Hey friends and fiends, back again to do the research so you don’t have to! Today I want to start by reassuring you that no breed of dog is naturally aggressive1,2. We cannot make huge leaps of an entire group. Every dog is an individual and environmental and biological factors play a huge role in their psychology. There are some stereotype we can place on them like high energy, high prey drive, strong willed, ect but aggression does not fall into this. Individual dogs are not aggressive without human help1,2. By human help I’m referring to training, overbreeding, or scaring them2. The one exception to this is when dogs are in pain they can show signs of aggression2. This is not the type of aggression we are referring to in this post. Perception of dog breeds have a lot to do with breeds we consider to be aggressive3,4. Dogs traditionally used for guarding like German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Dobermans are often assumed to be aggressive3,4,5. These types of dogs are people motivated and will do whatever it takes to please their owners. This willingness to please can cause the dogs to be used by humans with bad intentions or plain ignorance. This doesn’t make the dog evil or bad. It’s the dog owner’s responsibility to properly socialize and train their dog. To be clear, Pit Bulls are no more prone to aggression than a Golden Retriever1,2,5.
In order to get rid of the stereotype we need to look at a brief history of Pit Bulls. The ‘Pit Bull’ is not a real breed of dog6. It is a group of breeds lumped together including Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terriers, or anything that comes in brindle and/or looks like a stereotype. The original ‘Pit Bull’ was bred from an Old English Bull dog7. I am going to be referring to the group of stereotyped dogs as pit bulls in this post because the majority of the public sees them as such. Pit Bulls, the original, have been bred in the United Kingdom since the 1800s, initially to hunt and herd livestock6. Soon after people began training and breeding the dog to fight each other for sport as well as bulls7. This atrocity was outlawed in 1835 with the Cruelty to Animals Act7. Pit Bulls came over to America with the British colonies and were considered frontier dogs7,6. They were also bred to be overly friendly to humans even when they were bred to fight eachother7. A dog that bit it’s handler was no good7. The Pit Bull became America’s sweetheart dog during WWI and WWII7. This was the most popular time for them even featuring in popular television like Petey in The Little Rascals, Tige in the buster brown shoe commercials in the early 1900s, and Grunt in the 1983 movie Flashdance. When dog fighting made a comeback in the 1980’s the public view of these dogs started to decline and the Pit Bull stereotype was born. That’s where we are today. Pit bulls or pit-bull-look-alikes are put down immediately upon entrance to a high kill shelters, and sometimes at low kill shelters3,4. Even when they aren’t put down, studies have proven that when the name ‘pit bull’ is placed on an adoptable dog it is less likely to be adopted3.
So what can we do about this? There’s no magical fix that will make things go back to normal for the Pit Bull. However, educating yourself and those around you is a great start. Breed specific legislation is bad for all breeds. One thing you can do is to write your congressman if your state enforces such bans. If you’re scared or nervous about this breed, please go meet them. Go to rescues, take them for a walk. You could also find someone who has a Pit Bull in their home. I’m sure there are many parents of pitties who would love to introduce you in whatever way makes you most.
Our dogs Emmy (left), and Rascoe (right), and long time friend Scarlett (middle) playing tugawar!
1. Pierce Jessica Ph.D., June 2012. Understanding Aggression in Dogs. Psychology Today. Accessed 15 June 2021.
2. Salla Mikkola, Milla Salonen, Hannes Lohi. May 2021. Aggressive behavior is affected by demographic, environmental and behavioral factors in purebred dogs. Scientific Reports.
3. Lisa M Gunter, Rebecca T Barber, and Clive D L Wynne. 2016. What’s in a name? Effect of Breed Perceptions & Labeling on Attractiveness, Adoptions Length of Stay for Pit-Bull-Type Dogs.
4. Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. September 2016. Pit Bulls are Chiller Than Chihuahuas. The Atlantic
5. Sara K Enos. June 2014. The Problem with People, Not Pit Bulls. Time Magazine.
6. June 2021. Pit bull. The Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed June 24, 2021
7. Love-a-bull Pit Bull Advocacy group. The History of Pit Bulls. Love-a-bull.org. Accessed June 24, 2021