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The Misunderstood Pitbull

Twenty years ago I don’t think I had ever seen a Pit Bull dog in person. Today, they are the most common breed seen in shelters. If you go to any public animal shelter you will discover about half of the occupants are Pit Bull dogs and mixes. One of our family pets is a Pit-mix, and I routinely work with Pit Bull dogs as clients.

A few years ago, at a professional dog trainer’s convention, I attended an informal discussion about Pit Bull dogs. The room was packed and the comments made showed a definite division in the thinking about the breed. I was surprised to hear some trainers say they saw no difference in Pit Bulls and any other dog breed. I remember thinking, “I don’t know where you live, but where I’m from there is a difference”. It has been my experience that Pit Bull dogs are extremely sensitive beings. When frightened Pit Bull dogs often display aggression toward what they are afraid of. When Pit Bull dogs are used for fighting this is what is happening, the dogs are afraid and show it with aggression. The fighting dog handlers think their dogs are aggressive because they are confident, but the reality is the dogs are aggressive because they are frightened.

Sadly, Pit Bull dogs are the most abused breed of dog. In some instances it is an attempt by a person to make their Pit Bull into a “mean dog”. In the process inhumane and terrible things are done to the animal. On the other hand, the simple fact that there are so many Pit Bull dogs increases the odds that many of them are being mistreated, intentionally or not.

It is not uncommon to see a Pit Bull dogs, and even puppies, tethered using ridiculously heavy chains. This is done because the owner is afraid the dog will get loose, or it is an attempt to strengthen the dog’s muscles by dragging that weight around all the time. The reality is this is very bad for the dog’s neck. A result of this practice can be a condition called “Ewe neck”. The weight of the chain pulling down on the top of the dog’s neck deforms it, damages nerves, and causes severe pain. Recently, Chatham County revised its Animal Control Ordinance preventing the use of chains weighing more than 10% of a dog’s body weight, and puppies under four months old are not allowed be tethered at all.

Mentally healthy Pit Bull dogs make extremely loving pets and when properly socialized are friendly towards people. However, once they reach adulthood, Pit Bull owners must be diligent about their dog’s interaction with other animals. In the same way Beagles were designed to chase rabbits, and Border Collies were designed to herd sheep, the reality is Pit Bulls were designed to attack other animals.

During puppyhood Pit Bulls are playful and fun loving with people and other animals. A typical call I get from Pit Bull owners sounds like this, “He was a great puppy but, one day, all of a sudden, he attacked our other dog (or cat)”. Usually, a Pit Bull dog’s first aggressive outburst happens when the dog is between 18 months and 2 years old. However, it

happen sooner, or later; or never happen at all. Pit Bull dogs, pound-for-pound, are 4 to 10 times stronger than other dogs, depending on the breed. Pit Bull dogs don’t have locking jaws, but have incredible jaw strength, and can firmly grip their victim. Often while biting, Pit Bulls will violently shake their heads from side to side. This is the most damaging type of dog bite.

When other pets are in the home, adolescent and older Pit Bulls dogs must be properly managed. Pit Bull dogs should never be left unsupervised with other animals (and no dog should be left alone with small children). I tell my Pit Bull owning clients when they can’t be there to supervise, their Pit Bull should be physically separated from the other pets. Some of the most wonderful dogs I’ve ever known have been Pit Bulls, but it is always best to be safe than sorry.

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