Are All Pit Bulls Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?

Updated on April 26, 2017
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Are pit bulls aggressive towards dogs?
Are pit bulls aggressive towards dogs? | Source

What Are Real Pit Bulls?

Pit bulls have become a victim of breed specific legislation and countless myths and unfounded beliefs. Even the term pit bull is misleading to a great extent. The term pit bull is often used by the general public to generally depict dogs with similar physical characteristics. This means journalists who report bite incidents and the occasional mauling may label any dog with a square-shaped head and a bulky body a pit bull, causing mutts and dogs of other breeds to be mislabeled as pit bulls. This in turn gives pit bulls a bad rap. Even experts have a hard time distinguishing real pit bulls from other breeds.

Others may more precisely use the term pit bull to depict the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), the American Staffordshire Terrier (AST), and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (SBT). To make things even more confusing, some others will also add to the category the Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bulldog!

So to recap, let's take a look at the real designations for the word pit bull:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) - recognized by the United Kennel Club)
  • American Staffordshire Terrier (AST) - recognized by the American Kennel Club)
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier (SBT) - recognized by both the American Kennel Club AKC and the the United Kennel Club UKC

Essentially, these 3 breeds are the same dogs that were just bred for different purposes and have slightly different size standards. For the most part, they simply have different bloodlines. Some dogs are indeed registered with more than one registry. Telling one breed from another is challenging, and even experts at times can't tell if a pit bull is an APBT, an AST or a SBT. Even DNA testing can be confusing, explains Pit Bull Rescue Central.

So let's focus for now on the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier and take a look at these breeds' histories and what exactly they were selectively bred for. Getting to know these breeds better is a helpful step to understanding why they are often victims of generalizations that don't apply to all dogs.

Pit bulls aggressive towards dogs?
Pit bulls aggressive towards dogs? | Source

The History of the Pitbull

These breeds' early ancestors derive from England and Ireland. As mentioned, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers ultimately come from the same lineage. The ancestors of this breed consisted of bulldogs and terriers who were selectively bred to engage in the bloody sports of bear-baiting, bull-baiting and then later rat-baiting. In bear-baiting, the bear was chained and the dogs were sent to attack him, with the bear clawing at the dogs in defense.The sport was so popular among the royalty that soon there was a shortage of bears and bull-baiting became more popular.

In bull-baiting, the bulldog was supposed to creep up to the bull and than lunge attempting to bite the tethered bull in the nose or head area. This was quite a dangerous move, as the bull would attempt to catch the dog with his horns and toss him in the air. Fortunately, both of these bloody sports were outlawed in Great Britain in 1835.

In the meanwhile, in the 19th century, in Scotland, England and Ireland, bulldogs were bred with terriers so to obtain a dog with the agility, speed and gameness of the terrier and the strength of the bulldog. These crosses provided the ancestral foundation stock for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier. These dogs were more suitable for the next generation of bloody sports.

Indeed, with no more entertainment in watching dogs fight against bears and bulls, the sport of rat-baiting (which wasn't outlawed at that time) became popular in the beginning of the 20th century. In this sport, several rats were placed in a pit (hence the term "pit" in the word pit bull) and dogs were sent out to kill them. Bets were placed on how many rats a dog could kill in a given time. Fortunately, even this sport was put to an end with the last competition taking place in Leicester in 1912. Dog fighting, even though outlawed as well, remained in vogue because it was easy to clandestinely conduct in small areas compared to the large areas used for bull and bear baiting. It therefore continued to take place in Britain.

It was 1817 when several English immigrants brought along some specimens of Staffordshire Bull Terrier into North America. They were often referred to as "Pit Dog, Pit Bull Terrier, later American Bull Terrier, and Yankee Terrier. Americans began to selectively breed Staffies for gameness (that will and determination to persevere despite hardship) which resulted in the American Pit Bull Terrier. American pit bull terriers were used for fighting, and later were used by farmers and ranchers for protection, to hunt and immobilize hogs and to move livestock. During World War I and World War II, they were used for delivering messages.The United Kennel Club recognized the American Pit Bull Terrier in 1898.

In 1936, Staffordshires bull terriers were registered in the AKC Stud Book under the name of Staffordshire Terriers. The name was then revised in 1972 to American Staffordshire Terriers to differentiate them from the lighter Staffordshire Bull Terrier of England. Petey from The Little Rascals was one of the first American Pit Bull Terriers registered with the AKC as an American Staffordshire Terrier.

Are all pit bulls aggressive with dogs?

Because the breed was selectively bred to fight bulls, bears, kill rats and then fight dogs, many assume the pit bull must be "vicious" by nature. Yet, countless other breeds were bred to hunt and kill. Retrievers were bred to retrieve dead birds, the smaller terriers were bred to kill rats, scent hounds were bred to track down animals and sometimes kill, greyhounds chased and killed small prey, and curs were utilized to hunt large animals and the list goes on.

Pit bulls were overall very versatile dogs who throughout history engaged in different tasks. Their versatility, determination and willingness to please, allowed them to excel in whatever humans trained them to do. While the breed was used for dog fighting, the great majority of pit bulls seen nowadays are for the most part very far from the "fighting lines" of their ancestors, explains Pit Bull Rescue Central.

Often people assume that because of the pit bull's history as fighting dogs they "seek enjoyment" in fighting with other dogs or will just "hate" other dogs. These anthropomorphic beliefs are far from true. Dogs who were used to fight were often neglected and abused. Most were chained or kept in cages, with little food or water. There is countless proof that the life of fighting dogs involved pain and lots of suffering. If the desire to fight was so strong and they were really so genetically predisposed to fighting, they didn't have to endure such harsh treatments to convince them to fight! On top of that, many pit bulls didn't have what it took to be a good fighting dog; thus they were recycled as pets and companions.

It is easy to assume that because they were fighting against other dogs, pit bulls must be genetically predisposed to be aggressive towards dogs. This can be true, but only to a certain extent. The United Kennel Club states " Although some level of dog aggression is characteristic of this breed, handlers will be expected to comply with UKC policy regarding dog temperament at UKC events". Yet, expecting them to be all aggressive towards dogs would be doing the breed an injustice, as genetic tendencies are highly variable. If you think about it, there are countless Labs, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Maltese, poodles and fill in the blank, that are intolerant of other dogs. All of these breeds though share something in common: they lack a history of dog fighting. What does this tell us? It tells us that aggression towards other dogs can happen regardless of breed and genetics may not necessarily play a role in it.

This is not to say that all pit bulls are completely safe to bring to the dog park to mingle with any dog. Saying so would be negligent as no dog can be assumed to be 100 percent safe. Regardless, it's an unfortunate fact, that in any incident at the dog park, the fingers are often easily pointed towards the pit bull regardless of circumstances.

Just as with any other dogs, there are always chances pit bulls may develop some level of dog aggression at some point. Generally, when dogs are puppies they get along with all dogs and then as they mature they may become more selective. Yet, there's no certainty or rule set in stone. You may therefore end up with a pit bull that gets along with all dogs (there are several pit bulls who go to the dog park regularly without problems), that tolerates or is indifferent towards other dogs, that likes some but not others (several get along better with the opposite sex), or that dislikes just about any dog.

As with any breed of a dog, your pit bull's temperament and tolerance to other dogs is the result of several factors: genetics, level of training, socialization, ability to bounce back from a negative experience, resilience, context and so on.

"It's a common myth that that all or a vast majority of pit-bull type dogs are inherently more aggressive than other types of dog breeds due to genetics. As behaviorist Patricia McConnell reminds us "genes are written in pencil."

— Pit Bull Guru

The Bottom Line

The true nature of canines is to avoid conflict. Too much energy would have been wasted in the wild if dogs had to continuously fight against each other. To avoid conflict and use energy for more important functions such as hunting, reproducing and surviving, dogs developed special body signals and vocalizations known as "ritualized aggression." Humans have forced dogs to become fighting machines just for their own selfish ego and entertainment. Something that wasn't there was forced to be created.

On top of that, consider that breed and genetics aren't reliable factors that can predict aggression. According to Pit Bull Guru's Position Statement on on inherited dog directed aggression in “Pit Bull” Dogs: "it's a common myth that that all or a vast majority of pit-bull type dogs are inherently more aggressive than other types of dog breeds due to genetics. As behaviorist Patricia McConnell reminds us "genes are written in pencil."

"Breed is never a predictor of aggression. Golden Retrievers are just as capable of aggression towards humans or other dogs as Pit Bull-type breeds are capable of working as therapy dogs and search and rescue dogs" explains certified dog trainer Lisa Mullinax in an article for 4 Paws University.

So are all pit bulls aggressive with dogs? Certainly not, and definitively not all of them! Definitively, it's something that owners need to acknowledge as a possibility especially when their pup (regardless of breed) reaches social maturity (generally between the ages of 8 months and 2 years). As with other large, powerful breeds,(but even the smaller ones) responsible ownership of a pit bull is a must. Pit bulls should be well socialized, trained and exercised and should never be set up for failure as any mishap may contribute to giving the breed a bad rap. Knowing in what situations your pit bull will and won’t do well and managing accordingly is a fundamental trait of being a responsible owner. But after all, this should ultimately apply to any breed of dog.....

Alexadry© all rights reserved, do not copy

Breed is never a predictor of aggression. Golden Retrievers are just as capable of aggression towards humans or other dogs as Pit Bull-type breeds are capable of working as therapy dogs and search and rescue dogs.

— Lisa Mullinax

Pit bull owners: is your pit bull aggressive towards dogs? Add details in the comment section.

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Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Ernie 2 weeks ago

        Ok questions I have 2 pitbulls 3 and 5 years old different breeds. They got into a little fight with each other and both taste each other blood. We Separated both dogs for about a week put them together again they laughed at about 11 minutes and then they got into it again but this time it was worse. Now the questions are they always going to fight with each other? Is it safe to have them around my wife and kids and people and other dogs? We never had any issues with them until now. Now my neighbor has a female dog and people are staying there is a dog in heat somewhere and my dogs know that which maybe why they are aggressive with each other. It also can be that they are not fixed (spayed). We don't really want to give up our dogs but SAFETY is first and we don't want to have any Regrets. Can you help us make our decision please.

      • profile image

        Claude 3 months ago

        I adopted "Two Female Am Staff Terriers' My neighbor who has come to my home 3 times since i have had these dog's asked if my oldest one which is 16 months old was my dog this is after having the dog for well over a year , goes to my neighbor and love's him as if he owned her since she was a pup all kisses & all huggs He Jokes and asks

        "" Are you sure this is your dog & not mine?""

        Dog's sense!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Talk to a dog like a human & the dog will respond!!!!!!!!!

        Treat the dog like a human & it will in deed act the way you treat it !!!i Brought home my second one after the meet & greet a pup of 6 month. Again they took to each other right off the bat how ever there is the jealousy every now and then when one has & the other one wants even though both get same thing!! The pup is a Brindle AmStaff/ They are affectionate dog's of the most!! I love this breed and the bad rep of the pit's // It's the owner's care & training which is all the matter with these dogs // mine warn to stay away because your not known // once the meeting is done your their friend as long as i am around if i am gone they become protective over their domain which most dog's no matter how much training will do it 's a sense of protection // even my neighbors dog who i care for every now and then because of late hours they work will bark and show his teeth until he see's up close who it is and my scent, then & only then will allow me into the house and its like i live there the aggressive protector is a puppy @80 lbs because he sense no threat //

      • alexadry profile image
        Author

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 months ago from USA

        Tresa, so sorry this happened to your dog. She should have never taken her dog off the leash, no matter how friendly her dog was in the past. It's astounding the number of people who think their dogs will always be friendly to all dogs. It gets old hearing people say "my dog never did this before." I hear it too often. There is always an element of risk when introducing two unknown dogs. Let's hope she'll learn from now on to never approach other dogs with her dog and that she gets professional help to learn how to prevent future episodes as such. I must disagree about goldens though. I have seen my fair share of goldens attacking other dogs and people too. Just not too long ago, I was working with one who was very possessive and took a big chunk out of another dog's stomach. The sweetest dog, but if another dog got near his toys, it was scary. It's often a matter of how people raise dogs, their experience level and their ability to manage their dog if there are behavior issues. Sometimes, truly, dogs have never shown the aggressive behavior before, but many times there were warning signs prior that went unnoticed or the dog was were never exposed to a certain kind of situation. I hope your dog is doing OK, even if not injured, there are emotional consequences may occur.

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        tresa 3 months ago

        Well I'm still in shock over what happened today; its pretty hard to believe pit bull breeds are not aggressive dogs. This is now the second instance in a period of a year that my sweet little dog has had a pit bull try to kill her. I was walking with my mutt (27 lbs of Jack Russell and Cattledog) who is 12 years old and comes to voice command. She rarely leaves my side and if she does she is only 10 yards away but comes right back when I call her. A clueless woman with a pit bull yells to me from about 15 yards down the trail, "Is your dog friendly?". "Yes, always" I reply and she takes off her dogs leash and the dog literally charged at us while growling and hurled herself onto my dog. I can't believe I didn't get bitten because I ended up rolling around on the ground yanking back the pit and finally grabbing my dog and lifting her up. What did the pit owner do? Absolutely nothing. Didn't lift a finger. She was in shock Just stood there with her mouth wide open while I was screaming for her to get her dog off. The idiot finally awoke from her stupor and just kept repeating herself, "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry. She has never done this before. I am so sorry" . All dogs are different. Just like people If someone is too physically weak to handle 65 lbs of muscle they absolutely should not have a pit bull. These breeds have been fucked up for a long, long time due to shit owners. Its going to take a very long time for them to be in the Golden Retriever category.

      • profile image

        4 months ago

        Jopin44 I believe that there's more to your story about the 2 pitbulls then meets the eye. Any breed of dog can be aggressive & attack other dogs for reasons bystanders don't know or understand. My heart goes out to the owners of the unfortunate pup that lost its life. However, you can't blame the animals behavior on the breed... the animal acts the way its be raised... for all you know the 2 pitbulls could have been rescued from an abusive home & they could have been trained to fight & practiced on small dogs like the one that was attacked... I'm not convinced that you could accurately identify a pitbull given all the breeds that look similar to Pitbulls... Pointy ears on a medium-sized dog doesn't mean its a Pitbull. Aggressive animals have been raised in an abusive home... Animals are conditioned to act the way they do... you can't blame the breed due to idiot humans trying to create a monster...

        It's easier to blame the monster than it is to blame Dr. Frankenstein...

      • profile image

        4 months ago

        Pitbulls are not aggressive towards other dogs. Out of all of the dog breeds that myself & my friends have ever owned there has been only 1 breed that has ever been aggressive towards people (including strangers) & other dogs & that was a Dachshund... The pitbulls only ever gave sloppy kisses but the dachshund mauled my hand & would nip your heals. Meanwhile every stranger that ever stopped by thought the pitbulls would be the one to harm them... but when they left, they left with their faces covered in drool (from sloppy kisses) & their heals bleeding & their preconceived notions about dog breeds changed forever.

      • alexadry profile image
        Author

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

        Sounds like an awesome dog Gracyn and you must be a very good owner too.

      • profile image

        Gracyn 3 years ago

        My dog is amazing. So sweet and kind. She has never hurt any dog.

      • alexadry profile image
        Author

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

        There are often two sides of the story. Statistics may seem like something to rely on, but there are many considerations to keep in mind. First off, many dogs who attack are often mislabeled by journalists as pit bulls, this makes pit bulls appear as if they bite more. Simpy visit the link below for some of the many breeds that are often erroneously labeled as pit bulls. Out of all those dogs, only one is a real pit bull, the rest are dogs that are mislabeled as pit bulls in newspaper reports.

        http://mprgroup.net/misc/findpit.html

        Other considerations: of course, the bite of a pit bull will make more news than the bite of a chihuahua. Fact is, you will never find chihuahua bite statistics because they pose less damage than a larger dog's bite. Every day there are hundreds of dog bite across the country.Journalists love to report pit bull bites because they make more news. About 915 dog bites are not reported each day. Why? I feel quite confident it's because those bites are carried out by other breeds that aren't "newsworthy" enough. Another study from the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in 2006 showed that owners of vicious dogs were significantl likely to have criminal convictions such as aggressive crimes, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence. It is therefore the way a dog is kept that influences behavior for a greater extent more than breed. I am sometimes called to help with cases of dogs who "turn on their own small family members'. I yet have to see a dog who just turns out on people out of the blue for no reason whatsoever. The dog is often sending "leave me alone signals" that the owners cannot read and has been doing so for a while. The dog was often pestered by a child , had some sort of ear problem or pain or had a history of being physically abused. Nicholas Dodman once talked about a dog who was put to sleep because it attacked a child. Turns out, it was discovered the dog had a pencil stuck in its ear. Moral of the story: the child had poked the pencil in the dog's ear and the dog defended himself as best as he could.If that wasn't noticed, the dog would have been one of the many "who turn on a child." Not saying that is the case all the time, but there are many things that don't go reported behind those headlines we see on the news. I know it's disturbing to hear about a pit bull who attacks small dogs, but trust me, it's not only pit bulls. I have met many breeds out there you wouldn't have suspected, who given the opportunity, would love to make small dogs into lunch in one bite if allowed to. I agree with you though, I would rather meet a bear than some dogs that I have met in the past... but in the majority of cases, they were NOT pit bulls. I won't mention the breeds because it would be unjust as there are so many variables more than breed going on. Even CDC, the Centers for Disease Control admits " There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill." This article sums up why those statistics are flawed and non-reliable: http://stopbsl.org/fortherecord/scientific-studies...

      • profile image

        jopin44 3 years ago

        A great article, well researched and I enjoyed reading it. However, if you look at statics anywhere, Pit bulls have been involved in more fatalities and mauling s than any other breed worldwide.

        But don't tell me that it is because they are the most neglected of dogs, which will make any breed of dog aggressive. Many breeds of dogs are unfortunately neglected and untrained.

        Two pit bulls just ripped a small terrier into pieces in my neighborhood park last week. Why, because that is in their genes-I think. It happened for no reason. The pit bulls just picked it up like a toy and tore it apart. right there. I firmly believe that any other breed of dog would have walked away if not confronted. This terrier was just friendly saying hi yet they just jumped on the first dog in their path. FOR NO REASON!!

        Also, they are known to turn on their own small family members too-kids. They can be nice and the sweetest s of dogs until something clicks in their brains, and they attack. An instinct that may have stayed dormant for years but suddenly re surges.. Sorry, I would rather meet a bear in the woods than two Pit bulls looking to fight and kill.

      • Ariel-Cal profile image

        Evelia Veronica Rivera 4 years ago from Bridgeport, CT

        good read

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