Yes, Pit Bulls Can Be K-9 Dogs and Therapy Dogs

PetMD Editorial
October 11, 2018
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Dallas, the K-9 Pit Bull. Image via Jen Deana

By Nancy Dunham

Dallas is among the latest K-9 dogs set to join a police force in the US. However, Dallas is different from typical K-9 dogs; he is not a German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois, but actually falls under the Pit Bull label.

What's unusual about Dallas is that he was born after his mother was removed from a fighting ring in Ontario, Canada. She and her unborn litter (including Dallas) narrowly escaped euthanasia due to a breed ban in the province.

“We are so thankful that we are able to get Dallas,” says Honaker, Virginia, police chief Brandon Cassell. “I don’t know if people fully understand the impact Dallas will have on our community. We have a small community—about 1,500—and we work hard on the drug problem in our area, but we can only do so much. Dallas has the heart to make a real impact here.”

Due to the many prominent misconceptions about Pit Bull dogs, some people may be surprised to hear that Pit Bulls are often trained as K-9 dogs and therapy dogs.

Pit Bulls as K-9 Dogs: The Story of Dallas

Due to breed-specific legislation in the area, and a history of dog fighting, the pups rescued along with Dallas were set to be euthanized. The nonprofit rescue group Pit Sisters in Sarasota, Florida, fought to rescue Dallas and the nine dogs, and brought the survivors back for rehabilitation.

With Dallas, the trainers noticed his strong desire to receive praise and his love for dog ball toys, which made him an excellent candidate for becoming a working dog.

Dallas’ included time in Pit Sisters’ TAILS program (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills) and weeks of training with a certified K-9 instructor.

“His eagerness to please means he’ll always work hard,” says Jamie Phillips, an inmate who worked with Dallas at Lawtey Correctional Institute in Florida. “Dallas holds a special place in my heart because when he first arrived, he had a lot of problems. He taught me to pay close attention in order to be able to help him with those issues. It truly helped me to grow as an individual… I love that dog.”

Bruce Myers, a veteran K-9 trainer affiliated with Throwaway Dogs, assessed Dallas for police work. Myers predicted that he’ll be a star, much like his former pupil Wildflower, the first Pit Bull K-9 in Oklahoma.

“One of the best dogs I ever trained [was] Wildflower,” he says. “She has been on the road four months and officially … she has a dozen drug arrests.” Myers believes that Dallas will do just as well as a K-9 dog. “Dallas has a tremendous prey-and-hunt drive. He’ll do very well.”

Chief Cassell also has no doubt that Dallas will do a great job for the force and the community. “Dallas has the heart and drive. His handler, officer Cody Rowe, is a great officer,” he says. “Together they will make a positive change in our community. We look so forward to one year from now when we can share all of their great successes.”

Pit Bulls as Therapy Dogs

The desire to please is what also makes Pit Bull dogs terrific therapy dogs.

Carol Altieri learned this more than a decade ago, when she took her Pit Bull Terrier to visit her mother in a Florida hospice. The reaction from her mom and other residents was so overwhelmingly positive that she decided to train and work with therapy dogs on an ongoing basis.

“When I have a therapy dog, I purposely want it to be a Pit Bull,” says Altieri, who has owned Pitties for about 35 years. “I love the breed so much, and they are so misunderstood.”

Her current therapy dog is another Pit Bull named King, who she adopted from Pit Sisters. She explains that he’s extremely gentle, obedient and low-key. Altieri senses that King understands the need for kindness.

“I’m really the lucky one,” she says. “I feel like King [thinks], “I have been rescued from a bad situation, and I’m going to pay it forward.’ That is the feeling I get. He is the calmest dog you will ever meet in your whole life, except when I get his vest out to go to ‘work.’ He almost does circles, he loves it so much.”

She says that while on the job, he has an uncanny ability to find the person who is most in need of love.

“King walked up and laid his head in the lap of an elderly lady at a nursing home. He chose her out of all the people in that room,” recalls Altieri. “She immediately cupped her hands around his big block head, and they looked into each other’s eyes. After what seemed like a very long time, the elderly lady looked at me and said, ‘he brought me peace.’ It made me realize what a special gift King has.”