One thing that really irritates me is the way that news services have to sensationalize everything. You’ve probably heard the phrase that is supposed to be common in newsrooms, “If it bleeds, it leads.” So if you believe the news reports, humans are under attack everywhere from pit bulls. You probably also know that this is supposedly so bad that communities have been forced to adopt bans on pit bulls, Rottweilers, and other large dogs.
Now, what is the real truth about pit bulls? I’ve done a lot of research on the subject of pit bulls, and what I’ve found out might surprise you.
The Origin of the Pit Bull
No one knows for sure where the pit bull originated, or what even constitutes a pit bull. It is generally agreed upon by the AKC, though, that pit bulls today comprise only three distinct breeds – the American Staffordshire terrier, the American pit bull terrier, and the Staffordshire bull terrier. Colloquially, any dog that is raised and trained for dog fighting (which is a horrible so-called sport that I have talked about in another blog) can be called a pit bull – so technically, Dobermans, English mastiffs, English bulldogs, Cane Corsos, DogoArgentinos, PresaCanaria, and many other breeds could also be termed “pit bulls.” Since we are talking about breed specifics here, though, we will consider only the three AKC recognized dogs.
As to origin, pit bulls probably descended from the ancient Greek breed, the Molossus, which is now extinct. They began as herding and guard dogs, and were also used in war. During the times of the Greeks, Romans, and early Britons, this breed made its way across many countries, and interbred with local breeds all across the continent, eventually evolving into the types of dogs that we call pit bulls today.
Early Britons used large, pit bull type dogs for bull baiting, dog fighting, bear baiting, and other blood sports. As Britons immigrated to America, they brought the dogs with them. Dog fighting continued, but the pit-type breeds were also brought back to their original purpose as working and herding dogs. Until 1936 though, because of the fighting background, the AKC refused to recognize pit bulls, and even then, only recognized the American Staffordshire.
You might be surprised to know that before 1980, there were no recorded attacks by pit bulls. In fact, if you were to pick up a magazine from the 1960s or 1970s that contained ads for pet dogs, you would overwhelmingly see the AmStaff, the American pit bull terrier, and the Staffordshire bull terrier advertised as wonderful family dogs that were very devoted and good with children. There were no calls for breed bans, and nothing to suggest that pit bulls were any more dangerous than any other poorly trained, badly supervised dog.
Why the Change?
As of 1986, more than 30 communities in the United States were considering pit bull bans. How could that happen?
Well, it happened because of criminals who wanted to own large breeds and train them to be vicious. In short, it happened because of drug dealers. These dogs were inbred to encourage mental instability, and then abused to the point where they would lash out at anyone and everyone. It wasn’t the fault of the dogs – it was the fault of the people who misused them. And instead of blaming the people who were breeding improperly and torturing dogs, the knee-jerk reaction was to place a ban on the breed. From time immemorial, it had been sufficient to charge and punish people who deliberately kept vicious dogs, but in response to a public outcry over what was actually very few attacks, all attributable to bad owners, it was deemed easier to punish a good breed.
Can We Turn Back the Clock?
So, how do we get back to where we were? I think first of all that we have to understand, as a society, that there really are no bad dogs – there are only bad owners. And that drug dealers and other criminals, if they don’t have access to the large dogs that they want, are simply going to train large packs of small dogs to be vicious.
We need to get back to the concept of personal responsibility, and hold dog owners accountable for the actions of their dogs. It’s not enough to make a dog attack a misdemeanor – the penalties aren’t severe enough to be a deterrent.
It’s also important for responsible pit bull owners to make sure that they are just that – responsible. You are the owner of a big, solid dog with an incredible amount of jaw power, so you have to be sure that this power is properly channeled. Pits require a lot of exercise, and do love to play aggressively. There is nothing wrong with aggression, if it is properly channeled. You are going to want to exercise your dog every day without fail, using toys that allow him or her to use all that energy that needs to be dissipated.
I especially like the ChuckIt! Fetch Toy for big dogs. It is roundish in shape, and about the size of a soccer ball. The idea is that you kick it, and your dog brings it back to you. It’s big enough that he can exercise those powerful jaws in a constructive way. And if your dog loves to swim, and additional bonus is that this toy floats – toss it way out into the pool or pond, and watch him get a great workout bringing it back.
You can also use “tug of war” toys. Some experts claim that tugging builds aggression, but I disagree. I’m more onside with the animal behaviorists who suggest that this is actually a way of constructively channeling aggression.
Pit bulls are great dogs, breed bans notwithstanding. Properly trained and exercised, they really can be the dogs that were advertised decades ago as being the perfect family pet.