Don't believe me? Just check out this story, in which a 9 year-old saved a dachshund from a vicious Pit Bull (and a little girl, apparently, but it's difficult for me to get as excited about that.)
The Pit Bull breed has earned itself a fearsome reputation over the years. A crossbreed between the tough, but sedentary English bulldog and the scrappy, aggressive English terrier, they were created during the Victorian era specifically for dog fighting.
In recent years, Pit Bulls have been at the center of an increasing controversy regarding 'dangerous dogs.' The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that a disproportionate number of fatal dog attacks in the United States involve a Pit Bull; making them clearly recognized as the most 'dangerous' dog in America.
Legislation is in place across North America regarding this breed of dog. In places like Winnipeg and Sioux City, Pit Bulls are banned, period. In other places, like Dade country, Florida, or Garfield Heights, Ohio, owning a Pit Bull is punishable by a $1000 fine or sixty days in the county jail. In many other places, all Pit Bulls must be registered as 'vicious dogs' and can be confiscated and destroyed if they go out without an appropriate muzzle and short leash.
Despite that, Pit Bulls continue to be a popular family pet; and breeders and owners are outspoken in their defense of the breed, claiming that the spate of vicious dog attacks isn't the fault of the breed itself, but irresponsible owners who fail to properly train and supervise their dogs.
So are Pit Bulls safe pets to have? Or is this breed inherently dangerous? I've put together popular reasons 'for' and 'against' labeling Pit Bulls as 'dangerous dogs' (these are not my opinions.)
Pit Bulls are bred as fighting dogs. Like sheep dogs, who have in inherent drive to 'herd,' Pit Bulls have a similar 'genetic memory' instructing them to fight. Their strength, size and muscular build just exacerbate the danger these dogs pose, as what makes them truly 'dangerous dogs' is the fact that they are naturally, unavoidably aggressive in temperament.
What makes this breed even more dangerous is the fact that they tend to be popular with a specific demographic of dog owner. As 'tough, macho' animals, they are often seen as status symbols by similarly aggressive owners, who often cultivate their dog's aggressive behavior or, at the very least, fail to properly train and supervise them.
Given the illegal nature of the breed, many Pit Bulls are bred in underground circles, often linked to activities like dog fighting. This means some of the most aggressive dogs from the most aggressive breed are bred in an overtly aggressive environment. Factor in the commonality of inbreeding with pure-bred dogs (especially when bred underground) and behavioral problems are almost inevitable.
Pure-bred Pit Bulls are a beautiful, graceful breed of dog. However, much like a tiger, or a great white shark, they are inherently dangerous. Unless looked after by a knowledgeable, responsible owner, who takes precautions to protect themselves and the public from their pets, this particular breed poses a danger to any community it lives in.
The size and strength of a Pit Bull make them especially dangerous to children - who are sadly the most common victims of dog attacks.
The Supreme Court of the United States, when the constitutionality of 'dangerous dog' laws was debated, had this to say on the subject:
"Pit Bull attacks, unlike attacks by other dogs, occur more often, are more severe, and are more likely to result in fatalities. The trial court also found that Pit Bulls tend to be stronger than other dogs, often give no warning signals before attacking, and are less willing than other dogs to retreat from an attack, even when they are in considerable pain."
Pit Bulls have received the short end of the stick for decades now. This beautiful breed of level-headed, loving dog has been labeled 'dangerous' through fear and ignorance alone.
Pit Bulls came to America during the mid-1800s, brought over largely by Irish and English immigrants to the United States. There, the breed found surprising popularity. They were considered good family pets and Pit Bulls soon became recognized as 'the all-American dog.'
It's only recently that this breed has come to be known as 'dangerous' and this is largely as a result of press hysteria. The dog attacks involving Pit Bulls generally involve animals raised by unqualified owners who failed to exercise the responsibility required to look after any dog, not just a Pit Bull. The dogs weren't to blame for the attacks. The people who raised them were.
If neglected or improperly trained, any dog can be dangerous. It's just unfortunate that the last people who should be owning dogs - the ignorant, neglectful and criminal - often tend to be the people who desire this specific breed the most. Their reputation as 'tough' dogs means they've become icons for 'tough' and overtly aggressive owners.
If this minority of irresponsible owners had favored dachshunds, for example, the news stories might have been very different - with 'weiner dogs' recognized as the most dangerous canine breed in America.
Dogs, like any domesticated animal, are the products of their upbringing. A few really irresponsible people have let a few really terrible things occur and, as a result, the entire Pit Bull breed has been tarred with the same brush. They don't deserve their reputation and make loyal and loving pets if properly raised.
So-called 'vicious' dogs can even be rehabilitated. When NFL player Michael Vick was arrested for running a dog fighting circle, nearly fifty 'fighting' Pit Bulls were rescued from the compound. Forty-nine of these animals were rehabilitated by groups like the "Best Friends Animal Society" and the "Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls" (BAD RAP - as in, what Pit Bulls have.) Almost all of them have been successfully re-homed.
BAD RAP have this to say about Pit Bulls and their reputation for viciousness:
"Like any breed of dog, a healthy pit bull that is properly raised will remain loving and friendly.
In the past 20 years, we've seen some sad examples of poorly bred and badly treated dogs that are the byproducts of irresponsible 'backyard breeders' and cruel and abusive homes. These improperly raised, unsocialized creatures can show temperaments far removed from the traditional authentic pit bull.
Don't confuse these unfortunate misbreds with the huge majority of well-loved dogs in this country that remain solid in temperament, affectionate, trustworthy and friendly to their dying day."
When it comes to the subject of Pit Bulls, I guess my opinion is clear: I'd never own one, especially with a young child to look after.
I spent my entire life growing up around dogs and I think there is some serious weight behind the 'nature or nurture' debate. The nature of a dog, I've come to understand, is largely formed by the upbringing it has. However, there will always be a sort of 'hardwired programming' in specific breeds that makes them behave in inevitable, predictable ways.
A prime example of this is my Border Collie, Tig. Tig was a family dog, raised on a farm but without any experience or training in, herding sheep. However, from the day she arrived on our farm, she was obsessive about herding things.
She'd try herding horses, cows and next door's chickens - but her enthusiasm was especially inflamed by sheep. Whenever she caught sight of my parent's sheep, she'd dart off and start circling them. She didn't know where she was trying to herd them - just that, dammit, that's what she'd do!
This kind of 'genetic memory' defies explanation, but it exists - especially in dogs, who tend to be bred for specific purposes. This is why terriers tend to be snappy and aggressive - because they were designed for killing rabbits - while whippets and greyhounds just love to run. They don't care where they're going, as long as it's at forty-five miles an hour.
This is why I'm utterly convinced that Pit Bulls are inherently more aggressive and dangerous than other breeds of dogs. It's built into their brain chemistry in the same way a cat automatically knows how to land on it's feet. Pit Bulls are fighting dogs and no amount of training will change that.
However, 'nurture' often trumps 'nature.' Domesticated dogs are universally open to obedience and training. The things some owners can make their pets do is astonishing.
In a household with a clearly defined hierarchy (parents and children are higher on the pecking order) and a calm, loving environment, Pit Bulls can spend their entire lives as well-natured, level-headed pets who are a delightful addition to the family. It's only when something 'triggers' a reaction - like jealousy, for example - that a Pit Bull might react aggressively.
And in all honesty, that 'trigger' exists in all breeds of dogs. With their sharp teeth and speed, no breed of dog makes an entirely 'safe' pet. The truth is, however, that the 'trigger' of Pit Bulls is simply a lot shorter than most other breeds. It takes less to trigger aggressive behavior with an 'aggressive' breed of dog than with a sedate pooch such as a bulldog or beagle.
All animals are in some way dangerous. My parents have a cockatoo who could snip your fingers off if you poke them in the cage too far. Part of growing up in a household of animals is learning the due respect and appreciation animals deserve. People with pets are almost universally better 'people persons' than those raised in an animal-free household.
But some breeds of dogs are more dangerous than others - and Pit Bulls are top of that list. There's an old farming expression: "A bull is a bull is a bull"; which refers to the fact that a bull is an inherently dangerous animal and should never be under appreciated. Likewise, even though some responsible owners have lived with generations of Pit Bulls without incident, it's always worth remembering that "A Pit Bull is a Pitt Bull is a Pit Bull."