Sgt. Stubby, a hero in World War I. The recent winner of the 2013 American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Award, Elle, is also a Pit Bull, as was Cesar Milan’s wonderful dog Daddy, of blessèd memory.
(This is edited from a longer piece I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site around 2005-07. I’m reposting it in honour of National Pit Bull Awareness Month.)
Canine racism is the only way I can describe the attitude a lot of people have towards Pitbulls. I’ve seen such horrifying statements, like they should all be shot, sterilised, euthanised, their entire breed killed off. Just because a few improperly-trained dogs made the news. Pitbulls are easily just as sweet, kind, loyal, and loving as any other breed, and no more disposed towards violence and aggression than a Golden Retriever is towards being so calm and friendly it would even make friends with an attempted burglar. It’s all in the training. A Pitbull can be an 80-pound lapdog just as a Lab can be a vicious guard dog.
A lot of these dogs with negative stereotypes are a lot more loyal, kind, protective, and loving than they’re given credit for. Many Rottweiler owners, for example, credit their dogs as sweet, protective, and loyal. The same goes for Dobermans and German Shepherds. It’s positively obscene how some people won’t rent to you if you’ve got a certain breed. Yes, some are chosen to be guard or police dogs because of characteristics the breed is more likely to have, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically suited for that line of work. There are cowardly Dobermans just as there are nasty, dangerous Basset Hounds. It all depends upon the owner, the environment, and the training.
Luke, one of the best animal actors ever, was an English Pitbull. And Pitbulls actually look very much like the American Terrier, which no one is up in arms about banning or exterminating.
Many myths abound about the Pitbull, such as they were specificially trained to be attack dogs. There are lots of breeds specially trained for hunting or guarding, like the Pointer or the Irish Setter, and again, no one is demanding an end to the breed. Studies have shown that their jaws are the same as any other breed, not locking. It’s pure folly to say their bites are more powerful and dangerous. Dogs don’t attack for no reason. However, it is true that a number of unscrupulous people use Pitties for the heinous, sadistic purpose of dog-fighting.
Since Pitbulls are very common, of course their number of bites will be higher than those reported from other breeds. That doesn’t prove any conclusive correlation between the breed and biting. The most popular breeds will naturally also have the highest number of bites. It’s the same with many other studies and statistics taken out of context on purpose.
Many people have a difficult time actually identifying a Pitbull; some dogs they think are Pits are actually mixed breeds or similar-looking dogs, such as the American Terrier. Another really rich myth is one that was once also attributed to the similarly-maligned Doberman, that their brains swell and make them go crazy. Some people think the skull is too small to accommodate all the grey matter, which has no basis in scientific or medical fact.
This is a very adaptable, versatile dog, probably a big reason why Luke was such a great actor, often stealing the show from his human co-stars. Pitbulls also excell at numerous other things besides the barbaric practice of dog-fighting, such as pulling sleds, herding, search and rescue operations, strength training, weight pull, and police work.
There’s also the myth that a dog aggressive towards other dogs will be aggressive towards humans. Inter-dog aggression is a natural Terrier trait, and in dog-fighting, humans handle the dogs, while the dogs fight one another. Then there’s the concept of being the alpha dog. But if you’re training your dog correctly, s/he’ll quickly come to learn you’re the alpha dog and will submit to you.
Pits did very well in the American Temperament Test Society’s breed statistics. The higher the score, the better the temperament. Some of the very low scorers were the Skye Terrier (37.5%), Tibetan Mastiff (38.5%), Spinone Italiano (40%), Tibetan Terrier (50%), Polski Owczarek Nizinny (50%), Bearded Collie (53.5%), and Neapolitan Mastiff (54.5%). In this particular study, 469 Pits were tested, with 391 passing and 78 failing, giving them a rating of 83.4%. That’s a damn good recommendation for the breed if you ask me.
As Pit-lovers will repeatedly testify, this is a loving, loyal, hard-working, protective, obedient, playful, versatile, sweet breed. Don’t let a few news stories turn you against the entire breed. Racial profiling is wrong, be it against people or animals.