There are lots of Pit Bull misconceptions – for example, have you heard that they have locking jaws? If it’s on the internet, it must be true, right? This might be funny if it were any breed other than Pit Bulls. 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.
Bringing Awareness to the “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. Congress didn't vote on or approve it so it's not an official holiday, but politicians have been busy passing breed-specific and dangerous-dog legislation. This is why ongoing educational programs designed to dispel myths and counter the breed's bad-boy image are necessary. In 2011, NPBAD was expanded to entire month of October.
Why Dispelling Pitbull Misconceptions Matters
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 their 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. Occasionally, I check on her dogs when she's not home, and the only thing I’m greeted with is a lot of tail wagging. No barking, no snarling, no menacing glares or scare tactics. Not a peep. 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 their history, temperament, and physical and mental requirements
Socialize your Pit Bull appropriately so they can grow into a confident, well-adjusted adult without anxiety and fear
Train your Pit Bull so they walk nicely on leash and sit while being greeted, which provides a positive image of the breed (An unruly Pit Bull looks aggressive even if they're 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 them 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
Why limit it to one day or one month? Why not promote positive canine role models and Pit Bull awareness 365 days a year? 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
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 change by getting involved. Breed-specific legislation affects all dog owners – not just the owners of "dangerous" dogs.