In the world today pit bulls certainly have a bad reputation, but the real question is why has a generally loving breed been cast in such a dark light? Up until the mid 1980’s pit bulls were America's sweethearts. During both of the World Wars the bully breed graced our military recruiting posters as a representative of our armed forces and a sign of dedication and watchfulness.
They were also often referred to as “the nanny dog” commonly recommended as the ideal breed for families with young children. Many famously loved movie pups of the era were Pits, including Petey from the little rascals. Then there is Sgt. Stubby, a pit bull war hero who single handedly captured a German Spy, saved an entire platoon from a poison gas attack, all while being wounded in action twice. In general, up until recent times, pits were viewed in an entirely different way than they are today.
So what has changed?
The sad reality is people today see this kind and loyal breed as an aggressive, dangerous killer. A series of tragic events spurred the fear of the nation which, combined with mass media coverage, led to these false beliefs. In 1987 a young boy was killed by a pit bull that was the guard dog of a drug dealer. There was also the infamous Sports Illustrated cover of the same year featuring a snarling pit bull with the headline “BEWARE OF THIS DOG”.
The public was outraged and thus began the clamor for breed restrictive legislature. Dog fighting was also growing in popularity during this time with the bully breeds quickly becoming the crowd favorites. Pop culture also isn’t helping the issue by portraying these dogs as vicious aggressors for criminals in movies and television. News stations add fuel to the fire with sensationalist reporting on the limited instances of unprovoked violence from pit bulls, failing to point out that any breed has the potential for aggression when mistreated.
The common myths surrounding Pits are not helping. It might surprise you to find out that the “locking jaw” believed by most to be a characteristic of the pit bull is actually not true as proved by Dr I. Lehr Brisbin at the University of Georgia. As for their inherent aggression, that too has been invalidated. The American Temperament Testing Society, which measures behavioral traits such as stability, shyness, friendliness, and aggression in different dog breeds, found that American Pit bull Terrier passed with a score of 86.8%. That means that 86.8% out of all pit bulls in the world have a naturally positive and friendly temperament. In fact, pit bulls scored higher than many other breeds that are considered superior family dogs such as Golden retrievers, Beagles, and Cocker Spaniels.
In America, approximately 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in shelters each year. 800,000 of those dogs are bully breeds. These numbers are astounding and are a result of the fear and misunderstanding surrounding these sweet dogs. The only way to effect change is to raise awareness of the true nature of pit bulls, and all bully breeds. Highly intelligent, trainable, and compassionate, pit bull make excellent therapy dogs as well as police dogs sniffing for drugs and explosives. One such pit bull, called Popsicle, led authorities to find over 3,000 pounds of cocaine in the largest single narcotics bust in Texas history.
Today many organizations are dedicated exclusively to rescuing and rehabilitating pit bulls, and to bringing more positive attention to these wonderful dogs. Everyone can help whether it be through donations, direct adoption, or even simply sharing a sweet story on social media, a shift in perception can go a long way to repairing the reputation of the pit bull breeds.