Are Pit Bull Type Dogs Inherently Dangerous?


This past weekend Hector and Wallace’s mom asked for help addressing an editorial in their local paper that said that pit bull type dogs are inherently dangerous.  That even if they weren’t aggressive towards people, they are always a danger to other animals. Clara asked if some of us could respectfully comment.

My response was pretty simple:  One of the reasons animal lovers were so distraught by the Michael Vick case was because he killed dogs, some in horrific ways.  These were fighting dogs, from fighting dog bloodlines, and fighting dog kennels, trained from birth to fight.  They came from generations of dogs who had been bred specifically for the pit.  Why did Mr. Vick kill them?  Because they wouldn’t fight.  Dogs who were bred for dog aggression refused to attack other dogs.

Many people who have opened their homes to pit bull terrier type dogs describe them as fun loving, energetic, athletic, hard-working, loyal, affectionate, sometimes destructive, and tenacious.  It’s hard to argue that pit bull terrier type dogs are always animal aggressive when so many wonderful dogs are living safe and happy lives in families with children, dogs and other animals.

I decided to do some research and I read some really interesting papers on nature vs nurture.  A dog of any particular breed is a sum of genetics, temperament, experiences and environment.  My daughter and I had sister labs, from the same litter.  We would take them to the river for retrieving practice.  Lucy, our lab,swam like a seal, with little wake or water motion.  All you would see is her head and the tip of her tail, almost floating in the water, moving gracefully and efficiently toward shore. Layla, on the other hand, swam as if she were in a panic.  Both of her front legs would break free of the water and she would thrash her way back to the beach.  These two dogs had the exact same genes and background..  One was born with a genetic tendency to swim, the other was not.   With time Layla became more skilled at swimming as she gained more experience.  She had to learn what Lucy instinctively knew.

Kenth Svarberg and Bjorn Forkman studied 15,000 dogs from 164 different breeds.  What they found was that dog behavior varied widely, even within the same breeds.   A specific breed of dog may be born with a tendency towards a certain behavior.  Border collies have a tendency to herd. But tendency is not behavior.  It is not destiny.  A dog is the sum of his personality, his experiences and his environment.  A responsible owner is attuned to his or her dog, and his tendencies.  If you know your dog has an issue with horses, you don’t take him to the rodeo, right?

A scientist named John Paul Scott wanted to determine if aggression is genetic or learned behavior.  He tried, unsuccessfully, to bred a strain of aggressive mice.  Mice can indeed be aggressive towards each other, but what Mr. Scott found was that aggression was almost always a learned behavior, not instinct or breeding. Let me say that again: aggression is a learned behavior.

It is up to us to train and socialize our dogs so aggression is not an issue.  And if an issue starts to crop up, we need to seek the assistance of a trained behaviorist before the undesirable behavior becomes ingrained.    A respectful owner reduces stressful triggers and doesn’t allow his dog to learn or practice aggressive behavior.

Even if there was a gene for animal aggression (and there is NOT), there is another problem.  Pit bull type dogs are the most genetically diverse group of dogs ever.  Two dogs who are both identified as pit bulls can share absolutely no breed DNA.  Many of them are nothing more than mutts, the result of several different breeds of dog. Ray and Turtle are a case in point.  They are both identified as “pit bulls” but they are incredibly different.  Even their body shape and mass is different.  The only things they share in common are big wedge shaped heads and short hair.  If you believe that pit bulls, dogs who may not have any common DNA, are inherently are saying that how a dog looks determines how he will act.

I think I’ve mentioned before that Ray can have an issue with an unknown dog if he feels the dog is focused on him.  Today we went to the Welcome Center to pick up a couple of things at the gift shop.  The Welcome Center dog was sprawled sleeping in the middle of the floor.  Ray walked within 5 feet of her without any adverse reaction at all.  Because we are constantly reinforcing good behavior Ray is learning how to peacefully co-exist with other dogs.  Ray received instant praise and got to go over and pick a toy right away.  We are changing Ray’s tendencies, by giving him new experiences that over-lay the old bad ones.

Is it nature or is it nurture?  As with any dog’s behavior, it is a combination of both.  And as responsible owners we learn to manage our dogs and their behavior.  We learn to control their environment.


13 thoughts on “Are Pit Bull Type Dogs Inherently Dangerous?

  1. We were outside one day when a pit bull came walking up the driveway. She had a collar and a harness that was hanging because she was so thin…NOTHING but skin and bones! She could barely walk. We had a German Shepard at the time so I was expecting the worse! Ginger (the pit bull) just turned and growled at Mabel (the Shepard) and that was that! There was no fighting at all. We didn’t think she would make it through the night but she did…and we kept her for several years until she died from cancer. She obviously was a “bait dog” that wouldn’t fight so they either turned her loose or she managed to get away. She had a litter of puppies and so did Mabel…she would feed hers and then go feed Mabel’s puppies too! Bottom line?!? That “vicious, dangerous, aggressive” PIT BULL was anything but…even though they tried to make her mean. I pray that those bastards burn in hell…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a pit Mama, ours would rather lick and love you and catch a tennis ball than harm you. She was born in our home and fully understands that she is our baby. She has never a horrible situation, not has she ever shown aggression because it is a learned behavior, BUT not in this home.


  3. I know most of the comments have to do with pits. I had one for awhile and she was a real doll. The only time she was aggressive was when there would be a large dog not on a leash heading towards us when on a walk. I gave her that one and kept her very close to me. Over time she was not as aggressive and handled it better and better.

    The other part I wish to comment about is dog breeds being more specific in their personality and abilities. I have had Golden Retrievers most of my life. One in particular my Mother dubbed a Golden Receiver. He would take anything from you but he would not go get anything more than once. It was like “I brought it back and now you want me to go get it again? Uh, NO, you threw it again.” He did not like treats but would take them and put them in a neat little pile outside. He did not like human food at all. Until the day I discovered he had a penchant for gas station hot dogs. This is what he would do. I would break it in the bun into three chunks. Hand him the first one, he would take it and set it down. Hand him the second, repeat as first and make sure it was right next to the first. Hand him the third and he did it again. Made sure all were next to each other in order. He then would roll the hot dog piece out of the first one, eat it, then the second, eat it then the third. Then he would to back to the first chunk of bun and eat that all in order. It took this dog a good five minutes to eat a silly plain hot dog in a bun. All the rest it was gone in 15 second.


  4. > Why did Mr. Vick kill them? Because they wouldn’t fight. Dogs who were bred for dog aggression refused to attack other dogs.

    It’s a bit misleading to say that the Vick’s dogs didn’t engage in the fights. Vick and his men killed dogs that didn’t perform* to his liking in the fighting pit. They may have fought like crazy, but many likely became exhausted (not “game” enough) and it’s likely some turned tail or did something that embarrassed him. Self preservation is a very strong motivator for defensive aggression, and prey drive is another motivator that is exploited in the dog fighting world. It’s the main reason the Vick dogs had to be evaluated – so we would know which could move into home with other dogs and succeed (with careful management of course) and which needed tighter controls. I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion.


  5. Love the article and all the input, I have a pit he was a bate dog for pit bull fighters, in which I took him , lets just say under my wing, Don’t know how old he really is now but I have had him 10 wonderful years, In those 10 years he has only barked, maybe a total of 10 time, we walk for dog rescues, and the other dogs always attack him. It does not matter big or small so we have to keep our distant from other dogs. He has been raised with my grand kids and is wonderful , but I don’t leave the kids either in the home or out side the home alone with him. I have a dog park across the street from my house so he see other dogs going to the park but does not leave the yard and there is no fence. I believe they are like kids they will only do what you let them get away with and that is any breed of dog.


    1. Good for you! You know your dog’s limitations and are a careful dog owner. If more people were like you this breed would be appreciated as they should be.


  6. Why are people so willing to condemn the dog when it is the owner who should bear the responsibility? And speaking of the M. Vick dogs, why was the general public so willing to forgive M.Vick but so willing to destroy his dogs? This is one reason I question humanity today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It doesn’t speak well about the values of this country. It’s outrageous that he not only got away with sadistic torture and cruelty toward living beings, but he remains a hero to many. (Can we say “denial”?) Most who worship the devil believe he paid his debt to these dogs. He suffered not one single second, paid not one penny of that debt as it relates his victims. He was punished for the money he hid from the government. His soul will burn in hell for all eternity for what he put them through.


  7. I read “The Lost Dogs” and all I could think of for days, and still do, was the little red dog that was tortured and murdered because he/she wouldn’t fight. The next time someone says anything to me about pit bulls being unpredictable and dangerous, I’ll tell them what you wrote, about the pit bulls bred to fight, trained to fight, but still refusing to fight and killed because of it. Thank youi!


  8. Couldn’t agree with this more!! I know exactly what my girl can handle from other dogs. She likes relaxed male dogs. So I don’t let her interact with a dog whose temperament doesn’t balance her. That’s just setting her up to fail. She also get nervous with small children, so I don’t allow kids to crowd around her. It’s just a matter of knowing your dog and being responsible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the crux of so much… The dog owner MUST “read” their dog and pay attention to the signals, and dogs DO send out signals. People just don’t tune in. That’s when the dog is punished, or dumped at a shelter… Most often it’s not the dog’s fault at all, it’s the failure of their owners to listen.


  9. Very well written article regarding pit bulls! They truly are a loving, very intelligent nurturing dog, when raised and taught properly!


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