Pantops Pet Salon
Follow us on Facebook

Pantops Pet Salon & Spa
Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

It's what we do -- it's all we do.

(434) 293-2424
Fax: (434) 293-8231
504 Pantops Center
Charlottesville, VA 22911

The Pit Bull Controversy

Thursday, August 14th, 2008 by Mike Cronk

For years now there has been an ongoing controversy involving the Pit Bull breed. Our local SPCA and some Pit Bull owners claim that the breed is misunderstood so they are working to change the public’s negative perception of these dogs. Well, if it were only so simple. Perhaps in this case, “where there is smoke, there is fire.” The Pit Bull’s reputation has a basis in reality so if you are looking to own one, take extra care with your research so you know exactly what you are in for and whether you can handle it.

We know that most of our dog breeds were developed to suit their working relationships with man from herding and retrieving to rescuing. The Pit Bull, however, was bred to be a fighter. The breed originated in England in the 1800s with the Black and Tan Terrier. This breed was used to entertain humans by killing rats in a pit–not my idea of a good time, but there you have it. Evidently, this wasn’t enough excitement for the audience so they crossed the terrier with the Bulldog to create what we know today as the Staffordshire terrier or Pit Bull. Instead of fighting rats, these dogs were set against each other in the pit, hence their name. When you look into getting a Pit Bull, understand that they were originally bred to fight one another to the death for human entertainment. In the pit, only the strongest survived and subsequently were bred to pass on the traits which had ensured that they killed their opponents.

Read our “Nature vs. Nurture” article in the Library section of our website and you’ll see that both play an important role in your dog’s character. Training and socialization, although essential, aren’t going to give a Pit Bull the manners of a Golden Retriever. Pit lovers that want their dogs accepted by society must work to clean up the breeding in addition to being responsible owners. Just as we can breed dogs to increase their sense of smell for hunting, we can also breed them to adjust their character. There were originally strains of aggression in the Great Dane, but breeders have selectively matched the most docile members of the breed to eventually produce a more gentle dog. Aggressive tendencies can be bred out of the Pit Bull but potential owners should be aware that this is a process–after years of selectively breeding Pits to fight, it’s going to take some time to change them.

While breeders work to change the Pit, there will be some differing genetic lines. This is common for working dogs including the Labrador Retriever. You have one line of dogs that have been bred for their game retrieving instincts while others are bred as companion dogs or show dogs who would make lousy hunters. With the Pit Bull, you still have the lines that go back to their fighting roots. Although dog fighting is outlawed, there are plenty of backyard breeders who still fight dogs (hello, Michael Vick) and of course people who just want to be seen with a “bad ass dog.” But there are other breeders who are working to civilize the breed by breeding out that violence.

It’s not quite time to throw caution to the wind. The most recent available statistics we could find show that violence from Pit Bulls is still at the top of the charts. In 2000, the Center for Disease Control published the following study; between 1979 and 1998, one third of all fatal dog attacks were caused by Pit Bull types. The highest (118) were by Pit Bulls, the second highest (67) by Rottweillers. The Pits we see at the Pet Salon have been friendly but often stubborn and sometimes untrained and aggressive toward other dogs. My son Michael, who owns the Pet Salon, stopped boarding them because they were destructive to the kennels and impervious to pain–they would chew on the chain link until their mouths bled.

Be aware that owning a Pit will limit your choices if you need to move. Based on the dog’s violent history, many apartments will not allow Pits in order to protect the safety of other tenants. The following countries have created laws restricting or outlawing Pit Bull ownership: Ontario, Winnipeg and Manitoba Canada, Australia, France, Norway, Singapore, United Kingdom, Denmark, New Zealand, Serbia and Italy. In the United States, 16 cities have active laws governing Pit Bull ownership. 7 cities are currently studying proposals. Insurance companies like Allstate are reluctant to insure homeowners who have Pit Bulls which isn’t a surprise when the Insurance Information Institute reports that dog bites accounted for one-quarter of all claims on homeowner’s insurance.

When looking to get a Pit, be aware of their history and their current character. Every dog breed involves some research before you make a final decision but even more caution should be taken when a breed has a track record of violence. Be sure to see the parents and know which stock your dog is coming from–you want to look for a long line of conscientious breeding. You should be prepared to offer a good home and some serious training. Also keep in mind that caution needs to be exercised when the Pit is around other breeds. Pits adopted from the SPCA should be on a trial basis and only if you are willing and able to spend the time necessary to train and socialize them.

Leave a Reply