In hopes that I can give my readers some insight into dog breeds’ personalities, I am featuring a couple of different breeds each week. I will give a little history about the breed, i.e., what they were bred to do, talk about their personalities, and provide advice on the lifestyle needs of the breed. Remember, as I always say, every dog is an individual. Some dogs will exactly fit the breed characteristics while others may be nothing like it.

I have picked the Pit Bull Terrier as the first breed to discuss because, sadly, they are currently the most surrendered dog in animal shelters. And because they are the most misunderstood of all breeds. It seems they are either dearly loved or highly feared. The sight of a Pit Bull can make some people cross the street to avoid it. While there are certainly some Pit Bulls who are aggressive, the true characteristics of the breed are quite different.

Pit Bulls are classified in the dog group of terriers. As a general group, terriers are independent in nature and strong-willed. They are smart dogs and were bred to work. Some are hunters, such as Jack Russells who were bred to hunt and kill vermin, and some are decorative like the Yorkshire terrier (Yorkie) but still possess the characteristics of the terrier.

Pit Bulls originated in England in the 19th century and were bred to bait bulls. When people recognized the breed’s tenacity, they then started to use them in dog fighting. It is true that they were bred to be aggressive to other animals. It’s part of the hunting instinct bred into most terriers. They have a very high prey drive and most of them will chase and even kill small animals. So many Pit Bulls who end up in shelters are euthanized simply because they do not get along with other animals. It is very difficult to adopt a dog who is not friendly to other animals. Most people cannot deal with this issue.

It is a fact that Pit Bulls were not bred to be aggressive to humans. I have heard so many people say that Pits were bred to be “vicious.” It’s just not true. In fact, when Pits were originally bred to dog fight, it was imperative that the Pit Bulls were friendly to humans because people had to go into the pit to work with the dogs. If the dog was aggressive to people, the dog could not be handled. This is still true today for dogs who are used in dog fighting. The humans must be able to safely handle them. It’s only been in the past couple of decades that Pit Bulls have been exploited and trained to be aggressive to humans. It is the training that makes them aggressive, usually not the breeding.

Pit Bulls are by nature very sweet and loving dogs. They love people and can be quite submissive to humans. It’s very common to meet a Pit who rolls on his back and asks for a belly rub. Lots of sloppy kisses are the norm, as well as a happy, whippy, wagging tail. The true Pit Bull is very loyal. Remember that a Pit was the dog in the Little Rascals TV show and was a part of the pack with the kids.

Pit Bulls are extremely strong dogs. They have large muscles and are very athletic. They also have strong jaws. If not properly trained as pups, these attributes can work against the dog. They have a great deal of energy. They like to jump, run, and use their mouths. As they grow, many Pits who have not been properly trained get surrendered to shelters (or turned loose) because they are so unruly. They chew on things, jump on people, and clamp down on arms and hands. Usually these behaviors are not aggressive but still can hurt people. Little children can be harmed by such behavior.

Consequently, Pit Bulls require a lot of exercise and early training using rewards-based methods (no punishment!). Young Pits should not be left home alone all day. They really need to be around people for play and exercise. I would not recommend a Pit Bull for the first-time dog owner unless they are completely committed to working with a qualified trainer and to giving the dog a great deal of regular exercise and play time. Terriers in general are not ideal for first-time dog owners!

If you are considering a Pit Bull puppy, please go to the animal shelter or find a rescue group online. There are thousands of very nice Pits of all ages looking for homes every day. To learn more about Pits and efforts to rescue them, please visit badrap.org.

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