One of the more persistent urban legends around these days is about the innate ferocity of the pit bull breed.
I remember being appalled when my son and daughter-in-law brought home a female pit bull they had rescued from the local shelter.
Then, I reached down and stroked her soft, square head. She nuzzled my hand and my heart melted.
My negative opinion about the breed has been changed 180 degrees since that day. Prissy (that’s what they named her) is playful, lovable and obedient.
Many dog rescue agencies and shelters won’t take pit bulls. They say they’re bad candidates for adoption.
Others, however, welcome them with open arms, saying that their essentially sweet nature makes them ideal pets.
Especially puppies. Pit bull pups are the cutest around, with a muzzle made for smiling. However, as they grow, they may lose some of their initial appeal as they bulk up and become mature.
If this is going to concern you at all, you should consider adopting a full-grown adult — one whose personality is already on display.
Of course, dogs — just like humans — are often products of their environments.
My son’s dog Prissy is an example of this. She was badly abused in her former home and cringes if my son even raises his voice.
The breed been slapped with the reputation of being aggressive and mean simply because for many years they were trained by an unscrupulous few owners to be that way — for the owners’ nefarious purposes.
The truth is, any dog can be trained to be aggressive and mean. We are all, in fact, the product of the environment in which we were raised to some extent.
Share the love
If your pit bull is shown loving, caring attention from day one (assuming he is not already aggressive), he (or she) will respond in kind and become a perfect companion — even for small children.
Even members of the breed who have been trained as fighters can be “de-conditioned” with a month or two of intensive, caring attention. They simply must overcome their reflexive conditioning through repetitive sessions of positive reinforcement for non-aggressive behavior.
Give them every opportunity to be calm and submissive and then praise them when they return love in kind. One caveat: keep them away from other dogs until the de-conditioning takes hold.
Busting the “locking jaws” myth
There has been a widely circulated misconception that pit bulls have a hinged jaw structure that allows them to lock onto an opponent and not let go.
No dog has jaws so powerful they can’t be pried apart. Some people report that Rottweilers and German Shepherds may be more deserving of this label than pit bulls. But, again, it’s an unfair one to place on any dog.
Talk about “social profiling!”
Another myth: Pit bulls will turn on their owners
This myth would be laughable if it weren’t based on the fact that ANY animal — treated cruelly or taught to be aggressive — will attack anyone at any time.
The truth, of course, lies in your ability to read your dog’s body language. Or, again, any dog. Ninety-nine percent of the time a dog will give very obvious indications — fur bristling, teeth bared, growling — that it wants to be left alone.
There will be reasons for this kind of behavior and, again, most of them go back to conditioning. A well-loved and properly socialized dog will not usually exhibit this kind of behavior.
The need to chew
One thing my son noticed right away about Prissy was her seemingly incessant desire to chew on things. This tendency, of course, is not unique to that breed.
This need to gnaw was solved with a visit to an online site that rates and recommends indestructible toys for pit bulls.
The bottom line
Pit bulls make great pets. Nurtured properly, their inherent, strong desire to please their master — will result in a well-mannered dog with admirable social skills.