The "bull" in pit bulls comes from the terriers' history as competitors in the cruel sport of bull-baiting, and they get their unsavory reputation from well-publicized attacks involving the American Staffordshire terrier, American pit bull terrier and similar breeds. While German shepherds and mixed breeds inflict a greater number of bites with serious injuries, dogs identified as pit bulls by witnesses or authorities inflict more fatalities and bites classified as "very severe." These pit bull attacks usually can be averted with steps a responsible owner should take.
They're Not Fixed
The naturally raging hormones of a dog who hasn't been spayed or neutered increase territoriality, dominance and other characteristics that lend to aggressive dog incidents. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about three-fourths of reported dog bites in the country involve an unneutered male dog.
Getting a pit bull fixed reduces the likelihood that he'll escape from the house and roam the streets looking for a mate. A female who hasn't been spayed also can get aggressive if her maternal hormones kick in and she feels the need to protect her puppies.
They're Not Socialized
The risk that a dog will be involved in a fatal biting attack shoots up if the pup is a "resident dog" as opposed to a family dog. The family dog lives among its people, regularly interacting with family members and other pets. The resident dog isn't afforded the same loving family life. It might be living in a pen in the yard, roaming the property or be chained to a tree. This dog isn't properly supervised, hasn't been able to socialize with humans and may harbor fear or distrust of people, as well as pent-up frustration from his situation.
It's important to socialize your pit bull from a young age, gradually exposing him to all sorts of people and situations so that he'll be more at ease with what's going on around him. If you adopt an older pit bull, take into account the shelter's behavioral analysis of his temperament around other dogs, cats or children. Take dog-training classes to build trust and communication with your pup.
Pit bulls have strong prey drives, which makes socialization around other animals from as early an age as possible important to prevent pit-on-pet attacks.
They're Protecting What's Theirs
Some trainers have noted that pit bulls make good home protectors simply for their strength and how difficult it would be for a determined assailant to take down a pit. If a pit bull thinks he's in a situation where he has to protect his owner or home, he likely will do so. If he's being provoked or put in a frightening situation, he could act out.
If you see signs of unexpected aggressive behavior in your pit bull, seek a veterinary evaluation to rule out anything that may be causing him pain. See a behavioral specialist to head off any future aggression problems with supportive training.
They're Bred for Fighting
Most people know a sweet pit bull who's a loving family member and good with the kids and other pets. Unfortunately, not all people want pit bulls for the same reason. Some specifically seek and breed aggressive pits to produce dogs for illegal dogfighting rings or as underworld status symbols. In fact, the AVMA statistics note that the number of dog owners involved in illicit activities who seek pit bulls as a status breed could account for why pit bulls have the most fatal incidents. If these owners are living in neighborhoods with young children, it's a bad recipe.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends not getting your pit bull from a backyard breeder or through a classified ad, as you don't know the dog's history or how the puppy has been socialized. A shelter or rescue group can give you a careful assessment of a dog's temperament, and a responsible breeder has references and will let you see the home environment in which the puppy has been raised.