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Pitbulls can be a controversial breed. Some cities ban the ownership of Pitbulls completely, citing they are too aggressive and dangerous, while some people claim that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. So which is it? Are Pitbulls the product of careless owners and a poor reputation? Or is their aggressive breed history too ingrained in their genetics to be overcome with even the best obedience training? Are Pitbulls good with kids?
Pitbulls are the subject of plenty of controversies, but most of their poor reputation is unearned. A Pitbull who is raised and socialized properly can be a delightful companion for children of any age.
The Pit bull Breed
The term “Pitbull” can be a bit of a misnomer when it comes to dogs. Technically, a Pitbull refers to the American Pit Bull Terrier. However, there are several other “bully breeds,” including the American Staffordshire terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, which are often called Pitbulls as well.
Pitbull can also refer to any mixed-breed dog who shares the appearance of a typical Pitbull-type dog.
In order to understand Pitbulls in the present, it’s crucial to understand the past history of the Pitbull breed. Pitbulls are so-called because they were originally bred in early 19th-century England to spar with bulls and bears in pit fights.
These sports were deemed illegal around 1835, and in their place, the popularity of dog-fighting arose. Instead of fighting bears and bulls, now Pitbulls were set to fight one another.
With this new sport, Pitbulls were selected and bred for their aggression towards other dogs. While this tendency towards aggression with other dogs is still prevalent in Pitbulls today, it’s important to note that these first fighting dogs were never bred for aggression towards humans.
The opposite, in fact: Pitbulls were also bred for an unwillingness to bite humans. Handlers often had to reach into dog-fighting rings to separate dogs and wanted to be able to do so without becoming injured themselves.
In Recent History
Pitbulls went on to leave the dog-fighting pits of England and to become farm dogs in America. They hunted, provided companionship, and watched over their homes. With Pitbull movie stars like Petey from ”The Little Rascals,” Pitbulls became the “all-American family dog.” Over the decades, dogs like Doberma
ns and Rottweilers were the “bad dogs” to avoid. That is, until the 1990s when Pitbulls became popular among those who were not focused on the positive attributes of the breed.
Instead, nefarious dog-fighting rings repopularized and more aggressive dogs were bred, giving Pitbulls their current, unearned reputation.
While some argue that Pitbulls are more likely to attack humans than other breeds of dogs, this simply isn’t true. There have been no studies or evidence that suggests that Pitbulls are more aggressive towards people than the average purebred dog.
Are Pitbulls Aggressive?
If we look into their history in order to understand Pitbulls today, we see a strong, athletic dog that was chosen for dog-fighting. Over generations, dogs that exhibited aggression towards other dogs were bred to produce the best fighting contenders.
It is safe to say that while you may overcome a Pitbull’s aggression towards other dogs with proper socialization during puppyhood, it is genetically ingrained into their genome.
In the same breath that we accept this genetic tendency towards dog-aggression, we must acknowledge that Pitbulls were never bred for aggression towards humans. Therefore they do not carry a genetic tendency for attacking people, young or old.
Can Pitbulls Show Human Aggression?
In short, yes, they can. Dogs are individuals. They are a product of their genetics but also of their upbringing. Pitbulls who are abused and neglected by people may very well develop aggression towards humans.
It is our responsibility as Pitbull owners to properly socialize our puppies so that they do not develop fear-based behaviors towards certain people, including children.
Are Children Safe Around Pitbulls?
As long as a Pitbull has been properly socialized with children from a young age, kids should be perfectly safe around them. That being said, you should never leave children, especially small children, unsupervised around a large dog.
While Pitbulls aren’t usually aggressive towards adults or children, they are still a large, powerful dog. Like any large dog, precautions should be taken to keep dogs and children safe. Here are some other tips for keeping children safe around your Pitbull:
Supervise All Interactions
This one is so important we’re saying it twice. Supervising play sessions between a child and Pitbull are not to prevent your dog from suddenly snapping and attacking a child they have played with for years.
It’s to prevent accidents. You should never leave a child unoccupied with any dog, even a puppy. Just because a Pitbull is well-behaved doesn’t mean a child cannot be hurt by their interactions.
Pitbulls are large, strong, and love to play. They could easily knock a child down if the play gets too rough, potentially resulting in injuries. Supervising those interactions keeps both your dog and child safe.
Watch Child’s Behavior
Kids may have the best intentions, but they can still cause harm without meaning to. Whether it’s heavy-handed petting or grabbing at your dog’s face, children can cause unintentional pain to your dog accidentally. That being said, even in the face of such treatment, a well-bred and well-raised Pitbull shouldn’t be prone to biting or attacking as a defense mechanism.
Watch and make sure any child playing with your Pitbull knows how to play appropriately. Teach them to respect your Pitbull as well as their space and belongings.
Put Away Any Prized Items
Before you allow children to play with your Pitbull, put away items like their food bowls, treats, bones, and toys. While a properly raised Pitbull won’t attack a child to get these items, they may play too roughly in their attempt to take back a toy or bone. When your Pitbull goes to grab their bone, they may even accidentally nip a small finger or two in their haste. Putting these items away prevents accidents like these from occurring.
Take Obedience Classes
In addition to socializing your Pitbull as a puppy, obedience classes are also a great idea. Not only do they provide further socialization with different dogs and people, but they also provide an avenue where your dog looks to you for leadership.
Obedience classes provide an outlet for your dog to learn from you and learn to look to you in new situations. When your Pitbull is comfortable looking to you for guidance when they are uncertain, it strengthens your bond and gives your Pitbull confidence in your decisions.
With this bond in place, if you are laidback when a child is running and screaming around your Pitbull, they will be at peace as well.
A Pitbull who listens to you is important in many scenarios. Perhaps they need to sit so a small child can pet them, or lie down when they get a little too rowdy.
Knowing your Pitbull in and out provides even more confidence that you will know exactly how they might react in a given situation.
The more time you spend with your dog, the better you are able to read their moods and actions.
Allow Your Pitbull An Escape
Whether your Pitbull is intimidated by a child or just tired out and done playing, always allow your dog an escape. If dogs are in a situation they don’t like, they would much prefer to simply walk away rather than escalate. This is why it’s important to give your dog an escape route or area. Teach children that a dog’s crate, bed, or other area is off-limits to humans; if the dog enters that area, the child is to leave them alone.
Some dogs are simply weird around certain types of people, even small people. Don’t force your dog to interact with people that clearly make them uncomfortable. Note your dog’s behavior when meeting new people and allow them to leave the area if they desire it.
A Family Dog
Pitbulls are incredibly people-oriented. The majority of them just want to be surrounded by their people in a loving home. While there may be a lot of negative stories out there about children and Pitbulls, these scenarios are almost always when dog and child have been left unattended.
Furthermore, Pitbulls do not aggress humans, young or old, at a higher rate than many other dog breeds, they are just more likely to end up in the press.
Do your due diligence. When adopting a puppy, socialize your Pitbull with as many people, places, and situations as possible.
If you opt to adopt an older dog, take them to obedience classes, and introduce them to people and places slowly. A high-energy Pitbull who has been raised well can make the perfect companion to a high-energy child.
Taylor has a degree in Animal Science from the University of Georgia. She worked as a zookeeper for several years and is now a freelance writer. She and her own pit mix, Dobby, bicycled 3200 miles across the United States and thru-hiked the Long Trail together.