Is a pit bull right for me?

Before you run out and get a pit bull, you need to be fully aware of, and willing to accept, some special considerations.

“Pit bull” qualities to consider

Please realize that each dog is an individual and may or may not possess these traits. These are generalizations about the group of dogs known as “pit bulls.”

*Most* pit bulls have very short coats and do not shed a lot. This means their coat is low maintenance and you won’t have balls of fur floating around your house. However, this also means they are not well-suited for outdoor life in cold climates.

*Many but not all* pit bulls are athletic dogs that enjoy running, climbing, playing fetch, swimming, and much more. This is great if you also like to walk, run, hike, swim, and so forth. If you are not athletic (like me), you still have to exercise your dog.

*Most* pit bulls are people-oriented. This is great if you want an indoor dog to cuddle with. Pit bulls should not be used for protection or as guard dogs. Pit bulls should not be yard dogs.

Pit bulls range in size. The pit bull label is applied to dogs of all shapes and sizes. Boston Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier mixes may be 30 to 40 lbs; mastiff mixes may weigh over 100 lbs. Average pit bulls can be 55-60 lb. Know the size of dog you (and your family members) can safely handle. Also know that there’s probably a “pit bull” type dog out there that fits your size requirements.

Pit bulls are prone to a small set of genetically-linked physical problems. Hip dysplasia, skin problems, allergies, and tumors are some of the more common issues. Because these are genetically-linked diseases, it is easier to establish the liklihood of a dog developing any of these diseases if the dog is purebred and/or if the parents are known. Most generic “pit bulls,” however, are like any other mutt, in that there is no way to predict the results of genetics. Therefore, this is an extreme generalization based on purebred sample sets.

A pit bull may be aggressive toward other dogs. Contrary to popular mythology, dog-aggression is not a trait that is unique to pit bulls. You will need to consider this issue regardless of the breed or type of dog you would like to get. A dog-aggressive dog may limit you if you are considering owning multiple dogs, if you are involved in dog rescue or foster work, if you enjoy attending crowded dog events like pet parades or canine sports competitions, or if you want to take your dog to a dog park or doggy daycare. Therefore, always be aware of the potential for dog-aggression—especially when you are thinking about getting a puppy. Dog-aggression usually manifests as a dog matures, so you cannot know for sure whether a puppy will become dog-aggressive.

Social issues to consider

These are issues that have less to do with the dog itself and more to do with how society reacts to the words “pit bull.”

“Pit bull” owners face constant discrimination. Breed-specific laws are one example of legalized discrimination against people based on their dog’s appearance. You may also experience discrimination from pet stores, trainers, co-workers, family members, neighbors, politicians, and complete strangers. As a pit bull owner, you will find yourself lumped in with “undesirables” like drug dealers, gang members, and child molesters.

“Pit bulls” are banned or severely restricted in some areas. If you live in an area with breed-specific legislation, you may be subject to special regulations because of your dog’s appearance. Before you get a pit bull, check with your local animal control department to find out if there are special laws for pit bull owners. It can also be difficult to find a new place to live when you own a “pit bull”—especially if you rent.

“Pit bulls” are difficult to travel with. Even if you’re just passing through, some areas have laws that permit local animal control to seize your dog because of its appearance. Before you drive around the country with your pit bull, you will need to carefully research the laws in every place you intend to pass through. You don’t want to travel through an area with breed-specific legislation that could take away your dog. Some hotels and airlines have policies against certain types of dogs as well.

“Pit bulls” can be difficult to travel without. If you travel a lot and you intend to leave your dog behind, you may have difficulty finding a boarding facility or pet sitter that will accept pit bulls. Additionally, inexperienced pet sitters may not understand the higher standard that pit bull owners are expected to meet; they may not handle your dog as responsibly as they should.

“Pit bulls” must be on their best behavior at all times. The same people who think a rowdy Labrador Retriever is “charming” feel that a rowdy pit bull is “aggressive” and “dangerous.” Most people will quickly villify a pit bull that exhibits any misbehavior at all, no matter how normal or harmless the behavior might be. Police are quick to shoot any dog that looks like a pit bull, even a non-threatening one; neighbors are quick to call animal control about a loose pit bull; politicians are quick to pass laws banning pit bulls after even one single incident involving a pit bull. Responsible pit bull owners have to go the extra mile to make sure their dogs don’t act up, because it can be a matter of life and death.

“Pit bulls” are surrounded by a lot of mythology. Novice pit bull owners often face the frustrating task of trying to figure out what’s true and what’s false about pit bulls. There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts out there that will tell you anything you want to hear. This is especially true on the Internet, where a snappy-looking website can be decieving. Finding accurate info about “pit bulls” involves research, filtering, and critical analysis.

As a pit bull owner, your actions reflect on every other pit bull owner… and their actions reflect on you. You, and all other pit bull owners out there, are effectively going to be painted with the same brush. When a pit bull owner screws up and their dog bites someone, every other pit bull owner in the country will get blamed for the incident. (Unfortunately, it does not work in the reverse—your pit bull’s good deeds will not redeem any other pit bull.)

Next Page: Where to get a pit bull

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