Animal Awareness

Are Pit Bulls dangerous?

The Pit Bull

We have about 25 years of experience adopting and raising Pit Bulls and want to share some insights into what they are like.  We’ve had several and have loved every one of them.  We’ve had them as puppies, we’ve rescued them as adults, we’ve seen them born and we’ve seen them die.  End to end, start to finish, we’ve loved every Pit Bull we’ve had.

They are the sweetest lapdogs, show ridiculous amounts of loyalty, provide excellent deterrent to burglars, and with their goofy looks and crazy antics, will provide years of entertainment and love.  It’s cliche these days to say that the news has presented them in a bad light but it’s worth repeating.

Are Pit Bulls good dogs?  Undoubtedly yes, they are.  However, a lot of responsibility and accountability falls into your lap when you bring one home.   Unless you’re ready for 10-12 years of taking care of the pooch, don’t even start.

So what do you get with a Pit Bull?  What can you expect of your Pittie? A faithful companion who is wonderful with kids and adults alike and who will become a peerless watchdog.

Jake and Rocket - two pitbulls sleepingWhere do Pit Bulls get their name?

You hear them referred to as “Pit Bull”, “PitBull”, “Pibble”, “Pittie”, etc.  To be completely accurate, any of these name are more accurate described as a type of dog rather than a breed.  You refer to Shepherds or Spaniels as a given type of dog, but the specific breed would be a German Shepherd or an Australian Shepherd.

By definition, there are actually two distinct breeds most often referred to as Pitbulls:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier (you’ll see this as APBT quite often)
  • American Staffordshire Terrier

You’ll also find a couple of breeds that look very similar but aren’t quite the same. These include the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the Bull Terrier.  Looks similar but not the same.   And we are only talking about pure breeds here – mix up one of the above with a Boxer or perhaps a Lab and the results get confusing very quickly.  The problem in the media is that any time a large aggressive dog does something bad, it is labeled as a Pit Bull and the stories start.

But where does the term Pit Bull come from?

There’s a good bit of discussion on this and nothing is certain but the most likely dates back about a thousand years when they were used as “bull baiters”. This was a time when they were called in to bite a bull on the nose and hold on for dear life until the humans could regain control of the bull.  Whenever humans needed a helping hand with an ornery bull, they would call on the “soon to be named Pit Bull” for help.  As time went by, folks thought this was an interesting sport and ended up pitting riled up bulls against these dogs with bets to see which dog could hold on the longest or even bring the bull down.  Imagine the 60 pound dog besting a 2,000 pound angry bull.  They are tough dogs, to be sure.  More time passed, dog fighting became popular and people started blaming every aggressive event by any dog anywhere on Pit Bulls.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Famous Pit Bulls through history

I love to talk to folks about the history of the Pit Bulls – most don’t realize they have a long and quite distinguished history.

Of particular note, they used to be called “nanny dogs” because they were so very good at, and trusted to, take care of small children!  If you wanted a dog that was good with kids and adults alike, you got yourself a Pit Bull.

Remember the Little Rascals and that silly dog with the circle around it’s eye?  Pit Bull.

Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in the World War I actually captured a German spy and held him until American Soldiers could take him.  Stubby was promoted to Sergeant for this gallantry

Miscellaneous facts about Pit Bulls

  • Their jaws do not actually lock, they are just very strong.  How strong?  Depending which list you look at, they are about 5th or 6th behind other dogs such as the Rottweiler, Bulldog, German Shepherds and a few more.
  • In temperance tests, where dogs are rated based on how much abuse or irritation they can take before they lash out at a human, Golden Retrievers rank as the most tolerant of all breeds.  Any guesses as what is the second most tolerant?  Yep, the dreaded Pit Bull.
  • Pit Bull puppies prefer the company of humans over their parents a full two weeks earlier than any other breed.  Yes, this is a test of some sort.
  • Aggressiveness towards humans was an undesirable fate and was bred out of the Pit Bull. Their history often put them into circumstances where fights had to be broken up by humans. They are bred to allow that without inclination to attack humans.
  • Pit Bulls make good watchdogs mainly due to how they are perceived.  However, they are naturally human friendly and will go to great lengths make human friends.  Keep this in mind when you expect them to guard your valuables.
  • Pit Bulls are some of the best fence climbers around and yes, that is a competitive event.  Good thing to remember when building your fence.
  • Due to their sensitive natures, many Pit Bulls find themselves employed as Therapy Dogs
  • Pit Bull puppies are the cutest of all canine breeds.  This is a scientific fact and cannot be disputed.

Are Pit Bulls good watchdogs?

They are a great deterrent.  Nobody in their right mind and most in their wrong mind are not going to willingly mess with a Pit Bull.  Just seeing a Pit Bull in a window or playing in the yard is enough to incent even the toughest criminal to move down the street to the next house.  So they look the part but can the play the part as well?

We’ve had quite a few and none were afraid of a tense situation. They leaned into it rather than away from it.  When strangers do come to the door (very sorry Mr. UPS man), they are greeted with either vicious barking or, even worse, that low toned growl.  Once those people are welcomed into the home, however, the PitBulls will be their best friends.  We like to say that as long as they are on the right side of the door, they’re OK.  As long as they are, their biggest concern will be how to get that 65 pound Pit Bull out of their lap.

Are Pit Bulls dangerous?

They are big, strong dogs with lots of teeth so yes, they can be dangerous.  However, I may have mentioned it already, it’s all in how they are raised and how they are treated. This is really no different than a German Shepherd or Poodle.  Mistreat any dog enough and it can become dangerous.  Larger dogs do more damage and make better news stories so you’ll hear about them more. You are more likely to be bitten by a Chihuahua than a Pit Bull but how newsworthy would that be?  I’m not downplaying the tragedies that have taken place with Pit Bulls and other large dogs.  Rather I’m saying that any dog can be dangerous if raised badly, mistreated, or socialized poorly.

Are Pit Bulls naturally aggressive?

If you take into account their history of baiting bulls and later being bred to fight other dogs, could you blame them if they were?  Given that, however, I can say with certainty that I’ve seen Pit Bulls that didn’t have an aggressive bone in their body.  But that is rare in my experience, and again, will depend on how they are raised, how they are treated, and how they are socialized.  It’s interesting to watch Cesar and how his Pit Bulls react to people and dogs – absolute calm.  Why is that?  Because Cesar is the pack leader and he’s calm and in control.  Pit Bulls are still “just dogs” and crave a pack leader.  If you’re the pack leader (and you better be), then they’ll follow your lead.

Why do Pit Bulls snap?

As with just about every question like this, it’s worth noting that Pit Bulls aren’t the only dogs that “snap”, meaning attack or bite unexpectedly.  And really, “unexpectedly” is the key point here.  If you have raised your Pittie and have spent the time to know and understand him, you’ll know his mannerisms and be able to instantly detect when something is off.  You’ll recognize the signs leading up to what could end up being a bad encounter.  Your lovable, friendly Pit Bull will “snap” for the same reasons any other dog will snap.  Fear, injury, mistreatment, frustration, food aggression, etc.  These will cause your Cocker Spaniel, your Poodle, your Great Dane, and your Pit Bull to “snap”.

Is the Pit Bull a good companion?

Rusty the PitBull with reading glasses.

Yes, they are.  As with any dog, how it is raised will go a long way to determining what kind of companion it will be. But, even when raised badly, there are numerous accounts of Pit Bulls becoming the very best of companions.  The stories of the dogs that were caught up in the Michael Vick crap are heartwarming to read.  It’s titled “The Lost Dogs” and can be found on Amazon here.

Pit Bulls are high energy dogs so love a good romp in the yard, a thrown frisbee, or a walk down the road.  They’ll reward you along the way with crazy antics, silly expressions, and lots of love.

The Pit Bull as a protector

We have never been in a position to need actually protection from any of our Pit Bulls but I have absolutely zero doubt they would have done so if needed.  When playing with the kids, for example, they usually stood guard and if the laughing or the yelling got a little too intense, they’d let me know I needed to tone it down a bit. Never dangerous to me, but the message was clear.  I cannot imagine what they would have done to anybody that actually may have tried to hurt anybody in the family.  Would I consider them good protectors?  Yes, absolutely.

Do Pit Bulls drool?

Not really.  They’re pretty easy in this respect.  One of our Pit Bulls, Rusty, gets a bit drooly during feeding time but that’s about it. If you find yourself with one that drools, a neckerchief is a great remedy.  All of our dogs wear them, even the ones that don’t drool.  It’s gotten to be a bit of a contest to see who looks the best and has the coolest neckerchief.

Are Pit Bulls good with kids?

Yes, exceptionally good.  We have a 3 year old granddaughter and often have numerous other kids around the house.  The Pitties love it when company comes over so they can get some extra exercise.  They’ll run the kids ragged, or the other way around sometimes, with nary an aggressive tone or raised hackle to be found.  We’ve not seen a single instance where we thought any of the kids were in danger around any of our Pit Bulls. I know, I know, I’ve read the papers and seen the news footage – they can “snap” with no warning.  Well, so can people, so can poodles, so can birds.  It’s just not something we spend time worrying about.

Are Pit Bulls good with other dogs?

We have a lot of dogs. We’ve had more in the past (as many as 22 at one time) but we have always had Pit Bulls mixed into that crowd of dogs.  In all of this time, we’ve only had one that has been aggressive to other dogs and that is only when food is involved.  We’ve found he’s food aggressive, but not aggressive to other dogs as a normal thing.  As long as we keep them separated when feeding, there is no problem.  They sleep piled up on each other, they play in the yard together, everything is fine.

One of my favorite pictures shows two of our Pit Bulls and our Rottie sleeping together on a couch.  One of those Pit Bulls is Rusty, the food aggressive one.  Rusty is the one on the right, that’s his sister Rocket in the middle and Cody is on the left. They look pretty comfy and friendly to me. The real problem, as I see it, is where am I supposed to sit?

Pitbulls and Rottweiler together

Another important point about the picture above is that they were sleeping like this. Rusty loves a good photo op so he posed, but they were all sleeping before I took the picture.  Dogs will not sleep when stressed out or nervous.  They only sleep when they are fully content.  This is a picture of three typically very strong Alpha dogs all completely comfortable with each other.  It’s kind of amazing.

So are PitBulls good with other dogs? I’d have to answer that with a bit of caution and say “usually”.  They are known to be aggressive towards other dogs but often that is a result of their upbringing or just plain old abuse.  I would take this on a dog-by-dog basis to make that determination.I would not give a universal thumbs up or thumbs down on this one.

Are Pit Bulls aggressive

I’d say no more than other dogs and, as I’ve said many times now, this depends heavily on how the dog was raised.  There are several types of aggression to consider.  Aggression towards other dogs, towards humans, around food, when afraid, etc.  Each dog will react differently so it’s hard to nail down any breed and say “yeah, that’s an aggressive breed”.  That being said, however, Pit Bulls are powerful dogs so even a slight bit of aggression is too much.  We’ve had quite a few Pit Bulls and since they were all rescues we can guess that they probably had reasons for being aggressive and yet they are not.  I’m not saying a Pit Bull can’t be aggressive or won’t fight, of course.  It happens and it’s damned scary when it does.  Just that in my experience, for the most part, they are not.

How long to Pit Bulls live?

We’ve had several, as I’ve mentioned and in our experience, with good care and a loving home, Pit Bulls can comfortably make it to about 12 years or so.  After that, we start to see problems and they can go downhill fast.  And there’s nothing worse than seeing a once active Pit Bull sliding downhill.  Still, as they grow older, they tend to calm down a bit and become more and more loving. They grow old gracefully in this respect.

What’s it like living with a Pit Bull?

In our experience, it’s a joy to live with a Pit Bull. Of  all the dog breeds we have had living with us, the Pibble remains our favorite. As long as you remember that you have a big, powerful dog that can be aggressive, and you take steps to minimize that aggression, you’ll be fine and you’ll have a companion that simply cannot be beat.  Although I have so many dogs, I still envy the new Pit Bull owner that gets to explore these fascinating breeds for the first time. They are in for some pleasant surprises.  To go back to the original question of “Are Pit Bulls” good dogs?  Yes, they are.