by Soojin Um
It seems whenever there’s a dog in the news, and that news is negative, it involves a pit bull. However, is that unfair? Many pit bull lovers say yes, and that it’s unfortunate these dogs have the reputation that they have. After all, they’re just dogs, no different than any other. Then why do they have that reputation in the first place, and why do people fear them so much? Sadly, it seems these dogs were unlucky enough to be caught in circumstances beyond their control.
The pit bull is not a single breed but a category that includes four breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Bulldog, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Staffordshire Terrier. There is also the American Bully, which was created by crossing the American Pit Bull Terrier with the American Staffordshire Terrier and other bulldog breeds. These four breeds were themselves created by crossing bulldogs with terriers.
For several centuries in England, a very popular pastime among the local gentry was animal baiting. In particular, the baiting of bulls and bears. A bull or bear would be tethered to a stake in the ground, and then they were pit against dogs. (Sounds lovely already.) The objective was for the dogs to go for the snout, grabbing it with their jaws, and then pinning the bull or bear to the ground. The dog who was successfully able to do so was the winner. Many a wager was placed on the dogs, which was the whole point of subjecting these animals to this treatment. Hence the bulldog was created for this specific purpose, and they soon eclipsed other breeds in this endeavor.
Terriers were bred to be fast and agile hunters of rats, rabbits, and other vermin that burrowed in the ground. Their name comes from the Latin word “terra” which means “earth” where their prey often lived. Gameness – the trait that describes bravery and willingness to fight in the face of danger – was bred into these dogs. They became spirited, eager hunters. Larger and more powerful terriers were used to hunt badgers, and it is this type that was crossed with bulldogs to create the modern pit bull terrier.
So the question remains: are pit bulls aggressive and dangerous? This issue divides a lot of people, and each side argues passionately for their beliefs. It is true that most pit bulls who have been raised by responsible owners are friendly, gentle, and loving dogs. Any dog that is mistreated, abused, and not adequately (if at all) trained can become aggressive. A Yorkie that’s trained to be aggressive and full of fight will be aggressive and full of fight. However, pit bulls are very powerful dogs, and if they are abused or “trained” for aggression, they can be especially dangerous. They were bred to be fearless, strong, and eager – qualities that can pose certain risks. These dogs benefit from a conscientious owner who is committed to proper and loving training.
These dogs were created for a specific purpose. It’s not a surprise then that these breeds were the dogs of choice for individuals who participated in dog fighting. It became a point of pride to have the toughest dogs around. If one is challenged to a dog duel, what better type than pit bulls to demonstrate your social alpha status. Therefore, these types of owners often condition their dogs for aggression and viciousness. Unfortunately, pit bulls have become a status symbol for these people.
Pit bulls can be wonderful pets. They can also cause serious harm if improperly trained or abused. It really is a case of not knowing one’s own strength. A bite from a Chihuahua can be painful but otherwise harmless, whereas a bite from a pit bull (or a German shepherd or Rottweiler, etc.) can be devastating. So it really comes down to the owner and training. Dogs are social creatures, and they have been with us for tens of thousands of years. They will reflect their human’s personality and conditioning. When both sides of the pit bull debate present their cases, they are both right. These can be lovely dogs, even the best of dogs, and it’s up to every one of us to make sure that they are.
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