Pit Bulls are often given a bad rap for being dangerous dogs. The truth is, any dog can be dangerous. Dogs are strong animals with sharp teeth who will try to defend themselves if they feel threatened. But with proper care, training, and socialization, we have successfully managed to integrate dogs within our households for thousands of years.
So, where does this leave the Pit Bull breed? Is a Pit Bull a safe dog to own? In most cases, yes. Pit Bulls can be great family dogs who are loyal, protective, and affectionate. It is actually against their nature to fight and be aggressive. The problem lies with people, not the breed.
But sadly, many owners train and use their dogs to be aggressive. This, plus the unscrupulous people who overbreed for higher profits are the primary reason a lot of Pit Bulls end up in shelters through no fault of their own. There are a few steps you can take to help ensure your success in adopting a Pit Bull as part of your family.
Steps to Take When Adopting a Pit Bull
The key to successfully owning a Pit Bull is your willingness to train, socialize, and observe your dog’s behavior. Pit Bulls may need some additional engagement and a lot of positive guidance from their owner. These dogs have a lot of energy and were often bred to be working dogs who could function in an assertive and independent manner. As a result, they can be a bit stubborn at times. But fortunately, they look to their owners for direction and are very bright and fully trainable.
Keep in mind that Pit Bulls along with German Shepherds, Bull Dogs, Mastiffs, and other very strong dogs are probably best suited for a seasoned dog owner. These types of dogs, while they can make wonderful pets, may also need someone with sufficient physical strength to manage them as they are being trained. Otherwise, their exuberance may be too much for some people. I am moving into my senior years and even my two smaller, mixed-breed dogs often feel like a handful!
If you are adopting a puppy, you will have a good opportunity to mold him into a happy, warm, family member. Just make sure your puppy is healthy, especially if you do not have information about the breeder. If he came from a puppy mill he may have some health issues. However, that should not necessarily stop you from adopting. Just be prepared by getting as much information as you can about his vaccinations and health records. You can also take him to a local vet to be evaluated before committing. See my post, How to Tell if a Rescue Dog is Healthy before you Adopt for more insights.
Enroll your Pit Bull in obedience classes at an early age to teach him basic commands and to socialize with other dogs. And, if possible, set up play dates with other dogs of friends and families as well. This will help him learn how to appropriately interact with other dogs. Dog parks and daycares are another option but only when responsible oversight by owners or staff can be provided.
The first six months of a puppy’s life are important for socialization. Dogs who miss this early socialization have a harder time adapting later in life. Some people argue that Pit Bulls become naturally aggressive due to their genetics when they reach two years old. However, this has not been proven and any dog can become more aggressive as he matures. Pit Bulls are high-energy dogs who require daily exercise. As with any dog, pent-up energy from lack of exercise can lead to destructive behavior or aggression.
Adopting from a Shelter
Before you adopt a Pit Bull from a shelter get as much background information as possible about his past. In some cases, Pit Bulls have been trained to be aggressive and to attack or protect property. Others may simply be strays for various reasons or whose owner died. Many of these dogs are starved for affection and respond well to caring shelter staff and new owners.
I recently took my dogs to the local dog park provided by our city shelter and noticed a volunteer walking a beautiful, white Pit Bull. They walked close to the fence where we were playing and this sweet dog stopped to stick his nose through the fence with his tail wagging happily. He looked so joyful and clearly wanted to play with my dogs. The volunteer said he had spent most of his prior life outdoors, guarding his owner’s yard. Yet, I saw no signs of malice or aggression, just a yearning to play and connect.
Keep in mind that a shelter is not a natural setting for a dog. They are noisy and full of strange dogs and people. So, if he seems despondent or anxious, this may be temporary due to the trauma of shelter life. However, shelter staff should inform you of any serious problems. Additionally, a shelter will probably not allow a truly vicious dog with a history of biting to be adopted.
However, given the proper care, most dogs begin to blossom and reveal their true after about three months. Given time, most shelter dogs become less inhibited and more relaxed in their new home. Be sure to see my comprehensive post, Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog.
Adopting from a Rescue Group
Adopting from a rescue group is probably a little safer than adopting from a shelter. Rescue groups actively retrieve and save dogs from known abusive or neglectful situations such as puppy mills or owners who use their dogs to guard property. Most of these Pit Bulls will be placed in foster homes to help them decompress and prepare to be adopted.
If a dog is aggressive, the staff may also work with a behavioral specialist to help recondition the dog and recover from his emotional trauma. In some cases, Pit Bulls may remain with the rescue group. Be sure to see my post Why You May Want to Adopt a Pit Bull for more information about the breed and links to reputable rescue groups where you can adopt.
Questions to Ask
Whether you are adopting from a shelter or rescue group, be sure to ask the following questions before you adopt a Pit Bull:
- How did the dog end up in the shelter
- How long has he been in the shelter
- What has his behavior been like
- Does he seem aggressive
- Is he responsive to staff interaction in a positive way
- Does he have any known medical or emotional problems
- Does he get along with other dogs
Getting information about a dog’s past will give you some clues about potential problems or behaviors. However, it will be more important to find out how the dog has behaved since he has been at the shelter. It is also important to not jump to conclusions about how a dog will behave merely based on a prior situation. Dogs have amazing adaptive skills, and mostly want to be connected and treated well.
Common Myths About Pit Bulls
Myth #1 — Pit Bulls are Naturally Viscious and Dangerous
This myth could not be further from the truth. Pitbulls are affectionate, sweet dogs who just want to be close to their family. They have often been raised to guard property and herd livestock because of their stocky and sturdy build. Since they were bred to take down large animals as herding dogs, they could have some potential to be aggressive toward other animals. However, this is more a matter of training and socialization than breeding.
See the ASCPA Position Paper on Pit Bulls that points to how people treat and train dogs as the primary shaper of disposition rather than genetics.
Myth #2 — Pit Bulls are Only Bred for Fighting and Owned by Criminals
While it is true that some Pit Bulls used to be bred for fighting, they were also bred as working dogs, companion animals, and as family protectors. They may be the preferred type of dog for criminals because of their strength and hardiness, but they are also owned by teachers, bankers, social workers, and at least three United States presidents. They are also a family favorite for parents who want an affectionate dog to play with and also protect their kids.
Myth #3 — Pit Bulls End Up in Shelters Because They are Bad Dogs
Most Pit Bulls end up in shelters and rescues through no fault of their own. Dogs are not bad. People are bad! Unlicensed and unscrupulous breeders often overbreed in their quest to make a profit, and the unsold pups as well as their parents often get dumped into shelters.
Senior dogs or dogs who are no longer needed by uncaring owners also find themselves going to shelters. Sadly, there are a few who have been trained to be aggressive that get picked up by animal control after they have bitten someone. These poor mutts are often euthanized rather than put up for adoption.
Be sure to see this great article from Newsweek.com about many other unwarranted myths about Pit Bulls.
Extra Precautions and Tips When Raising a Pit Bull
Anyone who owns a dog should take a number of safety precautions to protect both the dog and others. However, a little extra due diligence is warranted when owning a Pit Bull. Despite the fact that these dogs are usually good-natured, it is always important to remember how strong they are. Always pay attention to your dog’s behavior. Be prepared to call in a behavioral specialist if you detect any signs of aggression.
Additionally, Pit Bulls were originally bred to take down large animals as herding and working dogs. If they were to become aggressive as an act of self-defense they could be more lethal than the average dog. So pay attention to any signs of aggression and deal with it immediately. Early training and socialization will help teach your dog manners and the basic rules of being around others. Often, a simple obedience class can be a big help.
- When you first get your dog, make sure your Pit Bull is licensed, wears identifying dog tags, and is microchipped. This will help if he gets lost or separated from you and less likely that animal control will be called just because he looks like a stray Pit Bull.
- Secondly, make sure you always walk him on a leash. There is nothing more frightening to some people than seeing a Pit Bull running around loose in the park.
- Thirdly, you probably should avoid dog parks unless you have a good connection with the other owners and their dogs who go to the park. If a fight were to break out, the Pit Bulls usually get blamed even when it is not their fault. Additionally, due to the strength of a Pit Bull, it will be more challenging to break up a fight if he is provoked or attacked.
Pitt Bulls can be wonderful family dogs. They can be safe to raise as pets. These sturdy dogs are some of the most affectionate and loyal dogs. And, they usually want nothing more than to be part of a loving family.
Even so, you should take some extra precautions when adopting and raising a Pit Bull. Just keep in mind, that as with humans, dogs’ personalities are molded more through their environment than because of their genetics.