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

Do pit bulls get a bad rap? Experts weigh in.

Bites, Bans, and More

Opponents argue that pit bulls are more likely to attack. But the ASPCA, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and some other groups have recommend against breed-specific laws. They cite a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association on Sept. 15, 2000. 

The study, which focused on fatal dog attacks, notes difficulties identifying various breeds (particularly mixed breeds) and in calculating a bite rate. The researchers noted that there isn’t consistent data on breed populations and bites, especially when the injury isn’t serious enough to require an ER visit.

Reid says many things can lead to a tendency toward aggression. That includes breeding dogs for protection, dog  fighting, social status, or financial gain. Abuse, neglect, chaining, tethering, and inadequate obedience training and supervision also make the list.

Myths About Pit Bulls

Here are three myths about pit bulls:

They have locking jaws. There’s nothing anatomically different about a pit bulls’ jaw - “they cannot lock,” Reid says. But like other terriers, “they are more likely than other breeds to grab a hold of something and to shake.” It doesn’t mean they won’t let go, but owners need to know how to break up a fight.

They can tolerate huge amounts of pain. “Pit bulls are incredibly wimpy in many respects - they don’t like to go in the cold and rain,” Reid says. But when aroused or agitated, they may be less responsive to pain.

They’re unpredictable. The popular notion is that pit bulls can be fine their entire lives and suddenly snap and turn on their owner. Reid says that’s no more likely to happen with pit bulls than it is with any other breed.

Considering a Pit Bull?

You’ll need to do more than the average dog owner to counteract negative perceptions. Socializing the dog with people and other animals is key. Here are some other tips:

  • If your pit bull is friendly with other dogs, maintain that socialization by meeting up with friends or going to the dog park, if your dog doesn’t get too rowdy in such settings.
  • Monitor your dog’s play and be prepared to distract your dog if she gets too intimidating. “The ones that are friendly with other dogs are sort of the life of the party, but they can play rough sometimes because they are so strong,” Reid says.
  • If your dog isn’t friendly with other dogs, make sure he’s on a leash and there are no unleashed dogs around.
  • When it comes to other pets, Reid says some pit bulls “are absolutely lovely with other animals - cats and bunnies,” but others are not. Take introductions slowly. “The more you know about the dog, the better off your are,” Reid says.

Responsible pet ownership includes spaying or neutering your pet. That will help decrease some undesirable behavior, such as male dominance aggression.

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