Breed OverviewUnderstanding General Characteristics of Pit Bulls
Contrary to popular belief, the term “Pit Bull” does not describe one particular breed; the term is used generically to identify dogs that people often refer to when discussing American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and several other breeds.
“Pit bull” is NOT a breed. It’s a generic term often used to describe all dogs with similar traits and characteristics known to the public as “pit bulls.” When we use the term “pit bull” here, it should be understood to encompass American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and mixes of those breeds.
Pit bulls are wonderful, loving animals that deserve the chance to have a good life. They have physical and mental characteristics that make them excellent partners for responsible, active, and caring owners. These same outstanding qualities can, however, be challenging for people who don’t have a lot of experience with dog ownership or have limited understanding of the breed. Luckily, pit bulls are intelligent, very responsive to training, and, above all, eager to please. Therefore, pit bulls should be enrolled in obedience classes as soon as they are up-to-date on their shots. (Pit bulls are susceptible to parvovirus, so it is important that they receive all their vaccinations before coming into contact with other dogs or entering areas of high canine traffic.) A well-behaved pit bull is the best way to fight breed prejudice and misconceptions.
Pit bulls can do well in an urban environment, provided they have enough exercise and other positive outlets for their energy. Many pit bulls are easygoing couch potatoes, but like all terriers, they can also be somewhat rambunctious until they mature. Maturity can come relatively late with this breed (two to three years old in some cases). Pit bulls remain playful throughout their lives and have a great sense of humor. True clowns at heart, these dogs will make you laugh like no other.
Pit bulls are energetic, agile, and strong. They are also very resourceful and driven. Determination is one of their most notable traits: They put their heart and soul into whatever they set out to do, whether it is escaping an inadequately fenced yard to explore the neighborhood, destroying your new couch if left home alone without a proper outlet to combat boredom, or climbing into your lap to shower you with kisses!
From their inception, pit bulls have been bred for general human companionship, and since the 1900s, they have been bred for conformation showing as well. From the very beginning, pit bulls have been used as farm dogs, family dogs, military mascots, and all-purpose companions. In England, the Staffie Bull is affectionately known as “The Nanny Dog” or “The Children’s Nursemaid” because of their placid and nurturing demeanor toward children. (Regardless of how gentle your pit bull is with kids, dogs of any breed should never be left alone unsupervised with children.)
Perhaps the most important characteristic of pit bulls is their amazing love of people. Many people are surprised by the loving personality of these dogs the first time they meet one. Pit bulls are remarkably affectionate and truly enjoy human attention. They are wonderful cuddlers and love nothing more than a belly rub. In fact, most pit bulls think they are lap dogs! Traits like human aggression, severe shyness, and instability are not typically found in the breed, nor are they acceptable. Those who wish to label these breeds as “dangerous” are often quick to insist that the dogfighting aspect of their history somehow means that they are inclined to “fight” humans. This is simply wrong. A central fact of pit bulls’ history is that their lineage actually makes them less inclined to be aggressive toward humans. For over 160 years, they have been systematically bred away from human aggressiveness.
Each year, the American Temperament Testing Society holds evaluations across the country for dog breeds and gives a passing score for the entire breed based on the percentage of passed over failed within the total number of the particular breed tested. As of 2011, pit bull breeds achieved a combined passing score of 86.7 percent. To put these figures into context, the combined passing rate of all breeds was 83 percent. The Collie, an icon of obedience, passed at a rate of 79.9 percent, and the beloved Golden Retriever scored at 84.9 percent. As you can see, by these measures, the pit bull breeds make fabulous family pets!
Given their historical circumstances, pit bulls can be less tolerant of dogs than other breeds. Pit bull owners must understand that their dogs may not get along with all other dogs. There are several levels of dog tolerance. Many dogs are great with other dogs and enjoy the company of fellow canines. Some dogs do well only with dogs of the opposite sex. Some are fine with dogs they were raised with but intolerant of new dogs. Some dogs are tolerant of other dogs except for in limited circumstances, such as when greeting a new person. Others cannot accept any other dogs. All of this should suggest that dogs are individuals and should be treated as such. Owners need to understand their particular dog’s acceptance level of other dogs and manage their dog appropriately when around other animals.
A dog’s tolerance level can change during its lifetime, and owners need to be aware of these changes so they can properly manage their dogs while in the company of other dogs. Some dogs become less tolerant as they mature from puppyhood to adult, while others become more accepting as they mature into the senior years. Some can become more tolerant with socialization and training.
Regardless of breed, there are many dogs that do not like other dogs, and all dog owners need to be responsible. This means following the basic rules of dog ownership: keeping your dog on a leash at all times, not letting your charge unfamiliar dogs, and supervising your valued companion at all times (i.e. not leaving your dog in the backyard without supervision). For pit bull owners, the stakes are always higher. While pit bulls may not instigate a fight, they often won’t back down from a challenge. Inevitably, no matter who “started it,” no matter what the circumstances, the pit bull will always be blamed. Each incident in which a pit bull gets blamed jeopardizes our right to own these great dogs. Keep your dog out of trouble! Pit bull owners must show common sense by ensuring that they don’t set their dogs up to fail by putting them in inappropriate situations. It is every dog owner’s responsibility to ensure that they are managing their dog’s needs and looking out for their dog’s safety at all times.
Pit bulls are wonderful, loving, and very loyal companions; however, it is important to understand the breeds’ nature, to provide a structured environment, and to establish a positive leadership role. In order to do so, pit bull owners must understand the original purpose of the breed, respect its limits, and help it fulfill its tremendous potential. This is sound advice for dog owners of any breed. So many of us are deeply dedicated to these wonderful dogs. Pit bull dogs need more help, compassion, and understanding than many other breeds, but they will pay you back with more love, loyalty, and fun than you ever thought possible.
Courtesy of Pit Bull Rescue Central
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