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The REAL Pit Bull--Aggression


Promoting A Positive Image


If there was a manual describing ideal Pit Bull temperament, it would probably read something like this: "The Pit Bull is goofily friendly towards people--family, friends, and strangers alike. Known for its sound character, strong nerve, and great intelligence, the breed makes an ideal companion for households with children, while remaining strong and vigilent enough to protect its loved ones if need be. It is never necessary to embark on guard or attack training with this breed, as they are naturally attuned to their environment and intuitive about real threats. Although never aggressive towards people without real need, the Pit Bull is dog-aggressive, to varying degrees. The properly socialized and trained Pit Bull should not be an instigater, yet neither should he shy away from a challenge. The breed is known for its high prey drive, and so due caution should be exercised when cats, rabbits, domestic fowl, and other such animals are present. Aggression towards other animals should not be viewed as a fault, although excessive, uncontrollable aggression is neither desired nor correct. Aggression towards humans should be viewed as a serious fault. Now let's look at Pit Bull temperament in a more depth....

Aggression Towards Humans:

As our "ideal temperament manual" states above, the Pit Bull is generally a very friendly, stable, safe breed. Although in recent years some individuals have misused the breed and the media have misrepresented it, aggression towards humans never was and still isn't what the Pit Bull is about. Human-aggression is a serious matter, and not something that should be taken lightly. Human aggressive dogs (i.e. dogs that bite/attempt to bite humans) are an aberration. Growling (i.e. over toys, food, when moved off the sofa, bed, etc.) should be considered a warning, and possibly a precursor to biting behavior. It is imperative that owners seek professional help if their dog is exhibiting any of these behaviors. When animal welfare organizations choose rescue dogs, any dogs that exhibit "iffy" behavior (growling, extreme shyness, extreme aggression towards other animals) or those with bite records should be considered unsuitable candidates for rescue/adoption. There are many, many homeless Pit Bulls, many/most of them exhibiting true Pit Bull temperament. It is the duty of the responsible rescue person to choose only those animals that best represent the breed.

Because the Pit Bull is generally such a people-friendly breed, they often make poor guards of property. Many specimens of the breed will allow strangers to enter the home or yard without a fuss, whether the owner is present or not. As a guardian of his human, however, the Pit Bull is quite willing and able to intercept an attack. The breed is credited with having exceptional judgement and will react only to real threats. Because of the Pit Bull’s generally poor guarding instincts and natural inclination to protect his owner if need be, it is best to stay away from any sort of guard or protection dog training. A good dog can be ruined quite easily, making for a wary, untrusting animal that may become a danger to humans. Do not try to make the Pit Bull into something he is not. If a serious guard or attack dog is what you desire, it is best to look to one of the breeds that have been specifically created for that type of work.

Aggression Towards Other Animals:

Pit Bulls are generally quite aggressive towards other animals, although the degree of aggression will vary from dog to dog. (Please note that animal aggression and human aggression are two completely separate behavioral traits. Although both traits may be present in the same dog, each trait is independent of the other.) Pit Bulls are naturally animal aggressive and it is therefore necessary for the Pit Bull owner to take certain precautions in the housing, training, and socialization of the animal. Pit Bulls also have a very strong prey drive. Small animals such as birds, squirrels and cats are often viewed as "hunting" targets. The young Pit Bull should be socialized from early on with many types of animals and other dogs. Basic early obedience training is a must. However, you cannot socialize or train away genetics. Since most Pit Bulls are pre-disposed to animal aggression, socialization and training are simply tools of management. A dog that has been raised properly will be easier to handle and control than a dog that has not been socialized or taught how to behave.

Animal aggression as it relates to the Pit Bull is a tricky thing. Even dogs that have never manifested the trait may, at some point, fire up and engage in a fight with another dog or suddenly begin to take a strong interest in small animals. Also, many specimens of the breed will never start a fight, yet will not back down if challenged. Therefore, the Golden Rule of Pit Bull Ownership is, “Never Trust Your Pit Bull Not To Fight”. Pit Bulls should not be left unattended with other dogs or animals. Owners should keep their dogs on leash while out in public. Dog parks where multiple unacquainted dogs are allowed to run loose and mingle cause dangerous situations for any dog, however they are definitely not recommended for Pit Bulls.

Because Pit Bulls have a desire or even a compulsive instinct to fight, they are not necessarily looking to show dominance or obtain rank by aggressing. Even fairly submissive individuals cannot be trusted to remain out of trouble at all times. Allowing a Pit Bull to “work out rank” with other dogs is dangerous and may very well result in injuries. Although neutering can definately help in some cases (particularly with young males), do not count on the operation eliminating the aggression completely. Both sexes can be animal aggressive, although males can be more "firey". Same-sex aggression is a problem, and many a bitch-owner has stated that female fights are far worse than male-on-male bouts. Regardless of the sexes involved, it is generally felt that same-sex households are not a good idea, particularly for the novice owner.

Pit Bulls are slow to mature. A dog may not show his true temperament with other animals until he is 2 or 3 or even 4 years old. Just because your puppy has reached a year of age without having shown animal aggression does not mean he will never manifest the trait.

Pit Bulls can and do interact peacefully with other dogs and animals. Individual dog temperament, early training and socializing, all play an important role in whether or not a Pit Bull is capable of getting along with other animals. Many people successfully keep multiple Pit Bulls and other pets in the same household. Success is based on careful supervision, proper management and training, and the individual animals involved.

It is dangerous to attempt to make a Pit Bull into something he is not. He is not a guard or attack dog. He is not an animal that is gregarious with other animals. These things must be recognized and accepted by a Pit Bull owner. Ignoring these things can cause problems for people and animals alike. Pit Bull owners must accept the breed for what it is, good traits along with the bad. If you are not prepared to accept certain facts about the breed and heed the advice of those who came before you, please look to another breed, one that is perhaps better suited to you.

*Note: There is an alarming trend among breeders to produce large, aggressive Pit Bulls for use in attack and guard work. The animals that these breeders are producing are not typical Pit Bulls. Indeed, many of these dogs may not even be Pit Bulls at all because in an effort to create a larger, more aggressive dog, some breeders have crossed mastiffs and other guarding breeds into their stock. The Pit Bull was never intended to be an attack breed. Pit Bulls that display the suspicious and wary attitude that many guard breeds display are incorrect in temperament. Breeders who are trying to produce guard and attack Pit Bulls are a detriment to the breed and should be avoided at all costs.

(Schutzhund, Ring Sport and other organized protection dog sports should be considered separate from attack and guard dog training. These sports are conducted in such a fashion that the dogs involved consider them a game. The circumstances are very controlled and the animals and people participating are very highly trained. Pit Bulls have made fine sporting dogs in these activities. Please see below for more information.)

Aggression Towards Other Dogs

By Lora Bauer

MYTH:"Pit Bulls only fight because their owners want them to. They are very loyal and will do anything to please their owners."

FACT: Pit Bulls do not fight because their owners want them to--they fight because they want to. Because there is a challenger there, directly across from them, ready to rumble. Many Greyhounds live inside their house with a pet cat, but will kill one if they see one running outside. The cat running triggers a deeply ingrained INSTINCT. Same with being face to face with another pit bull that is ready to rumble.

Some Pit Bulls mainly react aggressively to other APBTs, and tend to ignore other dogs. Some dogs are only aggressive towards one sex or the other. Some react aggressively to Border Collies & Aussies, even though other dogs are ignored, because these breeds tend to STARE, which is a threat in dog language. Some will ignore small dogs, even if the small dogs attack them--but anything their size or larger sets them off. Some are the opposite, and have a high prey drive, and go nutso over smaller dogs, not big ones.

And a lot of dogs that act "fight crazy"--lunging, barking, carrying on--are simply BLUFFING; they are really afraid of the other dog, and are hoping if they act "mean" enough, the other dog won't come closer--they don't really WANT to fight. Confident dogs don't need to threaten--they will sit there quietly and alertly--saying "bring it on".

And NONE of them can be "called off" when they are FULLY engaged in a fight-- when they first get started, some can be. But when they are fully engaged, NO. The thrill and rush of the fight, and adrenaline, etc., kind of "override" all training--they almost seem to be "deaf"--they are INTENSELY focused on the other dog; you do not exist.

Pit bulls fight because they were selectively bred for it, for many, many generations. Just like Labs instinctively fetch (even though you don't teach them to do it), or Greyhounds and huskies run, etc. Those dogs do not do what they do because they want to please you--they do it because their wiring tells them it is the right thing to do. No matter how much you train, socialize, etc., there is a good possibility that at some point, your dog is going to decide that it doesn't particularly like other dogs. If you have a greyhound, there is a good possibility that at some point, if your gate is left open, the dog will bolt out and run like the wind, totally ignoring your pleas to come back. If you have a Beagle, it is most likely going to bark a lot and dig holes in your yard.

Dogs want, first and foremost, to please THEMSELVES. Pretty much the ONLY reason the dogs will do things that please US, is because either 1) they get something good when they do it (treat, petted, etc.). or 2) they know bad things will happen if they don't do it (correction, or withholding the good thing). People prefer to anthropomorphize everything dogs do, and consider them little furry people that live to please "mommy" and "daddy"--but in reality, they are animals, and do what makes THEM happy, above all. Most pit bulls think fighting is FUN. That is why they do it.

Pit Bulls As Guard/Attack Dogs

The following was a post written by Mary Harwelik on the pitbullrescue email list at Yahoo Groups. It is reprinted here because of its relation to the topic discussed on this page.

I personally don't recommend these dogs as guard or protection or attack dogs. If someone comes to me and says they want a dog that is going to be protective and a good guard dog, I tell them to get another breed. Traditionally this breed just wasn't bred for those highly protective instincts. They aren't suspicious (at least they shouldn't be), they love everyone, and (like my Krasher, for instance) are sometimes soooo willing to let ANYONE in the house (Luca's a bit more protective--he alerts when there are strange people around the house and probably would stop someone who forcefully tried to enter).

That's not to say that the breed can't or won't protect it's home and property. But it's somewhat of a crap shoot as far as property protection goes (IMO based on what I've seen and been told). As far as bodily protection goes, I believe most members of the breed would attempt to stop a serious threat made against their owner's person. The breed is good at determining the good and bad intentions of people around them. Most would probably tear up someone who tried to hurt their owner. The dogs are also VERY good visual deterrants. But I look at these things as an added bonus. I don't think Pit Bulls should be labelled as a "guard breed", I don't promote or recommened the use of these dogs in attack or guard dog work (in fact, I highly recommend AGAINST it) and I'm even a little iffy on their use in protection/bite sports.

I don't want to see the dogs touted as being protection type dogs because then we'll have even more idiots breeding them and using them for these purposes than we already do. If someone is approaching you because they want a dog they can feel protected by but have no intentions of actually training them for guard/attack work, I'd explain to them basically what I said above. If you have someone who is wanting to do some sort of attack/guard training with the dog, definately turn them down.

Pit Bulls & Bite Sports

I am a fan of the bite sports (Schutzhund, Ring Sport, etc.). However, I actively discourage individuals from obtaining Pit Bulls specifically for participation in these activities. Training dogs--any dogs--for these sports is a huge commitment and only those with the knowledge and ability should partake in such activities. As far as Pit Bulls go, to follow are three points you should consider if you are thinking about starting your dog in training:

1) This is not the type of work the breed was created for, and they typically do not have the temperament for it. More and more people are starting to use the breed in sports like Schutzhund and in effect, breeders are producing dogs with temperaments more in line with dogs who were traditionally used for bite sports. In other words, they are creating dogs with temperaments that diviate from the normal, gregarious, outgoing, trusting typical APBT nature.

2) Working a dog in bite sports is extremely challenging. Not only does the owner have to have a strong commitment to the activity, be willing to put the time, money and effort into it, take out the extra liability insurance, and accept full responsibility for a dog that has been PURPOSELY trained to bite humans, he/she also has the job of locating a trainer/helper and club that actually know what they are doing, which is VERY difficult. There are SO many "hack" trainers out there that are just in it for the money, ruining dogs and causing havoc. A dog can easily be ruined by improper training, not to mention being a danger. Also of concern is finding a dog with a sound enough temperament to handle such training. Both owner and trainer need to be able to properly evaluate a dog to determine stability.


3) The APBT has a very bad reputation as it is. Many irresponsible people already use this breed as attack/guard dogs. As I'm sure you know, the public fears this breed. Although I fully approve of and enjoy the bite sports, I do recognize that many people do not understand what these training activities entail and the public is oftentimes fearful of such things. Couple a misunderstood and (potentially dangerous) activity with a breed that already is under attack because of misuse, bad owners, and public misperception, and you definately do not have a marraige made in heaven. Expect increased fear of the breed, possibility of more attacks as people who do not know what they are doing being training more and more Pit Bulls in bite sports, and more dogs with improper temperaments as breeders begin to cash in on the "new" attack-dog-dejour.

I am not opposed to the occasional APBT being used in Schutzhund, etc. if a specific dog just happens to have the temperament for it, and the owner is knowledgeable and working with a superb trainer. But my feelings are that there are many other breeds created/bred specifically for bite sports, and these are the dogs that should be used in such endeavors. I never, ever encourage people to go out and purposely obtain a Pit Bull with the intent of using the dog as a "protection" dog or for use in Schutzhund, Ring Sport, Mondio, etc.

German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans (if you are lucky--it is my understanding that it is quite difficult to find a good working Dobe nowadays), Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, Bouviers, Giant Schnauzers, even Chesapeakes and Australian Shepherds, are some of the breeds you may want to consider if you are serious about competing/training in bite sports.

For more information on bite sports and legitimate training, please visit Leerburg Video.