I have two pit bulls who are treasured members of my family, but I tell many prospective dog owners to choose a different breed. This comes as a surprise to friends and family members who know what kind, loving dogs I have and how gentle they are with my children. In fact, I think pit bulls are wonderful family pets, just not for every family.
You’ve probably seen news stories of pit bulls viciously attacking people. Public fear of these “dangerous” animals has led to them being banned in many cities and neighborhoods. To counter this image, many pit bull owners have posted photos and videos online showing their docile, affectionate dogs playing with babies and children. As a mother and pit bull owner, I understand both sides.
Pit bull characteristics
The breed is, by nature, very friendly and affectionate. At one time, pit bulls were used as nanny dogs because they were so good with children. They crave human companionship and love to be included in family activities. Very intelligent and eager to please, they are highly responsive to training.
Pit bulls are also muscular and powerful. They are very energetic dogs that need a lot of exercise. The breed was (and, in some cases, still is) used in dog fighting, so there is a real risk of aggression toward dogs. The breed is characteristically strong-willed and requires an owner who can be consistent and confident in training.
I’ve seen all of the above-mentioned traits in my pit bulls. They have to be with one of us at all times. One of the reasons we adopted our second pit bull was to provide a companion for the first so she wouldn’t suffer such separation anxiety whenever we were all away from home. They are always cuddling with one of us, and they sleep in my youngest daughter’s bed — with her — at night. They respond extremely well to training and are always happy to win our praise. They let children climb all over them, and if it ever starts to bother them, they discourage the children by licking them.
I’ve also had to use all my strength to restrain one of them, who wanted to go after a stray dog that wandered into our yard. Until we trained the dogs to refrain from jumping up to greet us, I was knocked on my behind more than once by my loving but muscular dogs, who were just excited to welcome me home. I mentioned that one reason we adopted our second dog was for companionship — the other reason was for exercise. Our first pit bull loved to play, and we loved to play with her, but we’d get bored or tired or would have other things to do after 20 minutes, and she would just be getting warmed up. Realistically, she needed a playmate that would keep her moving fast or playing hard for at least two hours each day.
Who should own a pit bull?
A pit bull might be the perfect dog for your family if you:
- Are an experienced dog owner
- Can devote time and energy to training your dog
- Enjoy an active family lifestyle
- Want a lovable and affectionate pet
- Prefer strong, muscular breeds to small or slender breeds
- Desire a rugged dog that isn’t too large
- Love a loyal companion
Pit bulls are ideal for families who want their pet to be an active member and are willing to put in the time to train and play with the dog. You’ll enjoy lots of furry cuddles, sloppy dog kisses and years of active fun together.
Who shouldn’t own a pit bull?
There are so many breeds of dogs, and not every one is right for every person. A pit bull probably isn’t the best choice for your family if you:
- Live in an area that prohibits pit bull ownership
- Have an insurance company that doesn’t cover pit bull owners
- Spend a lot of time away from home
- Have other pets at home
- Like to take your dog to the dog park
- Are sensitive to what others think
There is a stigma associated with pit bulls that you cannot avoid. In some cases, this may forbid you from owning one (local laws, insurance policies), but the social pressure can be a deterrent, too. If you aren’t prepared to bear the judgment and scrutiny of anti–pit bull advocates, you should probably choose a less controversial breed. Also, even though dog aggression in pit bulls can be curbed by early socialization, it’s not something you can cure, so they will always require close supervision whenever they are around other animals. If all this training and constant supervision sounds like too much work, a pit bull is definitely not for you.