Pit Bulls: The History of Their Notorious Reputation and Why They Deserve Better
The History Behind the Hatred
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), is a popular policy around the world, restricting and even banning dog breeds, especially ones classified as pit bulls. I am certainly no expert on pit bulls or BSL and the statistics that support that practice. I have little or no factual knowledge whatsoever in those areas. With that said, I can, however, relay the information I do know with some intelligence.
Today's pit bull is a descendant of the original English Bull-baiting dog, bred for sport in the 17th-19th centuries to bite and hold bulls, bears, and other large animals by the face and head. From the beginning, this genetic characteristic of strong, locking jaws has been groomed and exploited by humans. This genetic predisposition is one reason many countries, US states, and cities have imposed restrictions and bans on the breed.
When large animal baiting was outlawed in the late 1800s, humans once again exploited the fierce locking jaws of the pit bull's ancestors by breeding the English Bull-baiting dog with smaller, more agile terriers for dogfighting.
This mixed breed was trained to attack other dogs, not humans. Preparing a dog for fights required a lot of human handling. If the dog was aggressive towards humans, he was culled from the pack to avoid passing on this trait.
From the beginning of the pit bull's ancestorial history, humans have played a role in accentuating the breed's unsavory characteristics for vile purposes. Today's pit bulls must live with the residual stigma and lingering negativity.
Today's Pit Bull
The term "pit bull" traces back to the fighting dog of the 1800s; however, today's pit bull is a type of dog, not a breed.
This type derives from four main breeds: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Bully. Therefore, a "pit bull" dog is actually a mutt. What's even stranger is that the genetic mixing over time has created a weird anomaly: The dogs often visually identified as pit bulls have no genetic traces of any of these breeds.
The majority of today's pit bulls are bred with no specific intentions. This random breeding has led to a population of dogs with a wide range of behavioral predispositions. Genetics from the past certainly play a role in behavior, but more and more people support the idea that the environment plays a more significant role.
Veterinarians and breed specialists suggest many environmental factors affect a dog's personality. A portion of these factors, such as temperature while in the womb and stress levels of the mother during pregnancy, occur even before birth. Early nutrition, early medical care, and housing conditions also play a role.
However, most experts on the subject can agree that socialization is the main factor that curbs aggression in dogs. This socialization is two-fold with both humans and other dogs. From an early age, dogs need humane and proper training of basic commands and etiquette to cohabitate with humans. Likewise, young dogs must be socialized with other dogs to be friendly with them rather than fearful or aggressive.
Sadly, there are still people today who breed pit bulls for nefarious purposes, which muddles the gene pool and perpetuates the stigma.
The Fate of the Pit Bull
Through no fault of their own, pit bulls and their ancestors have been the target of human exploitation since their beginning. More often than not, today's pit bull is portrayed as a fighting dog even though dogfighting is banned.
This image conjures fear, mistrust, and misunderstanding that often leads to bans and restrictions. Because of breed-specific legislation, many socialized, calm, and loving pit bull pets end up in shelters. Most of the pitty mutts today are far removed from the atrocities of their ancestors, but their reputation is hard to shake.
The pit bull and its close relatives have also been dubbed the Nanny dog for their loving loyalty to children. It's hard to believe behavioral characteristics can swing so wildly within one type of dog. But it is exactly this breadth of those swings that keep the public leery of pits.
As with other types of dogs, people must see each one as an individual with a genetic history and a unique environmental upbringing. Also, as with different types of dogs, some will be gentle and loving, and some will be the opposite. One thing is true, however. In all cases, humankind has played a role in the pit bull's reputation since the beginning.
What Fuels My Passion
Honestly, before my daughters had pit bulls as pets, I knew very little about them. When my oldest daughter and her husband rescued a pit puppy from a "shady" situation, I was skeptical. At that time, I was a victim of the misconceptions surrounding the type. Yet, Molly was the sweetest, gentlest dog, and she soon won my heart. From that first experience with a pitty, I was hooked.
Since Molly, my daughter and her husband have rescued two other pit bulls from shelters. They are also mild-mannered, loving dogs. I have never witnessed a single act of aggression with either one. My daughter and her husband do not have children, but many of their friends do.
Reba and Dually are well-behaved, protective caretakers of every child who has ever stepped foot on their farm. For these reasons, I have a difficult time understanding the controversy and restrictions surrounding these gentle beasts.
Likewise, my other daughter, Andrea, has raised an orphaned pit since he was two days old. Bruiser is even more of a lover than the other two. Yet, Bruiser and my daughter have faced some harsh scrutiny.
When Andrea graduated from college and first got Bruiser, she was also looking for a place to live. After several rejections due to his "breed," we ended up having to buy a house and charge her rent to live there. Likewise, recently she found herself looking for an apartment, and Bruiser was again a tough sell for most landlords. Similarly, her insurance agent advised her to list him as a "terrier mix" for apparent reasons. And all the time she is having so much difficulty, anyone who knows Bruiser will testify that he would not...could not, hurt a fly.
What I want people to understand about pit bulls is simple. They cannot help the fact that humankind has exploited their physical characteristics throughout time. They cannot escape the stigma humanity has created for them.
Each dog is a different soul with a genetic make-up that cannot be erased. However, with better understanding and proper socialization, pit bulls can become loving and loyal pets.
People must treat every dog, not just a pit bull as an individual. And lastly, don't judge them by their breed; judge them by their character.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2020 Marcy Bialeschki