There’s something really special about dogs classified as “Pit Bulls”. Maybe it’s their blocky heads or classic smiles that won my heart over. It may have something to do with the lovable, handsome Pit Bull I adopted many years ago. No matter the reason, there’s not a Pit Bull out there that I don’t love. I’ve always been aware of the discrimination against these beautiful dogs but it becomes more and more apparent as I continue to work with people and their dogs.
As a Professional Dog Trainer, I offer a variety of services to help people enjoy the dog they love. This includes group training classes for dogs of all ages. One of the classes I offer is a Puppy Kindergarten class, for puppies between ages 8-18 weeks old. I remember one group of puppies that was made up of a variety of breeds, including an American Staffordshire Terrier. This puppy was a happy guy and so excited to be around other dogs and people, as every puppy should be (proper socialization is quite important!). Another class attendee decided to stop coming to class. They were uncomfortable with their puppy around this dog simply because of his breed. I know this because they offered me that information. These clients came to more than half of the classes and knew this puppy’s name, but consistently referred to him as “the Pit Bull”. They called every other dog by their name, except this one. To this day my heart breaks, not only for the discrimination the dog received as an innocent little guy but for all of the people out there who view Pit Bull-type dogs as dangerous and scary. So what can we do to change how Pit Bulls are viewed? I have some ideas and I encourage you to brainstorm, as well.
For starters, promoting socialization during a puppy’s sensitive period is of utmost importance. This period begins at 3 weeks of age and ends somewhere around 16 weeks of age (the end of this period may vary depending on the breed of dog). Socializing a puppy means they’re exposed to as many stimuli as possible, including locations, sounds, people, animals, etc., during the sensitive period. In addition to exposure, pairing the stimulus with something the dog loves is crucial in helping puppies build positive associations. For example, when a dog meets a new person they get boiled chicken and a belly rub (if they consent to being touched). To learn more about how to properly socialize a dog and why it is so important, read this blog by Dr. Zazie Todd.
Another way we can promote Pit Bulls in a positive light is by training them with humane methods. Learning is not breed-specific. The research shows us that the same learning theory applies to all species, let alone dog breeds. This means that a Pit Bull-type dog can be trained in the same way as a Border Collie or a Golden Retriever. I love this piece, written by Kelly Duggan for Your Pit Bull and You, about why learning does not differ from breed to breed. Teaching behaviors using positive reinforcement is not only effective, it makes for happier dogs. We don’t need to exploit fear and pain in the name of training and doing so comes with the risk of a dog developing fearful and aggressive behaviors.
Finally, we can promote the things we love about these dogs and we can call them by their name. Unless someone asks, my dog is “Valentino” and not “my Pit Bull, named Valentino”. As far as I know, I’m not referred to as “a white girl, named Allison” and my other dog is not “a terrier-type dog, named Auggie”. That Pit Bull has a name, let’s use it.
Here are some amazing Pit Bull-type dogs and the names they can be called. To view the next photo in the slideshow, click anywhere on the right side of the current photo.