MPR Breed Information
Understanding your breed
Anyone interested in welcoming a canine companion in their life should research the breed's genetic constitution prior to obtaining the dog. Many breeds have innate characteristics, and some are not suited for everyone's lifestyle. The lack of awareness of those distinctive traits often results in dogs being relinquished to shelters.
Choosing a dog solely based on appearance may cause some rather unpleasant surprises. Don't risk having to rehome your best friend due poor understanding of the breeds' genotype. Learning about breed specific behaviors will help you choose a dog that is well-matched to your lifestyle and will ensure a happy life for both, you and the dog.
Is it how you raise them?
In many breeds, specialized characteristics have been engineered by man via selective breeding, resulting in certain traits becoming part of the breed's appearance (phenotype) and character. For example: The curly coat of the Poodle, tracking abilities in Beagles, spots on a Dalmatian, fetching drive in Labradors. While it's easy to understand how selective breeding and genetic inheritance affect physical appearance, it’s a little more complex when it comes to behaviors since you can't "see" a behavior. Truthfully however, the same principle applies to both.
While there are exceptions to everything, oten the consequences of unethical breeding, you can typically expect Golden Retrievers to have long golden hair (genetic physical trait) and to enjoy swimming (genetic behavioral traits). Goldens dont need to be "trained" to swim, though training could certainly improve their inherited retrieving skills.
The APBT breed is believed to be a descendent of the original Terriers and bull-baiting dogs . Terrier's primary purpose was to destroy vermin. While certain hunting breeds retrieve, track or flush, the duty of all Terriers, from Yorkies to Airedales, was to exterminate. The dogs from that group were bred to be courageous, agile, and driven. They were designed to be compact, allowing them to fit in small spaces, and fearless in order to courageously confront ferocious critters oftentimes larger than themselves.
Bulldogs' ancestors were used for the sad practice of bull baiting until it was outlawed in 1835. Bull Baiters were brave, strong and tenacious, and specifically bred for the ability to "pin and hold” their opponents.
Research of the historic development of the American Pit Bull Terrier reveals that Pit Bull dogs were created to accomplish two main functions; Defeat a canine opponent in the pit and serve as trustworthy family companions. Old-time APBT breeders coined the term "gameness" to describe the essence of the breed.
Some of the qualities desired by APBT fanciers breeding for gameness are: Tenacity, courage, drive, resilience, endurance, good disposition and eagerness to please. Many APBT breeders argue that only a harsh fight will undeniably prove a dog's gameness. They call this cruel activity a "game test". Breeding contenders are put through a "game test" prior to mating. The candidates are carefully chosen based on their performance. Such practice has been going on for hundreds of years, and though kept secretive due to its illegality, still occurs today. Michael Vick's dogs for example, were gamebred.
Thankfully, superior fighting abilities and drive are not the only traits the breed has inherited. Historical authors such as Richard Stratton and Carl Semencic state that APBT fanciers purposely produced above-average human-friendly dogs with rock-solid temperament and stable disposition to ensure safe handling in the pit and suitability as family companions. Many dogmen claim that a "good disposition with people" is one of the crucial characteristics of gameness, therefore encouraging breeders to cull human-aggressive Pit Bulls. This practice explains why the great majority of Pit Bull dogs score so high in temperament tests today, regardless of how they were raised.
It is important to understand and respect that as a result of game breeding, an inherent predisposition for dog-aggression parallels the breed's propensity to be friendly towards humans. Accepting one trait as a consequence of the breed's genetic inheritance and not the other demonstrates a poor understanding of selective breeding.
Dealing with dog aggression
A predisposition for dog-aggression does not mean Pit Bull dogs are out-of-control or unmanageable. One of the best APBT traits, in addition to their loving and affectionate nature towards people, is how responsive and eager-to-please they are. While training and socialization may not eliminate the dog’s genetic inheritance, it will help establish leadership and improve control.
Having a Pit Bull as an only pet and preventing encounters with other dogs, is the best way to avoid regrettable incidents. Pit Bulls are "people" dogs and make wonderfully companions in 1-dog homes. If you choose to have a Pit Bull with other dogs, your best chance for success is to gain a solid understanding of the breed, which includes respecting and accepting its potential and assets as well as its limitations and challenges.
Pit Bulls should always be supervised when interacting with another animal and should be kept separate when the owner can't keep an eye on them. A common mistake dog owners make is to assume the relationship between two 4-legged best friends will always remain the same. Just like people, dogs evolve and change throughout their life.
Dog-aggression may not appear until a dog reaches maturity or even later in life. Triggers may fluctuate over time as well. If the dogs are left unattended and a conflict suddenly develops between them, it could have regrettable results. "Perseverance" is a strong breed trait.
Responsible Pit Bull owners use large and comfortable crates to keep the dogs apart when no one is home or leave them in separate rooms. This is a simple solution that safely prevents possible serious altercations during your absence.
There is a higher incidence of tension and conflicts between dogs of the same sex. This is true for every breed but can have serious consequences when the dogs involved have inherited superior fighting skills. Same-sex dogs might not need a trigger to start a quarrel. Some will fight for the sole purpose of eliminating a rival. In this case the warning signs can be subtle and hard to discern by an inexperienced owner. The intensity of the fight might also be more serious. In many cases, it will become "unfinished business". It is not uncommon for dogs to lose their homes due to this, or for dedicated owners to be forced into keeping rival dogs separated for the rest of their life. In light of this, MPR advises against same-sex adoptions for all Bully breeds.
A male and a female may also develop conflicts, but oftentimes there is a trigger involved. Many of those tension-initiators can be identified and removed or controlled. Common triggers are: bones, treats, food, toys, attention, roughhousing, etc. Pit Bulls should always be supervised when they have access to these items and it may be necessary to separate them when allowing prized resources. The dogs should never have free reach to treats, toys, or favorite toys. Controlling access to valuables not only helps prevent unpleasant incidents, it also reinforces your status as the leader.
Terrier type dogs are also prone to "redirected animal aggression". This happens when dogs get aroused by too much excitement or external stimulus, such as a squirrel for example, or someone knocking at the door, etc. Their fervor can escalate into a sudden display of aggression towards the dog next to them, regardless of sex and how well they normally get along. It is important to know that while this may be a problem when you have more than one dog in your home, it is extremely rare for a Pit Bull to redirect aggression towards humans. Remember; the dogs were bred to be easily handled by people in the heat of a fight. Aggression towards the referee or handlers is not well viewed in the dog fighting circle and dogs that react aggressively are typically removed from the gene pool.
Dog aggression vs human aggression
A good disposition towards people is a fundamental genetic trait of the APBT breed. The dogs may not always get along well with other pets, but this behavior should not be confused with people-aggression. Pit Bulls that can’t be trusted with humans are not good representatives of the breed.
Pit Bulls and kids
Pit Bulls are known for their love of children and are often referred to as the “Nanny breed.” Pit Bulls tend to be young at heart, energetic and fun-loving, and to therefore enjoy the presence of little ones. Though many Pit Bulls have a tender and sensitive spirit, they are physically tough and tolerant to pain. Ironically, Pit Bulls make better family companions than so-called "toy” breeds.
Supervision is ALWAYS a must however, with children and ANY breed of dog. Dogs can't express themselves with words when irritated. They communicate via body language and vocalization. If those warnings are ignored, the next step may be a nip. Children are often unable to recognise those warning signs. It is up to the "leaders" to establish solid ground rules for both the dogs and the kids.
Keep in mind also, that larger, untrained dogs can be rambunctious and may knock over small kids. Young dogs can be mouthy and need to learn bite inhibition. Training and working with both your dog(s) and children to ensure appropriate interactions with each other will go a long way. With structure, supervision and good parenting, Pit Bulls and kids will have a wonderful relationship and lots of fun times together. Remember "Petey and the gang"?
Leader of the pack
You are the leader of the pack. For all canines, the leader is the member in charge. The leader provides structure, food, shelter, and security. It is the leader's responsibility to monitor members of the pack/family and prevent conflicts. The dogs should be able to count on their leader to step in quickly if there is tension between them and to resolve conflicts before they develop in serious problems. The dogs will establish a rank among themselves and the leader should respect this while reinforcing the pack's structure. The dogs will appreciate your interventions. It will prevent stress and contribute to a harmonious hierarchy in your home.
See “No Free Lunch program” for leadership tips.
Why do we love Pit Bulls?
So why do we love dogs that can be challenging with other pets? Too many reasons to count. Many Pit Bull owners fell in love with the breed by accident and quickly discovered how affectionate, adaptable, eager to please, enthusiastic, comical, and fun-loving Pit Bulls are, not to mention their unequaled beauty. Most agree they will never own another breed.
Pit Bulls’ eagerness to please is remarkable. Positive training goes a long way with this breed and allows Pit Bull dogs to participate in various sports and activities. The breed is known for its intelligence, alertness and quick response. Pit Bulls thrive on making their loved-ones happy and are very sensitive to rewards. Show them great enthusiasm when they do something good and they will repeat it just to see that look on your face, again and again.
Another pleasant trait of the breed is their great sense of humor. Pit Bulls remain silly clowns late in life. In fact, they don't seem to ever lose that spark for life. A happy Pit Bull will wag their whole body and the joyful expression in their eyes is impossible to miss. Even dogs that have been rescued from difficult situations usually keep a very positive and uplifting spirit.
Pit Bull dogs are not for everyone but those who research the breed and educate themselves can expect an outstanding canine companion, well worth the small sacrifices required, considering the amount of love the dogs give back.