Pit bulls are the greatest dogs out there (not that I’m biased!). However, there are some commandments that must be followed to responsibly own them and keep them safe.
Thou shalt not flaunt BSL and breed bans
Many politicians and communities automatically assume that the only people who would want pit bull are criminals and thugs. So let’s help ameliorate that false theory by obeying the laws. This starts by not moving with your pit bull into a city or HOA-run neighborhood that bans pit bulls. Is this discrimination fair? No, of course not. But flaunting the laws to try to “prove” you have a good pit bull just backfires by showing that pit bull owners are indeed law-breakers. Do the research necessary to find safe and appropriate housing where you and your pit bull can live in peace. If you move into an area that requires muzzling or extra insurance, do it. Fight the good fight by educating people whilst obeying the law. Is making a point by flaunting BSL or breed bans worth endangering your dog’s life?
Thou shalt keep your pit bull on leash
Leash laws are abundant throughout most of the country, and there is a reason for this. Dogs, being animals, often do stupid things such as run after cars or chase deer or go bounding up to other dogs and their owners. No matter how well trained your pit bull is, I always advise keeping your dog on leash unless you are in a safely enclosed area. Especially with a pit bull, should your dog go cheerfully chasing after wildlife or another dog, you run the risk of your dog being labeled vicious, a nuisance, dangerous, getting shot by somebody, and/or making a news headline. Again, is it fair? No, but it is what it is. Don’t risk your dog’s safety. Put them on a 100′ longline (that you are holding onto) if you cannot find an enclosed area for them to play and run.
Thou shalt not use shoddy/weak/ill-fitting equipment
Most pet stores carry super cute collars. However, most of those super cute collars have flimsy little plastic buckles. Unless you are NEVER planning on hooking a leash onto the collar, or having to grab that collar in an emergency, don’t buy a flimsy collar. It is imperative that our dogs be vested out in solid, safe equipment. Make sure all hardware is metal. I recommend avoiding even metal snap collars. Instead, get a nice wide metal buckle collar, or a nice martingale. Just because you want sturdy doesn’t mean you can’t have pretty, too! There are plenty of options for solid yet fun and attractive collars.
This applies to harnesses, too. I’m a huge proponent of harnesses, even for dogs who walk nicely on leash. You just never know when your dog (dogs being impulsive creatures!) will decide to lunge after a squirrel. I like to avoid any pressure on Inara’s trachea, so she is always walked on a harness. There are many shoddy harnesses out there that are made poorly and/or do not fit dogs well. You want a harness that is, of course, solidly made and will hold your dog safely. You want one that will not hinder shoulder mobility, as many front-clip harnesses do (there are exceptions!). Since most of our pit bulls are pretty thin-skinned and thin-furred under their armpits and bellies, it is important that the harness not chafe them.
Thou shalt invest in force-free training for your pit bull
Pit bulls are incredibly intelligent dogs that love bonding to their people and learning new tricks. Often, if they are not given things to do, they will entertain themselves, which never ends well! Training classes are an excellent way to ensure you have a well-behaved dog that is appropriate to take in public and do fun things with, as well as an awesome way to bond with your dog. Make sure you find a place that uses only force-free training methods. If your dog has behavioral issues already, using punishment can temporarily suppress the behavior, but it may backfire in the long run when the behavior rears its ugly head again, worse than before. Teach your dog with fun and treats – we want our dogs to WANT to work with us, not be afraid NOT to work with us.
Thou shalt not take your pit bull to doggy daycares or dog parks
Many pit bulls are great with other dogs. However, daycares and dog parks are filled with unruly, rude dogs. Why expose your dog to that? And though many pit bulls won’t start a fight, many will happily join in should a scuffle ensue. And guess whose dog gets blamed then? The pit bull is always the easy scapegoat, whether they were responsible or not. And on the other hand, many of us have dogs that are very well-behaved on leash but would happily start a rumble just for the sake of fun. Which dog do you have? Are you willing to bet your dog’s life (or another dog’s life?) that your dog won’t start/finish something? Another thing to keep in mind is that often our dogs are really great with other dogs when they are younger, but as they begin going through sexual or social maturity, their tolerance may drop. I remember clearly the day Inara “turned on.” I’m lucky she didn’t kill another dog. It’s not worth the risk. It’s JUST. NOT. WORTH. IT. Find a doggy friend and do playdates one-on-one in a safely enclosed area.
Thou shalt feed a good diet
Due to rampant overbreeding that is more concerned with color and head size than with health and temperament, many pit bulls these days have horrible skin issues. Many of these can be alleviated by feeding a high-quality, single protein kibble. I advocate for a raw diet, though I realize that is not for everybody. Another benefit of feeding a high quality diet is that you end up feeding less of it because there are no fillers. And do you know what feeding less food means? Less poop! You may also want to consider adding supplements such as fish oil, probiotics if your dog is gassy (though often a diet change can fix this), and other things to aid in joint and skin health. Talk to your vet or local natural pet store owner about options.
Along with diet, I’m going to add in here how crucial it is to keep your pit bull at a healthy weight. Your dog should have a nice tucked up belly, and when you look down from above them, you should see a clearly defined waist. They should have good muscle tone. Many people claim their fat dogs are “all muscle.” MUSCLE DOESN’T JIGGLE, my friends. With as prone to joint/CCL issues as our dogs are, it behooves us to keep them fit and trim and muscular. These dogs are natural athletes – help them be so safely!
Thou shalt not leave your pit bull unsupervised with children or other animals
As stated above, many pit bulls are great with other dogs. Many, such as Inara, happily live with cats and/or other critters. And the vast majority are fantastic with people and children. However, it is recommended that you never leave your pit bull unsupervised with other animals, even those they happily live with. I can tell you many a story of pit bulls who happily grew up and lived with other dogs or cats for years, until one day there was a vicious fight and people came home to massive bloodshed. Or came home to a dead cat. Dogs are impulsive creatures and sometimes they do stupid things, such as decide that THIS PARTICULAR PIECE OF FUZZ needs to be guarded from their housemates. All it takes is one time to come home to a seriously injured or killed pet. One time.
Regarding children, most of our dogs love kids. However, many of our dogs (I’m looking at you, Inara!) don’t know their own strength, are rude, and will accidentally knock children over in their exuberance to greet them and play with them. Also, very much like dogs, children are impulsive and often do stupid things. They need to be monitored to ensure they are not doing things that could make your dog uncomfortable or frightened. We cannot expect our dogs to be saints. They are living creatures that feel fear and pain and will defend themselves.
Thou shalt always set your dog up to succeed
So often when we get a dog, we envision all the fun things we will do with them – doggy sports, festivals, outdoor eateries, parties, etc. All the fun things! But dogs are individuals, and just as some people are not social butterflies, neither are some dogs. Learn about canine body language so you can see the subtle signs that your dog is uncomfortable. Then, LISTEN TO THOSE SIGNS. Dogs (in general) display many signals before they progress to actual biting. The problem is that people either ignore or don’t understand those signals. If your dog is not 100% thrilled meeting new people and being in loud places, don’t take them to a noisy festival. If your dog is hesitant about people coming in the house, put them in a closed room with a tasty treat when guests come over. If your dog isn’t fond of other dogs, engaging in sports that require many dogs out and moving at once isn’t fair to your dog. None of these make your dog a bad dog. Work with your dog, and do some training to help them learn to be more comfortable, but ALWAYS respect their needs and boundaries.
Thou shalt not deny the history of the APBT
Many people want to claim that pit bulls were only used for farm work and never bred for combat with other dogs. But they earned their name, American PIT Bull Terrier, by pit fights with other dogs. They were bred for tenacity and a never quit attitude. Though pit fighting is obviously a horrid “sport,” it helped create the amazing dogs we love today. Their compact, muscular bodies. Their willingness to try anything. Their tolerance of most handling. It also means that many of them still carry those genetics that make them want to tangle with other dogs. Just because dog aggression isn’t being actively bred FOR these days (in most cases), it’s also not actively being bred AGAINST.
Also, just a note: Pit bulls were never called the nanny dog. I’m not sure where this myth originated, but it doesn’t help us be good advocates for our dogs when we make up things like this. Our dogs are awesome as is – why do we need to make up stupid, false titles for them?
Thou shalt treat your pit bull as a beloved member of the family
This one doesn’t really need an explanation, does it? These dogs love us – let’s treat them the same way, shall we?