Breed doesn’t make the dog — love, responsible pet ownership, and training do.
Ah… pit bulls. Their hearts are as big as their heads (and smiles!) are. Yet despite their loving and loyal nature, the public perception of these dogs is often a negative one. Before you can bring out the best in your pit bull via responsible, consistent training, it helps to know not only where they came from, but their shared characteristics as well.
Pit Bull Overview
Size and Appearance: Since pit bulls are a mix of breeds, their unique characteristics can vary vastly from dog to dog especially in terms of color, but they are often characterized by their stocky build, forward stance, and large head. In fact, pound per pound, pit bulls often pack more muscle than any other dog breed. While low maintenance due to their short coat and low drool-factor, they can be nearly any size and thus may require different housing needs. For instance, Hulk is credited as the world’s largest pit bull at 175 pounds, while “Pocket” pit bulls are typically around 30 pounds.
Best and most-loved characteristic: their happy-go-lucky smile and cheerful, wide-legged gait!
Activity Needs: Pit Bulls are highly intelligent and athletic dogs that need regular (daily) exercise to thrive. While cuddle breaks are always welcome, most pibbles prefer to tucker themselves out with good ol’ fashioned zoomies and fetch.
Temperament: Pit bulls were bred to be courageous, stubborn, and fearless, as well as highly loyal. The majority of pit bulls are fun-loving companions, gentle and patient with all of their family members (with the very likely exception of other pit bulls), but as with all breeds, there are exceptions, which means that training and a slow introductory process is recommended around small animals, cats, and young children. However, as a group, pit bulls score average or above on temperament tests, and studies have shown that they demonstrate less aggression towards humans and bite less frequently than other breeds, but that their bites are reported more often due to the damage caused.
In short, the fighting history of pit bull breeds means that they need extra training and socialization as puppies and continued reinforcement throughout their life. Pit bulls are not fighting dogs purely by nature, but their genetic background means that they are more easily encouraged to fight than other breeds might be, especially if provoked by other dogs.
Health Concerns: Knowing your dog’s unique temperament and predispositions will only make your bond with your pit bull that much stronger. Of course, not every dog will encounter the same issues; however, these are the 6 most common health concerns in pit bulls:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Knee Problems
- Thyroid Disease
- Cleft Lip or Palate
Knee and hip problems are especially prominent in pit bulls due to their stocky build. As you’re training and exercising your pit bull, be sure to keep an eye out for any signs of discomfort or an unusual gait.
Training Your Pittie
Obedience training is always recommended for pit bull-type dogs, starting from puppyhood whenever possible. But when adopting a rescued pit bull of an unknown background, additional temperament factors may be involved that can influence training. The wonderful news is that pit bulls are highly receptive to training, and the experience can act as a positive bonding session between you and your pet.
For at-home training or reinforcement, here are 5 Tips to Train your Pit Bull:
1. Use Only Positive Training Techniques
Aggressive or punishment-based training methods are the worst ways to train your new pit bull companion — this can either stimulate aggression in return, or result in unintended negative consequences. Instead, using treats, a soothing tone, and lots of love will ensure that your pet understands and trusts your intentions.
2. Always Be Consistent
As with anything, consistency is key to getting results, and since your pet will be reading your body language to ensure they’re doing the right things, it’s crucial to use reinforcement in a consistent manner. If training your dog not to beg at the table, you shouldn’t make any exceptions, no matter how good of puppy eyes they make. This consistency will prevent stress by telling your dog exactly what to expect. If you’re inconsistent, you’ll only cause him confusion and make training, and ultimately obedience, more difficult.
3. Allow Your Dog to Exercise and Play
Pit bulls are muscular, highly active, work dogs. The best way to keep them from acting out is through allowing them to exert their energy in other ways — whether that be going for runs with you, playing with toys, or playing frisbee at the dog park.
4. Be the Alpha
It’s important to take charge in your relationship with your pet. As the leader of your “pack,” your pit bull will take a dominant position over you and will refuse to listen to commands if you don’t establish your expectations and status. Scold bad behavior immediately and give rewards quickly. Much like a well leash-trained dog will walk slightly in front of you but allow you complete control over the leash, so too must your pit bull find a similar, harmonious relationship with you.
5. Give Them a Safe Haven
Dogs can have bad days, too. Whether it’s too much outside stimulation or loud, unexpected visits from family, give your pooch a place to retreat to when they are stressed or tired. Allowing your dog to have space to call their own to relax can do wonders for their confidence — just be sure to never this “safe zone” as a punishment area.
Cesar Millan also offers some great advice for training these powerful and dominant dogs to be more calm and respectful.
And Just for Funsies…
Because there has been so much misinformation about pit bulls, other awesome facts about them may be lesser known, including the fact that pit bulls are so highly receptive to training that they are utilized in every capacity from entertainment to rescue work.
They’re Natural Stars
Did you doubt it? They love the spotlight!
- Pit bulls have a long history of appearing in media, including print.
- Pit bulls appeared in dozens of big-name films Snatch, Flashdance, Homeward Bound, Oliver, Babe: Pig in the City and No Country For Old Men… even The Little Rascals!
- Helen Keller owned a pit bull mix named Sir Thomas– or Phiz– who she kept as a companion animal and icon, contributing to the reputation of pit bulls as “America’s Dog.”
Dedicated and fearless, pit bulls save lives in every way possible.
- Pit bulls are often used as therapy dogs in senior care facilities, or to help people recover from accidents and trauma.
- Pit bulls are often used in search and rescue work.
- Pit bulls are used as narcotic and bomb sniffing dogs. A pit bull named Popsicle found over 3,000 lbs of cocaine in Hildago, Texas.
- A pit bull named Sgt. Stubby saved his entire platoon during World War I by warning them of a poison gas attack. He also single-handedly captured a German spy.
For even more hero dog stories, check out our article The Evolution of Pit Bulls!
But you already knew that.
- Pit bulls are notorious escape artists. Because of their athletic build, they can climb fences easily — it’s a sneaky combination of brains and brawn!
- Pit bulls will often tuck their tails as they run for optimal aerodynamics and balance. But why their tongues flop out while they do so… well, that’s still a mystery.
- They are notorious, vicious cuddle-bugs. A pit bull’s combination of loyalty, short hair, and pack nature makes them ideal snuggle buddies. And couch-hogs.