The Plight of the Pit Bull: Maligned, Misidentified and Banned

In her latest column, North Bend resident and dog trainer for Miss Lola’s Academy, Melissa Grant, examines the plight of the Pit Bull breed…. and just how the breed developed a ‘bad rep’ and just how often it is misidentified, which only adds to the breed’s reputation struggle in recent years.

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Every breed of dog was developed to perform a specific job, whether that job is hunting rabbits, retrieving birds, herding cattle or being a good companion.

The Pit Bull is the descendent of English bull-baiting dogs. They were bred to bite and hold a bull, or other large animals, around the head and face. At some point in the 1800’s, animal baiting was outlawed and people turned to fighting their dogs against each other.

The larger, slower bull-bating dogs were bred with faster, smaller terriers to create a quicker and more athletic breed of fighting dogs. While some Pits were specifically bred to be fighting dogs, others were bred for companionship and work.

Both were bred to be easily handled and are not known to be aggressive toward humans. In fact, research on pet dogs confirms that ‘dog-aggressive dogs’ are no more likely to direct aggression toward people than canines that are not aggressive toward other dogs.

However, Pit Bulls do have a PR problem. And it’s a bad one. 

Dogs of all breeds bite, but why do Pit Bulls seem to take up all the media spotlight? In the past, Pit Bull coverage was positive. They were the favorite breed of many notable people such as Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller – and even the “Our Gang” kids all had them as pets.

During WWI, Pit Bulls were proudly displayed as examples of bravery. They were known as “All American Dogs.”  But somewhere along the line, their path took a tragic turn.

Pit Bulls were exploited through dog fighting in the 1980’s by an urban criminal element. The reputation of an entire breed was dragged through the mud by sensational headlines and news stories. These stories set the stage for fear and subsequent breed ban laws to sweep the country… but was it a fair characterization?

Many unfounded urban myths started to sweep the country regarding these dogs:

  • MYTH: “I heard they have LOCKING jaws.”  TRUTH: There is no special mechanism in the Pit Bulls’ mouth any different from any other dog.  They have big heads and big-headed dogs can bite hard.  ALL big-headed dogs have a potentially crushing bite.
  • MYTH: “Don’t they eventually turn on their owners?” TRUTH:  Healthy dogs with stable temperaments who are treated well do not simply turn on their owners one day. Dogs that bite people are typically troubled animals, owned by reckless owners who’ve ignored or disregarded the signs that come with nearly any dog bite. In general, biting dogs have been set up to fail by improper handling, abuse and/or damaged genetics.
  • MYTH: “Pit Bulls who show aggression towards other animals will go after people NEXT!”  TRUTH: Experienced dog people understand that ‘dog-dog aggression’ and ‘dog-people’ aggression are two completely different behaviors. One is not likely to cause the other. This particular myth has caused much of the damage and hysteria to the breed. It simply isn’t true, as science and experience show.

Misidentification: Can you actually spot a Pit Bull?

The next issue Pit Bulls have is how frequently they are misidentified.  If you look at the CDC gathered numbers for fatal dog attacks in the U.S., they list “Pit Bull types” as the number one aggressor. The Husky is the only other breed identified in such vague terms.

People simply don’t know exactly what a true Pit Bull looks like, especially when compared to a Boxer mix, or a Ridgeback mix or an American Bull dog mix. Can you pick the Pit bull out of the pictures included in this article? If you can’t, imagine how difficult it would be to do it under the duress of an attack.

All of this culminated in the Pit Bull being used as a political platform and resulted in Breed Specific Laws designed to keep certain dangerous dogs out of our communities. People have to relinquish their dogs to shelters because they can’t find a place to live or get insurance because of their dog’s appearance.

Places like Denver routinely confiscate and destroy dogs suspected of being more than 50% Pit Bull. Washington has several communities that have dog breed bans or name certain breeds as dangerous – Enumclaw, Auburn, Yakima are just a few. Closer to the Snoqualmie Valley, the Issaquah Highlands Community Association prohibits the ownership of Pit Bulls.

However, the Washington State House Judiciary Committee is considering House Bill 1018, which would amend the state’s dangerous dog law by prohibiting local governments from banning possession of a particular breed or declaring a specific dog breed to be dangerous or potentially dangerous.

If you would like to comment on the purposed legislation visit https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/1018.  

Maybe soon we will turn the clock back to a time when we judged dogs on their actual behavior and not the breed. For all the many nice Pits out there – I hope so. Woof!

Could you pick out the Pit Bull if these photos did not have captions?

 

cane corso

 

American Bulldog

pit

Comments

  1. Heather Johnson says

    I have seen a Black Lab bite a child I the face when the child ran up to it while the Lab was concerned about another dog across the park. I have seen a Pit Bull take a Jack Russell in its jaws and pummel it to death. Dogs are unpredictable.

  2. I think the salient point is that all dogs are animals, capable of tremendous good and tremendous harm. Given the benefit or disadvantage of anyone’s particular nature (what we’re born with) and nurture (what we experience after we arrive on the planet) the possibilities of how we move through the world are endless. Pit Bulls, and any other breed we either scorn or worship are no exception to the laws of nature / nurture.
    Humankind itself has alot of explaining to do, given the destruction and mayhem we routinely inflict on others. And we’re the ones with the bigger brains.

  3. This dangerous breed needs to be wiped out of existence. Mandatory sterilization of all pit bulls should be required until the genetic pool is cleaned.

    • Mr Sixpack,
      I can’t figure out if your ignorant comment was made to evoke a dramatic response or if you’re really that Stupid. Did you actually read the article? Have you ever even been in contact with pitbull? Or is your comment just another unfounded and unfortunate opinion from one more a person swayed by the media hype?

      • You pitbull owners should develop stronger arguments than leveling the charge of ignorance. It’s become a mantra in place of solid argument. I agree with mandatory sterilization of dangerous and I promise it’s not due to ignorance. It has to do with breeding and the characteristics that breeding develops. With Pitbulls (and some other breeds) the ability to inflict massive damage while ignoring pain and damage to themselves was of paramount importance to breeders. That legacy makes them dangerous. They were bred to attack at a moment’s notice and destroy the target no matter what. When that is awakened in a pet for whatever reason, the target of that is in a world of hurt. Breed characteristics of labs, pointers, beagles etc are never ignored because they’re not unsavory. No one argues that Collies can have their herding instinct loved out of them. With Pitbulls, maybe you’ll never have a problem, but maybe you will. If you do, you have a big problem. Not to mention that they’re attractive to the worst sort of people and as such, subject to horrible treatment and even being thrown into the pit to fight. Their existence is their own worst enemy. Ask yourself what’s most important; their painful lives or your right to own one? What do you really care about?

        • many dogs bite and statistically pit bulls are not at the top and their tempers have been tested with many other breeds and they are at the top at not being aggressive. Please do look at the statistics. Every time a “new bully” type rears its head and bad people get them the dog bite ratio goes up- 1970’s- doberman, 1980’s rottie’s, and on and on and on. It is time to make it hard on the people who do dumb things not the animals. I am 47 from a very white collared family- no drama no domestic violence, no drugs- etc., etc and guess what in the 30 years of having this breed of dog not one bite, not any aggression. It is a shame we have so much ignorance in the world 🙁

      • Joe Sixpack says

        Yes, I’m very familiar with pit bulls, and I have the scars on my calf to prove it. The “family-friendly” dog that bit me may not have had locking jaws, but it was strong enough and determined enough that I wasn’t able to pry it off until I had stabbed and slashed the beast two dozen times with a pocket knife before it expired.

        There’s no need to for me to be swayed by the media “hype.” Anyone who thinks these dogs belong in our communities needs to have his or her head examined.

    • fite me

  4. The PB breed needs to go. Yes, they need to be outlawed/banned…….period. There have just been too many incidents where they have maimed or killed. I will do everything possible to ensure the breed is banned.

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