The Truth About Pit Bulls


Photo by Jayme Dukart |

Every dog has their own set of personality traits that make them unique, so you cannot predict a dog’s behavior solely on its breed type. There are many myths surrounding bully breed dogs or 'bullies,' that instill fear in the general public and can cause devastating misunderstandings.

Bully breed dogs, such as pit bull type dogs, have many personality and behavior traits that not only make them the fun-loving comedians of the dog world, but also require a responsible and knowledgeable owner.

Their range of behavior defies any label and is as complex and variable as any other breed, crossing the spectrum from the gentle and even tempered therapy dog used in school programs to help children read more fluently, to the dog labeled a liability for biting or even causing a human fatality.

What Makes Bully Breeds Unique?

  • Although there are always exceptions, bully breeds generally tend to mature earlier and demonstrate controlling behaviors from a very young age, engaging in rough play and muzzle punching. They often get overly aroused during play, which causes problems for other dogs. As the puppy matures, play can become rougher, with adolescent and adult dogs becoming less tolerant and more reactive. Rude play can provoke a negative response in other dogs’, which in turn causes the bully to respond, sometimes aggressively.
  • Bullies enjoy a zest for life that is incomparable to other breed types, but they can offend other dogs or scare people with their enthusiasm. Body slamming, jumping and sometimes grabbing an arm or piece of clothing is an exuberant (but non-violent) way of greeting, and can be interpreted or perceived as threatening or even aggressive. There seems to be no parameters for some bullies when it comes to invading body space.
  • Bully pups need to be well-socializedfrom a young age and taught self-control. Teaching a pup to greet a person by sitting rather than jumping up is a good way to start, and a pup should be removed when play gets too rough, or when his greeting is too energetic. This will help set boundaries that guide the puppy into making better choices.
  • Bully breeds tend to be highly demonstrative and emotional dogs that think with their hearts rather than their heads. Some find it hard to control their impulses and have a tendency to overreact in different situations. Teaching a bully to think before acting helps to focus an over- emotional brain into one that is actively thinking and problem solving. For example, asking a dog to wait while his food bowl is put down and eat only when given a release cue, teaches valuable impulse control that helps focus attention. Bullies are exceptionally quick learners when given the right motivators.
  • There are countless stories of bully breed type dogs 'suddenly exploding'. This seems to be the explanation whenever there has been a bad bite or a fatality, but the incidents of true explosive rage are very rare. Many bites are a result of a combination of environment and circumstance. The signs of discomfort might be subtle and easily misunderstood, ignored, or go unnoticed until they come together in a perfect storm that ends in a bite.
  • The key to reducing the number of these bites is to hold people more responsible for their dogs’ behavior, encourage them to only use positive training methods, which are less confrontational and therefore safer, and create mandatory education in schools to empower children with a clearer understanding of canine body language as well as educating parents and caregivers to be more aware when mixing children and dogs.
  • Many bully breeds are not for the first time dog owner, unless the person is willing to educate themselves and understand what to expect. People get these highly intelligent dogs and fail to give them the outlets they need, or worse, extend their tendencies and turn them into loaded weapons. They are a breed type that tends to attract the wrong kinds of people, who use these dogs to enhance their own image and status or to protect themselves or their families. This has led to disaster on many occasions.

Bully breed dogs account for half of all dogs that end up in shelters in the United States, and it is a devastating reality that very few make it out alive. People have damaged and abandoned these dogs to the point where re-homing becomes impossible, and it is human irresponsibility along with media hype that the pit bull and other bully types are now a breed type many people fear.

Instead of breed specific legislation and breed bans, however, the bully needs to be better understood and raised by responsible owners who must be held accountable for their dogs’ behavior. In the right hands, the bully is the best of all family dogs, but with a reckless or clueless person, the bully can become an out-of-control liability that ends up either hurting somebody or on a shelter’s euthanasia list.

Related Reading:

tweet it post it Share It Plus It Print It

11 thoughts on “The Truth About Pit Bulls

  1. Jayne Jones

    Some of the explanations here do hit true for my two Staffordshire Bull Terriers who are very stubborn and their play and the noise they make does come across as aggressive when they are just playing! We have had a dog behaviourist in who was amazing and I would encourage investment on specialists who use positive reinforcement. It has really helped us but we continue to work hard with the dogs and their strong personalities. Having said that, they are not used to children and I certainly would never leave them alone with kids and am super conscious of their behaviour when people and kids visit. Your posts have really helped us understand the warning signs if they are ever uncomfortable but there has been a few times that the signs were so subtle we have been caught out (nothing too serious). You have to be super vigilant to notice, but it is all learning for us all.

    Thank you Victoria for your Facebook posts and these blogs. They have really helped us learn as we go. We have two very special furbabies who we are dedicated to and positive reinforcement is the only way we have managed their strong temperaments so well. Bully breeds are certainly misunderstood but are such wonderful dogs that really need time and dedication to flourish as brilliant pets.

  2. Mary

    Clearly, this author understands bully behavior with exception of saying explosive outbursts are rare since we know they happen daily, unprovoked, without warning signal to be detected, I.e, a blind attack on a person walking in a sidewalk who never even saw the pit before attacked.

    The pit bull problem is that too few bully fanatics actually know bully behavior and actually prepare for that unprovoked attack when it happens. Right now, there is a comment thread on State Farm Insurance about all breeds being dangerous. The comments by the pit bull fanatics range from nanny dog, my kid can hit my pit a hundred times and it won't bite, I have only been bitten by a dashund as if a dashund bite remotely compares to a pit bull bite, the people talking about pit bull danger are brain washed morons.

    This is why there are so many devastating pit bull attacks and life flights and deaths. People own pit bulls and know nothing of the truth and they don't do anything to protect others from their pit bull.

    Medical research is now naming pit bulls frequently as the canine leader in trauma level injuries. Credentialed, experienced, trauma surgeons don't play blame games, they report medical evidence that pit bulls should not be in family settings.

    Importantly, the reason there are no more deaths from pit bull attacks than there are is due to the availability of trauma level first responders, often war veterans skilled in trauma injuries, life flights, cryo and medically induced comas, and trauma surgeons who have seen countless victims of pit bull attacks. Even ten years ago, many of today's survivors would have died from pit bull attack. The influx of pit bulls into homes post Vick and post Katrina and post fanatics has brought severe pit bull attacks to an epidemic level.

    I hope this author continues to promote facts of task bred dogs so people won't adopt pit bulls thinking they are "like any other dog."

  3. Mandi Merlenbach

    Finding a place to live has been on of the hardest things I've ever had to do since I adopted my American bulldog/ pit mix. Unfortunately my husband and I had to agree that we cannot adopted another bully type until we buy a house due to the problems we've had. Even though WE are responsible owners, we get punished for what bad people have done.

  4. Mandi Merlenbach

    No animal just snaps, there are always signs. Pits ARE just like every other dog, and just like all the other dogs require a responsible owner who knows how to manage their dog. I wonder why you have linked zero sources to back up your misguided claims. What are your credentials in dog behavior?

    Since the media, police, and animal control all have problems identifying pit bull type dogs properly, I assuredly would not expect a surgeon to be able to any better than they could.

  5. Steve in NY

    The author did say that pitbull-type dogs are not for first time dog and non experienced dog adopters. I think you missed some of her points.

    I find many reported "pitbull attacks" by media are not putbulls at all. I've seen enough report where they were calling mastiffs and boxers any pitbull by non-dog breed experts. I had some women swear my pitbull is a beagle. People and media jump on pitbulls are the most vicious animals ever because it gets people's attention.

    I haven't hear any stories of former Vick dogs attacking anyone. In fact, all the stories I have heard and follow have been positive. Some were put down and some not allowed to be adopted out but many became great family members with proper training and socialization.

  6. Rebecca

    You obviously ignored all the dozens of studies done on this subject and came up with your own bias study. Congratulations on taking pride in your narrow-mindedness and your ignorance!

  7. Michael White

    A fascinating article. The part about pitbulls thinking with their hearts and not their heads is true in many, but not all ways. Ours is very smart, and will work out details in his head as he tries to figure things our. My son bought our pitbull into our lives. Kahleb, has proven himself to be loyal and loving picking up on others in pain whether human, or animal. My wife and I are in our early 60's. Our son encouraged us the help him learn to behave by pretending we were in pain when his exuberant behavior hurt us physically. It worked! Once we opened our house to another rescue, and when this dog was hurting my wife by accident, my wife starting overacting from the pain. Kahleb's eyes grew large as pancakes, and he immediately grabbed the tail of the other dog, and forced her into her kennel! I would recommend anyone considering a pitbull take the time to learn about the breed from dog handlers. They are worth taking the time to learn how to raise them right the first time.

  8. Cindy Tesler

    Thanks for pointing out that jumping is a way of greeting and is not aggressive. You also mention that bully puppies need a lot of socialization. I think it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the breed before you adopt.

  9. wonderwomyn7

    The data are facts, not opinions. The law does not blame animals. Responsible ownership is desirable but not enforceable or mandatory. Accountability? Look who is coming into power in this nation. Really.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Instagram Instagram Instagram Instagram

Episode 838 - Nicky Campbell

What do the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Long Lost Family have to do with dogs? BAFTA winning radio and TV presenter, Nicky...

Episode 837 – Beyond the Operant

Obedience training has long been the accepted path to teaching dogs’ manners, but the concept of obedience might be doing dogs a...

Episode 836 – Free Work and Adolescent Dogs

What is Free Work and how do dogs benefit? Dog behaviour expert Sarah Fisher joins Holly and Victoria to discuss how Free Work is...

find a vspdt trainer
Schedule a consultation via skype or phone