Over the past decade pitbulls have developed a reputation as aggressive, menacing dogs that may turn on other animals, people, and even their owners at any moment. These dogs were not always seen as viscous. In fact, throughout the first half of the 20th century pitbulls were considered beloved family dogs. They also fought alongside American troops in World Wars I and II, receiving medals for their service. So how did the once cherished pitbull become so feared?

History of the Pitbull

In order to understand where pitbulls are today, we must first take a look at their past. Technically, the term pitbull refers to not one breed of dog, but to a group of breeds with similar characteristics. This group includes Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and American Pitbull Terriers. These dogs were initially bred to hunt wild boar and to act as guards, farm hands, and herding dogs. Recognizing the group’s inherent power, endurance, tenacity, and courage, some people began to breed them for the brutal sports of bull baiting, bear baiting, and dog fighting. The selective breeding used to create stronger and more intense fighting dogs has altered pitbull type breeds as a whole and their popularity in these blood sports has seriously tarnished public perception. While a properly raised pitbull should be an amiable and easygoing dog, pitbulls raised by cruel and abusive owners can become intensely aggressive towards both animals and people. When you combine a brutal upbringing with the sheer body strength and formidable jaw muscles of a pitbull, you have a truly dangerous animal. People have done pitbull breeds a great disservice by exploiting their natural traits for such malicious purposes.

Pitbulls Need Your Help

In spite of the efforts of local law enforcement and animal advocacy groups, people continue to misuse the pitbull’s strength and bravery for dog fighting and personal protection. The tendency of media outlets to over report pitbull attacks has colored the general public’s opinion of these dogs, making them terribly misunderstood, to the point that some areas have banned pitbull type breeds through breed specific legislation. At the same time pitbulls are being severely overbred by backyard breeders looking to make a profit by selling the pups to would-be dog fighters, and troublemakers looking for a big tough dog to bolster their image. Many of these dogs end up in local animal shelters having been confiscated by animal control, turned in by overwhelmed owners, or allowed simply to run away. A registered veterinary technician at the SPCA-LA in Long Beach, California estimates that almost 50 percent of dogs housed at Long Beach’s animal control facility are pitbulls. The vast majority of these animals are euthanized. In some cases these dogs have been abused and made to fight to a point where they are deemed beyond rehabilitation, but many pitbulls are euthanized simply because of their appearance and the stereotype that comes with it. Pitbulls far outnumber almost every other breed in the shelter, and they are one of the most difficult breeds to place in a loving home.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover, or a Dog By Its Name

The good news is that there has been a recent surge in attempts to resuscitate the tattered image of the pitbull. Increasing numbers of dog lovers have dedicated themselves to understanding these breeds, and rescuing them from local shelters. With proper care and training pitbulls make excellent pets. They are capable of great loyalty, are extremely tolerant of children, demonstrate exceptional intelligence, and have wonderful personalities. Their physical strength and endurance make them ideal companions for those who love outdoor adventures like hiking, running, and swimming. Pitbulls can also have a great time competing in many canine disciplines, such as agility, rally obedience, and nose work. They are especially adept at weight pulling, a very satisfying exercise for these dogs. Pitbull owners often opt to put their pups through the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen training and certification, which is an excellent program for all breeds.

Is a Pitbull the Right Dog for You?

Pitbulls can be wonderful pets, but it is important to note that they are not ideal for every owner. Before you adopt a pitbull you must consider your own lifestyle and personality. Pitbulls typically require a great deal of exercise, sometimes more than two hours each day. They are also best suited for people with a confident, patient nature who are comfortable setting clear boundaries and enforcing those boundaries consistently and calmly. If you are not prepared to provide your pitbull with these basic requirements, you should consider a less powerful breed. In order to truly help these dogs, we must be diligent about placing them in the right homes.

Pitbulls need a lot of love, but love alone will not satisfy the needs of this breed, or any breed for that matter. Without plenty of exercise and clear ground rules, pitbulls can easily develop frustration that may turn into aggression over time. By placing pitbulls in homes that are committed to meeting their pets’ needs and promoting these breeds through example, dedicated animal advocates can play a key role in returning the pitbull to his status as treasured and loyal companion.

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