Questions about dog behavior and training? Send them to:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Breed Profile: It's the Pits

These "Breed Profiles" are about my personal experiences as a dog trainer working with pit bulls. This one isn't about BSL (breed specific legislation) or anything of political nature. That stuff's already been written and is readily available on the internet.

First, let me define the "pit bull" to which I'm referring. The dog I'm describing could be an American Pit Bull Terrier, an American Staffordshire Terrier, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or a backyard bred dog that looks like one of these three.

Potential owners
As a trainer, I've always been in awe of the physical power and strength of certain breeds, like pit bulls, Rotties, and other hard-bodied dogs. I'm aware of potential damage their strength can cause, just as I'm aware of potential damage from German Shepherd bites, border collie bites, cat scratches, horse that step on your feet, and the Pomeranian bite that nearly killed my sister five years ago.

As a trainer, I also have more tools and knowledge at my disposal for working with strong dogs. Arguably I'm a better pit bull owner than a Mexican gangbanger or frail, timid woman might be. While I tell you what I love about this breed, I'm not advocating the pit bull as a choice for the masses. Specifically, pit bulls should (in my opinion) NOT be owned by:
1. Single people under the age of 25.
2. Families with kids going in different directions every night of the week.
3. People with no background or interest in "responsible" dog ownership or dog training.
4. People who don't allow their dogs to live in the house with them.
5. People who own multiple (more than 3) dogs.
6. People who frequently move.
7. People who don't believe in leashes and fenced yards.
8. People who are unwilling to spay and neuter.
9. Unstable families.
10. Anyone who's not 100% committed to doing whatever it takes to develop the dog into the most well behaved, sociable, and stable dog on the block.

Who should own a pit bull? Anyone who doesn't fit into the above list! The best pit bull owners I worked with were single adult women interested in teaching these dogs to do a job (agility, obedience, therapy work, etc.)

It's all about what you want in a dog.
Me? Here's what I like:
1. High will to please
2. Hearty
3. Agile and athletic
4. Medium size for portability
5. Short hair for low maintenance
6. A stable, pleasant disposition; no "issues"
7. Entertaining and fun
8. Loyal
9. Easily trainable
10. Sociable around other people and dogs.

Over the years, each time I added up the above list of qualities, it totaled up to one dog: a pit bull. I tried to deny it, since I, too, had been influenced by media hype. My experiences with these dogs in classes, however, had generally been good. The only "problem" pits were ones with "problem" owners who were too lenient with the dogs. These folks fell into two categories:
1. Young people who lacked the commitment to their dogs.
2. Mainstream folks who were overly defensive about their ownership of the breed, and tended to go overboard "babying" it, particularly in public.

As most of you know, a stray pit bull puppy finally fell into my lap at the perfect time in November 2006--I was semi-retired with plenty of time to spend with her, I had the experience behind me, and I needed to start a young dog to fill the pawprints of my rapidly aging Atlas. Hence, Lizzie. She's been an utter delight, the most fun dog I've ever owned, and hopefully not the last pit bull we'll have.

Potential problems
1. Pit bulls are terriers. They're high-energy. They like to dig, chew, and chase things. They MUST have an outlet for their energy.
2. They can't tolerate extreme heat and cold, since they lack a good layer of fat for insulation.
3. They often have a body odor, again because they lack insulation from elements and dirt. They can require frequent bathing.
4. Their play can become too rough for some dogs. If the other dogs get defensive, things can naturally escalate and the pit bull will probably win a fight because of his strength and tenacity. Many pit bull owners recommend that the "other dogs" in the family be the opposite sex of the pit bull. Females, in particular, may bicker among themselves.

Truth or False?
FALSE: Pit bulls are born mean. They are MADE "mean" by scummy people who want them to fight. To make them "mean," then are neglected, teased, taunted, abused, baited, and put into situations where the dogs must fight to survive.
FALSE: Pit bulls feel no pain. How ridiculous! They are as sensitive as any other dog, UNLESS they are in "terrier mode." When adrenaline flows, so do pain-reducing endorphins. Any athlete can relate to that.
FALSE: Any pit bull will fight. They are not, by nature, confrontational. They are not looking for fights. Many who are raised for fighting are too submissive. Those dogs are often used as bait, killed in the ring, inhumanely killed some other way, or thrown out a truck onto a rural road and left to fend for themselves, if they can.
TRUTH: Pit bulls make great therapy dogs. They're gentle, affectionate, cheerful, trainable. And they shed less than Labs and golden retrievers!
TRUTH: Pit bulls love people. They're especially fond of children. They love it when you have company. They desperately want to be a part of family activities. They prefer to sleep under the covers with you in bed.

If you want a pit bull, where should you get it?
Start with any local rescue group. If they don't have your pit bull there, just hop online and pick from thousands. Do rescue one--please--rather than buy one from a "breeder." You will save a little life that will pay you back in spades with loyalty and gratitude.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Pits feel no pain - False" Ha! Every single pit I have ever known has exactly ZERO pain receptors in their tail! They have not a single ounce of 'ow' when they whack those tails into table legs, door jambs or MY legs! I've always said one need not worry about the teeth of a pit (well treated ones anyways) it is the OTHER end you gotta watch out for!