What is often lost in the discussion about Pit Bulls and aggression is that at the same time that breeders were producing dogs willing to fight with each other, they were also selecting against dogs that showed any inclination to attack people.
The rules of pit fighting were clear: Dog handlers had to be able to reach into the middle of a fight and pull their dog aside. Any Pit Bull that turned its aggression towards people was a danger to its handler and would not be used for breeding. So, as hard as it may be to believe, the Pit Bull’s history as a fighting dog has actually produced modern individuals that are reluctant to bite people, given the correct training and socialization, of course.
In the past, Pit Bulls had to be smart enough to make the distinction between fighting other dogs and biting their handlers, and this innate intelligence has been passed on to their present-day offspring. Living with a dog that can think for himself is both a great joy and a big challenge! Many Pit Bulls can quickly determine whether or not a person at the front door is a friend or a potential threat, but they can also just as quickly figure out how to open an unlocked gate and get themselves into a world of trouble.
Smart dogs can also be more difficult to train than are individuals who turn happily to their owners for every decision. Pit Bulls sometimes seem to take an extra moment to decide if they are in agreement with their owner’s “commands.” Thankfully, Pit Bulls are also very eager to please. When they see how happy their obedience makes their beloved owners, they are usually more than happy to comply. This combination of traits is what makes positive reinforcement the key to successfully training a Pit Bull.
But Pit Bulls do not just want to please their owners and then be put aside. They want to be true members of the family and will reward this closeness with unwavering devotion and loyalty. Pit Bulls thrive when they are included in as much of the daily family routine as possible, whether that includes a walk together after dinner or a nap together on the couch. Like all dogs, Pit Bulls do not do well when they are chained out in back yards or locked away in crates for extended periods of time. Isolation from the family quickly leads to boredom and the development of behavioral problems.
Seeing themselves as a part of the family, most Pit Bulls bond to and get along well with multiple people in a household, including children. This is particularly true when a puppy is brought into a home with kids and is socialized there. Of course, common sense is essential. Any dog, no matter its breed or history, is capable of harming a child. Never leave a child alone with a dog until the child is old enough and has the experience necessary to safely interact with a dog.
What many people don’t expect from Pit Bulls is their endearing, clownish side. They are very playful and oftentimes seem to go out of their way to make people laugh. Many a Pit Bull will break out into a goofy smile or even do a little dance, when they are exceptionally happy or excited.
With their intense love of family and history as fighters, you might think that all Pit Bulls would be excellent watch dogs, but they actually have a somewhat mixed reputation in this regard. Many Pit Bulls are wonderful protectors, having an uncanny ability to differentiate between friend and foe and putting the needs of their human family before any thought of their own well-being. However, because Pit Bulls are genetically disinclined to be aggressive towards humans, some individuals do not raise much of an alarm when approached by strangers. In fact, Pit Bulls can be so trusting that some have actually been stolen out of their very own yards. That said, the mere presence a dog with such an intimidating appearance is usually all that is needed to encourage a potential robber or mugger to move on to an easier target. This is one instance where the breed’s reputation can actually work in favor of both Pit Bulls and their owners!
Dr. Jennifer Coates
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