometimes three times longer than average.
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) has been in the news recently with Montreal, Canada passing a law against any dog that has “a large, block head and the characteristics of Pit Bulls”. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommends against the legislation, citing too much uncertainty in dog-bite data to target a specific breed. BSL is a fancy way of saying “Dog Discrimination Laws” and distracts from the bigger issue – bad and irresponsible dog ownership. BSL-related laws and ordinances imply, and contribute to the continued ignorance and misinformation being spread about Pit Bulls
Unfortunately, the perception that these breeds are more vicious than other breeds often stems more from fiction than reality. As a canine behavioral therapist and master dog trainer, I am often asked if certain dogs are born mean, or if certain breeds just have a pre-disposition to be aggressive or vicious. The truth is that dogs aren’t born mean; it’s dog parents that make them that way. A puppy is like a newborn baby – innocent and sweet. Any breed of dog can become aggressive because that’s what the dog owners teach them, either willingly or by default.
Myths of the “Pit Bull” breed:
- Pit Bulls Are Inherently Aggressive and/or Dangerous – This is a false statement and probably the most damaging of all Pit Bull stereotypes. As mentioned above, dogs become that way due to lack of incorrect or inappropriate training, neglect, or abuse. Unfortunately, due to their muscular nature, Pit Bull breeds are more susceptible to the dog fighting world, again being trained in this world.
- Pit Bulls Have “Locking Jaws” – This is also usually accompanied with the above false statement as proof that Pit Bulls are dangers to society. The claim is that Pit Bulls’ jaws are “designed to latch onto its prey and not let go” until the victim is either hurt or dead. BuzzFeed points out, that Pit Bull jaws exert less force than Rottweiler and German Shepherd jaws – not to mention, no dog that exists has jaws that lock and aren’t able to be pried open.
- Pit Bulls Are Crazy and Behave Badly – This is more misinformation that is spread by the ill-informed. The truth is that any dog can be “crazy” and “badly behaved” if it is allowed to by its owner. The idea that a Pit Bull is inherently less “trainable” than any other dog is untrue. Pit Bulls regularly test above other dogs in temperament and training tests and in my experience, one of the easiest to train.
- Pit Bulls Have Always Been Known as “Bad Dogs” – When Pit Bulls were first widely bred and owned, they were known as “Nanny Dogs” because they were extremely gentle protectors of young children and even babies. Do you remember Petey from “The Little Rascals” from the 1930’s? He was an American Pit Bull Terrier. There was also Sergeant Stubby, who saved countless lives in WWI, making him one of the first canine war heroes. At one time, they were known as “America’s Dog”.
- Pit Bulls Are Unpredictable and Can “Turn” On Their Owner – No dog is unpredictable and acts aggressive without warning. All dogs use body language first and foremost to communicate. You need to understand canine body language and pay attention to their body language, so you can tell when they are fearful, stressed, confused, and therefore ready to react to these circumstances. Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware of how to interact with dogs, especially strange dogs they meet for the first time, or read their body language (a wagging tail is not always a happy tail).
- Pit Bulls Are Bred for Fighting – Pit Bulls have always been bred for their loyalty, work ethic, companionship, and gentleness, among other characteristics. As mentioned previously, nanny dogs, war heroes, and other workers/friends make up the majority of Pit Bulls, although there are a percentage of Pit Bulls that have been involved in or bred for dog fighting. However, there are many people, including legislative officials and the media, who would have you, believe that this is a large percentage of Pit Bulls. More time times than not, when these fighting Pit Bulls have been rescued, they have been rehabilitated into the loving pets that they have the potential to be.
With October being both “Pit Bull Awareness” month and “Adopt a Dog” month, this is the perfect time to remind pet parents not to discriminate against dogs because of misconceptions. In fact, the next time you visit a shelter or rescue group, pay special attention to the American Pit Bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire Bull terriers waiting to be noticed. Give them a chance to find a way into your heart or home.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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