Acquired: Worked with pet (didn’t own)
Training: Attended conferences / shows
Posted April 6, 2016
American Pit Bull Terriers have one of the most dangerous reputations of any dog, and they're even illegal in some cities. Generally, if you hear of a dog attack, the aggressor is referred to as a "pit bull", almost regardless of what breed was involved. It's not surprising, the wide jaws and body of almost pure muscle looks intimidating.
When Denver passed a law to ban pit bulls, the shelters of surrounding cities became filled with loving, well trained dogs whose owners had to give up in order to keep them safe when the first waves legislation passed. Many owners feared for the safety of their dog and didn't think they'd be able to move in time, so they were forced to give up their furry friends.
One of my favorite Pitties to come through our shelter was named Linus. He was 100 pounds of muscle, with cropped ears (which I definitely don't condone) and looked like a fighter. When I first walked into the kennels, Linus was sitting quietly in the corner, looking out the window. I walked into his kennel and when he approached me, he jumped up. For a few seconds, I have to admit I was a little nervous that I could be wrong about these docile dogs, as he coud knock me over and overpower me in a heartbeat. As it turns out though, Linus was just giving a big bear hug to the first person he got to hang out with that day; he was lonely since he'd been removed from what was probably a very good home. He never jumped up after that, either, although he was the first on the couch to put his paw around you in a big, sweeping bear hug.
Linus was well trained so I didn't have to put any effort into it. He walked well on leash, knew his basic commands and was great with other dogs. Other pit bulls I worked with were always easily trained because they're so eager to please. Socialization is important as soon as possible to get them used to other dogs and new situations, but no more so than any other dog. If they aren't properly exposed to dogs, they can develop dog aggression, and as a general rule I wouldn't trust them around small animals; the terrier in them has a strong prey drive. With the exception of happy tail, they're very hardy dogs and aren't prone to many health problems, though I'd occasionally see some eye problems in some older pits that passed through the shelter. Pit Bulls also have incredibly maternal instincts (male or female!) and love taking care of and nurturing their family. Because they're so sturdy, they can handle an excitable child very well and don't startle easily, which makes them surprisingly great nannies.
Not only are pit bulls the last to attack, they're the first to say they're sorry. Pit Bulls are goof balls and love your attention, and they'll do anything in their considerable power to make you laugh. Any damage they'll do to you would most likely caused by an over exuberant "happy tail" which can actually become a medical condition if you're not careful and let it get infected. The likelihood your pit bull will use its mouth for anything besides sloppy kisses is very slim.
One of the most common mixed breeds I'd see were PIt Bull/Labrador mixes, and while they aren't any more dangerous, they have a tendency to carry a lab's exuberance and hyperactivity in combination with the Pittie's signature wrestler physique, and that mix in particular can be a little clumsier and require a little more in terms of training and exercise. Lab mixes might be a slightly more challenging pit bull mix, but all in all any Pittie you get will be a great starter dog.
It took Linus a little longer to get adopted than most dogs at our shelter simply because he looked so scary, even though he was gentle, house broken, loving, and all in all a model dog. Getting a rescue dog comes with challenges, as many tend to be abused and develop issues that can make them hard to deal with. Pit bulls are one of few breeds that can readjust, adapt, and fall in love with their new family no matter where they came from. Even if you get an older pit bull, they're likely to respond to training as long as they get enough love and exercise.