Pit Bulls

The Real Dog Faces Off With the Myth

by Rifka Pheilshifter

Lately, the American pit bull terrier has been in the news often. Unfortunately, all of the news has been negative. Dog fighting is on the rise, and so is fear of and prejudice against the breed. Long forgotten are Laura Ingels Wilder's dog, "Jack", the original RCA dog, Buster Brown's dog, "Tige", WWI's "Stubby", and, of course, Our Gang's "Petey". All are wonderful examples of the true temperament and personality of the breed. The American pit bull Terrier is a warm, fun-loving, and courageous dog.

In the 1800's and early 1900's, emphasis was put on the tenacity and combativeness (not aggression) of the terrier. People placed them against one another in "pit" fights. What people don't realize now is that these dogs had to be handled by their owners before, during, and after a match. Aggression was not allowed. Handlers didn't want to be bitten. Snappy, aggressive dogs were weeded out to produce stable animals. Dog fighting was prohibited in the early 1900's, making way for these loving animals to become the family pets they long to be.

In recent times, people heard about the fighting ability of this breed... the stories of a dog that would go for hours when challenged. "Wow! what a great, 'vicious' dog that would be!" But these dogs didn't live up to their reputation. They had to be locked up, neglected, starved, and generally abused to produce the desired aggression. Yes, when put in horrible conditions, inbred, and mistreated, the American pit bull terrier can be a dangerous opponent. But is this their true nature or a creation of man?

We have an American pit bull terrier in our home. I have never seen an animal so intuitive, gentle, and giving. We've registered him as a therapy dog, and he visits children with emotional and behavioral problems. So many of these dogs have so much to give if they only have the chance.

If you are thinking about getting a pit bull, there are some things you should know. Like all dogs, you can get your American pit bull terrier from a reputable breeder or shelter. If you choose a breeder, try to have both parents on the premises. You'll want to see the size (can run from 35-80 pounds) and temperament of both parents. If you are picking from a shelter, ask questions about things such as where the dog is from, whether it is good with children and other animals, and if the dog is trained.

Once you have picked your dog, you will need a few things. A kennel is a must if your dog will be unattended (until trained). (Note: You will want to use your kennel to house the dog when you're not around but not as a place to punish the dog. The kennel is your dog's special space and should be treated as such. Pick a different place for a "time out", such as a back porch, mud room, or being tied out in the yard.) Do not leave your dog outside all day. This is not an outside breed. They have little protection from the elements. You'll also need chew toys (big jaws) and mild, non-soap shampoo. These dogs have sensitive skin. Do not use your own shampoo. Dogs' ph balance is different.

In raising the dog, you will absolutely want obedience training. When looking for training, try private lessons. These dogs can be pig-headed, are very playful, and distract easily. Group lessons will be frustrating for both you and your dog. Some people believe group training is a good social opportunity, but this breed needs to be kept separate. To socialize the dog, start with one-on-one meetings on neutral ground, if possible. Get your dog used to the dogs of family and friends first. After your dog has had some one-on-one, then try group situations. Most American pit bull terriers love to play and interact with dogs and people, but they can be overzealous. They are terriers! As far as play is concerned, try out everything! This is not a "foo foo" dog - no sitting around looking pretty with nothing to do day after day. Pit bulls have boundless energy. If you do not provide an outlet, one will be provided, and you may not like the dog's choice. Pick something you and your dog enjoy, and do it a lot. These dogs swim, chase frisbees and balls, play tug-of-war, climb, jump, and run, all with great enthusiasm.

With good care, training, exercise, and lots of love, you will have a wonderful addition to your family. Enjoy!

Sadly, Zak passed away on July 8, 2004 from liver problems. He was well loved and will be both fondly remembered and sorely missed.

To read responses to this article, including a few answers to guests' questions, click here.

This article was posted here in May 2000.

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