Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How to be a good Pit-Bull owner

Let's face it- it is so hard to be a pit bull owner.

That problem gets multiplied when you have two.

Walking around New York City, it brings tears to my eyes to see people actively avoid Bruno by turning around, crossing the street, or waiting for another elevator.

It is especially difficult because of how well behaved he is-- He happens to be better at leash walking and more dog-friendly than our other dog, Winnie, but surprisingly, we never witnessed this prejudice with her. She looks more like a black lab and so people aren't immediately afraid, but Bruno's brindle pattern and large head make him look scary to others.

This past weekend we brought both of our dogs home for the holidays. It was one of the hardest experiences for me to watch him be so outcast without even being given a chance to show his sweet personality. While other dogs went into the house for dinner, it was implied that ours stay in the car- and then when it was too cold, stay on the leash inside. The problem is, keeping one dog on a leash while the others run around makes Bruno reasonably agitated and his barking doesn't help his cause. Finally, once we let him off the leash he got along with everyone and slept nicely under the table while we ate.

It was so hard for me to feel the prejudice that came from my & my boyfriends' families. My mother reacted like he would bite her our our family dog at any moment, even though he was completely docile and sleepy while he was there. I felt such pressure to defend him and felt attacked myself. The jokes and comments about him didn't help, but really hurt, like "for god's sake who would own a pit bull" and "I know Michael Vick, buddy!" and "He looks like he could eat my foot!" and "he has demon eyes!"

I couldn't ask for a better breed-ambassador, except for Bruno's intense fear of small boys (I have no idea where it comes from but he is really scared of little boys and will bark at them in a really scary way.) It was great to see everyone warm up to him at the end and allow him up on the couch to snuggle, and that made me hopeful, but so few people get to spend days with him and instead only make rash judgements based on his looks.

I know that every time he walks nicely on his leash and licks someone's hand when they go to pet him, that it gets better for him, but it doesn't seem to be a problem that is going to go away, and I just have to be more confident in my dogs and their friendliness.

It also doesn't hurt to be an educated pit bull owner. I know that people can get caught up in defending the breed, but the truth is that we have to be realistic. These dogs can have difficulty with other dogs and sometimes people. To protect the breed's reputation, you have to be proactive. Know your dog's short-comings. For example, when we see small children coming, we distract Bruno, have him sit, and reward him if he ignores them.

Ultimately, by being a proactive pit bull owner, you can help change the breed bias and that is ultimately what needs to happen before we can save pit bull lives.

Also, you have to protect your dogs from each other. We keep Bruno and Winnie separate during the day while we are at work and oversee all play time. We are currently training them to enjoy playing without teeth or growls. Getting a giant tug toy is actually a great way to distract their attention from each other's legs and neck and towards a toy. In fact,  they get more energy out by chasing each other around and tugging than they do by constant wrestling.

For more resources on having a Multi-Dog Home, see Pit Bull Rescue Center's resources
They highlight that it is important to:
1) Know your dogs
2) Set them up to succeed
3) Train your dogs
4) Never leave them unsupervised with other animals
5) Spay and Neuter
6) Monitor Playtime
7) Always leash your dog
8) Avoid Off-Leash dog parks
9) Encourage early socialization

I recommend Tuffy's Ultimate Tug-of-War to get out some energy more productively:


  1. So frustrating! We were lucky with my families: My brother adopted a pit bull years ago; a former girlfriend who worked for Animal Control in the Midwest drove the dog to North Carolina, having talked my brother into adopting before Pearl was euthanized. Two years ago, my then-fiance fell in love with Pearl and decided to adopt a pit for me as a surprise. Everyone on that side was already pit-prepared. My mom just loves dogs and I think ours were her first real experiences with pit bulls - all positive.

    My now-husband is from the UK, though, and his family thought we were certifiable. Pits are banned in the UK - we even know someone who had to take their perfectly behaved three-year-old pit in to be killed when they enacted the ban. (Though of course you see dozens of pits every day that their owners insist are something else.) Since then, we've really changed some opinions, both with my step-daughters and even my mother-in-law who now sponsors a deaf bull terrier at a local shelter.

    All I can say is patience, patience, patience. Don't let them put down your four-footed family members in front of you, but the rest is up to Bruno - in my experience pits are their own best ambassadors.

  2. Thanks T2 - it is definitly a learning experience for us.
    I didn't know about the ban in the UK, that is so disgusting. I spent a semester in London and come to think of it, it wasn't nearly full of dogs like New York is (In fact I can't remember seeing any dogs or even a dog park the whole time)---I'm going to do a little research about it now.


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