Shelters across the country are feeling the consequences of the popular yet negative images that some dog breeds are suffering under. These breeds, from the pit bull to the bull mastiff and even the bulldog, are often overlooked for adopted and unfairly euthanized because of the stigma that has been attached to them. In spite of the fact that the pit bull was once America's dog, many now find themselves in dire circumstances because of an image that has been nurtured by pop culture and a small percentage of the population.
Some of the reasons for the tag of bully breeds include the dogfighting culture and the media hype that has gone along with it. Many -- if not all -- of the stereotypes associated with bully breeds just aren't true. The next time someone brings up one of these arguments against the safety of owning a dog commonly thought of as a bully breed, counter with some of these facts.
Myth: Bully breeds are not good around children, families, strangers or other pets because of their aggressive tendencies.
Fact: So-called bully breeds have not been found to bite more than other breeds of dogs; when they do bite, however, the media storm associated with these types of incidents is way higher than those surrounding, for example, a golden retriever who bites. While goldens are generally viewed as sociable family pets, they can essentially get away with more because of their image. Just as a neglected and abused golden can snap at a child, a well-trained and well-socialized pit bull can be an excellent family pet. In fact, according to the American Temperament Test Society, which tests a number of individual dogs in each breed for different aspects of temperament, a beagle, a golden retriever and a greyhound are all more likely to act aggressively toward strangers than a pit bull.
Myth: Bully breeds bite without warning.
Fact: There is always a warning when any dog is about to bite. Whether it's a pit bull or a poodle, dogs typically display very distinct types of behavior before they resort to turning aggressive. This includes growl, a flattening of the ears and widening eyes. A person's inability to recognize these signs should never be mistaken for an unprovoked attack.
Myth: The jaws of a pit bull will lock, making it nearly impossible to disengage the dog once they bite.
Fact: This one has been disproved by science a number of times. There is no dog that has a locking jaw, and many do have the scissor-type bite that pit bulls are often singled out as having. Contrary to rumor that a pit bull can bite with up to 1600 pounds of jaw pressure, studies by National Geographic place the number at closer to 320 pounds. That's typical for most dogs, with one notable exception that proved to have a slightly higher bite pressure. The dog? A German shepherd. Compare this to humans, who have about 120 pounds of jaw pressure when biting.
Myth: Perhaps the most heartbreaking of the myths surrounding bully breeds is that it is never safe to adopt one from a shelter, because genetics and history can be largely unknown.
Fact: Most shelters will put any dog through a series of personality tests, whether they are a bully breed or not. This will help determine the dog's temperament, and ensure they are placed in a home where they will have a lifetime of success. This includes measuring the dog's responses to everything from cats and other dogs to chaotic situations, loud noises and even out-of-the-ordinary objects like wheelchairs. If anything, bully breeds can undergo even more extensive testing because of the image they bring with them.
Myth: Similar to the myth that it isn't safe to adopt a bully breed from a shelter is the one that the only safe way to get a dog from a known bully breed is to adopt a puppy.
Fact: Contrary not only to the myth but to the popular saying about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks, it is entirely possible to get an adult dog, bypass the puppy stages of housebreaking, and get a trusted, loving family companion. Any dog that has been neglected or abused may need some TLC to get him to come out of his shells, and bully breeds are no different.
Many bully breeds used to be trusted companions. In fact, the pit bull was once known as America's Babysitter, because of their tolerance for children and their gentle way of keeping them out of trouble. Hopefully, with a combination of education and tolerance, we will be able to restore these powerful, elegant dogs to their rightful place as loved and loving companions.