How Did Pit Bulls Get Their Bad Reputation And Do They Deserve It?


So how did Pit Bulls get their bad reputation and do they deserve it? That is a good question but where do I start? As far back as the Little Rascals, the Pit Bull in America was adored. However, this adoration for the Pit Bull goes back even further than the 1930’s, but since about the 1980’s, it has been a 180⁰ emotional shift.

Can Opinion be Construed as Fact if Enough People Believe it?

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationWith the introduction of Breed-Specific Legislation, the line between pro-Pit Bull and anti-Pit Bull was drawn. Along with this great divide came the never-ending debate on the temperament of the Pit Bull.

Advocates for the breed believe the real problem lies with the irresponsible pet owners. They feel that this is the root cause of dangerous Pit Bull behavior. Those who advocate against the Pit Bull believe the breed to be genetically predisposed to violence against all lifeforms.

Lines Have Been Drawn and Neither Side is Willing to Cross

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationHowever, many of the professionals within the field of animal behavior believe that the answer lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s school of veterinary medicine, is one such professional.

“I see both sides,” says Dodson, who is also the author of Dogs Behaving Badly.

There are Countless Studies on the Subject, but We are No Closer to an Answer.

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationSeveral studies show Pit Bulls are no more likely to bite humans than other dog breeds, but when they do bite, it can be more vicious do to their tenacity.

“Different breeds tend to have different biting styles,” Dodman says. “Pit Bull Terriers are a mix of English Bulldogs, which was bred in the 1800’s to fight bulls and bears with tenacious bites to the snout and Terriers known for their speed and agility.”

“The combination of these breeds produced dogs that can give a “crushing bite” and don’t let go,” Dodman says.

How Did This Fundamental Difference in Opinion Occur?

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationAs I eluded to earlier, it appears to have begun the 1980’s. I am saying “appears” because not even the professionals can agree on when it actually started. So, for the sake of argument, we will say the mid-1980’s.

It is ironic, that from the turn of the century until the 1980’s, there was only one incident reported nationally involving a Pit Bull.

It was an attack in 1947 in which a man sics a pack of 26 dogs on a woman and it leads to her death. This event happened in St. Petersburg, Florida, and 40 years later Florida enacts the first BSL.

The Resurgence of One of the Most Heinous Crimes Sparks Change

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationI do not believe in coincidence. Therefore, I believe that the resurgence of dog fighting and the change in the Pit Bull reputation are synchronous. This resurgence occurred in the 1980’s.

In addition, Pit Bulls seem to be the preferred breed for those involved in dogfighting. Secondly, they are preferred by drug dealers and gangs and are used as guard dogs or for intimidation.

Case in point, there was a hugely publicized attack in 1987 involving a pit bull. This particular Pit Bull was guarding a marijuana crop in California. The dog mauls and kills a two-and-a-half-year-old boy.

Every Change Can be Traced Back to One Event

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationI believe that this was the event that started the epic decline of the public perception of the Pit Bull. I am speaking of that first seed of doubt that snowballs downhill. The first time someone began to see the Pit Bull completely different, it was almost like having an epiphany.

This change is also fueled by the repeated raids on dog fighting rings and finding mostly Pit Bulls.

Then there was this declaration by the media in which the self-realization of giving the public what it has always wanted, that rush or shock. These things sell and everyone began to notice and follow suit. Sensationalism was born or reborn depending on your point of view.

Why This Breed and Not Some Other, Larger Breed?

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationThere seems to be a gravitational pull to the breed and Lauren Fox offers her theory on the reason why.   

“The thing that’s amazing about pit bulls and the thing that gets them in the most trouble, is they’ll be whatever you want them to be,” said Lauren Fox.

Lauren is the director of Colorado Springs All Breed Rescue and Training. She is also a longtime Pit Bull owner. “They want to please you whether you are training them for good or evil.”  “They are moldable dogs.”

Pit Bulls Have a Bad Reputation, but Do They Deserve it?

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationWhen examining the statistics, most dog bite victims are children. In addition, boys significantly outnumbering girls in injuries and deaths.

However, this statistic “strongly indicates that human behavior plays a major role in dog-bite injuries.” This is according to University of Pennsylvania researchers.

Most dog experts say those attacks are sparked by irresponsible owners who train or torture the dogs to be mean.

A Vicious Cycle That Has Come Full Circle

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationThis leads us back to the treatment these dogs receive from their owners. More specifically, owners who are involved in dogfighting and other criminal activity.

You can rest assured that these particular owners are training and torturing their Pit Bulls to encourage aggressive behavior.

Dodman compares Pit Bulls to cars saying, “insurance companies know if you put an 18-year-old behind the wheel of a Ferrari, it’s an accident waiting to happen. The problem isn’t the car; it’s the driver.”

Can There Ever be a Conclusion to the Pit Bull Debate?

Pit Bulls Bad ReputationDodman’s analogy actually fits if you think about it objectively. Let’s say we accept that Pit Bulls are a moldable breed by nature. If so, wouldn’t it be safe to say that they, for the most part, end up being an extension of their owners?

Which in turn, leads us back to an original theory that implies the issue is the owner and not the dog.