Below are some of the most common questions or comments that pit bull owners get, along with some suggestions for helping to change the conversation. I have been asked every single one of these questions. I try to use each encounter as an educational opportunity to change the conversation.
If you wouldn’t make the comment or ask the question about another type of dog, you might want to ask yourself why you are asking this question of a pit bull owner.
1. Will she bite me?
When I first brought Piper home as a foster puppy at 12 weeks old, one of my neighbors asked me if Piper would bite her. She was genuinely concerned and I gently explained that while Piper was a puppy and that all puppies can be a bit nippy and are still learning bite inhibition (one of the main reasons for providing early and regular socialization), Piper was (and still is) extremely gentle. My neighbor has become one of Piper’s biggest fans.
It is extremely rare that any dog bites without warning. Dogs generally give many signals through their body language that they are unhappy or uncomfortable before they ever bite.
2. Have you seen any signs of aggression from her yet?
What’s most upsetting about this question is the foregone conclusion of the asker that aggression is inevitable. While it is possible that Piper (or, again, any dog) could become aggressive, pit bulls are not inherently vicious.
The assumption that pit bulls will inevitably be aggressive is not rooted in any scientific facts or data.
3. What do you do when her jaws lock?
Nothing because pit bulls do not have “locking” jaws. I repeat, they do not have the ability to lock their jaws nor do they have any unique functionality associated with their jaws. (Honestly. This is science, not opinion) Are their jaws strong? Yes. Can they be tenacious? Absolutely!
However, when the skulls of various dogs are compared, all dog skulls share the same characteristics and basic bone structure. There is nothing “abnormal” in the skulls of pit bull type dogs. (Read more about the myths surrounding pit bull bite strength as compared to other dogs.)
4. Don’t you worry that she’ll just suddenly turn on you one day and rip your face off?
Nope. Never. This is another one of those media-hyped myths that many buy into. I have never been concerned that Piper will suddenly snap and become a vicious monster. While I absolutely believe that some dogs can be unpredictable due to any number of factors (fear, resource guarding, medical issues, etc.), I am no more concerned that my pit bull will suddenly attack me (or anyone else) than I am that either of my yellow Labradors will, out of nowhere, suddenly become aggressive towards me or others.
5. But she’s so sweet. How did you get her to be so sweet?
I’m sure that this is meant as a compliment but really it just suggests that Piper is an anomaly as opposed to the norm. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and some are sweet, some are funny, some are shy, some are grumpy. Piper isn’t sweet despite being a pit bull — she is sweet because that’s her personality. She’s also terrified of being in the car, hates loud noises, loves to snuggle at night, is stubborn and seriously smart.
6. Well, it’s all how they are raised, isn’t it?
While on the surface this seems like another compliment about my skills in raising Piper, this is actually one of the most damaging and misleading comments/questions.
If this were true, how do we explain dogs like the survivors of the Michael Vick dog fighting ring? These pit bull type dogs were rescued from the most horrific, violent, abusive, neglectful situation and one would expect that they would be completely distrustful of humans and other dogs. But most went on to be amazing family pets and/or therapy dogs? We need look no further than the Vicktory Dogs to see shining examples of how resilient and forgiving these dogs can be in the face of truly reprehensible treatment.
On the flip side, how do we explain dogs who grow up in great homes and who never experience trauma or abuse, but who are snappy or reactive or truly aggressive?
Environment, health, history, trauma, socialization all contribute to a dog’s behavior.
Pit bulls are just dogs and we need to treat them as such by not demonizing OR idealizing them.
PupJournal is proudly hosting National #PitBullWeek, or #NPBW, to celebrate blocky-headed wigglebutts, otherwise known as “pit bulls.” It’s time these pups are able to live their lives free from discrimination and harm. You can find articles, videos, and adoptable dogs on our National Pit Bull Week page and on Facebook. Join us by tagging National #PitBullWeek, or #NPBW!
Header image via North Charleston / Flickr