These include not only theAmerican Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier, but – according to some dog lovers – the Bull Terrier and the American Bulldog. Some extend the definition of bully breeds to cover the beloved Boxer, the Bull Mastiff and even the French Bulldog, but purists insist only the first two above are true pit bulls.
Other breeds that can be mistaken for pit bulls include the Presa Canario, the Cane Corso, the Dogo Argentino, the Tosa Inu, the Bull Mastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog and the Olde English Bulldogg(e).
I think that final “e” is carrying the distinction a tad too far, but the truth is the pit bull was originally brought to America by English immigrants. Not on the Mayflower, however; that honor goes to an English Springer Spaniel and an Old English Mastiff, a giant, short-haired dog with a heavy head and short muzzle – a description which immediately highlights the confusion between pit bulls and other bully breeds.
Among English immigrants, the pit bull was bred from the bulldog, once known as a “gripping dog” for its habit of hanging on to large wild game. Only much later – from the early 19th into the 20th century, for example – was this noble breed bred and trained to participate in a bloody, demeaning sport called “baiting.”
Usually practiced with bears or other wild and innately vicious animals like badgers, baiting was eventually outlawed in the UK, Canada and most of the United States. The exception is Louisiana, where the sport uses hogs as bait and Kevlar, chest protectors and collars to protect the dogs.
Dogs, like other animals, tend to fight with the intention of “making a good show of it” without incurring, or delivering, a great deal of harm. The fighting behavior is almost always ritualized, the idea being to intimidate and drive away the competitor, but this is not an effective strategy if it also involves injuring or killing the winning animal, which otherwise planned to stay in what it considered its territory.
Pit bulls, on the other hand, have been bred to replace ritual fighting (little or no bloodshed) with actual fighting, and may as a result bite harder than needed to assert superiority.
This does not mean that they can’t be around other dogs, or humans. Nor are they bloodthirsty and willing to fight to the death. Even among the breed, temperaments differ, as they do among others. The only thing the pit bull’s breeding ancestry insures is that some dogs will be easily encouraged to fight with other dogs.
The way to prevent extraordinary aggressiveness is early and extensive socialization, not merely with other dogs but with other people. Fortunately, the pit bull’s early breeders were as famed for producing dogs that were manageable around people as they were for dogs that would hang on and fight to the finish with bears and the like. To this end, any pit bull that behaved badly toward humans was killed, to eliminate that genetic trait from future generations. This earned them the right to lives in owner’s homes, around other members of the family, and gave them the name of “nursemaid dog” for their gentleness around infants and young children, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA.
After socialization, pit bull puppies must also be trained, and the training reinforced on an almost daily basis. The result is almost always a superbly self-disciplined dog with intense loyalty to its owner and the owner’s family – a dedication which in pit bulls manifests as letting its tail or ears be pulled without a whimper (or even a sotto voce snarl)!
Does this mean you can leave your nine-month old alone on the floor with a pit bull? Probably not, but only because you can’t safely leave your baby alone on the floor with any dog (or cat, for that matter). Any dog can, and will, bite; any cat can and will bite, scratch and claw. Pit bulls, with their massive heads and powerful jaws, bite even harder, and sometimes this biting is done in the same fashion they would bite their own puppies – to carry them back to the nest. Unfortunately, babies don’t have loose skin flaps around their neck.
Hardison & Cochran, Attorneys at law are personal injury lawyers located in Raleigh, North Carolina. For more information, please visit us at www.lawyernc.com