Why pit bulls do not deserve their bad reputation | Pets & Animals

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – Pit bulls have a reputation for being vicious, dangerous dogs. While it’s true that some pit bulls were once bred for fighting, that does not mean these often-loving dogs are hard-wired to attack. Pit bulls tend to get a bad rap because of sweeping generalizations that ignore two vital factors — the dog’s training and the dog’s owner. Any dog can be trained to be aggressive. The opposite is true, as well.

October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month, which is why Arizona’s Family sent Tess Rafols to the Arizona Animal Welfare League to find out more about the much-maligned breed. She met 10-year-old Petunia, whom she described as “the sweetest pit bull I have ever seen in my life.” Petunia is available for adoption, by the way.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions around pit bulls. One common one is that they don’t make great family dogs, which is simply not true,” AAWL spokesperson Kimberly Vermillion said. “Any breed of dog has the potential to be a great family dog.”

When considering adding a dog – or any pet, for that matter — to your family, Vermillion said it’s essential to make sure the animal meets everyone before making a decision. You want to be sure this potential new family member is the right fit – both with the people and in their lifestyle.

Dog safety experts say the actions of some dogs should not define entire breeds and that the responsibility for a dog’s behavior is on the owner. “Aggression towards humans is very abnormal for pit bull type dogs,” according to the American Pit Bull Foundation. “They are not naturally or inherently aggressive towards humans. Aggression comes from many factors involving environment, development during critical periods, but most importantly, human shaping of behavior.”

In discussing breed-specific bans, which often include pit bulls or even dogs that merely look like pit bulls, the America Kennel Club cited a Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances study. “Owner behavior has a direct impact on dog aggression and personality,” the AKC wrote. “Many experts have also observed that public perceptions of which breeds are most dangerous have changed throughout the decades,” the article continues. “In the 1970s, Doberman Pinschers were singled out. In the ’80s, German Shepherds [were] targeted. In the ’90s it shifted to Rottweilers, and today it’s pit bulls.”

It’s also to remember that “pit bull” is not one specific breed. It’s a catchall term that includes several official breeds, including the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bully, according to PrudentPet.com

That brings us to the next point: not all dogs that look like pit bulls actually are pit bulls. PrudentPet.com says dogs often are misidentified on sight as pit bulls. “Pit bulls are getting blamed for incidents they did not commit because of misidentification, causing inaccurate statistics,” the site says.

Breeding does play a role in a dog’s behavior, but it is not the only factor to consider. “While a dog’s genetics may predispose it to perform certain behaviors, tremendous behavioral variation exists among individuals of the same breed or breed type,” according to the ASPCA. It comes back to the owner and how the dog is raised and socialized. “Proper socialization, meeting their needs as they grow and develop, proper nutrition, and responsible ownership all play a role in preventing dog fights,” the APBF said. “All dog fights are preventable.” It’s up to the owner to do it, which includes keeping a close eye on playtime with other animals. The same is true of playtime with children. Supervision is key and teaching children how to properly treat the dog is essential.

Newsweek recently posted a story called “25 myth about pit bulls you should stop believing.” At the top of the list was the perceived temperament of pit bulls as inherently aggressive or vicious. Newsweek cited studies by the American Temperament Test Society showing that pit bulls are among the most tolerant dogs.

You might have heard that pitties “lock” their jaws or that they have insane biting pressure. Again, not true. “The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of pit bulls show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any breed of dog,” Dr. Lehr Brisbin of the University of Georgia told APBF. “All figures describing biting power in such terms can be traced to either unfounded rumor or, in some cases, to newspaper articles with no foundation in factual data.”

Defenders of the breed insist that pit bulls, in general, are loving, loyal, protective, and dependable companions. But just people, every dog is different. Petunia, for example, is as sweet as they come. Vermillion said Petunia, who demonstrated her “give me five” skills and gently took treats from Rafols, is great with children of all ages and is good with other dogs, too.

For more information about Petunia or if you’re interested in adding a pet to your family, check out AAWL.org.

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