Pit Bulls For Dummies
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Getting a dog should never be a trial affair. And that goes twice as much for a Pit Bull. Because of the number of Pit Bulls in shelters and rescues, and the number who will never make it back out, you owe it to any dog you get to make sure it’s a lifelong commitment—and that means making sure that a Pit Bull is right for you.

Pit Bulls are strong dogs, and some are aggressive. What if you can’t handle your dog? What if he pulls you off your feet when you go for a walk, bowls over your grandma, incessantly escapes, or goes after other dogs? What if you want to move to an apartment building that doesn’t allow dogs, get married, have a child, or have other life changes that make keeping a dog difficult? These are things to consider now, before you get a dog, rather than later.

The Pit Bull Rescue pages on social media are filled with such tales of woe. Sometimes the dog is at fault; sometimes he isn’t. But regardless, the situation is heartbreaking for everyone involved.

Before getting a Pit Bull, or any dog at all, ask yourself if you have the time, money, facilities, and energy to deal with a dog for the next 12 years or so. A dog is a lifetime commitment. Most adult dogs never find a second home; the situation is even more dire for adult Pit Bulls. Don’t get a Pit Bull just for today; get one for all your tomorrows together. And before you search for your soulmate, do some serious soul searching.

Making a commitment

Ask yourself if you can handle a strong dog who enjoys and needs lots of exercise. Pit Bulls love to play. They love to exercise their bodies, their minds, and their senses of humor. Good Pit Bull owners share this sense of fun and are eager to join their dogs on a daily adventure—whether it’s a run in the park, a game in the yard, or a jog around the neighborhood. If you think it’s fun—and it involves activity—chances are your Pit Bull will think it’s fun, too. If the idea of physical exertion horrifies you, think twice before inviting a personal fitness trainer into your home.

Pit Bull pups need exercise These pups will grow up to be strong dogs who will need lots of exercise.

You need to exercise your dog’s mind as well as his body. Training your Pit Bull not only tires out his brain, but it also results in a dog who is a credit to his breed. For some breeds, training is a nice option; for Pit Bulls, it is a necessity. They are too smart, too powerful, and too active to be without a leader. A poorly trained Pit Bull is an opportunity for the public to condemn “those incorrigible beasts and their irresponsible owners.” A well-trained Pit Bull shows these people just how wrong they are.

Pit Bulls are geniuses and — like many gifted children — are prone to get into trouble with their great ideas. Add the Pit Bull’s sense of humor, and you have a combination of a stand-up comedian and crazed inventor running through your house. Most of the Pit Bull’s pranks are harmless and provide a great floor show, but a few are bound to go astray. Pit Bull owners need to have a very good sense of humor.

All dogs are expensive to keep. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates it costs an average of about $1,500 to take care of a puppy during her first year. Pit Bulls are among the healthiest and hardiest of breeds, but even so, expect to spend a lot of money at the veterinarian’s office.

Your dog will need vaccinations, deworming, probably heartworm prevention, and neutering or spaying. He will occasionally get sick or be injured. Pit Bulls get sick less often than most breeds, but they may get injured more often. Their disregard for danger and total immersion in every activity means they’ve been known to jump off rooftops after balls, fall out of trees they’ve climbed, race trains, tackle wild animals too tough even for a Pit Bull, and jump so wildly they damage their legs. Accident prevention will save you money in the long run, besides saving your dog.

As muscular, active dogs, Pit Bulls need quality fuel to keep them going. The average Pit Bull eats about 20 pounds of food each month. Active dogs (or dogs who spend a lot of time outside in cold weather) need more than that — and growing dogs need even more.

Like all dogs, your Pit Bull will need a place in the house he can call his own and a secure yard. Some people — who want their dog to function as a guard dog — reason that letting him sleep inside will spoil him for his duties, but your dog is far more likely to guard his family if he actually knows who his family is. The truth of the matter, however, is that if you want a guard dog, you would be better off with another breed! Most Pit Bulls are more likely to maul a burglar by licking him to death than by attacking him.

If your dog will spend a good deal of time outside, you must provide him with a warm shelter in the winter, shade in the summer, and a fenced-in yard year-round. And when I say a “fenced-in yard,” I don’t mean the average fenced-in yard. You know those jaw-dropping feats of strength and agility that make you proud of your Pit Bull? The ones where he can climb trees and scale walls and muscle through barriers? He’s just as proud to apply those insane skills to your fence.

Pit Bulls (especially bored Pit Bulls) are escape artists. And their escapes can lead them to their deaths. Loose dogs can be hit by cars, stolen, or taken to the pound — some are even killed by alarmists who think that a “savage” Pit Bull is on the loose. And as much as I hate to admit it, loose Pit Bulls have too often killed other pets and even people. Letting your Pit Bull run free is one of the dumbest things you can do.

Making the match

Sometimes, people expect the impossible when choosing a breed. They want a dog who sleeps when they do, plays when they want to play, protects them against bad guys, introduces them to handsome strangers, barks to warn of drowning children, stays quiet when the news is on, never gets sick, doesn’t eat much, looks impressive, takes up no room, never messes things up, and never sheds. No such dog exists.

The Pit Bull is moderately active and very playful. He’s protective—sort of. He barks, but not excessively. He is impressive looking and comes in a wide size range. Most Pits are around 17 to 19 inches tall and weigh about 55 to 70 pounds, but some dogs can weigh as little as 30 pounds or as much as 100 pounds. As rambunctious, happy dogs, they sometimes create a trail of destruction when kept in small quarters. Most often, the destruction is caused by their wildly wagging tail that clears coffee tables in a single sweep. And although their coat is very short, Pit Bulls, like almost all dogs, shed.

You may meet similarly minded people through your dog, but you’ll also be avoided by those who don’t trust the breed. And there’s some merit to their distrust, so if you share your home with children or even vulnerable adults, Pit Bulls may not be your ideal match.

Pit Bulls are a delightful mixture of exuberance and serenity, obedience and mischief, challenges and rewards — topped off with a sense of humor, loyalty, and gameness. Their athletic bodies can’t help but elicit admiration. They are the perfect pet for many families—but not for every family.

Almost all Pit Bulls share common characteristics. Whether these features are positive aspects of the dog’s personality or major hindrances to the owner getting along with the pet depends on whom the Pit Bull lives with. Pit Bulls are special—and they need special people.

Read the following table to see if a Pit Bull is for you.

A Pit Bull . . . That’s great if . . . That’s terrible if . . .
Is energetic. You are a get-up-and-go kind of person who is up for adventure with a canine accomplice. You are already overwhelmed with work and you value what little relaxation time you have left. Or you can’t stand the idea of a one-dog home demolition team.
Is strong and athletic. You want a dog who doesn’t break easily. You break easily. Or you expect your 8-year-old to walk your dog all by herself.
Bonds deeply with his family. You want to take your dog along on family outings. Your plans can’t include your dog.
Is very intelligent and self-assured. You figure out how to use the Pit Bull’s great play drive to channel that intellect. You think you can manhandle your dog into compliance. Or you expect a dog to hang on your every word.
Loves people. You want a dog that will threaten to drown your friends with licks and slobber. You want a dog that won’t greet a burglar that enthusiastically.
Is loyal. You’re loyal, too. You think you can invite a Pit Bull into your family on a whim—and abandon him just as easily.
Is perceived as a tough guy. You want a dog that makes you feel safe. You want a dog that makes you feel welcome (by others) everywhere.

Pit Bull personality

Pit Bulls are undeniably good-looking animals. But their most distinguishing feature is their personality. A Pit Bull’s character is as much a signature of his heritage as is his conformation.
  • Pit Bulls are game. Gameness, though hard to define, is in essence the quality of pressing on cheerfully and with gusto in the face of adversity. In everyday life, this spirit expresses itself in self-confidence, determination, and a certain joie de vivre. Of course, these very traits can also express themselves as stubbornness when owners attempt to work against, rather than with, their dogs.
  • Pit Bulls need not be aggressive. Gameness is not aggressiveness. A non-aggressive dog can be game (for example, he avoids a fight but does not back down if pressed), and an aggressive dog can be ungame (for example, he starts a fight but turns tail if the victim fights back). Some Pit Bulls are aggressive with other dogs. Others are not. Most though, if challenged, will attempt to conquer.
  • Pit Bulls love to play. They seem to interpret gameness as a love of games, and here the Pit Bull is master of the game. Pit Bulls are great comedians, and they enjoy playing the clown. Their mixture of playfulness, curiosity, and intelligence sometimes gets them into some wildly humorous situations. Pit Bulls thrive on rough-and-tumble play that challenges both their physique and their psyche.
  • Pit Bulls are stoic. They were bred to ignore pain and to keep their wits about them when they were hurt. Just because a dog tolerates rough children doesn’t mean they should, nor does it mean they will continue to tolerate them. Don’t set your Pit Bull up for failure—or your child up for worse.
  • Pit Bulls are surprisingly sensitive. Under the Pit Bull’s rowdy exterior beats one of the biggest hearts in the dog world—and one of the most apt to be broken.
  • Pit Bulls are people pleasers. What other breed of dog would risk its life time after time at the behest of its owner? This very desire to please has—unfortunately—been at the bottom of some Pit Bull attacks on people. For some Pit Bulls, the only desire that can overpower their urge to befriend strangers is their need to please their masters. If a Pit Bull’s master communicates to him that attacking a dog or person is what she desires, an attack can result—and the Pit Bull is the one who ultimately pays the price.
Pit Bulls like to play games Softball, anyone?

At her best, today’s Pit Bull wears her fighting heritage not as a liability, but as a badge of courage and trustworthiness. Not all Pit Bulls, however, are at their best—and when a Pit Bull is bad, she can be very, very bad. Be sure that your Pit Bull represents the very best that this noble breed has to offer by choosing the very best Pit Bull.

Facing the Facts

When Pit Bulls are good, they are very good. But when they are bad, they can ruin lives.

Pit Bull owners do their dogs no favor when they ignore or refute the evidence that Pit Bulls are responsible for more disfiguring dog bites and fatalities than any other breed of dog. Understanding and accepting these facts will make you a better Pit Bull owner, so take the time to read this section with an open mind.

Several groups track dog bites and attacks. Foremost among these are DogsBite.org and National Pit Bull Victim Awareness. Many Pit Bull advocates dismiss these sites as being biased, but in reality, the sites just report on documented dog bite events and peer-reviewed articles.

Peer-reviewed means an article is stringently critiqued by other scientists in an attempt to find any biases, sampling errors, or statistical problems that could render the results false. Studies that do not pass muster are not published.

Basically, every major medical journal that has reported on dog bites and breed has concluded that Pit Bulls are responsible for more serious dog bites than any other breed. For example, they’ve concluded that Pit Bulls are responsible for more fatalities, more disfigurements, more amputations, more surgeries, more complex wounds, more attacks on family members, more attacks on strangers, more attacks on children, and more attacks on adults than any other breed. A complete list of references and more studies can be found online.

The last 20 years have seen a steady rise in fatal Pit Bull attacks. In 2018 and 2019, there were 89 fatal dog attacks in the United States; 66 of the victims (or nearly 75 percent) were killed by Pit Bulls or Pit Bull mixes. In 2018, 283 children were disfigured in dog attacks in the United States and Canada; of these, Pit Bulls accounted for 214 of the attacks. (That was the fifth year in a row that Pit Bulls disfigured more than 200 children.) In 2018, Pit Bulls were also responsible for 358 of the 437 adults disfigured in dog attacks in the United States and Canada.

According to statistics kept by DogsBite.org, between 2005 and 2017, dogs killed 433 Americans, and Pit Bulls contributed to 66 percent of these deaths. They killed a higher proportion of adults (72 percent) than any other breed, but they also killed the most people in all age groups.

In 2018, Pit Bulls killed 14,850 dogs and injured another 16,900, according to Animals 24-7. Pit Bulls were responsible for 86 percent of dog fatalities and 88 percent of cat fatalities. Pit Bulls have broken into yards and homes to attack resident pets. In many cases, owners who were walking their dogs have been killed or seriously injured trying to protect their dogs from attacking Pit Bulls.

But wait, are these high numbers simply because Pit Bulls make up such a high percentage of the dog population? Pit Bulls are popular, but how popular are they? Most Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes are unregistered so we can’t go by registration statistics. But most estimates place them at making up about 6.5 percent of the dog population of the United States. So, that doesn’t account for the high proportion of attacks or fatalities.

Do the dogs who attack do so because they’re abused? A veterinary study found that more Pit Bulls are the victims of abuse than any other breed. But many of the dogs who killed their owners were known to be beloved family members who were never treated poorly.

Do they attack because they’re owned by irresponsible people? It’s true that far too many Pit Bulls are owned by people who don’t properly contain or control their dogs, and these dogs are often the perpetrators of attacks that occur off the dog owner’s property, often when walking down the street. But the statistics from 2005 to 2013 showed that only 25 percent of fatal attacks occurred off the dog owner’s property.

Is it because the Pit Bulls were just acting as guard dogs? Unlikely. Of the 284 fatal pit bull attacks between 2005 and 2017, 149 (or 52 percent) involved killing a family or household member.

You may think it’s odd to have so much information about the dangers of Pit Bulls in a Pit Bull article, but urging people to ignore the dangers associated with a Pit Bull would be irresponsible. Ignoring or denying these dangers will only allow more accidents to happen, giving anti–Pit Bull people more ammunition against the breed.

So, here’s the dilemma: About 90 million dogs live in the United States. Of these, about 4.5 million are Pit Bulls. Pit Bulls do account for an inordinately high percentage of serious attacks, injuries, disfigurements, and fatalities. But the majority of Pit Bulls spend their lives not making the news, not killing anyone, and basically being peaceable pets. Most people will spend their lives with their Pit Bulls without ever having a serious aggressive incident. These people will proudly tell you that their dogs might “lick you to death,” and they’re telling the truth (well, you won’t be licked to death, but their Pit Bulls are sweet and affectionate and will never hurt a soul). The vast majority of Pit Bulls are wonderful dogs, especially to their own family.

Should we negatively brand a breed because a small percentage (but significantly larger than any other breed) will maim or kill people and pets in the family or community? Or do you accept that a certain number of people and pets will be seriously injured or killed as an acceptable trade-off? Most people value their freedom to own the dog of their choice. But they also value their freedom to walk down the street safely.

If you, your family member, or your pet is a victim of a Pit Bull attack, you probably won’t think this is an acceptable trade-off at all. But if you’re the owner of a loving Pit Bull, you’ll feel discriminated against and defensive on behalf of your loyal friend.

Pit Bulls were bred to kill, and to ignore that fact is to put you, your family and friends, strangers, other animals, and even your own Pit Bull and the breed itself in danger.

Although this section may seem oddly anti–Pit Bull for a Pit Bull article, ignoring what the breed was bred to do or what it’s capable of doing doesn’t do anyone any favors. When you’re deciding if a Pit Bull is right for you, you need to be fully informed.

If this section has made you rethink your decision to add a Pit Bull to your family, that’s good! Not every breed is suited to every family. Pit Bulls are not a good choice for you if any of the following apply:

  • You have small children or you’re often visited by small children. Given the number of small children Pit Bulls have killed, if little ones are a regular part of your landscape, you should look for another breed. Yes, many if not most Pit Bulls do fine in families with kids, but why chance it? Your odds of having to deal with dangerous incidents are much lower if you choose another breed.
  • You have other dogs or cats. As a breed created to kill other dogs, Pit Bulls are not the best choice for a multidog household. They’re also not good for households with cats or other small animals (like rabbits). Again, many Pit Bulls do fine in families with other pets, but the risk is greater, and it’s just not worth it.
  • You’re not willing to keep your dog in a securely fenced yard. Pit Bull determination can translate into the dog being an excellent escape artist. And a Pit Bull on the loose can be harmed or do harm to others.
  • You want to take your dog to dog parks or for off-leash runs.
  • You’re sensitive about people avoiding your dog.
  • You believe “it’s all how you raise them.”
  • You think they make a good macho status symbol or virtue signaler. Yes, many shelters are full of Pit Bulls in need of good homes, but a dog isn’t about making you look good. You can adopt a dog from a shelter who isn’t a Pit Bull, and still feel good about the choice you made.
Pit Bulls are a good choice if any of the following apply:
  • You want a fun-loving companion who’s always up for a game or good time.
  • You want a buddy who never tires out before you do.
  • You want a dog who will love you with all his heart.
  • You recognize that you need to take precautions and not be oblivious to what your dog probably won’t do, but could.

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