Are All Pit Bulls Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?
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 as 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 three 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, according to 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.
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 in an attempt to bite the tethered bull on 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 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. Therefore, it continued to take place in Britain.
It was in 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, and 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 were later 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 that the pit bull must be vicious by nature. However, 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.
People often 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." 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, and poodles that are intolerant of other dogs. All of these breeds 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.
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
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
My Pit Bull has attacked four different dogs, seemingly unprovoked. What can I do to prevent it from happening again?
It is your responsibility to prevent future mishaps as such. Management is your best friend. Where and when did these incidents occur? If on walks, you may want to make sure you have good control over your dog. Use a head halter or a harness if your dog tends to pull. Train him not to pull on the leash. Let him wear a muzzle if other dogs approach or you have a hard time controlling your dog. You may need to have your dog wear a vest that informs other dog owners not to let their dogs approach your dog.
If your dog has escaped the yard, fix your fencing or erect a new, safer fence that is escape-proof. If you frequent the dog park, no more dog park for your dog.Helpful 23
When are dog owners going to be asked the reason they have a dog that is not dog friendly? Isn't it true that our dogs mirror us and our responses when approaching other dogs?
Yes, but only up to a certain extent. Sure, if dog owners get tense every time other dogs approach, it is possible that the dog may get tense too and soon aggressive displays take place. Also, if dog owners give harsh corrections every time their dogs see another dog, even if these dogs just want to meet, correction after correction, it is possible that these dogs may associate the collar correction with the dogs, paving the path towards aggression. But there can be many more dynamics going on than just dog owner influence.Helpful 7
© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli