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Pit Bull – A Notorious Name and a Ruined Reputation

Pit BullFor many people the term “pit bull” typically brings several negative images immediately to mind.  Images of a muscular dog on the end of a thick chain guarding a junkyard; a news report of a child being killed by a pack of ferocious dogs; the underbelly of the inner city where dog fighting rings play their disgusting games. “Pit Bulls” have earned a stigma as brutes, fighters, and even killers. I have to admit that if I were to come across the stereotypical “pit bull” in a dark alley, I would certainly be looking for the quickest way out of there. But, in my entire career in animal care, I have never come across a true pit bull, at least not the dog that fits that notorious label.

“Pit bull” is a nickname used to describe several breeds in a group of dogs known as molossers. Some well-known molosser breeds that fall under the label include the English Bulldog, Bullmastiff, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, American Bulldog, Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Boxer, Rottweiler, and yes, the American Pit Bull Terrier which is the only breed of dog with the words “pit bull” in the name. While the term pit bull probably stems from the name American Pit Bull Terrier, any dog with a big, boxy head, stocky body, muscular build, and a generally tough guy appearance becomes grouped into the pit bull stereotype. Mixed breed dogs may be labeled in shelters or pet stores as pit bulls or pit bull mixes if the origin of the animal is unknown, but the body type suggests molosser heritage. Animals that are labeled as pit bulls may have no trace of American Pit Bull Terrier in them. An unfortunate mix of Poodle, Boxer, Bulldog, Labrador or some other breed, the mix of which happens to look like a pit mix Pit Bull Pup(Boxer-shaped head or Bulldog’s stocky body), it will probably be called a pit bull. We are all guilty of calling dogs with this body type pits or pit-mixes, because let’s face it, its easier than saying Boxabullabradorapoo. Unfortunately, generalization may cost a lot of dogs their lives. “Pit bulls” in shelters are often euthanzied, at a disadvantage simply because the name pit bull discourages their adoption.

The media is also guilty in the condemning this group. Whenever someone is bitten or killed by a dog, the term pit bull is often used to describe the dog because it’s an attention grabber. While the offending dog could be a Cane Corso/German Shepherd mix, it might still a pit bull to convey the same stereotypical ferocious dog image. Attacks by pit bulls are sensationalized as stories than attacks by most other breeds of dog don’t spark the same response. Some may make an argument that, statistically, pit bulls are involved in many attacks on humans. In my opinion, bite statistics are unreliable since many breeds and mixes are massed into one blanket “pit bull” group. Many bites go unrecorded if the victim has no serious injury. doesn’t press charges or report the bite. Who is going to report a bite by a small, unassuming breed like a Yorkshire Terrier or a Lhasa Apso? When someone is bitten by a pit bull, the incident is more likely to be reported, simply because many people percieve that all pit bulls are dangerous. For example, not many people associate the adorable spotted dalmation with aggression, but I’ve met several rather nasty Dalmatians in my day and even though Pongo the Dalmatian may look sweet and noble, he may be just as likely to bite. I have never been bitten or threatened by a pit bull-type dog, but I HAVE in fact, been bitten, lunged at, and growled at by Corgis, Chihuahuas, Rat Terriers, Dalmatians, Poodles, and many other “cute” breeds. 
I’m not implying that any of these breeds are inherently bad, my point is that the potential for ANY type of dog to bite is there. If the dog was abused or not properly socialized, if he has trouble seeing or hearing, if he’s shy of strangers or overprotective of his owner, etc., he may bite!

Though saddled with a reputation for blood lust, most molosser breeds make excellent companion dogs that will also protect their human families with their lives. Many are known to be good with children, tolerating prodding and pulling with a nonchalant attitude. Dogs in the molosser group are high-energy and do well when charged with an activity or a task, such as Search and Rescue, or just romping though the park. They are workers, protectors, and best of all, friends to those who treat them with love and kindness. Give them a chance to prove it before you judge them on outside opinion alone.

3 comments

  1. avatar

    Hallo Jess

    I want to thank you for your very valuable article!!!
    I do underline every thought you have brought in this amazing description of yours!
    I can not add anything but rather share a few memories of my dog experiences to emphasize your statements.

    Dalmatian:
    We once had such a stunning female Dalmatian. She really was a very special family member and NEVER threatened to bite or show any aggression towards us as a family….BUT….
    As soon as strangers would walk past our yard and utter the usual “ahhh, sweet!!!” etc upon seeing our Dalmatian, she would jump up, not making ANY sound and make a FULL BLOWN charge toward the people passing by!!! Slitting the last meter not to strike the fence, she would only then give one huge deep bark!!! The people used to stand in shock and did not want to say anything any more…..
    We did love that dog!

    Bull terrier:
    Being a carpenter, I had to do installations at many private residences where a few people own these breed of dogs. ALL said one and the same thing; these dogs are the most lovable family dogs ever encountered! These dogs were also very lovable and always wanted to be strolled.
    Once we had a neighbor with such a bull terrier. Unfortunately that dog was very neglected by its owner BUT ALWAYS welcomed him when he came home. The kids even tormented that dog but it would NEVER bite. The gate always stood open but the dog never ventured outside the yard. One day how ever, a stranger entered the yard and the dog did its job…..it grabbed the guy’s arm and did not let go…..it just held the bleeding guy until somebody came out to free the victim. Interesting enough was the fact that the dog only held the guy and DID NOT try to viciously kill him! Obviously when blood flows, so many people will exaggerate and describe the dog as a brutal killer….BUT THAT BULL TERRIER WAS NOT!!!

    Staffordshire terrier:
    My brother-in-law owns a staffie. This incredible powerful, muscular and extreme energetic dog is one of the most lovable dogs I came across! As soon as his owner leaves him when going to work, it will go in a complete “shut down” mode until my brother-in-law returns. The dog has an immense visible emotional outshine you could ever imagine. Toward my three rough boys he will never even give the slightest sign that he is irritated. I could go on for ours but I thing you get the point….

    Wirehaired terrier:
    Together with our mixed Irish terrier/German short hair, we have a female wirehaired terrier as well. ALSO such an amazing tough bundle of hyper activeness. She how ever, will only let me, of the whole family, pick her up. Although she loves to be strolled, no one should try to hold her or pick her up. We learned to respect that and have no problem with her.
    She is a really good watch dog and when ever she announces something, you can be sure to take a look…there WILL be something!

    I think the whole problem with people, lies in the fact that many people purchase dogs with out even doing adequate research what breed would suit them. For instance the staffie of my brother-in-law has its THIRD owner…and as said, that dog is one hell of a companion for its owner!!!
    Terriers for example are in general just VERY active dogs and for what I once read, the breed that does the most unexpected biting is in fact the cocker spaniel….????
    What ever the case may be, I find all domesticated breeds of dogs are suitable for mankind and it is very evident that the dogs become what we make of them (my opinion)

    Best regards
    Gert

  2. avatar

    You’re right that pit bulls are definitely victims in breed discrimination.

  3. avatar

    As a pitbull mix owner (shepard & lab) I wanted to share a dark alley story – One morning very early – I was walking my dog and I saw a massive grey pitbull running to us, no leash, no owner, head like a cinder block, spiked collar, bulging muscles – the whole package – absolutely huge. My first reaction, I was terrified but immediately following that, I thought – wait, pitbulls are actually very good natured and sweet. By that time the dog was upon us, he made my pit mix look like a My Little Pony, all curvy and cute. He charged up to us but slowed as he approached my dog, tail wagging, sniffing behind his ears, checking him out, My dog in turn, sniffed him, wagged his tail and then his owner came running over apologizing profusely. We’ve had much more disastrous meetings with Chihuahuas! I guess the lesson is don’t let what man (dogfighting) has done tarnish the true nature of these dogs, there are so many wonderful dogs pit and non looking for homes – I found mine here – http://www.foundanimals.org/pet-adoption/adopt-pet-los-angeles – if your not in L.A just type in your zip. thanks for listening!

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Jess has been an employee at That Fish Place/That Pet Place since 2005, stationed in both the Reptile and Small Animal rooms. She specializes in small animal care, and focuses particularly on rats, giving her the nickname of “The Rat Girl” by her customers and fellow employees. She has an Associate degree in Liberal Arts from Penn State York and is currently attending English courses online at University of Maryland University College. Her passion has always been animals and she has owned just about every variety of them, including cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, and even millipedes! She also loves writing and is working on publishing a series of young adult fantasy novels.

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