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Pit Bulls: What's Hype, What's Not

Do pit bulls get a bad rap? Experts weigh in.
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By Pamela Babcock
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Doberman pinschers, rottweilers, and German shepherds topped lists of dogs some considered dangerous in the not-too-distant past.

These days, pit bulls often make headlines and it’s rarely good news. If it isn’t about an attack on a child or a shooting by police, it’s a tale of neglect or abuse. The heat of such reports has forged a frightening image of the pit bull as having a hair-trigger temper and a lock-jawed bite.

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But pit bull advocates and some experts say the dogs get a bad rap. They say the dogs are not inherently aggressive, but in many cases suffer at the hands of irresponsible owners drawn to the dog's macho image who encourage aggression for fighting and protection.

Indeed, the ASPCA web site gives the breed an endorsement that could fit a golden retriever. It says, “A well-socialized and well-trained pit bull is one of the most delightful, intelligent, and gentle dogs imaginable.”

In general, pit bulls aren’t aggressive with people but are “less tolerant” of other dogs than many other breeds, says Pamela Reid, PhD, vice president of the ASPCA’s Animal Behavior Center in New York. They also have “great tenacity. They put their mind to something, and they do it. That’s what makes them great dogs for sports like weight pulling. They are very strong, athletic animals," Reid says.

Owning a pit bull should not be taken lightly. Some cities and towns have banned the breed. You also may face rising insurance rates or cancellation of your policy, difficulty renting, and the watchful eye of neighbors and passersby.

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