Pit bull awareness: words do matter

We know that those who read our blog are generally already keen to the fact that pit bull type dogs can be great family pets and are nothing to be feared or avoided. Many of you have pit bulls draped across your laps right now, and others work tirelessly at shelters and rescues in your areas to help give lost souls — many pit bulls — a new chance at life. But all the while that you’re doing so much good, could you inadvertently be doing harm also?

I was reading a great article by a kind advocate journalist in our local Examiner online newspaper the other day, highlighting our fantastic pit bull adoption promo that Chick has dreamed up and Little Zee has funded. I was happily bumbling through the article, which talked about how pit bulls were great dogs, more people should consider them as pets, etc, etc. Then, I saw it. And it stopped me dead in my tracks:

“The American Pit Bull Terrier is often recocgnized more for its aggressive nature; and as a fighting dog than for the other characteristics it is also known for, such as: companion dog, police dog, therapy dog.”

Its aggressive nature? Really? It’s a shame when things like this are said or written by well-meaning advocates who just haven’t had a chance to think through how their words sound to the outside world. I put down my coffee and took my two aggressive companion therapy dogs for a long walk to clear my head.

It’s a tough language game, talking about pit bull dogs in a fair and appropriate way. With thoughtful and effective advocacy and guidance coming from outstanding organizations such as Animal Farm Foundation, many of you have already read these concepts. But just the same, in honor of Pit Bull Awareness Day, here is a quick list of “don’ts” to help you be a better advocate:

Don’t call them American Pit Bull Terriers. Unless, of course, you have their papers. These days, any dog with a muscular, medium-sized body, short fur, and a pensive, wrinkly forehead gets called a pit bull. In truth, most of these dogs have no APBT and no Staffordshire Terrier in their family tree. I’ve tried out a number of alternative titles, and right now I’m calling them pit bull type dogs. It’s loosey goosey, and it refers only to broad physical characteristics. Do you prefer a different phrase?

Don’t call them bullies or bully breeds. Those of us who love them think it’s cute, but those who are already on the fence leaning away from liking our square-headed friends are not going to be charmed by this naming convention. Likening dogs who some people fear to bullies on the playground? Not great marketing. If you MUST “cuteify” and nick name pit bull type dogs, why not try “pitties” or “pibbles” instead?

Don’t say “it’s all in how they’re raised.” In truth, there is much more to it than that. Many dogs of all breed mixes are raised well and end up being little devils. Many others are raised in their own personal hell of abuse, and end up as perfect, loving pets. Remember Lollie Wonderdog, our first foster, who was found in a dumpster, starved, bred, beaten, totally filthy, and terrified of life? Odds are she was not raised in a warm and loving environment, and yet, she was one of the most warm and loving dogs we’ve ever known. By saying “it’s all in how they’re raised,” you are suggesting that dogs who come from a background of abuse could not make good pets. This discourages people from adopting, since the history of shelter dogs is so often unknown.

Don’t ascribe attributes — good or bad — based solely on appearance. You know not to judge a book by its cover. And yet, pit bull lovers are quick to refer to these dogs as smart, loving, snuggly, fiercely loyal, great with kids, athletic, etc, etc. Pit bull haters are equally quick to describe them as aggressive, tenacious, and unpredictable. Neither camp is right. Most dogs labeled as pit bulls are actually mixed breed dogs of varying genetic composition — the majority don’t even have a trace of APBT or Staffordshire Terrier in their bloodlines. If that’s the case, then how can it be logical to assume behaviors, good or bad, based on guesswork and physical appearance? This is a hard pill to swallow, even for me. But if we allow ourselves to make blanket positive generalizations about a diverse group of dogs who share some basic physical traits, why do we think it’s fair to criticize others for doing the same, but casting a negative light?

This list could go on: why you shouldn’t assume a dog was a fighting dog or a bait dog. Why the difference between those two doesn’t matter. Why you’re doing more harm than good when you cite fierce loyalty and love of owner. Why it’s crazy to talk about pit bull type dogs being bred for generations for any purpose at all, when in reality most pit bull type dogs are mixed breeds resulting from accidental litters.

In the end, I want to leave you with a little game. One of the dogs in these photos is half American Staffordshire Terrier, and the other one is 1/4 to 1/2 English Pointer. Care to guess which is which?

97 responses

  1. I’ve been reading and if I’m correct, the dog on the right (Chick’s left) is the pointer mix who is Chick’s very best bud in your former life. Am sharing this on FB as you have great comments for all breeds (I rescue hounds – Beagles and Coonhounds, dog types often mistreated esp. in the field).

      • I Believe that they both could be. But who cares!? Some of the best dogs I have owned or fostered are mixes! Dogs are like people sometimes there is a bad egg. I believe that the media likes to make us fear what they want us to fear! If you swing the story right you can get the majority of people to agree. Thats why people need to get informed not let others do the thinking for us!

      • Hi Aleksandra,
        I know these posts were a year ago but I just found this link through a friend and was wondering what breed and/or breeds do you think the dog on the rights is? I have a rescue that looks just it. and am curious.

  2. My fiance and I were at Dogfest last week, and I was commenting on all the great bully rescues and advocacy groups represented, and he said, “You think they’d have better luck if they stopped calling them Bullies?”

    I’m experimenting with calling them “bull-&-terrier mixes”. A bit of a mouthful, but it gets “pit” out of there. I’ve also used “bull breeds” instead of “bully”.

  3. My guess/answer: Does their breed REALLY matter? They are two very loved dogs. Who cares what their genetic makeup is in the end if they are dogs that love you unconditionally and make you happy. This goes for all dogs too. I’m not trying to make light of your point either. I volunteer at my local shelter and they have a poster up that basically reinforces how little value should be placed on what we believe a pit bull type dog looks like: http://divitainc.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83456187a69e20133f3418e4a970b-800wi

    So who cares which one is the American Straffordshire Terrier? Chick and Pancho are cool in my book no matter what. Mutts rule!

  4. Found this post after Bad Rap posted it on FB. So many great points that I hadn’t thought about. We have Pittie right now and had a purebred German Rottweiler for 9 years before losing him to cancer. I’ve never been thrilled about the “bully breed” title either. I agree, it reinforces the negative image people have of them.
    Excellent post and you have found a new reader! Happy Pittie Day!

  5. FANTASTIC post! I am guilty of almost every point you made……..and am going to stop maing all those potentially negative comments……..I just wasn’t thinking, as I’m sure is the case for most people. Thank you for spotlighting those words – extremely helpful commentary. Please continue your good works for these animals and have a great day!

  6. Thank you for sharing this article, I have a half boxer/apbt and she is the love of my life. When im out walking sometimes ppl see us coming and go to the other side of the street, if they only knew she just wants attention and to be petted so she can lick your face.

  7. Wonderfully written and perfectly said, Aleksandra. I can’t even count how many times per week, or even per day, someone points at Beau and says, “is he full pitbull or only part?” He’s 100% American Shelter Dog, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

  8. I picked up a stray almost a month ago now. I was on my way to work when I spotted her following someone down a busy street in Stockton, CA. My students and I named her Olive for her pretty greenish eyes; you can see them for yourself on our class’ blog. Even though she comes to campus with me and hangs out with a group of students while I’m working, and many people have met her and seen how friendly she is, and quite a few tell me they know someone who is looking to adopt a dog, not a single person has offered to foster or adopt her. Why? Because she’s a pit bull. She is now snuggled at my feet as I type, and in a minute she’ll start snoring. If we didn’t already have 3 dogs I’d keep her myself. But she could make someone a wonderful companion, she should have a home of her own, and it’s pure–and purely discouraging–ignorance keeping her with us.

  9. MayzieMom here. Great post. I did a post about a year ago talking about the whole “It’s how they’re raised” phrase and how it makes me a little nutty. (http://mayziegal.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/its-all-in-how-you-raise-them/)

    It also makes me a little nutty that I feel like I have to label her for others. She is a true mutt but to many others, they look at her broad chest and big head and immediately think “pit bull.” It doesn’t bother me if people think of her as a “pit bull.” It’s just that it immediately pigeon-holes her. And to me, she is SO much more than any label we could assign to her. When people ask, I tell them honestly that her DNA came back as Boxer-Bull Terrier mix. But if they just assume she’s a “pit bull,” I don’t correct them. I figure if her sweet personality will help change a few minds along the way. (I do privately call her my “bully baby” but don’t do so in public for the reasons you mentioned.)


    • Love this post. Why do we feel the need to label our dogs for others? Sometimes I dread telling people she’s a pit bull, because the reaction usually requires some sort of explanation…

  10. Thanks so much for posting. I’m going to hug my dog today – a big, bulldog-type – and celebrate what he is – goofy, loving, playful, smart, (and currently snoring on the couch) – on Pit Bull Awareness Day.

    Thank you for your blog, your beautiful photography, and your ability to communicate what I so want to but can never find the words to say about all the beautiful dogs out there!

  11. Thoughtful as usual, Aleksandra. Thank you so much for all you do to help dogs in need, regardless of breed or history. I too, worry about many of the issues you raise here, and agree that we must choose our words very carefully. The issue of pit bull type dogs is often complicated by the fact that they are mixed breeds, drawing from multiple traits and characteristics of different breeds, and the ways in which that affects the temperament of individual dogs. For this reason, I think its difficult to make generalizations about the breed, when we should be looking at dogs as individuals. Have we not learned to look at people as individuals? Can we not do the same for dogs?

    I think the tendency is to overcompensate for those who dislike our breed of choice or to overcompensate for pit bull types who have been victimized by saying they are all loyal, loving, gentle, companions. This can do more harm than good, and as you point out, this makes pittie lovers easy targets for those who strongly oppose the breed. To me, it makes more sense to educate the public about the reality that many dogs who share physical characteristics of pit bull types dogs, may in fact be a mix of several breeds. That is a fact that is not often emphasized enough, and could actually be a deciding factor for say, shelter dogs who do not end up being adopted when labeled as “pit bulls.”

    Thanks again for your perspective on this important, controversial, and complicated issue of using your words wisely. It can be so disheartening when you are advocating for the breed you love and respect, when others who wish to do the same actually perpetuate misconceptions and sweeping generalizations such as “it’s all in the way they were raised.” Using the “how they were raised” example, how do I explain my own pit bull type dog’s guardy behavior around toys and snacks, and the way she chooses her dog friends carefully, if at all? I have had her since she was six months old, and despite my breed experience, obedience classes, and careful socialization, those are traits she possesses. She is however, despite these challenges, my best friend, and the most loyal companion I could ever ask for. These are her challenges, determined by breed and personality, but I will always stay committed to her training and socialization. I also work to educate others to see what I enjoy most about her: her intense love of life and all people whether big, tall, scary, small, strange, familiar, quiet, loud, kind or cruel. She loves them all the same, whether they like her or not.

    • Hi Shirley,

      Astute points, and good question. I wish I had a perfect answer for you. The way I think about dogs is a constantly evolving thing, and I am the first to admit that my thinking is not perfect and I don’t have all the answers. In truth, I think “it’s all in how they’re raised” is false, but “it’s all in how they’re cared for” is false too. My best explanation — however vague — is that every dog is an individual, and behavior is a combo of their early life experiences, how they are raised, how they are treated, genetics, luck, fate, and health. Some dogs can be never socialize, horribly abused, and poorly bred, and still end up wonderdogs. Others can have everything going for them, and still turn out to be just not made for this world. Your dog’s guardiness is pretty normal, but is probably due to things out of your control — things that happened when she was a younger puppy, and also her genes. I think it has little to do with her breed type. And as you know, you can train, minimize, and manage undesired behaviors like guarding or fearfulness, but you can’t always make them entirely go away. It sounds like you’re doing a great job of understanding your dog’s limits and setting her up for success!

  12. Thank you for your lovely post. We are currently fostering a pit and shepherd mix and are hoping to eventually adopt her. She is super sweet and goofy and we love her very much. I know I myself have been guilty of using the “it’s all in how they’re raised” line, but only implying when dogs are raised to be fighters and aggressive. It’s a line I will stop using however; I realize now there are just too many variables to make a blanket statement like that mean anything. Thank you for making me see that.

  13. Love this! The hardest part I find about talking to people about pit bull type dogs (whether I am defending them or just chat about dogs) is that they are MIXED breed dogs and that must be taken into consideration and the only way we can judge all pit bull type dogs is that we can’t, they are individuals. I have had some tough conversations with my in-laws about pitties and their argument is they raised two separate purebred Akita’s in their loving, well socialized home and both dogs still turned out to have aggressive tendencies, so not only do they think some dogs are inherently aggressive no matter how they are raised they are particularly wary of dogs that there is no known history of, and if a dog looks like a pit bull, than it is a pit bull and they are to be feared. Though Molly McMuscle has found a spot into their hearts that I will be forever grateful for. Happy Pit BUll Appreciation Day

  14. You brought up some great points. I think my dogs may well be mutts. One looks like a “pit bull” and the other looks like a Chihuahua but I ddidn’t know their parents etc. My bigger dog is dog aggressive and I have worked and worked with her to change that, now I just help her get through and don’t set her up to fail. She loves people, just not most dogs…and that’s ok. I will be much more careful with my language from now on. But I do have a question, why do so many “pibbles” seem to live with “chihuahua” type dogs? I see it over and over!

    • Hey Mina,

      I believe it’s Our Pack rescue in San Jose that has been writing about pit bulls and chihuahuas, isn’t it? The theories vary, but here’s my opinion: a lot of people who share their homes with pit bull type dogs were originally attracted to these dogs because they are underdogs — misunderstood, discriminated against, not given a fair shot. You could say the same of chihuahuas, which are also victims of breedism. Just like pit bulls and any other dog, chihuahuas vary so much in personality, and judging them in a negative way based on their appearance is unfair. Perhaps the same things that draw people to pit bull types also draw them to the little dudes?

      Best, Aleksandra

  15. Nothing but great points in this post. I admit that I still have a hard time with some of them. Even today I was talking to a woman in Petco who started petting Skye, then asked her breed. To me, pit bull type dog hasn’t been effective, as many people aren’t listening past the first two words. But after the inevitable “is she aggressive?” I automatically thought to tell her that pit bulls are loyal, bred as family dogs, and when treated properly are just like your lab. Over time I’ve gotten better at stopping myself, but I find it interesting that it is my go-to response. Instead I explained that Skye is a well trained family pet, with a great personality. I suppose this is one area where practice makes perfect!

  16. As you’re proposing, “pit bull” or “pit bull type dog” means exactly… nothing. It certainly doesn’t refer to any behavioral characteristics, which you deny exist. Well, except maybe a few that you admire. Can’t have it both ways though. If a dog has a certain look and a certain behavior, then .. wow… it might just be a “breed”, not a “type”, whether or not it has “papers”. The fact that some people are ignorant about the behavioral traits of a particular purebred dog does not mean they get to define those traits (the APBT is NOT known for guarding behavior, or for being good K9’s… you’d be thinking of the hard working dogs like the Malinois)

    If you’re only interested in dogs by appearance, then calling them by a type means… nothing.

    Is there nothing other than short hair and blocky head that you like about a particular dog?

    What’s the point in calling a dog a “pit bull” or a “pit bull type dog” anyway?

    Just call them “mixed breeds that look a certain way I like”.

    It’s a slur on the real breed, the APBT/AST, to refer to any dog that sort of looks like someone thinks might be one as a “pit bull” (anyone who knows anything can tell that NEITHER of the dogs in your illustration is an AST or APBT, just from that one photo)..

    I know I’m barking up the wrong tree… seems everyone wants to have a “victim” dog and everyone wants to call every dog that someone else calls a “pit bull” by that name. Pointer mix, bulldog mix, lab mix, boxer mix… all “pit bulls”. Though they are not, and never have been. They have nothing in common with the APBT/AST other than short hair and a blocky head

    There are still a few who insist that “pit bull” means APBT and that know how to tell what one is.

    • “If a dog has a certain look and a certain behavior, then .. wow… it might just be a ‘breed'”

      That’s not the definition of a breed, don’t be ridiculous. Irish Setters and Brittany Spaniels have long hair and point, but that doesn’t make them the same breed. A breed is established through many generations of careful selection within closely related dogs with the goal of producing nearly uniform animals.

      “What’s the point in calling a dog a ‘pit bull’ or a ‘pit bull type dog’ anyway?”

      Nothing, really, that’s the whole point of the article. The label means nothing concrete, but carries so much weight in myths and harmful stereotypes. It refers to a loose set of physical characteristics, but people who love their dogs and are determined to make the world a better place for them are constantly inundated with questions based entirely around this label. We have to accept this label and do the best work that we can within it to change perceptions.

      “I know I’m barking up the wrong tree… seems everyone wants to have a ‘victim’ dog and everyone wants to call every dog that someone else calls a ‘pit bull’ by that name. Pointer mix, bulldog mix, lab mix, boxer mix… all ‘pit bulls’. Though they are not, and never have been. They have nothing in common with the APBT/AST other than short hair and a blocky head”

      Did you read the article? Have you ever read a single thing about pit bull advocacy? That’s the whole problem- the label means nothing other than that a dog loosely fits into a physical type.
      And they have a very major thing in common with American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire or Stafforshire Bull Terriers- they are all demonized, lumped together, euthanized and outlawed. You’re right, anyone at all labels dogs as pit bulls- strangers on the street, shelter workers who condemn them, police officers who shoot them, petty small town politicians who want to eradicate them. That is the whole problem here, don’t you realize this? Dogs are suffering because of a meaningless label- dogs who you personally deem “pit bulls” AND dogs that everyone else labels the same way- and you’re bickering about semantics. The problem here is the discrimination and hardships dogs- ANY dogs- face because of the misinformation surrounding the label, not precisely who you declare is truly worthy of it.

      “There are still a few who insist that ‘pit bull’ means APBT and that know how to tell what one is.”

      And boy, aren’t they fun to have around?

      • We have to accept this label and do the best work that we can within it to change perceptions.

        I think this pretty much sums it up. In the purebred dog world, sure, people will use “pit bull” to refer only to purebred APBTs. But in the rest of the world, it’s a loose physical type. When people advocate against BSL, they’re not advocating *just* for the purebred APBTs, they’re advocating for *all* the short-haired, muscular, blocky-headed dogs.

        The problem with trying to get people to refer to purebred APBTs only as pit bulls is that you’re going to remove a lot more positives than negatives from people’s perceptions. A bunch of therapy dogs and SAR dogs and awesome pets get relabeled as “mutts,” where they can’t do anything beneficial towards people’s perception of pit bull type dogs. But no one who keeps a dog on a chain for protection, or who breeds fighting dogs, is going to adhere to your terminology. And journalists reporting on dog bite incidents probably won’t either. So a little niche group of dog show people will have one perception that relates only to the officially defined breed, and most of the rest of the world will keep seeing pitbulls as mean scary dogs.

        The vast majority of dogs are not purebred dogs, so trying to restrict labeling just to purebreds is pointless.

    • Hi Emily,

      I agree with you that the terms “pit bull” or “pit bull type dog” mean very little in the way most people define it. In my area, most dogs that have a medium, muscular build, a slightly square head and a somewhat short snout, and short fur are called “pit bulls” or “pit bull mixes.” Most of them are not APBTs or even APBT mixes. My dog Chick is 50% AmBull, but in our shelter system, he would be called a pit bull, and he would have special restrictions on his adoption. In my homeowners policy, he would be called a pit bull and under many policies, I would have to pay a higher rate because of him. In Denver or Prince George’s County in Maryland, he would be called a pit bull and would be taken from me. In many apartment buildings, he would be called a pit bull and I would be denied a lease because of him. The list goes on.

      I am attracted to these dogs because they are underdogs. They are just dogs, like any other, and have been on the receiving end of some pretty unfair discrimination, just because of a broad set of physical characteristics. Folks (well-meaning and not) assume they know things about these guys just because of the way they look — as though there is some correlation between short fur, wrinkled foreheads, and temperament. It’s crazy, I agree. Many people have formed negative opinions about this broad set of dogs — tied together by appearance alone — and we’re working to help break down those opinions and show why they are flawed.

      Have a great day, Aleksandra

    • Couple things: Breeding tightly for a given LOOK is a fairly modern conceit of the showdog world. At the risk of oversimplifying, most breeds started out as popular geographic variants of working TYPES. Types had more of a mere “family resemblance” about them than modern cookie cutter breeds do and these family resemblances were a bit more tight but nowhere near absolute within local variants. A world in which names of kinds of dogs denote types rather than breeds is really a return to a system that was common for many millennia, with no obvious ill effect. That said, it is as reasonable to call a dog that appears to be an American Pit Bull Terrier a Pit Bull as it is to call a dog that appears to be a Rottweiler a Rottie. The fact that there are breed mis-IDs even by the most astute people and breed mis-IDs galore by less astute people doesn’t make it okay to call anything you feel like calling a Pit Bull a Pit Bull, nor is it a reason to banish the term. I know of a case in which a supposedly experienced animal control officer called an obvious Basset Hound a Rottie Mix, apparently on the theory that any dog that is mostly black with some tan (though also some white in the case) “has to be” a Rottie Mix, and Dobes, and Manchesters and any number of other breeds and mixes, including of course dogs like Bassets with partially similar coloring in a different pattern be damned. I’ve also seen an approximately 10- 12lb spindly legged, slightly box headed dog that MAY have been some sort of Chi/IG Mix (but could easily have been something else entirely) called a Lab Mix, since, as we all “know”, Labs are the only dogs who could possibly impart a short black coat to its offspring. Yes, things can be that dumb in the breed mis-ID world. But these are not reasons to eschew the use of terms like Rottie and Lab, but to learn to use them more accurately.

      • This is a very thoughtful and obviously very knowledgeable reply, John, and I’m not sure we disagree much on these points. What I was rushedly trying to say in the APBT vs “pit bull” or “pit bull type dog” distinction is that it’s imprudent to assume that a dog is a pure APBT with APBT traits just because a dog has a wrinkly forehead and a medium, muscular build. I think this is equally unwise for those who love pit bulls and other dogs who face appearance-related discrimination (i.e., “pit bulls are great family dogs, they are all big love-bugs”) and for those who demonize them (i.e., “pit bulls are bred to fight”). By making either of these assertions, you are often assuming things about a wide group of dogs that may or may not include actual APBTs (because as you and I both point out, most people cannot accurately make a visual ID), and you are ascribing traits that may apply to SOME dogs without evaluating the individual before you. As far as I know, it would be foolish to think that all true APBTs are bred to fight, but it would also be foolish to think that all APBTs love to cuddle. Once you dilute the group of dogs by throwing in high and low concentration mixes and other dogs from different dog types that happen to share some basic physical traits, the guessing game becomes even more silly.

      • I agree with a lot that you are saying, Aleksandra. First of all, those who bother to learn the history of the breed (and I urge EVERYONE to do so and not engage in the foolishness of considering oneself “above” reading about fighting dogs just because you would never fight them yourself), even in the tightest of tight gamebred lines: (a) Pit Bulls, like all dogs bred for performance rather than looks for their own sake, were quite various in appearance compared to modern show breeds; and (b) even though bred for fighting, they were even back in the day (and no doubt still are where the oldtimers continue to carry on) rather various regarding how “hot” they were, ie how eager to START fights they were. Some of the famous old fighting champs actually lived in homes with other dogs. No, that was not the NORM. But some really were that slow to get involved in fights, especially with familiar dogs. And some were even outright “cold”, ie wouldn’t engage another dog even as the other dog ripped into it and acted like the whole thing was play. At the far opposite end, others could never be trusted to be loose around other dogs.

        OK, now overlay that considerable variability with the fact that StaffyBulls, AmStaffs, UKC Pit Bulls and more recently some if not yet all ADBA bloodlines (and some even think Boston Terriers, way back when) all derive from the same ancient stock, but were taken out of the fighting realm at different points along the breed’s history and the different show registries emphasized different looks and to some extent, especially relating to overt expressions of dog aggression, different temperaments and you can see how even more variability has accumulated even just in those dogs that unquestionably DO go back to fighting dog stock. NOW add the bazoodles of scatterbred, unregistered Pit Bulls bred during the now several decades of the fad and NOW add the fact that all these Pit Bulls DO mate with dogs of other breeds and the mixed breed offspring DO often favor basic Pit Bull looks and you can see where quite a bit of variation arises even within dogs that are correctly viewed as going back at least in part to the fighting dogs of the British Isles of the 18th and 19th centuries, All this and not a single breed mis-ID yet in sight. Add THOSE and, yeah, we are beginning to sprawl all over the map.

        However! The fact is that a LOT of dogs in shelters both look and act like dogs that, even if not 100% APBT, are so overwhelmingly of that heritage that it’s a mere quibble to ask about absolute purity. (Note that some purebred registries still allow purebreds to be as much as 1/8th something else that was added to get a desired trait into a gene pool or to help get an undesired trait out. And back in the day of working type breeding, the “rules” (and there really weren’t any) were even looser, but the behavioral consistency of the type was if anything tighter than in the show dog era, as THAT is what mattered.) And it simply strains credulity to hold out that as the population of registered Pit Bulls ballooned since the late 70s (as tracked by the breed registries), another trend occurred in the wake of this in which dogs who both look and act like Pit Bulls went from almost unheard of to more common than pigeons in animals shelters, but hey, these were just a bunch of mutts that just LOOKED like APBTS! Yeah, right.

        And here’s the bottom line for me. There is ONE trait that the old dog fighters attempted to fix in the breed: gameness. This is not the propensity to start a fight (ie, the aforementioned “hotness”), but the propensity to finish a fight, whether the fight is close or if you are getting creamed or, in many ways most worrisomely, if you are destroying the other dog and it is trying to submit. THAT is the one nightmare I have recurrently with people who want to make these dogs all “individuals” or randombred mutts with random temperaments. Not all TRUE APBTs have high gameness and certainly not all dogs that are merely part Pit Bull with that part going back to dogs who last fought in 1866 or whenever are going to show it. But ENOUGH of the apparent Pit Bulls in shelters are true enough to this aspect of the heritage, ie the one thing most assiduously selected for over many, many, many generations, that it is a legitimate worry when people get involved in rescue and start placing dogs without preparing themselves, let alone anyone else, for the possibility that that one fight that ever occurs between Pit Bulls or between a Pit Bull and another dog will NOT be broken up with a can shake, or a yell, or a clap, or cold or maybe not even hot water. These dogs are fantastic, but they do require some specialty knowledge. Lots of breeds do and it’d frankly be very weird if this breed didn’t. And this tenacity in a fight and how to prepare for it and deal with it and not tempt fate with it is THE biggee. And shame on anyone who gets involved with the breed and denies it.

  17. Great post, Aleksandra. I’ve found myself guilty of the last point. Sometimes I talk up the breed too much because I want people to see the good in the breed. But you’re right – that can be just as dangerous.
    There was a similar photo on the BFAS site a year or two ago for people to guess which dog was the “pit bull type”. Of course it was nearly impossible to figure out which is the point and the problem with BSL!
    Thanks for this post!

  18. Labels are not that important. They are needed, however, at the vet, when traveling, when applying for home insurance, getting village tags, etc. In those cases, I generally go with “mixed breed”. I do however, call one of our dogs a bully mix, but I never really though of bully as in the bully on the playground, I just thought of pitt bull, bull dog, etc.

    There’s so much in a name, but I don’t think it’s right to say we should call our dogs one thing or another. Whatever you are comfortable calling them is just fine, but it’s their energy and demeanor that should label your dog, don’t do it for them with a name. Next time someone asks what breed your dog is, just say “we aren’t sure, and we’re okay with that”. That’s what I plan on saying 🙂

  19. While you make some very good points, I have to say that not calling a dog a pit bull because it doesn’t have dogs registered as APBTs in its background seems like ignoring the problem- people’s misunderstanding of these dogs (and dogs in general). “Pit bull” refers to a type, not a breed, just as “lurcher” or “Alaskan husky” does. What we need to do is educate people that ALL dogs have varying levels of dog tolerance, how to approach strange dogs, and humane training techniques. In recent years, my approach has changed from trying to shift how people think about “pit bulls” to how they think about dogs in general. It’s my hope that, in the long run, all our dogs will benefit.

    • I completely agree with you actually — I just think that a lot of people assume that pit bull type dogs are true APBTs, which most are not. “Pit bull” does refer to a type, and I like to stress this by calling them “pit bull *type*” dogs, but because they are banded together solely by a loose set of physical characteristics, it’s hard to make any accurate guesses about the behavior or temperament of any one specific dog based on looks alone. Right?

  20. So much truth in what you’re saying! It drives me nuts when people say “It all depends on how they were raised.” I’ve found that when people say this, it has been a positive response to say, “Actually, most of the dogs who were rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring went on to be canine good citizens, therapy dogs, or well-adjusted family pets.” Maybe having a pittie isn’t for everyone, but it’s not “how they were raised,” it’s how YOU treat them that will make all the difference. 🙂 Happy Pit Bull Awareness Day!

  21. You have presented so many important ideas! Language, our choice of words, truly makes a difference. Our rescue refers to dogs of this “type” as terriers, or terrier mixes – a more accurate reference, even though it’s general. Animal Cafe interviewed Dr. Roger Abrantes just this week about his thoughts on our word choices and how they affect our relationships with our own dogs.
    http://www.animalcafe.co/dog-training-cues-signals-commands-and-how-they-affect-your-relationship-with-your-dog/ When you stop and think about it, we could probably change the world just by how we choose to describe things! Thank you for emphasizing this. We love pitties 🙂

  22. It shouldn’t matter the breed or the mix, but it sadly does and that’s not going to change anytime soon. If people think it looks like a pit, then its a pit. I say own up to what you have and don’t be afraid of the labels! Just do your best to prove to people that your dog is loving, friendly, and most important…well trained.

  23. We do have a true APBT, with papers, & I’m constanty astounded at what people will point out as a “pit bull”. To me, there’s no comparison. My favorite term is to call them a “stubby dog”. We rent constantly & I submit dog applications that refer to my dogs as mixed breeds. Even with kylie’s papers I still don’t trust bloodlines anymore. I submit pictures of each dog & have found that is sufficient to rent regardless of breed restrictions.

  24. Wow…I never made the bully/bully connection until you pointed it out! I am totally guilty of this. Not to “cutiefy” it but to shorten it. I will definitely be more cognizant of the language I use thanks to your post. Thank you!

  25. I usually refer to my 3 as a pit bull mix. People have an easier time comprehending that. I do that, as they are well behaved and I want people who have media brainwashed imaged in their heads a chance to see what the vast majority of pit bull types are really like. With 1 that is a APBT- we just chose not get his papers since we had him fixed, 1 that is not a perfect APBT, he’s a runt and has had parvo & a broken leg, and the last he looks like a pit from behind, but he has a mastiff’s head, he was on his last 2 hours when we rescued him from the shelter. He had been abused, had fear issues and had mouthed a volunteer at the shelter too hard that it broke skin. He was deemed unadoptable, and needed a forever “foster” home. His sweet face, I knew there was an amazing dog lost in there.

    I feel instead of saying “it is how they are raised” we should say “It is all in how they are trained”. This should be said for ALL breeds of dogs. This would give people who are thinking about any are looking at any breed of dog in a shelter hope that with proper training and effort, that scared dog will be the dog you have always hoped of. My oldest “peanut butter” or “moosh mutt” as my husband and I call them, has his CGC from AKC and his TT from the American Temperament Test Society. We do Rally-O, Agility, and other various obedience training. My 2nd oldest, with a lot of work and socialization he is finally able to be around people and go to classes now. He’s still a little iffy around strange dogs, but he his getting better and better every day. Our youngest, he’s a trip and wears the other 2 out.

    As for “bullies” I only have 1, she’s a miniature dachshund that runs circles around her boys and her boys are trained to obey and respect her, as they could easily hurt her and not mean to.

    I have been around APBT’s my entire life. They were our family. As kid they were our dolls, our horses for our wagon, our teddy bears, our best friends and my dad’s hog hunting partner. From the poodle, doberman, rottweiler-mix, german shepherds, black & tan coonhound, beagles, schnauzers, huskies, dachshunds, and the list goes on, I have never found a breed of dog that is so willing to please you than a peanut butter.

    • ha ha…I totally agree. We babysit a mini dachshund and she too rules the roost. Our 80 lb pittie absolutely adores her. He won’t even get on the bed if she is there until we tell him it’s ok and then he takes extreme measures to make sure he knows exactly where she is and will only then lay down. BEST dog we have ever had.

  26. You’re my hero. So well said! Even our vet recently said to me, “It’s all in how they’re raised.” I couldn’t help but point out that all three of ours were adopted as adults so we have no idea how they were raised. And that even Michael Vick’s dogs are shining examples of how little “how they’re raised” has to do with who they are, reminding him that most of those dogs went on to become loving companion dogs as well as certificate-holding Canine Good Citizens. Sheesh – if even the vet is getting it wrong, we have a lot of PR ahead of us!

  27. My dog looks like a shepherd…. mostly. I love the way chow owners insist he’s part chow. Husky owners see the husky/malamute in him. Australian shepherd in the colours… it goes on and on. He’ a mutt. Period.

    But people who are scared of dogs just see– a big dog with big teeth. I just tell them, “Don’t worry, he’s already eaten three kids today, so he not hungry and won’t hurt you.” They still won’t approach, but they do laugh. If people ask you, “What kind of dog is that?” in a nervous tone that says, “Uh oh, I smell pit bull,” I would just say, “Dunno, (s)he’s a mutt, and the most loving creature on the planet.”

    And if they persist (“Well, do you think she’s part pit bull?”), I’d just lean down, scratch her ears, and say in a silly voice, “Are you a pit bull? Are you? Are you a big bully dog?” until the dog flops down for a belly rub and the questioner feels a little silly. But just a little silly, ’cause you want them to lower their guard and pat the belly too.

  28. Such a thoughtful post. Language is important and we can do a lot of damage when we’re not precise. I like the term pibble. But I also suggest terrier mix for people trying to get homeowner’s insurance–at least until we can change the culture.

    It sounds like anyone who loves pibbles should practice a good elevator speech.

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  30. It’s funny, I had someone suggest to me we drop the “pit” in pit bull because it refers to the old days of fighting. But to me that does just go to far. Why not drop the “bull” since that refers to bulldogs and “bull baiting”. I refer to them pit bulls or pit bull type dogs. I’m not trying to hide anything, not trying to pretend my dog is something she’s not (she’s a pit/lab mix). We need to change the perception, not the language.

    I don’t love pibble as a term because I feel like it’s dumbing down to old-school dog lovers or breed enthusiasts, and we have to convince just as many of those as we do people who are scared of pit bulls. I have had people talk to me a number of times about how they grew up with dogs and that’s how they know that pit bulls are (fill in the blank), because it’s “in the breed.” Same with bully or bullies. Not to say that anyone should change the names of their groups or their causes, but when they speak about pit bulls, they should speak with the knowledge you are sharing here.

  31. I try to be careful about what I say & have actually stopped calling our fosters any breed or any mix at all. If someone outright asks me what type of dog Pauley is I usually say pittie mix, but some people do not agree with that word either. The whole thing is confusing. Bottom line is we love dogs & feel that no matter breed or mix, they all deserve a chance 🙂

  32. You know how sensitive I am about the whole “it’s how you raise them” argument because my best buddy (who I adopted as a 10-11 week old puppy) has been nothing but loved and spoiled his whole life, has gone through basic obedience and has never been subjected to anything bad switched to being a very aggressive dog with strangers and other dogs just around 1 year of age. Shortly thereafter, I found out that all of his littermates and his mother were all euthanized for their aggression issues. Some dogs are just hardwired a certain way. I love my buddy no less for his shortcomings and I go out of my way to make sure that he and my community are both safe from each other. I know people who use that phrase are doing it to try and help the breed but it just helps me want to dropkick them for saying it. I’ve never had a dog love me more and I’m going to judge him on that.

  33. This article makes a good debate but dont get me wrong it was very well written and makes a lot of sense.My dog is registered with ukc as an APBT and I have seven generations of his pedigree on paper and I’m proud to tell people he is a pit bull and I use the word bully all the time.I really do believe good dogs come from good owners who raise them right . these dogs will be any thing you want them to be so if you start raising them at ten weeks or ten years , it’s from that day on that they will learn from you. If we are affraid to say pit bull or bully to all the ignorant people in this world than aren’t we kind of just hiding behind the truth just a little and sugar coating their DNA ? Change peoples minds by showing off your dog in public and be proud of what they are because our dogs , when raised up right are more disiplined than most kids these days..I am not afraid to put a spiked collar on my dog and take him out in public and worry about what some people might say , I focus more on how my dog is gonna act in the publics eye, that is what people will remember and will judge you on. So when my dog is licking that little boy or girls face that he just met, like it’s a ice cream cone and he is wearing his 2 inch suede collar with 2 inch nickle plated spikes all around it,people will notice, people will smile and people will laugh and the parents in the end will always thank me for letting their kids pet my dog. There are times where I will meet people that have only heard bad things about this breed and they are so shocked in what they have just seen . How can a dog that looks so bad and mean be more friendly than their poodle that they left at home? I tell em , well that’s just the way it is. I have to tell them its all how you raise your dog because I really do believe that.I take my dog every where with me, to car shows , farmers markets, dog events, even yard sales on saturday mornings, and he knows what they all are and he cant get enough of them. It’s funny on any day we are out , I will notice so many different ways people see my dog. I may see someone who will turn the oposite way, or someone might see us from a block away and cant get to us fast enough to pet him. Kids might just run right up to him and hug him without even asking their parents or asking me first, and some kids are terrified to death of him , some people think he is such a cute little puppy, I tell them well he is almost four years old and I dont think he is going to grow any more. He is really short but he weighs almost 70 lbs. I sometimes wonder if they are looking at the same dog that I am walking… There is always a wise guy who will try and tell you what kind of breed you really have , one day my dog looked just like this guys rott/ lab mix. He said their faces looked identical, I said W T F …. Some people will say he is handsome, some will yell from across the street that I have a beautiful dog, others think he is scary as hell and I am sure some think he is ugly. Some people don’t even notice my dog at all.This is the world we live in and everyone has their own personality including your dog. How ever you choose to describe your dog is your choice just be honest about it and proud to say it, like you would your childs name.Don’t worry about what your neighbor thinks or if the mail man might not deliver todays mail, prove them wrong when you have to by showing them. Two words that I can’t stand in the dog language and I will never say out loud is Pooch and Pibble. Pooch to me is like a slang word or it’s like calling your dog white trash, and I am sorry if I affended any one that is just how I see it. Pibble, cmon that word makes me think of someone peeing on a bunch of gravel, again I am sorry if I affended anyone…

    • Hi Milos,

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment. Your dog sounds amazing. I’m so glad you take him everywhere with you, proudly tell everyone that he is a pit bull, and don’t shy away from his tough appearance. Next time I have a muscular pit bull type dog, I think I’m going to get him/her a tough-looking leather collar too, just to force people to rethink their assumptions. I think what you’re doing with your dog is what it’s all about — teaching people that they can’t accurately assume things about your dog just because of how he looks. I would love to see a photo of him — if you have one and are willing to share, would you email it to dcpetographer [at] gmail [dot] com?

      As for the term “bully,” I don’t use it because I think that for the people who are already afraid of dogs who looks like yours and even mine, it reinforces their belief that these dogs are always mean and forceful. I personally don’t care for the terms “pittie” and “pibble” either, and I always just say “pit bull” or “pit bull type dog.”

      I do disagree with you about the “it’s all in how they’re raised” concept. I think that some dogs are raised really well and still end up not being great in social situations. Equally, I think many dogs are raised in neglect and abuse, but still make fine pets once they make their way into loving homes. Take the example I mentioned of my first foster dog Lollie Wonderdog — she was three years old when she came into the shelter, after being found by somebody in a dumpster — starved, beaten, bred, and absolutely filthy. She had obviously never lived indoors before. And yet, from day one at the shelter, she was the sweetest dog in the world. You can’t explain her lovely disposition as “it’s all in how they’re raised,” can you?

      I think how a dog is brought up is a major factor, but unique personality, genetics, and a little bit of magic also play a role.

      Anyhow, thanks for contributing to this interesting dialogue. I really appreciate your experience and your perspective, and I’m so glad to hear what wonderful things you’re doing in your own community for your dog and for your neighbors’ relationships with dogs.


      • Hello Aleksandra, and thank you for your kind words.I think a lot of people are taking this the wrong way. When we say it all depends on how the dog was raised, I am talking about how the dog is being raised at this very moment, starting from the day you bring him home. His past is his past and every time a dog has a new owner he is going to be raised differently.If I believed that how a dog was raised in the past is going to determine his future than I may as well go work for PETA , because that is how they think. A dog can forgive a lot easier than a human being can and I believe almost all dogs behavior is based on how it is being raised at the present time in its life.It doesn’t mean that it is an easy job, it doesn’t mean everyone can do it. If a dog comes from an abusive past it may take the rest of his life to change or he may change for the better right from the start, or he may never become that perfect dog that you always dreamed of. The stories here about that one dog that had a horrible past and was later given all the love and a perfect life but still was mean as hell, well dont take this the wrong way anybody but sometimes it takes more than just love and a dog bone to communicate with mans best friend. Your dog needs to respect you first, the love is always going to be there and your dog may love you more than anything in this world but at the same time disrespect you and that is not a good thing.Every one thinks they can put a dog in a backyard give it food and water and love it and tell it how handsome and beautiful it is and expect it to become the ultimate companion. that is a good start but it takes a lot more effort and most of all time. You must spend time with your dog, you dont need a backyard to have a dog (I dont) but you need to make time for him and most people wont do that or cant do that.The more time you can give to your dog is what makes a difference in his life.My dog is always with me but I’m not married, i don’t have a girlfriend, I dont have any kids, I have a few close friends, I dont have any room mates and I am self employed. Most people wouldn’t want my lifestyle but that’s the one I choose.I cook for my self and my dog almost every night, he hasn’t eaten dog food in almost three years.There is always going to be an exception to every rule out there as with the dog that was given the love and its owner did all the right things and the dog still was bad . Some times there isn’t any answers because a dog is not a machine . It lives, has a heartbeat, and has its own mind. Sometimes that person may not of been the right person for that particular dog , it doesnt mean they didn’t know what they were doing, maybe that dog needed something different.maybe there just isn’t any answers but you cant use that one example to change ones mind when they ask you what makes a dog a good dog.Because it is a scientific fact that a dogs genes plays only a small part in determining what kind of dog he will be through out his life. THE LOST DOGS is one of my favorite books in fact it was hard to put it down when I started reading it , every emotion came out and when my dog saw me in tears at times he got worried and came to my rescue(lol). I highlighted my favorite parts of the book and read them over & over. I bought three copies of the book and gave one to my mom but she got as far as to chapter two and quit. she cant handle the bad parts,I told her that there were many more good parts than bad and how can you put the book down and not be curious, but then I remind myself that my parents do not own any dogs(lol). You can copy as many pictures as you want of my dog Tonka, just go to my profile page on facebook, its open for anybody to see, there should be a couple of short videos there also…

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    • Hi Sarah, Fair question. I think a lot of people do want to acknowledge their dogs as pit bull type dogs, but want to “cuteify” the term to make their dogs seem less scary to a broad audience — the same way that many people call Rottweilers “rotties” and Dobermans “dobies,” people want to call pit bulls “pitties” or “pibbles” or “bullies.” I personally don’t prefer these terms, but for those who feel they MUST have a cutesy name to use, I think “pittie” and “pibble” are fairly harmless, whereas “bully” has some negative associations.

    • “Disgusting” is pretty harsh. Lots of dog names get shortened or cutened up–people talk about “cardis” instead of Cardigan Welsh Corgis, or “Staffies” instead of Staffordshire Bull Terriers, or “dals” instead of dalmatians.

      I don’t see anything at all wrong with cutesy names. I personally don’t really use them unless I’m actually talking baby talk *at* an adorable dog, but there’s nothing wrong with them.

    • To me the term “pittie” or “pibble” is an affectionate term that is mainly used among people who love this type of dog.

      I have said to someone who has a pit bull type dog that they have a “cute pittie” but I would never use this term with the general public because I don’t think they’d know what I was talking about, anyway. And I’m not above calling my boy “Mr. Pibbles” on occasion and he doesn’t seem to mind.

      Sometimes I tell people my dog is an American Staffordshire Terrier mix (we DNA’d him) but they generally don’t know what that is, and then I have to explain that “It’s one of many breeds that are lumped into the generalized category of pit bulls”.

  35. I love your blogs!! I love to see educated, intelligent people actually know what they are talking about. Thank you so much!!! Would love to meet these aggressive beasts sometime that I keep hearing about though…all I’ve ever had in my home are terriers..cuz really, at the end of the day, that’s all they truly are is a terrier breed..nothing bully about them 🙂

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  37. A very well thought out post. I have to agree with Milos though. When I am out with my girls, for example trick or treating with my 5 year old, and there are 2 or 3 kids draped over them getting tongue baths, the question always come ups, “what kind of dog is it?” I answer proudly and without any nervousness whatsoever, an “American Pit bull Terrier.” Why deny their breed? They are exactly what we want people to see ‘pit bulls’ as: loving, sociable dogs. If you say oh a mixed breed, or shun the question, you are feeding into their fears and assumptions. Let them change minds based on what they are. I feel my girls are walking billboards for the breed, and I would never deny the breed of that publicity, by diluting it with half truths. When some say “oh I thought they were all mean or vicious,” I just state, “No, they are just dogs like any other, and in fact, historically they are really very sociable, family dogs, and always have been.” No talking about training or upbringing. If they say “Oh but I read, heard or saw on the news…blah, blah, blah” I just tell them that my girls aren’t allowed to watch the news, and don’t read very well, so they have no idea they are suposed to be evil.” That will bring a smile most of the time.
    The breed needs ambassadors, my girls are it, and I believe we should give credit where credit is due. They are American Pit Bull Terriers, and quite frankly, They. Are. Awesome!

    • Hi Joey,

      Thanks for your note. If you read this post again or read a bit more of the blog, you might see that we are for the most part on the same page. My whole goal in this endeavor is to show that pit bull type dogs are perfectly wonderful choices for family pets and should not be discriminated against. The problem (for me) is where traits are assigned to dogs based on appearance, even though most dogs who *look* like true APBTs are actually mixed-breed dogs with a wide variety of genetics and therefore personalities.

      I proudly tell anybody who will listen that my dogs are pit bulls or “pit bull type dogs,” and if I still have the person’s ear, I will tell them how they are wonderful dogs just like any other dog can be. Your girls sound wonderful, and I’m glad you’re showing people how wrong they are about their negative perceptions. Are they purebred APBT, from a breeder? If you have a papered APBT, by all means you should be proclaiming it to the world if you want to, and true APBTs do have a narrower genetic field than shelter dogs, and do have some more “standard” behaviors, temperament, etc. But my dogs — like most dogs called “pit bulls” today — are mixed-breed dogs from a shelter whose genetics we can only guess at. I love showing the public how they are just normal dogs — silly, fun, affectionate, playful, athletic — but I think you do run into trouble if you start ascribing behaviors or temperaments to dogs (pit bulls or otherwise) based on appearance, since many dogs who look a whole lot like an APBT may have zero APBT in their actual genetic composition.

  38. Hi Aleksandra,
    They did come from a “breeder”. I do use that term loosely. They were actually rescued from backyard /roadside breeders on 2 separate occasions. That group is a huge pet peeve of mine!With a little bit of ummm…incentive(my husband is a LEO, don’t ask LOL). , we were given the way too young, sickly pups from pens in the summer heat and they were happy to turn over the paperwork to register them, I just never bothered.
    I guess what I am saying is that by denying they may have or not have “pit bull” in them, that they are less scary, likely to snap, or whatever the fear is. So in a way that is subscribing to and affirming the assumption that PBs are ‘bad’. I’m not sure if that makes any sense or not. I understand what you are saying about appearances leading to labels, and how people are quick to assume traits based on them. Pitbull is just a word, and while it may have bad connotations to some, the fact is they are dogs first. Dogs that have been domesticated and loved for centuries, no matter what they are called. If they are part pit, or part bulldog or part pig (I think one of mine is) they are just dogs, and that is what needs to be stressed to people. Hope that makes sense. I do admire your work, I wish I were at a point in life to do more hands on with fostering, but it’s not feasible right now. So I do my best to reach out to people with my two goofy, pampered ambassa-pit-adors. Each of us has a role to play in the education about dogs in general, no matter their label or breed. LOL when people ask my son what kind of dog his girl is, he just says “She is my best friend Medic!” Pretty much sums it up for me 🙂

  39. I just cannot get my mind around (nor can I accept) the notion that JUST because dogs of a certain appearance are discriminated against, it’s therefore correct to call them all “pit bulls” or “pit bull type dogs”. A Lab mix is NOT a pit bull just because Denver kills it for the crime of being called a pit bull by their moronic ACOs.

    Just the fact of discrimination does not make a dog a “pit bull”.

    A dog is NOT a “pit bull” because it’s an underdog, or a victim.

    Those of us who have been around the breed for many years (like ME, but probably not like most of you who may not even have ever met a “real” pit bull) love our BREED for many reasons, and among them are the proverbial courage (a phrase from the breed standard) that enable them to rise ABOVE maltreatment. There’s nothing inherently valuable in being a victim… if that’s all you care about, well… MOST dogs in shelters are victims of some kind of abuse. Go help them, they deserve it, and you will be blessed for what you do.

    But DONT call what you do “pit bull rescue”.

    Just because YOU are confused about what a “pit bull” is, doesn’t mean that any dog you want to call by that name actually IS a “pit bull”. The border collie people aren’t confused about telling their dogs from Australian shepherds, English shepherds or Shetland sheepdogs, however much the general public and ACOs might be. The Jack Russell Terrier people aren’t confused about telling their dogs from rat terriers. And gasp… the Irish Setter people can tell the difference between their dogs and Brittany spaniels. Appearance AND behavior make a breed. One kind of long hair is not the same as another kind of long hair… but that’s the kind of argument you get from someone who DOESNT care about breeds.

    If you don’t believe there IS such a thing as a purebred dog, or if you believe that dogs that can’t be assessed as being a particular purebred based on their appearance and behavior, then WHY are you in the “pit bull” rescue business?

    Words DO matter. They should mean what they mean, not what people want them to mean. For 100+ years, “pit bull” has been shorthand for American pit bull terrier. Some day, it will mean that again.

  40. I like some of the article, and disagree with some of it. By your admission, you can’t peg a dog without a pedigree as an APBT, but you go on to say “In truth, most of these dogs have no APBT and no Staffordshire Terrier in their family tree” and “Most dogs labeled as pit bulls are actually mixed breed dogs of varying genetic composition — the majority don’t even have a trace of APBT or Staffordshire Terrier in their bloodlines” How can you possibly assume that without knowing lineage? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, there’s a good chance it will act like one. On aggression: Believe it or don’t, but there are attributes that can be assigned to all breeds of dogs, and should be assumed possible with it’s mixes. It’s nice that your two pit bull mixes get along, but if you haven’t lived with a dog aggressive Pit Bull or pit bull mix, you can’t possibly be prepared for the level of aggression in a dog that just wants to fight another. You also can only prepare a multi-dog home with the advice to never leave them unsupervised.

    I’m so sick and tired of the “pinker” movement, propagated by once APBT advocates gone the way of “they’re all individuals.” It’s an unstoppable wave that will crush any breed specific advocacy group one day, and just might end up getting dogs, and adopters, in really deep water. Anyone who has fostered, anyone who volunteers at a shelter, anyone who has adopted a pit bull mix is now a “pit bull type” dog expert. And anyone who has internet access can spread their suppositions and lies far and wide, and idiots take it as truth. Yet the truth is there, one just needs to wade through the bull.

  41. Wow, nothing like trying to get out the idea that all pit bull-looking dogs in shelters may not be American Pit Bull Terriers to get a backlash of people who want to tell you pit bulls are all alike. As someone who volunteers in an open admission city shelter I can assure you that if all the “pit bull type” dogs that come in are purebred or even mostly pit bull then there are no breed standards whatsoever, because I have seen every color, shape, size, and temperament of dog called a pit bull. If Emily S still doesn’t understand the reason for what you are saying after reading what Dave L wrote, I don’t know what more you can tell her.

    • um…. Dave L SUPPORTS what I wrote..

      No one has said that “all pit bull are alike”. I’m not even saying that “all APBTs are alike”.

      It is YOU, not I, who fails to get the point. Which is that 1) there is a “pit bull” breed that exhibits the consistency that characterizes a breed. “Consistency” does not equate to “identical”. and 2) just because YOU call all the dogs of a certain appearance a “pit bull” or a “pit bull type dog” does NOT MEAN that any of these dogs are actually what *I* call a “pit bull”, which is an APBT.

  42. “Don’t call them American Pit Bull Terriers. Unless, of course, you have their papers.”

    I do purebred APBT (Pit Bull) rescue – you’re telling me I can’t call the dogs my org pulls APBTs? What if I do GSD or BC or GSP rescue? Do I have to call GSD’s “shepherd-type dogs”, for instance, if I don’t have their papers, and stop doing any breed-specific education?

    “I’m calling them pit bull type dogs. It’s loosey goosey, and it refers only to broad physical characteristics. Do you prefer a different phrase?”

    Yeah, if you can’t ID a dog, or don’t know what it is, say, “I don’t know what this dog is”. For the related breeds or mixed breed dogs that would be targeted by BSL because they are often misidentified as Pit Bulls due to similar looks, call them “breeds/dogs mistaken for or incorrectly called Pit Bulls (APBTs)”.

    “Bully breeds” is a term I’m not fond of. The original term used amongst dog people was “bull breeds” or “bull-and-terrier breeds”, in other words dog breeds with Bulldog ancestry.

  43. Morgan County, Utah just repealed their discriminatory dog laws (i.e., BSL) because they realized that “pit bull” no longer refers to a single, coherent breed of dog: http://www.standard.net/stories/2011/10/08/man-fights-morgan-county-rule-outlawing-pit-bulls. The County Attorney Jann Farris said, “Recent legal research says there is no such thing as a recognized pit bull breed. We don’t want to fight it if there’s no such thing as a pit bull. It’s hard to enforce (with) the way ours is written.” I suspect that American Pit Bull Terrier owners in Morgan County are not contacting Ms. Farris to educate her on what a “REAL” Pit Bull is.

    • Kim, You, and the people who did this “recent research”, are WAY late to the party. Opponents of BSL have LONG pointed out that the people charged with making breed determinations for the purpose of enforcing BSL, ie cops, prosecutors, judges, ACOs, shelter workers, etc, often don’t know what they’re doing and will miss actual Pit Bulls and target any number of other breeds (eg Dogos and Cane Corsos) and all sorts of mixes. The SAME issue arises in bans of wolfdogs, which are difficult for non-experts to distinguish from other mixes of Nordic breeds and even some purebred Nordic breeds. That doesn’t meant that wolves don’t really exist and that some dogs aren’t in fact mixes of wolves and dogs. The practical problem of breed and mix identification doesn’t mean breeds and mixes of breeds don’t really exist.

      The other point that has been made for ages is that ‘Pit Bull’ is not an official breed name for any breed. Neither is ‘Rottie’, ‘GSD’ (or even ‘German Shepherd’!) or Dobe or ‘PBGV’ or ‘Sheltie’ or …. ‘Pit Bull’ is a perfectly reasonable and popular breed NICKname for the American Pit Bull Terrier, just as ‘AmStaff’ is for the American Staffordshire Terrier and ‘StaffyBull’ is for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. I am absolutely aghast that this point continues to elude so many who presume to have something of merit to say about the matter.

      There are many good reasons to oppose BSL in general and BSL directed at Pit Bulls in particular. The MAIN one is that the majority of the dogs genuinely in question are good dogs, undeserving of persecution. If one instead chooses to hang one’s legal hat on terminological niceties and semantic games of “gotcha!”, don’t be surprised if in a few years a craftier band of legislators don’t tidy up the terminological and semantic problems and come after good dogs with a renewed vengeance.

  44. I get it, Kim. You’re not a breed advocate. It’s cool. The digs towards those of us who ARE, aren’t necessary. I’ve only been doing this work for um 17 years now? I get the politics, and I’ve been using the same arguments against BSL for ages. The only thing “new” about the new school is that they’ve completely abandoned the APBT in favor of this “phenomena” non-breed called a “pit bull type dog”.

  45. Mary, I know you and I agree on key thing: that no dog should be subject to discriminatory laws. If we can at least agree on that — and I know we do — then hopefully you won’t have to spend another 17 years working for that basic right.

    • Kim, I’m sure it pisses you off that people refuse to kowtow to you and that there are still some that won’t buy into this weird “there’s no such thing as a pit bull, but let’s turbocharge one into every home; there are no breed characteristics except the ones that make us feel all gooey; if you talk about anything else you’re an enemy” thing you are promoting on AFF’s behalf. I don’t get how you figure you have the right to condescend to people with 3-4 times your experience and knowledge of pit bulls.

      Well, actually I do get it, because you’ve made it clear that you don’t care about this history and you’re fully prepared to level passive aggressive attacks and sneers on people who do, in service of… what, now THAT I’m not sure of. I can’t imagine why/how you think this kind of thing helps at all.

      You simply haven’t earned the right to condescend towards people like MaryH and I’m shocked and disappointed that Jane allows you to do so.

      When you’ve gone on to the next rescue fad, Mary and people like her will still be defending “pit bulls”. SOMEONE has do, since all you newcomers (and the oldtimers you have sold your bill of goods to) aren’t

      • We welcome an open dialogue here, but personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please keep conversation to the substance, not to opinion about individuals commenting. Thanks.

      • Emily, Kim did not write this post. Furthermore, the condescending and rude behavior seems to be coming from only one source.

  46. Emily, dialogue that advances our understanding of the issues does not “piss me off,” nor do people who disagree with me. But it’s impossible to have a dialague with you because you put words in my mouth that I never said (e.g., “there are no breed characteristics except the ones that make us feel all gooey”) and then criticze me for being wrong. In reality, you misunderstood, misconstrued, or fabricated what I said in the first place. Until we can have a productive, respectful conversation — and I’d prefer to do it offline, rather than via Facebook or someone else’s blog — then this is not a good use of our time.

  47. It is indeed NOT all in how they are raised. Nor is it all in how they are handled or how they are trained. I have handled many certifiable abuse and neglect victims who were total loves and I’ve known top of the line trainers who have decided to put dogs down who are just plain too screwy. Genes and indelible early experiences whose psychology is poorly understood do matter. But “mean genes” (as some have called them) aren’t notably concentrated in Pit Bulls as far as aggression towards people is concerned. Quite the contrary, generally speaking. And “mean genes” is actually a bad way to conceive most biting tendencies anyway. While not all bites are fear bites, most are indeed based in fear, or at least stress that a dog can’t cope with. Some of that is no doubt genetic, but one thing that can ruin what would otherwise be a sound dog is severe lack of socialization. So the closest thing to the truth you can say re how dogs are raised is: If you socialize correctly, most dogs will be sound; if you don’t, they won’t.

  48. Question: There’s a photo of a black dog on a couch (“Georgia” is the photo subtitle)–what can you tell me about her? I recently adopted a dog who looks quite a lot like her, right down to the white hair around her mouth. We’re trying to guess her age, because her teeth are horrible from chewing on the chain she spent her life tethered to. Would welcome any information you can share.

    • Hi Sandra,

      It’s always a guessing game, isn’t it? When Curious Georgia came in to the shelter, she was in pretty bad shape and the visiting vet thought she was about eight years old. After a few weeks of regaining her weight and her strength, a more thorough exam suggested that she’s more like 5 years old. She is some kind of mixed-breed dog. The shelter labeled her a pit bull, but I suspect she may be part lab or part something else entirely. Labs tend to go gray around the muzzle pretty young, as it turns out.

      Send a photo, and let me know if you have any specific questions about your own dog– who sounds wonderful.

      Best, Aleksandra

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  50. Greetings community members! My name is Staci and I am an intern at Animal Rescue of Tidewater (ART) located in Norfolk, VA. We are comprised of local animal rescue groups, animal’s rights advocates, trainers and responsible “Bully Breed” owners from Southside Hampton Roads, Virginia. I found Love and a Leash while searching for others who love Pit bulls like we do. I am very eager to share/hear what others have done to raise awareness, as well as help and care for their local Pit Bulls. Our Pit Bull Awareness page has a lot of great information on what we are doing to help our local pups!

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  53. As devoted shelter volunteers and pittie-mix guardians, we love this post! It seems odd that the word “awareness” is attached to Pit Bull Awareness Month and events, though. “Awareness” is typically reserved for problems such as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” or “Domestic Violence Awareness Month”. Issues such as breast cancer and domestic violence are inherently bad – pitties are not. Perhaps Pit Bull “Celebration” Month and events would be better because, as you said, the way we word things matters.

    • I love this!!!

      So I’m not crazy?

      I mean, I am crazy…..but not for thinking “pit bull awareness” is a messed up concept?

      On Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 3:24 PM, Love and a Six-Foot Leash wrote:

      > ** > Skyline Pet Care commented: “As devoted shelter volunteers and > pittie-mix guardians, we love this post! It seems odd that the word > “awareness” is attached to Pit Bull Awareness Month and events, though. > “Awareness” is typically reserved for problems such as “Breast Cancer > Awareness M” >

    • we don’t need pitbull awareness, we are very aware of these things, they usually end up in a news story about how some child were mauled or a cop shot them, ban these disgusting flithy mutts

  54. Aleksandra, just read your original post today – found it through a search. I adopted a 2nd dog a few days ago, and while walking him I find I’m frequently asked “What is he – pit?” I have decided my answer will often be, “He’s a dog – some kind of mix. His name is Ranger, and he’s very friendly. You can pet him if you like, but be warned: he will give you kisses!”

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