Ask Doctor Dog: Do Pit Bull Terriers Make Good Pets?
Pit bull terriers have a lengthy reputation for being aggressive. Of all the dog breeds, pit bulls might have the harshest reputation.
Are they as dangerous as some people make them out to be, or is it all a misunderstanding? Let's set the record straight.
The Question: Are Pit Bull Terriers Dangerous?
Dear Doctor Dog,
Pit bull terriers have always been on my list of favorite dog breeds. Now that I have the space to have a large dog, I'm considering adopting one. My mother-in-law, however, is horrified. She called them, and I quote, "unpredictable killing machines with jaws that lock like a vice."
Is there any truth to this? Every pittie I've met has seemed like a sweetheart. Advice?
– Sasha Klein from Lakewood, California
Doctor Dog's Answer: Good Dogs Are Made by Good Owners, Including Pit Bull Terriers
Welcome to the dog debate of the century. I have a bone to pick with your mother-in-law. (Preferably one without rawhide, since those upset my tummy.) Pit bull terriers can make excellent family pets when raised by responsible owners.
Here are the facts. Between 2005 and 2017, pit bull terriers have been responsible for about 65 percent of all fatal dog bites in the United States. Pit bulls descended from the English bull-baiting dog, which was trained to bait large game animals, like bulls and bears. Some of them were later bred with terriers to create a more athletic breed.
These smaller, more agile pit bull terriers were then bred for two different purposes. Some were bred to fight other dogs, while others were bred for companionship or work. So does that mean some pit bulls are hardwired to be aggressive?
Nope. Even dogs used for fighting had to be handleable by people, so dogs who were aggressive toward handlers weren't included in breeding programs.
Many dogs are kept for different purposes today than the jobs they were originally bred for. Just look at me. I'm a golden retriever, and my ancestors were tasked with retrieving game during hunting season. The only thing I've ever retrieved is my favorite tennis ball.
It's impossible to say exactly which personality traits a puppy will inherit, but there isn't a single breed that's universally sweet or scary. Every dog's temperament should be assessed individually, pit bull or not.
Moreover, a dog's temperament is influenced by their environment just as much as by their genes. Even a dog with a genetic predisposition to reacting to other dogs, for example, can be socialized early on to play well with others, preventing future aggression before it happens.
Let's break it down a little more.
What's true about pit bull terriers:
- They were once used as fighting dogs
- Later, many people kept them as "nanny" dogs thanks to their friendly disposition
- They're extremely muscular and strong
- They can deliver a serious bite, just like any other large dog
- In the 1980s and 1990s, many pit bulls were purchased as guard dogs or to look "tough," and were trained to be aggressive by irresponsible owners
What's just a rumor:
- Pit bulls are aggressive by nature. Nope. They can, however, be trained to be aggressive by abusive or irresponsible treatment.
- Their jaws lock. Totally not true. They have very strong jaws and tend to shake whatever they're holding, but that's true of all terriers.
- They're unpredictable. Rumor has it that pit bulls can snap in an instant, but they're no more likely to suddenly snap on an owner than any other dog breed. When this does occur, there's usually a trigger.
In short, there are many, many loving pit bulls out there, and they're not ticking aggression time bombs. As long as you socialize and train your dog properly, there's no reason to avoid the pit bull terrier breed. If you love pitties, get one, give it tons of love and care, and show your mother-in-law the side of the breed she's missing.
– Doctor Dog
What to Consider Before Getting a Pit Bull Terrier
Like we mentioned, early socialization is important with all dogs. It's especially important with pit bulls due to their strength, and also to help counteract the negative perceptions many people still hold.
Before you get one, make sure you have enough time and experience to train a breed like a pit bull. Plan on attending an obedience class, and learn how to respond if play does become too rough.
Some pit bulls aren't good with other dogs, but those who are love to play. Their strength can overwhelm their playmates from time to time, so learn how to distract them with a treat or a favorite toy if they take the fun too far.
Pit bulls can be wonderful family pets, but introductions to other animals and children should be taken slowly. Kids should be taught to respect your dog from the start, as well as how to read their body language.
Getting your dog spayed or neutered can also help prevent aggressive behavior, particularly in males. Keep in mind, most of these tips apply to all dogs, especially large, tough breeds who can cause more harm if they become aggressive.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Do your homework, and your relationship with your pit bull terrier will be a great one.
Note: Some cities have breed-specific bans, so double-check that your city allows pit bulls before adopting one.
Have a Question for Doctor Dog?
Leave any questions for me, and look for my responses in my Dear Doctor Dog advice column on Always Pets. Have questions about cats, bunnies, hamsters or any other critters? Shoot! I may be a dog myself, but I'm here to help all your animal companions, whether they have four legs or fins.
Important reminder: Doctor Dog is happy to provide general pet care guidance, but she cannot provide formal medical recommendations or diagnoses for your pet. Your pet's veterinarian should always be your primary resource for serious questions regarding your pet's health.