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Breed & Health Resources

Celebrating Pit Bulls: National Pit Bull Awareness Month

By Tracy Libby

 Have you heard that Pit Bulls have locking jaws? I read it on the internet, so it must be true, right? It cited an anonymous source, too. So it's confirmed. Honestly, the story might be funny if it were any breed other than a Pit Bull. Thank goodness October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month because people who share their lives with a Pit Bull (or two or three!) understand the need for ongoing educational programs for this gentle and loving yet sorely misunderstood and frequently maligned breed.

To clarify, "Pit Bull" is not a breed, but rather a generic term that encompasses several dog breeds whose original purpose included bull and bear baiting and later dog fighting. It's loosely applied to breeds with similar traits and characteristics. For this article, "Pit Bull" includes the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and mixed-breeds.

National Pit Bull Awareness Month started on October 26, 2007 as National Pit Bull Awareness Day (NPBAD) by Jodi Preis of Bless the Bullys, a Pit Bull rescue and education group in Tennessee. It's not an official holiday. Congress didn't vote on or approve it. But politicians have been busy passing breed-specific and dangerous-dog legislation. Hence the need for ongoing educational programs designed to dispel myths and counter the breed's bad-boy image. In 2011, NPBAD was expanded to include the entire month of October.

Despite the breed's intelligence and trainability, decades of popular culture characterized in books and movies have created a negative stereotype. As a result, responsible Pit Bull owners must go above and beyond general good-dog-ownership practices to counteract the ongoing stigmas. NPBAD's goal is to change that negative image by bringing positive awareness and attention to the Pit Bull and his responsible owners.

Why is this important? Because what you don't know will hurt you—and your dog. When negative stereotypes run amok, breed-specific legislation and dangerous-dog laws appear. From small towns such as Manly, Iowa (population about 1,342) to large cities including San Francisco, Denver, and London, politicians are mandating how dogs must be walked in public or contained on property—just because they're Pit Bulls. Worse yet, many cities have banned Pit Bull ownership. Yes, you read that right. Many cities have made it illegal to own a Pit Bull, a Pit Bull mix, or any dog that resembles a Pit Bull.

What You Can Do

A good friend of mine owns three Pit Bulls. I occasionally check on her dogs when she's not home. When I enter her house, the three Pitties care not one iota. No barking. No snarling. No menacing glares or scare tactics. Not a peep. Just a lot of tail wagging. On the other hand, two of my five Australian Shepherds will not let anyone on our property if we're not home. Of course, the irony is the stereotypical assumption that it's the "Pit Bulls" who will eat you alive!

You can debunk negative stereotypes and prevent breed-specific legislation by being a good breed ambassador, which includes making sure your Pit Bull is a good citizen. Granted, Pit Bull owners face an uphill battle because every time they go out in public with their dog, they represent the breed in a positive or negative manner. Pit Bull owners must remain attentive to misconceptions about the breed and recognize that people’s perceptions are shaped by the dogs they meet.

Here are a few proactive and doable suggestions:

  • Educate yourself about the breed. Know your breed’s history, temperament, and physical and mental requirements.
  • Socialize your Pit Bull appropriately so he can grow into a confident, well-adjusted adult without anxiety and fear.
  • Train your Pit Bull so he walks nicely on leash and sits while being greeted, which provides a positive image of the breed. (An unruly Pit Bull looks aggressive even if he's not.)
  • Stay active and visible in a positive way with your Pit Bull, such as dock diving, agility, obedience, and therapy work, which helps to counteract the breed’s negative image.
  • Capitalize on your dog's tremendous sense of humor by teaching him fun tricks, such as speak, wave, or rollover.
  • Soften the breed's bad-dog image with fun, colorful scarves or bandanas. Experts discourage spiked collars as they perpetuate the breed's aggressive image.
  • Spay or neuter your Pit Bull. Leave the breeding to people who know what they’re doing.

Get Involved

Why limit it to one day or one month? Why not promote positive canine role models 365 days a year? It's not difficult. Experts offer these suggestions:

  • Support your local humane society or rescue organization by volunteering or fostering a dog in need.
  • Join local or national dog clubs that host educational seminars, public-service announcements and dog shows, which are great venues for debunking myths and educating yourself and the public.
  • Support American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program, designed to reward dogs with good manners at home and in the community. The AKC does not recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier; however, the breed is eligible for the CGC program.
  • Support the American Dog Breeders Association’s Safe Dog Program, which offers a test of a dog’s socialization and basic obedience training along with certification of the dog owner’s knowledge of basic canine psychology and responsible canine ownership.

Stay Informed

Get involved in your community, by searching online for breed-specific legislation in your state. Suggested sites include:

Make a Commitment

Make a commitment to make a difference by getting involved because breed-specific legislation affects all dog owners—not just the owners of "dangerous" dogs.

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