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Pit Bulls: The History of Their Notorious Reputation and Why They Deserve Better

Marcy is a proud Grammy to three adorable, loving Pit Bull rescues. Defending this breed has become a necessary passion.

Reba and Dually with their Momma, probably begging for some of her food.

Reba and Dually with their Momma, probably begging for some of her food.

Why Do Pit Bulls Have a Bad Reputation?

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a popular policy around the world. It restricts and even bans 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 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 of the reasons why 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 ancestral 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.

Cousins: Reba and Bruiser playing at Grammy and Grandpa's.

Cousins: Reba and Bruiser playing at Grammy and Grandpa's.

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.

Mom and Dad and Reba on the day they finally made Dually an official member of the family.

Mom and Dad and Reba on the day they finally made Dually an official member of the family.

Reba and feline friend Sasha take a cat-nap.

Reba and feline friend Sasha take a cat-nap.

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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.

Baby Bruiser and Aunt Abby.

Baby Bruiser and Aunt Abby.

Bruiser making sure the kittens all stay on the bed.

Bruiser making sure the kittens all stay on the bed.

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.

Reba says, "Can Sadie come out and play?"

Reba says, "Can Sadie come out and play?"

Bruiser and Grammy time!

Bruiser and Grammy time!

My Purpose

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


Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on June 26, 2020:

Thanks, Nell! I know people some people have had negative experiences with them, but some of the fear is unfounded. I can see taking away an aggressive or unreliable dog, but not a gentle family friend. Any breed of dog can be aggressive.

Nell Rose from England on June 22, 2020:

I was surprised myself when I realized that pits were called nanny dogs back in the day, too! how amazing! Over here in England, there was a big thing about them a few years back. They were taken away from owners and they had to go to court to prove the dog was safe. I have no idea what has happened these days. Interesting stuff, thanks.

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on June 11, 2020:

Thanks, Liz!! We love them all.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 11, 2020:

I have learnt a lot about pit bulls from this article. It seems like they have made great pets in your family.

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on June 10, 2020:

Thank you so much for your reply. Enjoy your lovable pitty!!!

Lori Queary on June 09, 2020:

Having had rescued many beloved dogs for 55 yrs, I am adopting my first Pittie.

What I have is a furr covered heart that is almost the size of her head. Such a lover, she immediately attached to my son, and once he falls asleep she is all mine!

I gladly share your article to educate and rescue them!

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on June 09, 2020:

Yes, Lori, this is exactly my point. Humans are at fault. Thanks so much for sharing your stories. They 100% help make my case.

Lori Colbo from United States on June 09, 2020:

Great topic. I have known some very sweet adorable pits. I had one once and I always felt uncomfortable with her. We got her as a puppy but as she grew she developed a deep, loud, guttural bark and people were afraid of her when she came to the door when someone knocked. She was kind and gentle to my little boy and people who visited but one time my son came to visit with his pit, who happened to be the mother of our pit. My son's dog was the most loyal, gentle, dog I've ever seen. Unfortunately, my son trained her to attack other animals. Someone let the dogs out in the middle of the night and killed the neighbor's cat. I demanded we get her out of our home. I am sure she followed the lead of my son's dog.

My sister lost her precious tiny dog to a pit bull. He attacked him and the woman owner let him do it. She even smiled. I think with the history and reputation of pits, there are way too many people who train them or allow them to be aggressive. These people should not be allowed to be dog owners.

Some breeds of dogs have an innate predisposition to be aggressive. German Shepherds, Dobermans, Pitbulls, and Rottweilers to name a few. Yet we know many people who have those breeds and they are sweet docile pets. I think it depends on the individual dog and the environment they are raised in. The bottom line is, people are usually the culprit.

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