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The Much-Maligned Pit Bull

Although numerous countries and several U.S. states have passed legislation specifically against the "Pit Bull," agreement is lacking as to what exactly a "Pit Bull" is. Some people seem to react to any unfamiliar large dog by calling it a "Pit Bull."

A "Pit Bull" is not a breed, but a type of dog, like a "retriever" or a "hound." The American Kennel Club uses the term American Staffordshire Terrier to describe the muscular dog with the blocky head that has become the racially-profiled demon of the canine world. The United Kennel Club uses the term American Pit Bull Terrier.

To confuse matters, there is also the "Bull Terrier," a breed with an odd-shaped muzzle that suggests the profile of a lamb.

If the American Staffordshire Terrier is taken as the defining type of "Pit Bull," the individual dog may be of any color. Their noses may be either red or black. Their muzzles are wedge-shaped with powerful jaws. They may weigh anything from under 20 pounds to more than 100. Some owners crop their ears to make them look ugly and fierce. Uncropped, the ears stand up or flop, giving the animal a friendly look.

Before Pit Bulls became associated with drug dealers, thugs, and clandestine dog fighting rings, they were so popular as a family pet as to be a symbol of the United States on war posters and the cover of Life Magazine. Helen Keller loved a Pit Bull. Petey, the dog in the Little Rascal films, is a Pit Bull. Stories abound of heroic Pit Bulls who served in the military or rescued their owners from injury or death.

So what has this dog done to become the object of breed-specific legislation that singles it out as the world's most dangerous canine?
In a word ----- NOTHING. People are at fault, not the dog.

The Pit Bull originated in England, back when a popular sport was bull- or bear-baiting. The sporting crowd thought it great fun to see a large animal chained to a stake and set upon by several large dogs trained to attack it. A bear-baiting ring stood very near Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

When this cruel sport was finally outlawed, the disappointed promoters decided the next best thing would be to set the dogs against each other. The dogs were bred to display certain traits. They needed to be willing to fight despite injury until one was dead. That's called "gameness." But they also needed to refuse to bite the handlers, even when a strange handler had to pick up a dog still in its frenzy of attacking another dog. Dogs that turned on people were eliminated from the gene pool.

Today's Pit Bull is the result and victim of traits that are bred into it. When properly bred, reared and socialized, the Pit Bull is an ideal companion and family dog. Unfortunately, because of the dog's current negative reputation, it has become popular for all the wrong reasons.

Some dog owners, hearing how fierce Pit Bulls are supposed to be, acquire them for guard dogs. Pit Bulls are not guard dogs. They like people too much. They will protect their loved ones, but left alone to guard a house, they are more likely to lick a burglar than attack him.

Too few dog owners train their dogs properly. With some breeds this is less of a problem than with others. Pit Bulls, with a tendency to be hostile to other dogs, must be carefully socialized from puppyhood. They can learn to get along with other animals.


The biggest part of the "Pit Bull problem" is that this type of dog has become a status symbol for an underclass of criminals and thugs who deliberately bring the dogs up to attack anything that moves. Treated cruelly, any dog can be trained to be vicious.

Breed-specific legislation is irrational. Laws should exist to govern dog-owners in respect to dangerous dogs, but any dog can be dangerous. If, as seems to be the aim of the laws, the Pit Bull were to be made extinct, irresponsible people would soon choose another kind of dog to turn into a weapon of intimidation.

The way to deal with the "Pit Bull problem" is not to kill all the Pit Bulls. A more rational approach would be for communities to get serious about stamping out dog fighting rings and backyard breeders.

Recommended Pit Bull Links....
Famous Pit Bulls
Sports Illustrated Article on Pit Bulls
Pit Bull Rescue Central


Peggy Maddox is BellaOnline's Drama Movies Editor.

The Pit Bull Mix in the pictures above is Peggy's grand-dog, "Ana".


See A Guide to the Pit Bull Terrier for much more information about this breed.... clubs and organization,
Pit Bull rescue, care and training, Pit Bull fun and fame....chat with Pit Bull Terrier owners and more.


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