A Field Guide To Pit Bulls: Is This Breed Right For You? Rosie Stoff

Full disclosure: I would never go near a pit bull, simply because of their reputation. Maybe it’s me being naïve, or maybe it’s totally logical, but with all the stories I have heard on the news about them literally eating children, I’d say my fear might be rational.

I have heard instances of them in my own life from both sides of the spectrum. On one side, a family friend of mine had one, raised it from a very young age, then one day, totally out of the blue, it bit one of their children’s friends and had to be put down. They were devastated. Then on the other side of the spectrum, a friend of mine from high school recently adopted one. She has no idea how old the dog is or what kind of home it came from before she adopted it, but the pooch is as sweet as can be.

So here are the real facts – it’s a learning experience for you and me!

Breed History: Pit bulls are a cross between a bulldog (my personal fave) and a terrier. They were bred with the intention of instilling “gameness” in them – the instinct to fight – to help in catching other dogs, hogs and cattle, and to hunt.

Despite their tendency for violence (a study showed 42 out of 101 dog attacks in 2009 was a pit bull), they are therapy dogs! What is more traumatic than being a Sandy Hook survivor? Any bit of emotional healing will be of great help. Well, soon-to-be fourth grader Emma Wishneski rescued 9-year-old Jeffrey just hours before he was to be put down. They formed an immediate bond. Therapy pit bulls like Jeffrey are helping to take the negative connotations away from the breed. The fact is, they do make great companions! I am now just realizing that we only hear about the “bad dogs” in the news and on the Internet. Despite being responsible for only 4% of dog bite related fatalities in Canada, Winnipeg has BANNED the breed, leaving owners heartbroken and not knowing what to do with their beloved pets.

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MYTH: Pit bulls have a locking jaw mechanism. I actually believed this to be true until doing my research for this article. Boy, do I feel taken. They simply have wider and more developed jaw muscles.
The fact is, most attacks happen due to their fierce loyalty and instinct to protect their owners. They are affectionate and lovable. I was attacked by two giant white poodles a little over a year ago. It was horrible and I really thought the dogs that viciously attacked me should have been put down. I still have scars on my arm and leg. I have had laser treatments on them, but they don’t seem to be lightening at all. Dog attacks are a tricky area. If I got attacked by two big fluffy white poodles with bows in their hair, they should be treated the same way as a pit bull attack, right? RIGHT! But they aren’t. Your dog’s behavior is just as much your responsibility as it is the dog’s!

I know I have spoken a lot about the violence of pit bulls in this article; it’s something that cant be ignored. But they are sweet and affectionate! You treat them well, they will treat you well. Just look to Emma, the Sandy Hook survivor’s story.

Did I forget to mention they are SUPER CUTE?!

Featured image courtesy of ShutterStock

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  1. I agree with Angi. This article, to put it bluntly, was condescending and counterproductive. The only tid-bit of fact you used (lock jaw) didn’t even touch base on their actual jaw strength in comparison to other breeds or clearly state that ‘lock jaw’ doesn’t actually exist.

    I was hoping this article would touch base on both the positives and negatives of owning a pitbull. Because despite what some people may say, there are negatives. I own one and would never trade him for the world- he is a total sweetheart and the best decision I’ve ever made. However, coming from personal experience, I never thought the breed stereotype would become such a factor. The only negative experience I’ve had in owning a pitbull is their stereotype. I can’t live in certain cities, I can’t take him to dog parks, some groomers won’t accept him, people quit petting him when I say he’s a pit… it breaks my hearts and makes the life of dog ownership strenuous. THIS is the type of information I would have liked to see.

    Generally, when I don’t enjoy an article, I point out the things I liked and disliked about it to try and make an impact on the writers future work but I’m unable to sugar coat the lack of substance you’ve displayed.

    I should have quit reading after you clearly stated you’re still naive on the subject. These dogs deserve better.

  2. I clicked on this article thinking it would have some substance and information on pitbulls and resources for people who are evaluating adopting them. Not so much. I have had two pitbull family members and they have both been the most loyal dogs ever who want in their hearts to be good but they are not easy dogs. In fact they take a lot of work compared to the other dogs I have had and nothing in this article really addresses those challenges.

  3. This does not seem like the usual thought out articles I am used to reading here on HelloGiggles. Shame on you HG for allowing such crap to be posted.

  4. This article seems really out of place on HelloGiggles. I find this idea of ‘dangerous dogs’ misleading and counterproductive; there is no such thing as an inherently dangerous dog, only dangerous owners. A big part of the reason that people associate various breeds of bulldog with violence is that they seem to be the dog of choice for people who use dogs for awful things, such as dog-fighting. The dogs are not aggressive by nature, but are starved and beaten into behaving ferociously by their owners, and I’m sure that any animal would become aggressive under such horrific circumstances. Perhaps an article exploring the importance of responsible pet ownership and licensing for dog owners would be more appropriate than a defamatory article about a breed which receives more than its share of unjustified bad press as it is?

    • 38 U.S. fatal dog attacks occurred in 2012. Despite being regulated in Military Housing areas and over 600 U.S. cities, pit bulls contributed to 61% (23) of these deaths. Pit bulls make up less than 5% of the total U.S. dog population.”
      http://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities-2012.php

      If you look at statistics on deaths related to dog attacks – pit bulls account for the largest proportion of the dogs involved in these attacks by a large percentage.

      • Dogsbite.org is an incredibly anti-pit bull website. I’m not saying their statistics are wrong but again this goes back to the need to use caution when taking information from biased websites. And I would love to see the owners of those dogs and the situations in which the bites occurred. Does it say how many of those dogs were unsocialized, yard dogs because that’s typically when bites occur.

  5. Thank you for ending this on a positive note but this piece was obviously thrown together quickly with no real research. As a “pit bull” owner (He’s actually an American Staffordshire terrier), I have an emotional investment in all the negative crap surrounding these breeds. Do you know that the statistics are skewed because many people don’t report dog bites from other breeds. It’s not as “big a deal”. But damn, get nipped by a Pit b/c he felt his owner was in trouble and 47 news cameras are on the scene. I rescued my boy around 9 months old. He was taken from a drug house. I could count his ribs. I had to sign a waiver that he was vicious. Yeah, those kisses kill me. And his breath. He has NEVER instigated a situation with a person or dog. But he will stick up for himself if some little ankle biter feels threatened and postures to him. And I would feel bad for the ankle biter. The stigma is ugly. The meanest dogs I’ve ever seen are yippy little dogs and one horrible Golden Retriever I grew up next door to who would attack anything and anyone. There is not a breed issue. It’s a behavior issue based on how a dog is treated and raised. You can turn any breed of dog into an aggressive, violent animal. This was way too short, and felt way to impulsive to really be informative. There are also many links with great info on these breeds. http://www.pbrc.net/ is one.

  6. A dog is only as good as it’s owner! If you don’t train it correctly, any dog can lash out. I’ve seen evil dogs of all breeds, and I’ve seen the nicest pit bulls in the entire world. They get a bad rap because of dog fighting and what not, but if you train them, they can be the sweetest things in the world! I work at a kennel and I’ve seen a pit bull that will literally climb into your lap and want to be stroked as soon as you sit down, and I’ve seen dogs that will attack you if you look anywhere near it’s face. That’s just how dogs are!

    • Indeed! My dog ( a three year old American Stafford Terriër) is the same. He crawlslag on my lap as soon as I make myself comfortable on the couch. Althiug he is a bit heavy, I allow it because he seems really happy and relaxed that way. I think the biggest problem around Pitbulls is their crappy reputation. They are perceived as guard dogs and make their owners look more “though”. There are people who adopt them for the wrong reasons and don’t even bother to properly train them. Yeah, that way they become agressive… Actually, most of the time I think Poodles are scarier :p but that’s just my opion…

      • I read my comment again and notice my point doesn’t come across… I wanted to sketch the stereotype view of a Pitbull owner an how the stereotype and the rare cases that confirm the stereotype don’t help in this discussion…

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  8. Way to bully the bully breeds….
    I felt like this post was very rush and not research at all I was researching pit bulls the other day and the information you’re using is from the first two links on Google – like seriously. Next time you write an article about something like this ACTUALLY do some work/research other wise you just get pissed off posts like the ones below. Not everyone has to love pits as much as i love mine/the breed but there are better ways to write it. Im actually so appalled that this is on HelloGiggles and actually really hurt. Bully the owners not the breed. duh

  9. As a pitty owner and a soon to be veterinarian, I would like to say thank you for bringing up bully breed discrimination. However, people need facts from peer reviewed literature. Whatever “study” that came from didn’t mention people by far report more pit bull bites than any other breed. Did you report your poodle bite? And a pit bull is defined as any dog that looks like it might be one judged by many untrained eyes. Going through may bite studies, the most often reported bite offender is everyone’s favorite labrador retriever. Is this due to there being so many of them? Sure, but studies variables also need to be accounted for when trying to make a statement with them.
    Rosie, my pitty Wrigely and I thank you for the effort. Instead of HG just taking this article down, why don’t you give it another shot? I guarantee the more you learn about these pups the more you will fall in love with them.
    You got this girl! Educate us! We’ll be here to read it when you are ready!
    Heidi and Wrigley aka The Wriganator

  10. I love HelloGiggles but am SO disappointed in this article. As an owner of a pit bull adopted from a shelter I am extremely offended. This article provides very little fact and simply plays into the media’s perception of this amazing animal. I have owned various breeds of dogs my entire life and have NEVER had an animal as loving, loyal and sensitive as my pit bull.

    This article is simply feeding the myths about these loving animals. I would suggest having a real life encounter with a pit bull may have put a little bit more of a realistic perspective onto things. ANY dog could bite a human, harm an animal, etc at ANY time – it has absolutely nothing to do with breed.

    This article is incredibly misleading and obviously not well researched. This is in no way a “field guide” – it seems as though anyone Googling “pit bull pets” could find the same information. I really wish this article would be removed immediately, as it provides no valuable information and will simply misguide those who may actually be thinking about adopting. May I suggest having someone who actually has experience with pit bulls and dogs in general write the next article concerning this subject?

    • ^This. Plus, contrary to what this article states, most dog bites are from small dogs, like Pomeranians or Jack Russell Terriers, just these types go unreported and therefore undetected because most people assume that small dog bites are less serious than a bite from a larger dog, which is untrue. Sure, big dogs have bigger, stronger jaws, but small dogs have small sharp teeth, so they are equally as serious as the other. You shouldn’t judge a breed, you should judge each dog as an individual, same as humans. Does it make all humans murderers just because a few humans do it?

  11. Citing that NBC article for VIOLENCE is misleading. Thats not even a study! The most frequent bites are from leading breeds, like GOLDEN RETRIEVERS. The Border Collie I had bit me- my pit never has.

    This is an article of the poorest quality, I’m appalled HG hasn’t reviewed or taken this down.

  12. Brutal. Such a brutal article.

  13. Oof. Sorry girl, but there’s a whole lot of hearsay in here. As a pitbull owner (one adopted from a shelter, at that), this isn’t hugely informative for people that aren’t familiar with the breed. And honestly, it’s SO important that the stereotypes out there about pits be corrected. Perhaps an exploratory expedition with a real, live dog is in order? Might make a nice Addendum piece.

    parry ernsberger | 9/04/2013 06:09 pm
  14. I cannot believe this article exists. Horrible, just plain horrible. Great job, HG. You’ve lost a committed follower. This bigoted and naive article can go get “literally eaten” by a Pit Bull. Which, by the way, is the most loyal and loving breed of dog I have encountered in my 26 years of experience.

  15. First off, I would have to say I agree with all of the previous posts, so I won’t rehash their well-written comments. I would like to say that the percentage of people that can correctly identify a “pit bull” is extremely low. Also, media outlets often use stock aggressive dog photos as part of teasers for upcoming news segments, whether the dog is or is not a “pit bull.” Which is more interesting…pit bull attacks writer or two fluffy poodles attack writer?

    Even with you trying to be positive by the end of the article, why on earth would you still choose to open with such inflammatory statements? Why are you bothering to write this article if you openly admit you would never go near a pit bull? I believe that your area of expertise should be fashion and desserts, and maybe consider, when it comes to a topic you clearly can not be unbiased about, donating your column space to a more knowledgeable writer.

  16. This is my first time commenting on a HelloGiggles article, but this is a topic about which I’m extremely passionate. As a humane educator, I find myself talking to people about pit bulls a lot. This was a pretty disappointing piece for HelloGiggles; it’s based onopinion, with very little research to back it. The title of your article gives the reader the impression that this will be a helpful, unbiased guide to adopting a pit bull. This article is far from that. Honestly, why would you write a “field guide” on a breed that you openly admit you’d never go near? To say that you end on a positive note is questionable, as it contradicts your original opinion, making the article a confusing one.

    I work at a large, open-admission shelter in Chicago and the majority of the dogs we get in are pit bulls. I never used to be much of a dog person, but honestly it was pit bulls that changed my mind. They are friendly, very loyal, and really just big goof balls. They used to be call the “nanny breed” because they were a very popular family pet, especially when “Our Gang” aka “The Little Rascals” first came out (in the 1920′s, not the movie from the 90′s) featuring Petey, a pit bull. Ever hear of the pit bull, Sgt. Stubby? He is the most decorated dog of World War I: he saved his entire platoon from a mustard gas attack, once caught a Nazi spy (by the seat of his pants!) and would comfort and guard wounded soldiers. Now I will attest that this breed is not for everyone. They need lots of space and training. They are a terrier breed, which makes them energetic and athletic, with a high prey drive (what you negatively call “fighting instinct”). Jack Russell Terriers have the same characteristics only they get away with their shananigans due to being a much smaller breed of dog.

    Your opinion is your own, I just ask that it not be based on sensationalized news stories. Media is very biased when it comes to pits, more likely to report only those dog bites and not those from other breeds. I have been bitten by a pit bull before, but I’ve also been bitten by other types of dogs. Pits are a popular backyard breeder dog and often wind up in the wrong hands. It all comes down to the owner. I’m not claiming to be an expert but I’ve worked in the shelter field for several years now and have seen the entire spectrum when it comes to dog breeds and owners. With the wrong owner, ANY dog can become aggressive, no matter the breed. The key is proper socialization and training using positive reinforcement. I know we aren’t supposed to include other websites, but badrap.org is a great pit-friendly site that debunks many common myths. Also the film, “Beyond the Myth” is a great movie about breed discrimination. For the future, please remember that dogs are individuals, just like we are, and to judge them based on their breed is unfair and discriminatory.

  17. I think pit bulls are just like any other breed of dog–sweet and lovable! I really don’t understand why everyone makes such a big deal about owning one! It is all about how a pet is treated, trained and looked after, that really determines the nature of the animal. I had a few pit bulls when I was younger, and let me tell you, they are the biggest babies ever!! :)

  18. I don’t own a bully breed, but I can attest that all the ones I’ve ever known and interacted with have been wonderful, funny, loving dogs. I think it’s completely wrong to stereotype a breed based on the portrayal the media has promulgated. I have a Cairn Terrier (Toto dog) and he can be quite aggressive sometimes. He’s got a Napoleon personality. People think he’s a fluffy little dog that doesn’t cop an attitude, but that’s not always the case. My point is, every dog should be treated as an individual and with respect. Just like people, dogs should not be put into groups such as good, bad, etc.

  19. I like that you mentioned how important it is that a dog is well socialized. Also important to note that people train dogs to be aggressive, and they will often select a pit to do this because of their reputation, thus perpetuating the cycle. But I think it’s also very wrong to kill a dog just because they bit someone :( It just means they need to be trained and dealt with differently and with more care. Its up to the owners, no matter the breed of their dog, to act accordingly when this happens, but that shouldn’t mean they have to kill their dog. Personally I can only understand that happening after absolutely everything else is tried, and there is no more hope for the dog to have a life without repeatedly attacking. There are a ton of things you can do to train a dog who has aggressive tendencies.